Red Carpet for Capital in West Bengal
The Marxist chief minister of West Bengal said in Kolkata day before yesterday (30 November 2006) that the West Bengal government will “do all that needs to be done” to ensure full protection to Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Sons, and the management and workers of Tata Motors “to stay here and start work” on the car plant at Singur, Hooghly district. Thus spake Buddhadeb and the above lines have been taken verbatim from a newspaper that is known for its sympathies with the Marxist party.
The chief minister, who also happens to be a politburo member of the CPI(M), also reportedly exclaimed in surprise “How can Mamata Banerjee stop the project” as it had the “overwhelming support of the people.” Farmers have apparently given consent letters to hand over 932 acres of land (out of the 997 required) and cheques were disbursed to them towards compensation. There have been two comments posted earlier on this blog which dealt with Medha Patkar’s response to the Indian Express on this issue. The farcical nature of cash compensations is of course well known for all who have any idea of what generally happens in such cases and has indeed happened in this one. Cash amounts are pathetic and the for most of those whom the Express correspondent “saw” queuing up to receive these cheques, this is the next best option to losing all the land at gunpoint, without compensation.
The interesting thing, of course, is that none of the arguments against the Singur land grab are unknown to the Marxists. In earlier times, they would have been the ones making such arguments. Elsewhere, in other parts of the country, they still are! In West Bengal however, it is all different (and now in Kerala too).
It is worth recalling that around this time last year the Left Front (LF) government was bending over backwards to amend land laws in order to make 5000 acres of land available to the Salem group from Indonesia. According to news reports, the CPM land reform minister Abdul Rezzak Mollah (a veteran Kisan Sabha leader), even as he drafted the new bill under orders from the chief minister, threatened to oppose it in the Assembly. According to him all this virtually amounted to selling off the peasants’ interests. In the event, the bill when it came up for voting in the state assembly, it was defeated 158-0 and could not muster a single vote in its favour. This clearly meant that the ruling LF and CPM members too decided to stay away or abstain. Buddhadeb of course went forth undeterred and decided to ‘purchase’ land. For all future occasions, this was to become the model.
This is the story of the acquisition of land (in lieu of compensation). It is NOT a purchase from the peasants at market prices. The state acquires the land from the farmers/peasants at rates that bear no relationship to market rates. In doing this for the Tatas or the Salem group, the CPM completely prostrates itself before the very capitalists whom it had thundered against in earlier times. It is with this ruse that Buddhadeb has managed to silence critics within the party and buy their support for the land grab programme. Thus have the Abdul Rezzak Mollahs and the Benoy Konars now become part of that machine that is ready to come to the streets to silence any protest against capital’s colonization of agricultural land.
What takes the cake however is the final – and as the Stalinists say – clinching argument put forward by the flag-bearers of the new predatory Left-wing capitalism. What, in the CPM’s opinion, renders these protests illegitimate? That they are not spearheaded by landowners, but by bargadars (sharecroppers) and agricultural labourers who work on that land, being landless. The very rural proletariat in short, that the CPM in earlier times used to call the most oppressed part of Bengali (and Indian) society! The very rural proletariat that along with its urban counterpart was vested with the role of the vanguard – precisely because it owned nothing – had nothing but its chains to lose. Hai Sarbahara – as they would say in Bangla!