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Bengal Polls: The Quint Visits Nandigram, 9 Years After the Pogrom

Development or not, Nandigram, and Bengal have a long way to go when it comes to guaranteeing jobs for its people.

Updated
Politics
6 min read
People lie near a fire they set on a railway track during a protest against the violence in Nandigram, in  Siliguri, West Bengal, 16 March  2007. (Photo: Reuters)

Summer is creeping into the hinterlands of Bengal. With day temperatures and humidity levels skyrocketing, rural Bengal is in the throes of a hot, sticky and muggy season.

For the people of Nandigram — a rural area with two community development blocks in the Haldia subdivision of the East Midnapore district — Basanti Puja has just concluded. This little-known festival is the spring equivalent of its autumnal biggie, the Durga Puja.

By 2007, the CPI(M)-led Left Front government had invited the Indonesian Salim group of industries to build a chemical hub, as part of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Nandigram.



A substantial number of farmers had refused to part with their homes to let a chemical hub be built on their land. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Abhirup Dam)
A substantial number of farmers had refused to part with their homes to let a chemical hub be built on their land. (Photo: The Quint/Abhirup Dam)

In order to establish the SEZ, land was required. And in this case, it was primarily farmland. While a few farmers consented to giving away their lands in return for compensation, a substantial number refused to part with their ancestral dwellings.

Farida Bibi (left), the elder sister of 17-year-old boy Sheik Sailm who died in political clashes, cries in Nandigram, about 150 km  north of Kolkata, 8 January 2007. (Photo: Reuters)
Farida Bibi (left), the elder sister of 17-year-old boy Sheik Sailm who died in political clashes, cries in Nandigram, about 150 km north of Kolkata, 8 January 2007. (Photo: Reuters)

Anticipating forcible seizure of their lands, around 2000 villagers from Nandigram blocked all the entrances to the area by digging up roads and building blockades. On 14 March 2007, police, along the harmads —a state-funded militia —came down heavily on the villagers.

A reported 14, and an estimated 50, died in the police firing and the ensuing violence. Women were raped, and in the following infighting among parties, a large number of people left their homes.

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Development Diaries



Nandigram, which had no paved roads in 2007, can now boast of its laid pitch roads. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Abhirup Dam)
Nandigram, which had no paved roads in 2007, can now boast of its laid pitch roads. (Photo: The Quint/Abhirup Dam)

In 2011, the 34-year-old Left Front government was soundly defeated by Mamata Banerjee and her party. It won’t be entirely wrong to state that the Nandigram incident was one of the major influencers in perpetrating Banerjee’s victory.

It has been nine years since that incident. The TMC has been in power for five years now. And it’s time for another election. What development, changes has Nandigram undergone? Were they for better or worse?

The Quint travelled to Nandigram seeking answers to these very same questions from its people.

There is a palpable difference between the Nandigram of 2007 and the Nandigram of 2016. For an area which never knew what paved roads were, Nandigram can now boast of its laid pitch roads.

Road laying is still on in a few areas. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Abhirup Dam)
Road laying is still on in a few areas. (Photo: The Quint/Abhirup Dam)

Road laying is still on in a few areas but more or less, the once site of a deadly pogrom is now easily accessible, thanks to its new roads.



Paved roads mean that Nandigram is now easily accessible. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Abhirup Dam)
Paved roads mean that Nandigram is now easily accessible. (Photo: The Quint/Abhirup Dam)

In 2007, not all maujas (divisions) of Nadigram had power. Today, a lot of households in Nandigram don’t have to resort to kerosene lanterns at night.

Enakhkhi Das Adhikari, a daily wage earner. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Abhirup Dam)
Enakhkhi Das Adhikari, a daily wage earner. (Photo: The Quint/Abhirup Dam)

For Enakhkhi Das Adhikari, a daily wage earner, Mamata Banerjee is no less than the mother goddess. For him, the harmad violence of 2007 is still fresh. Adhikari is of the opinion that the chemical hub would have done no good. According to him, unskilled labourers like him would have never benefited from it.

Labourers like me don’t have a degree. For us, our sustenance is our land. How can we part with it?
Enakhkhi Das Adhikari, Daily wage labourer

He also believes that Suvendu Adhikari — TMC’s standing MLA from Nandigram, who rose to prominence during the 2007-2009 period — is a saviour.

Suvendu is the man claimed to be responsible for the development of roads and electricity in the area. It is a deep-rooted allegiance that is hard to understand non-experientially.

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Peace and Wisdom

Arun Das, a former CPI(M) cadre  left  Nandigram in 2007. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Abhirup Dam)
Arun Das, a former CPI(M) cadre left Nandigram in 2007. (Photo: The Quint/Abhirup Dam)

Arun Das left Nandigram with his family for Haldia in 2007 out of fear. He returned to his home last year, in 2015. Das used to be a CPI(M) cadre. For him, more than development — though he could not have been more emphatic about the fact that there is a mammoth change when it comes to education, roadways and electricity in the area — it is peace of mind and a peaceful existence that is the most important.

When asked if it was a good idea to let the chemical hub go, Das exclaims that the villagers don’t need a big chemical hub. Instead, he opines that if a series of small industries could be built along the river from Haldia up to Contai in East Midnapore, it would be more helpful.

For our minority (Muslim) brothers, if the nearby ancient Hijli Sharif could be turned into a tourist spot, a lot of revenue can be generated.
Arun Das, Former CPI(M) cadre

A Job-Less State?

Saroj Ghorui, an employee of Haldia Petrochemicals. (Photo: Abhirup Dam)
Saroj Ghorui, an employee of Haldia Petrochemicals. (Photo: Abhirup Dam)

Saroj Ghorui works at Haldia Petrochemicals. His family stays in Nandigram. In 2007, Ghorui was among those who were ready to part with their farmlands for the proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Today, Ghorui still thinks that industrialisation is essential for development. He believes that for the younger generation to be presented with new avenues and options, an industrialised economy is necessary.

A granary; locals acknowledge the significant change that development has brought to the area. (Photo: Abhirup Dam)
A granary; locals acknowledge the significant change that development has brought to the area. (Photo: Abhirup Dam)

He acknowledges that there has been work in the form of new roads and electricity poles, but at the end of the day, one still needs to pay to avail of these.

People are still unemployed. Our children have acquired specialised degrees. Yet, there is still a heavy dearth of jobs. Farming in itself is not profitable anymore. Especially without any investment in agriculture. It’s all good. I am trotting on snazzy walkways, with beautiful streetlights, riding shiny new cycles. Kintu, mon ta bhalo nei (Yet, my heavy heart is still not eased).
Saroj Ghorui, Employee, Haldia Petrochemicals

There’s one thing for sure – there has been some discernible and noticeable development work in Nandigram.

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According to Suvendu Adhikari— whose brother Dibyendu Adhikari is contesting the Nandigram seat this time as the stalwart himself moves on to take over the Lok Sabha in the next polls —there’s no way that the TMC will suffer defeat. But if one listens carefully, one will still come across voices of dissent.

Suvendu is one of the TMC leaders seen allegedly accepting bribes in the Narada News sting operation. He may well be handing over his seat to his brother to stay out of the limelight till the Lok Sabha polls.

(Also read: From Saradha to Narada: The Ugly Underbelly of Bengal Politics)

“Farming in itself is not profitable anymore”, says a Nandigram local.  (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Abhirup Dam)
“Farming in itself is not profitable anymore”, says a Nandigram local. (Photo: The Quint/Abhirup Dam)

Development, or no development, Nandigram, along with the rest of Bengal has a long way to go when it comes to guaranteeing employment to its people.

Otherwise, the number of Bengali migrant labourers working for large construction projects across the country will keep on rising.

Also Read on The Quint

Acid Test for Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal Assembly Polls 2016
Minority Interests-What’s That? Ask Nandigram’s Displaced Muslims
Putting Left’s 34-Year Rule Behind, Bengal Voters Have Moved on
West Midnapore: In TMC’s Own Backyard, Tribal Discontent Simmers

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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