Nandigram: Taking People for Granted

The violent clash on January 7 between supporters of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirod Committee (BUPC), a local land eviction resistance front and “cadres” of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Nandigram block of East Midnapur district in West Bengal that led to the death of 11 persons (from both camps) has once again brought the agricultural land acquisition issue to the fore. The Haldia Development Authority’s notice listing 29 ‘mouzas’ (lowest revenue collection unit) in Nandigram (27 mouzas) and Khejuri (2 mouzas) blocks of East Midnapur district, covering over 14,000 acres of land, to be acquired for a special economic zone (SEZ) for development by the Salim group of Indonesia has predictably led to tension among the local peasants.TheCPI(M)led Left Front (LF) government, ensconced in office for close to three decades, does not seem to have learned any lessons from Singur. The SEZ phenomenon is, however, not confined to West Bengal. It is the democratic consciousness of the people of that state, no doubt the legacy of the various political movements of the left, that seems to spontaneously arouse people sooner rather than later into action against injustices as they surface.

We are living in neoliberal times. The public sector has been disparaged and discredited so much that it is now considered as something to be avoided. The private sector then, it is argued, has to be given all kinds of incentives to invest– huge state grants in so-called public-private partnerships, guaranteed rates of return, tax exemptions, land below market prices (at times after depriving the peasants of fair compensation, and resettlement and rehabilitation), opportunities for speculative gains in real estate in the SEZs and in the stock markets, a carte blanche to violate labour laws in the SEZs, and so on. And with globalisation, capital, whether Indian or foreign, has to be given better terms than what is on offer by governments in other potential locations in other countries. When capital finally decides to make an investment in the domestic economy, state governments then compete with one another in offering better terms to enhance their respective location advantages. The revenue loss such terms entail does, of course, compound their problem of financing programmes in health, education and other important public services, forcing them to either cut back on these programmes or turn to the multilateral or bilateral “aid” agencies that willy-nilly impose their “conditionalities”. Frankly, it is really a “race to the bottom” in which the state governments have limited options. The question of social democracy in one country seems passé; it is now one of social democracy in one province.

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