All eyes are on the rapidly unfolding situation in West Bengal, as the hunger strike of Ms. Mamata Banerjee continues against the forcible land acquisition of farm land for a Tata car unit. The land is to be acquired for the building of a plant for the small car mass production. The land is being acquired by the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government under the notorious Bengal Land Acquisition Act of 1894, a
draconian law enacted by the colonial British masters. The land to be acquired is said to be largely held by small peasants who are unwilling to part with their holdings for the legitimate fear of destitution and destruction of their livelihood, given the dismal record of rehabilitation of all displacement in the country, whether or not those that have been displaced have been by private or public sector projects during the period since 1947. According to a news report from The Statesman dateline December 10, 2006.
"The members of the Singur Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (SKJRC) today countered the state government’s claim saying that the state government was yet to receive consent from owners of nearly 344.91 acres of land. The state government had claimed that it had received letters of consent from owners of 935 acres of land earmarked for the Tatas’ small car factory in Singur. Meanwhile, 14 women have launched a fast-unto-death near Beraberi Purbapara in Singur today in protest against alleged “police excesses” on last Saturday and the state government’s “false claims”."
Other prominent personalities, including the famous writer Mahashwetha Devi, Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy have also lent their support to the just agitation of the farmers that are to be displaced.
It must be mentioned here that the developments of Singur have an objective basis in the relations of ownership and production prevailing in the country, with the dispossessed and those who are to be dispossessed resisting the willful activities of a callous and insensitive state that speaks of ‘development’ for one at the expense of another. It is well known that the period of independence has been one of great opportunity for the largest industrial houses in the country to consolidate their primal place in the Indian economy which has now led to some of them emerging as global players in the world market. The Tata group in particular has been flexing its muscles internationally, e.g., acquisition of Tetley tea, and its bid for the CORUS group to emerge as one of the largest steel makers in the world. Contingent is their plan to grow domestically through the exploitation of the vast natural resources of the country and its cheap labour. Earlier this year, we witnessed the massacre of several persons in the traditional tribal regions of Kalinganagar in the bid of Tata Steel to set up a plant in Orissa.
Having said this, it must be mentioned that the entire industrial class in the country is in a reckless bid to expand their productive base with nary a thought to the consequences that their activities mean to the rest of the population. Under the bogus pretext of bringing ‘development’ to various regions, they plan to enrich themselves on an unparalleled scale. Their activities, traditionally in the hands of public companies, have extended themselves into telecommunication, petro-chemicals, oil, air transport to name a few. It is, therefore, no surprise that their activities being carried out under the aegis of privatization and liberalization are coming into conflict with the lives of millions to who these will bring no benefit.
Several observations, however, are in order. The first being that irrespective of which party or coalition is in power, the policies are the same. Traditionally capital deprived regions such as West Bengal have now bent over backwards to make themselves tremendously attractive for capital investment. By offering concessions, tax holidays, guarantees against labour disruption, the Government there is vying with those of other states to make itself the favoured destination not just for the Tatas, but for the likes of Infosys, Wipro and international players including the Salim Group of Indonesia. Similar activities are going on in full swing all over the country. It must also be pointed out that the projects always face stiff resistance from the local population, as the fate that awaits them is well know. For example, the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project (BMIP) met stiff resistance from the affected population under the matter became sub-judice.
Returning to the matter of Singur, according to a report in The Times of India dateline December 8, 2006 “Central Committee member Nilotpal Basu, who interacted with a delegation of protesters, had no answer to their query that if everything is hunky dory in Singur, why are outsiders like Medha Patkar not being allowed there and why is Section 144 still in place. Basu only justified police action. This was how police behaves, he told the delegation."
This above raises as always the question of state power and its exercise in the public sphere. Irrespective of which party is in power, the exercise of the power is similar. In the matter of Singur, as in the matter of Kalinganagar or the BMIP, no political force can avoid engaging with the question of political power and how it is wielded in the country. Great clarity is needed to elaborate clearly on the relationship between the economic elite and political power. It has to be pointed out that many of the objective struggles that have arisen have ended in failure due to the inability of the forces leading the struggles to connect them to the question of the polity. All forces engaged in the struggle for dignity, human rights and welfare of the people of India have to deal with these questions. The events that are unfolding will clearly distinguish between the forces that stand for these, and those that are arrayed on the other side of the oligarchs and those crushing the aspirations of the masses.
by B. Ananthanarayan