After CPI(M) Terror, Nandigram Now Lives Through Another Tyranny

Unmoved by the lack of development, Nandigram still swears by Mamata and Trinamool, writes Rajat Roy.

5 min read

In almost all of Nandigram, the CPI(M)’s red flags and festoons are completely missing. (File photo: Reuters)

Nine years have passed since armed CPI(M) cadres “retook” Nandigram in a fierce pitched battle with farmers backed by the Trinamool Congress opposing the Left Front government’s bid to acquire land for industrialisation in and around this parched village in Bengal’s East Midnapore district.

As the CPI(M)’s harmad bahini (hired force) beat back the agitating farmers, the police opened fire, killing 14 people. It was among many missteps of the LF regime seeking to belatedly transform Bengal economically. The state government’s repressive measures to acquire land backfired, and in the years leading to the 2011 assembly polls, it was ousted by the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC amidst a state-wide collective sigh of relief.

Since 2011, little development has reached Nandigram, which goes to the polls on May 5, has remained an island of deprivation in littoral East Midnapore. While across the state, the TMC government is faced with anti-incumbency, Nandigram, the epicentre of the anti-Left peasant movement in 2007-2008 remains hostile towards the Marxists. The passage of nine years has not mollified the peasants whose anger against their former oppressors, who have allied with the Congress for the 2016 polls, is palpable.

TMC candidate for  Nandigram constituency Suvendu Adhikari. (Photo courtesy: Facebook/ <a href=";theater">Suvendu Adhikari</a>)
TMC candidate for Nandigram constituency Suvendu Adhikari. (Photo courtesy: Facebook/ Suvendu Adhikari)

Left’s Minimal Presence

In almost all of Nandigram, the CPI(M)’s red flags and festoons are completely missing. Even the name of the CPI candidate representing the Left-Congress alliance is missing from the graffiti-laden walls. Only TMC flags and posters with photos of the party’s heavyweight candidate Shubhendu Adhikari flutter across the Nandigram and its adjoining villages.

Nandigram residents openly spew venom against the CPI(M) and the lone ranger CPI candidate. Fear-struck Left sympathisers remain indoors and do not dare take part in the campaign. Ever since the peasant backlash, hordes of CPI(M) cadres left Nandigram, many scared to return. Those who didn’t find safe havens outside Nandigram surrendered to the TMC or were rendered politically inactive.

The terrifying incidents of nine years ago are etched in the memory of Nandigram’s residents who recount to outsiders their frightening days and nights as they lived through the violent clashes between CPI(M)’s harmad force and the TMC-backed peasants.

Contested Land

The peasants’ movement was an outcome of their resistance against the LF government’s attempt to acquire 20,000 acres of land for setting up a chemical hub in and around Nandigram. Indonesia’s Salim Group was lined up as one of the investors. When word of the government’s plan got around, the Nandigram’s peasants organised themselves under the Committee against Eviction from Land, laying siege by putting up road blocks and digging trenches surrounding their villages.

Unable to reason with the peasants, the LF government’s patience wore out and on March 14, 2007, when the police forcibly tried to enter Nandigram and its surrounding hamlets, they were faced with strong resistance from the farmers. The police fired at the crowd, killing 14 persons, including a few women. The police repression moved the then Governor Gopal Gandhi to castigate the LF government led by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

Fallout of Police Repression

Nandigram reverberated across Kolkata as outraged intellectuals, artists and civil society activists took to the streets in protest against the police brutality. Instead of becoming a special economic zone, Nandigram symbolised people’s resistance against government-corporate nexus. The TMC successfully tapped into the people’s anger. In the 2011 polls, by projecting a village woman, Firoza Bibi (who lost her son in the police firing), as the face of the peasants’ movement, the TMC took all the 16 assembly seats in East Midnapore.

Today, Firoza Bibi, faced with local discontent, has been moved out of Nandigram to contest from faraway Panshkura constituency. Sitting in his modest house in a Nandigram village, her husband Sheikh Manirul Islam, a retired government employee, said that the “reason for shifting her is best known to our leader Mamata Banerjee. But it will not affect the outcome of the TMC’s poll prospects in Nandigram since Shubhendu is the party nominee.”

 Firoza Bibi, the Nandigram Trinamool Congress MLA who has been moved to contest from the Panshkura constituency this time. (Photo courtesy: Anil Giri)
Firoza Bibi, the Nandigram Trinamool Congress MLA who has been moved to contest from the Panshkura constituency this time. (Photo courtesy: Anil Giri)

Deprived of ‘Poribartan’

  • Despite the anti-incumbency factor TMC’s bastion, Nandigram remains hostile towards the Marxists.
  • Depleting influence of Left evident in its marked absence in the village with its sympathisers not campaigning actively.
  • TMC’s own house in disarray with its MLA Firoza Bibi contesting polls from faraway Panshkura constituency.
  • Having witnessed violence in 2007, residents still stand by Mamata despite lack of development, in this hamlet.

Island of Backwardness

While nearby Haldia, with its port, petrochemicals and other industries gradually emerged as an industrial hub, Nandigram, located on the banks of Haldi River, continues to rely on farming. Of course, the chemical hub never came up. The much fragmented land has brought down per capita holding to one-third of an acre. Even Firoza Bibi’s family has just over an acre of land. Agriculture does not generate any surplus. Mamata’s promise to provide Nandigram with a railhead remains unfulfilled.

Manirul’s son regularly visits Kolkata to bring back few orders from the garment industry. His son and daughter-in-law stitch clothes and sell the finished products in Kolkata. Manirul is not convinced that the chemical hub would have changed Nandigram’s economy for the better. His response is an emphatic “no”. He even dismisses the central government’s proposed Land Acquisition Bill.

Content with no Development

Unmoved by the lack of development, Nandigram still swears by Mamata and Shubhendu. “We are indebted to Shubhendu. He has done a lot for us. He has erected a huge martyrs’ monument. It is time we repaid the TMC,” said Manirul’s son-in-law Shamsher Khan.

The memory of the Nandigram movement gave birth to two different perceptions among the residents. While the majority of the people continue to bask in the glory of the heroic peasants’ resistance to the “tyranny” of the Marxists, Left supporters, or what is left of them, recall with horror the oppression of the TMC.

Today, they are bracing for another round of violence should the TMC be re-elected to power. “If they return to power, we will be forced to leave Nandigram. There is no other way out,” said Amrito Chowdhury, a veteran local RSP leader.

(The writer is a former Executive Editor, Ananda Bazar Patrika)

Also read:

In Poll’s Decisive Phase, Questions Over Mamata’s Moral Authority

In Bengal Today, Mamata Banerjee Represents the Bawdy Politic

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