India: Nandigram – the brutal massacre of peasants at the hands of the ‘Left’ front government

On March 14 up to 100 peasants in Nandigram, West Bengal, were brutally massacred by the police as they protested against land-grabbing operations. The leaders of the CPI-M in the local government have justified this action as part of their so-called “development model”. The contradictions between the leaders of the Indian communist movement and the millions of workers who support them are posed here sharply.

Nandigram, a village in East Midnapur, West Bengal, was drowned in the blood of poor people, among which women and children on 14th March, when 3000 strongly armed policemen and armed goons sent by the ruling CPI-M (Communist Party of India -Marxist) surrounded the villages and fired aimlessly at the protesting people. This day will be remembered as a dark day in the history of the Indian Communists.

Nandigram has been a focal point of struggle in West Bengal, for the last two months, after the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya announced that thousands of acres of agricultural land would be grabbed by the government for the purpose of building a chemical hub and a Special Economic Zone, whose owner will be Salim, a crony capitalist of Indonesia. Salim gained some special ‘notoriety' during the Suharto regime, where he was seen as being responsible for murdering thousands of Indonesians and common people.

Unfortunately Nandigram is not an exception, a lone example, in West Bengal, where there is an ongoing attempt on the part of the government - in the interest of the capitalists - to forcibly acquire fertile agricultural land from the peasants. The process started with South 24 Parganas, where, in the name of "developing real estate" in the interest of Salim, land will be taken from peasants. In Singur in the Hooghly District nearly 1000 acres of land is being taken from the peasants to allow Ratan Tata to build his small motor vehicle producing factory.

The incredible thing is that the leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) theorize this process of vulgar industrialization in a two-fold fashion. It is clear they are following the same line as the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, which is carrying out a similar policy in relation to the peasantry, brutally expropriating them in favour of capitalist development.

Their argument is as follows. Firstly, they say that today agriculture is not profitable; hence developing new industries will create new jobs. By getting the compensation for land, peasants can then put this money into bank and earn interest which will be greater than their present monthly income. Secondly: as the state-run sectors, the public sector, are increasingly becoming sick, in the changed scenario it is now the task of the Left Front government to invite multinationals to invest in the area. In this process jobs will be generated, productivity will be increased, which will further... pave the ground for socialism!

This is exactly the same thinking as the Chinese leadership! They actually say that they are building communism "via capitalism". It is incredible to see how far they have gone in their thinking. In reality they have abandoned any socialist perspective, and simply see their role as managing capitalism.

The entire logic of the CPI-M Central Committee is based on the false assertion that they must fool the people. Firstly, the present phase of capitalism is entirely different to that of the industrial revolution, when it abolished the old patriarchal, feudal productive system. During that phase there was also a merciless displacement and dislocation took place, but from the point of view of the mode of production it was an historical advancement.

Today we live in the senile stage of capitalism and imperialism. The system is no longer able to develop the productive forces and generate sufficient jobs. Agricultural land grabbing and building real estate is a new phenomenon of worldwide capitalism. In this entire process of globalisation, huge numbers of people are losing their jobs, whereas only a small minority are getting any benefit.

If we observe the case in Singur, nearly 15000 people (peasants, agricultural labourers, Bargadars) will be made jobless, and the industrialization process will generate at most 4000 jobs (nearly 300 people in the Tata factory and the rest in subsidiary factories and sectors). In Nandigram, the amount of land that will be taken will equal to nearly 10,000 acres and one can see how many people will lose their means of survival - the agricultural land.

This is the natural consequence of globalisation, but what is quite revealing is that the so called Left, which still holds the name of Communist Party, is putting forward this new theory of "model of development", which is nothing but the classical bourgeois model.

Although the CPI-M and the Left Front had long ago departed from revolutionary Marxism, their policy was at least based on reformism, i.e. trying to gain some improvement for the workers under capitalism, at least in theory. Now they have made their objectives very clear by promoting the concept of the development model, which is the model of globalisation, and they are educating their cadres in this philosophy.

The party is now in a contradictory situation. In states like Maharashtra and others, their activists are raising their voices against Special Economic Zones. But in those states where they are in local government, especially in West Bengal, they are clearly taking the side of the capitalists and all across India they have theorized this new ‘development model' as a viable alternative.

Among the party's ranks, especially inside the trade unions, the mood is one of struggling against the new economic policy. But overall, the party has moved very far from the old reformist traditions. Although the party is Communist in name, in practice it has become like a right wing social democratic party, and its leaders are being sucked into the bourgeois milieu.

The incident that took place on March 14 can be cited as a black day in the history of independent India. Violence between parties, or the police acting in the interests of the government firing on crowds and killing people is not a new thing in India. That has been the general characteristic of this bourgeois state.

Already in West Bengal in the period of the United Front and Left Front government the killing of peasants in Naxalbadi took place back in 1967, later there were the killings in Marinchjhapi, and many more examples of a similar type can be quoted. But the recent March 14 incident is much worse. Not only did the police fire on and kill protesting men, women and children, but armed cadres and antisocials also entered the villages and killed people, raped women, dragged children from their mothers and killed them mercilessly. The level of brutality is what is striking compared to past killings. The aim of this barbaric attack is to create an atmosphere of terror, so that the backbone of the protesting peasants would be broken, and thus the policy of grabbing land in the interests of the Salims of this world can be implemented unopposed.

Initially the Left Front government, under the leadership of the CPI-M, thought that their new concept of ‘development model' could be implemented easily, but they then faced widespread protests of peasants in Singur followed by the recent events in Nandigram.

Nandigram, which was a traditional stronghold of the CPI and CPI-M, erupted into violence after an announcement was made of acquisition of land. CPI and CPI-M activists came out and protested widely against this undemocratic, pro-capitalist decision of the government.

The mafia CPI-M leader in Haldia, Lakhan Seth, deliberately tried to use terror tactics against the protesting crowds, but Nandigram has a tradition of peasant struggle. Even after two months of violence the CPI-M leadership failed to regain its ground. The violence took the lives of almost 20 people on both sides and the local government began to realise that Nandigram could never be won back under their control. Hence the mass killing that occurred in Nandigram at the hands of 5000 strongly armed policemen and the armed goons and antisocials hired by the CPI-M.

What really happened in Nandigram on March 14th

To get a good understanding of the full meaning of what has happened we need to describe the events in Nandigram on the basis of some fact-finding reports and eye witness accounts. The following information was based on material published in www.countercurrents.org.

A 20-member CPI-ML team including the party's General Secretary visited the areas of Nandigram where the massacre took place and also talked to injured victims undergoing medical treatment. They heard reports of the most horrendous killings of unarmed people, gang rapes and brutal assaults on women and children, and the following facts emerged about the events of March 14.

The villagers were worried that there might be a police crackdown. They did not want to give the police any pretext for attack and so they gathered women and children and put them at the front. They did not believe that the police would fire on women and children Thousands of villagers were determined to prevent the police and cadres from entering the village.

They knew full well that in the name of "restoring peace" the police and local administration wanted to take back control of the village by reinstating CPI(M) cadres so that the task of land acquisition would become easier. Unfortunately the villagers were to receive a bitter lesson in how brutal the police can be when defending the interests of capitalists.

"The police lobbed teargas shells and fired rubber bullets - not to disperse a violent or unruly mob, but rather to literally create a smokescreen and confuse the crowd of people. Having done so, the firing began. The bullet wounds on the bodies of the people at hospitals are mostly in the waist, chest, back - bullets were cold-bloodedly aimed to kill. Local CPI(M) leaders oversaw the entire operation, and many villagers recounted how several of those in police uniform and helmets wore chappals on their feet, indicating that they were actually CPI(M) goons in uniform.

"A particularly brutal feature of the attack is the aspect of sexual assault on women and massacre of children. Women have recounted having seen little children being torn apart. They said many children were still in school uniform, having just returned from morning schools, and were brutally assaulted. A large number of children are still missing; it is not clear whether they have run away, been abducted, or been killed and the bodies disposed off. The local people suspect that the missing children have been killed."

The injured people were admitted to the Tamluk, the Nandigram Health Centre, and the SSKM hospital in Kolkata. From conversations with these people it appeared that the number of people killed may surpass the official number of 14 and may even reach a number close to 100. Dead bodies have been burnt or buried. In Tamluk Hospital 14 dead bodies were brought in on 16th March (12 male, 2 female). Another person died later in hospital. Among the injured brought to the hospital, 31 were male, and 14 female. 7 dead bodies are yet to be identified.

"At the Nandigram hospital, 65 injured were brought in, (32 male and 33 female). Both these hospitals are understaffed, there is no sweeper, only two ambulances. Life saving drugs not available and are locally purchased on an ad-hoc basis. The injuries of those in hospital and the reports of the state of the dead bodies tell their own tale. Many had bullet injuries - above the waist, in the chest, abdomen, frontal side of shoulder. In Tamluk hospital there were 2 rape victims - Gouri Pradhan (25), of Adhikary Para of Gokulnagar and Kajal Majhi (35), mother of 4 children, of Kalicharanpur. One of the latter's breasts had been lacerated by a chopper/sword."

Communism or barbarism?

However shocking this may be to all genuine socialists and communists, the red flag has become the symbol of terror to the peasants in Nandigram, Singur and elsewhere, where the question of land acquisition in the interest of capitalists has become a key one. The extent of the violence at Nandigram indicates that it was not simply the case of a group of police that reacted in an uncontrolled manner. All the evidence seems to indicate that it was a consciously planned attack on the villagers. The aim is to create a regime of terror, as a warning to other peasants.

"The people at the hospitals as well as in the three affected villages told us they recognised CPI(M) leaders who directed the entire operation -Lakshman Seth, MP and chairman of the Haldia Development Corporation, CPI(M) district leaders and panchayat functionaries like Ashok Guria, Ashok Bera, Debal Das, and Sureshwar Khatua. These leaders also ensured that almost no media reached Nandigram - several newspapers reported how their reporters and camera persons were roughed up by the CPI(M) goons."

Unfortunately, the entire operation got approval of chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and the CPI(M) politburo. Afraid of widespread mass reaction, the CPI(M) leaders have been trying to come up with different stories. CPI(M) MP Sitaram Yechury has said that SEZs and land acquisition had nothing to do with what happened at Nandigram. According to his version of events, 'outsiders' and 'extremists', frustrated by their inability to mobilise local support, indulged in violence against the police.

None of this corresponds to the truth. Nandigram is a traditional CPI-CPI(M) stronghold, an old area of the Tebhaga peasant struggle. The local MP is from the CPI(M), the MLA from the CPI, and most panchayat members are from the CPI(M). The only reason why this strong mass base suddenly turned against the CPI(M) was the proposed land acquisition for the planned Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be developed by Indonesian MNC Salem International.

The fact is that Nandigram was becoming a focal point for resistance to SEZs and corporate land grabbing. That is why it was picked out for such brutal treatment. It had become a thorn in the side not just of the local CPI(M) leaders or the Left Front government, but of all governments right across India.

In the true sense of the word, the events in Nandigram were genocide, which can be compared with the 2002 Godhra carnage in Narendra Modi's Gujrat, when at least 1000 people died. The difference is that in Gujrat the killings were the result of chauvinist attacks on the Muslim minority. Here that kind of jingoism was absent, because of the difference in politics between the CPI(M) and the BJP. The CPI(M) leaders could not use the ethnic question, but they did try to raise the spectre of so-called "extremists" or outsiders, but this failed to convince the masses.

It should not be assumed, however, that the rank and file of the CPI(M), CPI, RSP, i.e. partners in the Left Front, accepted this role easily. There are grievances within the rank and file of the CPI(M) and other parliamentary left parties against this barbarous act of the leadership. In West Bengal, where they have been in power now for30 years, the rank and file of the CPI(M) and other left parties have undergone a long process of depoliticisation, but still there are echoes of opposition against this monstrous act that may be heard. In the states other than West Bengal, and where the CPI(M) is not in power, this so called "Communist" Party leadership is greatly discredited, which arouses a certain discontent within the rank and file.

Which way forward for the revolutionary left?

Nandigram has now become a symbol to the whole of India, because it finally forced chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya to announce that no agricultural land will be taken in Nandigram to build the SEZ.

The peasant struggle in Singur and Nandigram started spontaneously and the struggle was in a certain sense directed against the capitalist offensive. But due to the lack of a revolutionary alternative, the rightist forces like Trinamul gained. [This is a nationalist, bourgeois with roots in Congress]. It may be surprising to some, but it is a fact that Trinamul on certain occasions at least pretended to lead the struggle.

However, this is not so astonishing, when one considers that it is a regional bourgeois party and it is not so committed to the interests of Tata, like the national bourgeois party Congress-I or the BJP. Its ideology is definitely reactionary and pro-capitalist, but at the moment it is aiming to regain its prestige as an opposition force in West Bengal. In the absence of a mass revolutionary party, it can sometimes appear to sections of the struggling peasants as an alternative, but it tactfully avoids mobilisation of the people based on any anti-capitalist consciousness, and rather focuses on capturing new territories by involving people with armed clashes with CPI(M) activists.

Even the BJP has tried to gain nationally from this incident by pointing to the brutality of the ‘communists'. Congress(I), as it has an alliance nationally with the CPI(M) and other constituent parties, apparently seems silent, but it is also trying to gain from the situation.

Of course the contradiction between the CPI(M) and CPI on the one hand and the BJP on the other is not the same as that between two capitalist parties. What still worries the Indian big bourgeoisie is the mood within the trade unions CITU, AITUC. Although this militant mood is held back by the pro-capitalist leadership of the CPI(M), the trade union leaders are occasionally forced to mobilise against the offensive of capital.

The CPI(M) is a massive force within the Indian working class and has close links to the trade union movement. Within it there are many good class fighters, but the leadership is another question. In practice they have adopted the outlook of the social democracy. They have swallowed all the propaganda of the bourgeois and see no alternative to capitalism. That is the tragedy of the situation.

The presence of other left forces in Singur, Nandigram was marginal. The radical forces such as Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), a Stalinist party or the CPIML(Liberation), followers of Mao Zedong were present in the struggles in their own capacity, but unfortunately it is mostly the Trinamul Congress that gained. But this fact cannot undermine the significance of this anti-corporate struggle.

In West Bengal the CPI-M and Left Front have seriously been put to the test by the events in Nandigram. Many honest rank and file members of the CPI-M will be asking themselves how this could have happened. It exposes the leaders of the party before the ranks.

The problem is not one of this or that degenerate leader of the party. The problem lies in the ideology they have adopted. They have accepted in practice that socialism is no longer possible. In this they are heavily influenced by the Chinese bureaucracy. Once you have bought the idea that the only kind of development is capitalist development then you end up defending the interests of the capitalists.

What has to be questioned within the ranks of the Indian communist movement is this turn of the leadership. The future of the Indian communist movement is in the hands of the millions of honest communist workers and youth. The struggles of the peasants together with the many mobilisations of the Indian working class over recent years indicate that the will to struggle is there. What is lacking is a leadership up to the task. The history of betrayals of Social Democracy is well known, as is that of the Stalinists, what is now needed is to put forward a revolutionary alternative to the masses. This is the real challenge facing genuine Marxists in India.