Monday, March 19, 2007

Amar Naam-Tomar Naam, Nandigram-Nandigram !!

"Amar Naam-Tomar Naam, Vietnam-Vietnam" [ English: My name-Your name is Vietnam-Vietnam]

This was the slogan that as a young leader Budhadev had been shouting his lungs out across the streets of Kolkata. Because then Vietnam was merely not a country located somewhere in SE Asia - it was an ideology that defined what fighting spirit meant. It was an ideology that took side of the David against the Goliath - the ill-equipped Vietkongs against the mighty American Imperialism.

But that was long-long time ago – more than three-four decades ago. During these dull times of sinking WB economy, Buddhadev rose from his student leadership days to become the C.M. of West Bengal. From the day one he made one point clear - he was a no-nonsense C.M. whose motto was to bring back the long-lost economic glory of W.B. Everyone was glad to see a communist leader who earnestly speaks of foreign investments, disinvestments, importance of private sectors and so on.

After sometime his efforts paid off – investors started coming in. We were beginning to shred off our usual skeptical "Kissu hobe nah" attitude and start dreaming with Brand Buddha. Of course the distracters were there - a group of disgruntled intellectuals, bunch of disillusioned Naxalites and a crazy opposition who kept on saying this was not the way towards prosperity. We didn't pay any heed to these barking dogs and prayed for the caravan to pick up the gears.

Then came the Singur SEZ controversy - so far we were told industrialization meant heavy investments, creation of a lot of new jobs, improved lifestyle for all - in short Sonar Bangla at your doorsteps. But why do the farmers and share-croppers disapproved the idea of sacrificing their lands for our bright future. We were initially assured they are only a handful; the majority has already willingly given their share of land to this noble purpose.

The problem was in an age where information is accessible like never before, the claims of the government were very short-lived. We saw faces of hopeless farmers, whose sole means of livelihood were getting snatched, telling their side of the story on our television. We were shaken but not stirred - we thought these people need to be explained the importance of industrialization. Only then they will happily jump in the party.

Meanwhile the opposition leader Mamnta Bannerji started her brand of gimmick politics and a series of bandhs ensued. The govt. responded in its usual arrogant manner. Still we were waiting for good sense to prevail and open the windows to the dawn of prosperity. Contrary to our hope, things worsened to the extent of fencing the proposed factory side and declaring curfew to prevent people from bringing down those fences.

While Singur was creating the waves, the next proposed area for SEZ or rather a part of it, Nandigram was feeling the tremors. Without much surprises the villagers at Nandigram retorted back, saying a “BIG NO” to land acquisition for the proposed SEZ. But where the surprise came was the intensity with which they fought back. Such was the furore that local party cadres of CPI-M had to flee their houses - this was something never seen before incident in rural Bengal - the strongest hold of CPI-M support in Bengal.

Meanwhile back at Kolkata Writers Building, the government was chalking out its next plan of action - how to win the confidence of the denizens of Nandigram. To restore orders back at Nandigram[read to reinstate CPI-M ], a 4000 strong police force marched their way towards the villages. What followed next was the biggest bloodshed that Midnapore ever witnessed since the days when Matangini Hazra unfurled the Indian tri-color in Tamluk.

The acquisition of fertile land, the figures for a just compensation, the SEZ way of industrialization - were no longer a matter of political debate over a cup of tea. The intensity of the terror was more than enough for us to be both shaken and stirred. In fact for the first time since these movements have started, there was a strike that received support from the general public. But what were we protesting against the brutal tactics of LF government or supporting the plight of the farmers?

Were we protesting against the neo-liberal economy that as opposed to classical capitalism doesn't create its own infrastructure? Neither does it ensure equal growth for all the people. Or were we showing our disapproval of SEZ which in itself a declaration of our handicap to ensure that investments can happen anywhere without providing additional carrots for the investor. May be it was a little bit of all of it, which at the end of the day, brought us face to face with the ruthless reality of the neo-liberal economy.

With govt declaring that no land will be acquired for SEZ over there, Nandigram might return to normalcy, may be over a period of time people will forget about the deaths, but the debate over which is the correct avenue to prosperity needs to happen. Do we really need the SEZs - where labor laws are relaxed (ie. easier exploitation), where the govt indirectly use my tax money to support Mr. Money-Bag Investor? Do we need to revisit our decadent land laws - does the right to own property or even more the right to livelihood qualify for a rethinking? Another aspect is with more stress of heavy/medium industries what role agriculture play in WB economics ? Will it co-exist with industrial cities in and around the fertile Gangetic Delta or will be dispensed away.

Until these questions are answered the brand Buddha might have the halo - but it will fail to illuminate us in these times of darkness. Until then Nandigram will signify the indomitable spirit of freedom - the freedom to live with head held high. And who knows may be today’s youth who'll be tomorrow's leaders are already shouting on the streets of Kolkata "Amar Naam-Tomar Naam, Nandigram-Nandigram".

ps: Sunil Ganguly, possibly the biggest name among living Bengali writers and also an ardent Buddhadev fan said that for a C.M, Buddha is remarkable in terms of the number of Sunil's poems he recites from memory. There was also a poem penned by the C.M's uncle Sukanta Bhattacharya about how the stairs that you climb in an effort to reach heights have their own revenge by toppling you down in Emperor Humayun style. I hope with his photographic memory Buddhababu still remembers those lines while planning for the next course of action.

Update: Hypocrisy takes a new meaning when the CPI-M will hold protests against the Reliance-promoted SEZ of Navi Mumbai on Friday.


biplab said...


Shreemoyee said...

Well written, but leaves the questions unanswered, what happens to industrialization and how?

Bishu said...

@Biplob-da: If and only if His Excellency Buddhadev realizes this wisdom,then maybe Sonar Bangla will no longer be a distant dream.

@Shreemoyee: If we can raise the right questions,answers could be sought. BTW, my friend Dito has an excellent piece on what needs to be done next.