Open Forum

Peasants' Struggle in Singur, West Bengal, India

Manik Mukherjee
Socialist Unity Centre of India

In India today the word Singur evokes an image of poor peasants valiantly fighting against the repression of an unfeeling autocratic government paying lip service to democracy and socialism. The national and international media and the economics pundits are talking about the economic boom of a resurgent India, and are very appreciative of a favourable investment climate in the country. But the real ugly face of the investment venture of the national and multi-national capital working hand in hand with the Indian ruling class is vividly exposed at Singur. Singur is a locality in the neighbourhood of Calcutta and the principal occupation of the people is agriculture. The land is fertile, well-irrigated, much of it being multi-crop. With a great big fanfare of promoting industrialization the 'Left Front' government, led by the pseudo-Marxist party CPI(M), has decided to acquire 1000 acres of this fertile agricultural land and hand it over to the monopoly house of the Tatas to set up a factory for producing so-called people's small cars. The government refuses to disclose the terms of the hand-over, maintaining that this is a trade secret; but from the pronouncements of the officials it is clear that unheard of tax concessions are offered, and the land is given away on Tata's terms, practically for a song.

The agricultural production in the state would suffer a set-back and more than 30,000 people, including peasants, agricultural labourers and their family members would be uprooted. They would be deprived of any means of sustenance and be rendered destitute and paupers. The government propaganda is loud that this would usher in a new wave of industrialization in the state. But everybody knows that in the present era acute market crisis is preventing capital to be invested in manufacturing industry in the capitalist-imperialist countries. So the capitalist class is looking towards service sector, speculative financial market, real estate, particularly in the developing countries, for investment of surplus capital. In this era of acute economic crisis in the capitalist world, it is nothing but deception to tout that setting-up a small car manufacturing plant would bring about all-round industrialization in the state. This becomes all the more apparent if we look at the industrial scene in West Bengal today, with nearly 30,000 factories closed down and almost 1.5 million workers retrenched after 30 years of 'Left Front' rule. The CPI(M) Chief Minister's assurance that the displaced peasants would find employment in the factory is a blatant lie. It would be an ultramodern plant, highly automated, employing very few workers, that too mostly skilled. Few of the peasants and agricultural labourers who would lose their livelihood will find jobs at the factory.

Spreading such disinformation, the government coaxed, cajoled and coerced some farmers to give up their land in exchange of the offered compensation. The - government claimed that more than 80% of the peasants have willingly given their land, but the truth is that a sizeable proportion of the peasants are resisting the acquisition of land. Being cornered the government now says that under the Land Acquisition Act it does not need the consent of the farmers, and using the provisions of this Act it is 'democratically' taking over the land.

From the time the government first announced its decision to acquire the land, the local people decided to resist this forcible acquisition. Our party SUCI fully supported the legitimate demand of the people and the party activists took upon themselves the imperative task of organizing the peasant masses in people's struggle committees and volunteer brigades. Nearly 70 such committees were formed. The party volunteers stayed in the villages, lived with the peasant families giving them hope and courage. Supporters of other political parties, some even belonging to the ruling party, joined the people's committees. A broad-based Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (Singur Committee to Protect Agricultural Land) was formed to conduct the struggle, with a representative from our party as one of the convenors.

Then on 25th September at the dead of night the government let loose its armed police and Rapid Action Force (RAF), assisted by the CPI(M) storm troopers on the protesting villagers. They ransacked the homes, beat up everybody sparing not even octogenarian ladies and tiny toddlers. Women were specially targeted because they were in the forefront of the struggle. A young villager succumbed to the injury. Many were arrested, even a 2-year old child was detained in the police lock-up. To protest against this dastardly attack SUCI called a General Strike on 9th October. The people of West Bengal overwhelmingly responded to the call ignoring all threats, intimidation and police repression.

Resistance movements continued at Singur and throughout West Bengal people from all walks of life came out in active support of the Singur peasants. The Singur issue attracted the people's attention in all comers of India also and leading human rights activists like Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and others came out in support of the peasants' demands.

The CPI(M)-led government did not reckon that there would be such stiff resistance from the peasants or that there would be such widespread public support for the peasants' cause. But it remained adamant and inflexible. The Chief Minister arrogantly declared that he would not allow even a hair of the Tatas to be harmed, that there is no question of reversing the decision. Alarmed at the rising protest and the surge of mass movements, the government clamped Section 144 at Singur forbidding any mass movement or any visit of leaders or activists. On 2nd December under massive armed escort the government officials proceeded to put fences around the earmarked land. When the peasants protested, the police brutally pounced upon them beating up even the women and children. They entered into the houses, dragged people out and mercilessly beat them. Paddy and other crops were destroyed, crop storehouses were set on fire. Whatever little footage of the diabolic police action was beamed across the country by TV channels outraged the people. To give expression to the people's anger the SUCI called again a General Strike on 5th December. In spite of intimidation and terror on the part of the government and the CPI(M) party hooligans and the incessant anti-strike campaign in the bourgeois media the General Strike was a resounding success. The leader of the main opposition party in the Legislative Assembly, Mamta Banerjee went on hunger strike that went for 25 days. But the government remained adamant to climb down from its disastrous decisions.

The situation at Singur today remains grim. It is now practically under seize. Section 144 remains in place. The police have cordoned off the whole area. The police and the CPI(M) cadres are terrorizing the people there. Only a few days back a young girl, a leading activist in the resistance was molested, killed and burned allegedly by the CPI(M) party hoodlums within the fenced in acquired land. But despite all the atrocity the Singur peasants are not giving up. Defying the prohibitory order of the government they are staging mass demonstrations. Many are still firm that they would not part with their lands under any circumstances. The Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee has declared that they would not accept any negotiated decision with the government that go against the peasants' interests.

But Singur is not an isolated episode. The CPI(M)-led government is gearing up to grab more than 1,00,000 acres of agricultural land from many parts of West Bengal and hand them over to the Corporate Houses. Real estate development is one of the principal sectors in which the multi-national and national big corporate houses want to invest their surplus capital. For this they are eyeing to occupy prime lands in. India. The big parliamentary parties in India, the Congress, the BJP, the CPI(M) are all willing partners in this conspiracy and have hatched up different schemes, like Special Economic Zones, for giving full liberty to the corporate houses to exploit the labour force and the Indian people. The CPI(M) has taken a lead in this venture to serve the interest of national and foreign capital. Through the Singur venture the CPI(M) wants to convey the message to the industrial barons and giant corporates that they can depend upon the party to suppress the people's movements in order to protect the interest of the capitalist class. On the other side Singur has became a source of inspiration to the peasants under threat of losing their land. Throughout West Bengal SUCI is devoting itself to the task of organizing the peasants to resist the attacks. Through its consistent and uncompromising stand it has earned the confidence of the peasants that if SUCI is in the movement it will advance along the right track to its successful culmination. As the struggle of the Singur peasants is going on so also the oppressed people all over the country are gearing up for a protracted battle under the right leadership. SUCI is committed to take the struggle ahead.

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