“The ardour of Deepavali has been dampened in the whole state by the events in Nandigram. Several villages in Nandigram are oscillating from the deepest gloom to panic. Even as of 4pm this day, I have received phone calls from responsible persons in Nandigram saying that several huts are ablaze.
Large numbers of villagers have taken refuge in the local high school in Nandigram, bereft of food and personal security. At the time of writing, the most accurate description for Nandigram is the one used by our Home Secretary, namely, it has become a “war zone”. No government or society can allow a war zone to exist without immediate and effective action.”
These ominous words by then Governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, on November 9, 2007 are an indication of the large-scale horror and violence unleashed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Nandigram. Ten years later, the Governor’s words still ring in our ears, reminding of the anarchist, dictatorial regime that once ruled Bengal.
The historic protest march in Kolkata on November 14, 2007
Nandigram had been on the boil since January, 2007, when the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee led government decided to set up a chemical hub in Nandigram and wanted to forcibly acquire land there. The same party, which was against SEZ elsewhere in India, was vocally supporting an SEZ for a private Indonesian company. Farmers reused to part with their land and the Party unleashed its harmad goons.
Things escalated when police opened fire on protesting farmers on March 14, 2007, killing 14 (official figures; villagers allege hundreds were killed and thrown into a nearby river). Villagers started fleeing their homes and for months, Nandigram became a ‘muktanchal’ (free zone) for CPI(M) cadres. By the end of October, 2007 when the villagers started returning home, the harmads launched a ‘recapture’ spree that led to unprecedented violence.
“Nandigram has become a slaughter house with blood being shed every day. CPM might be at the helm of affairs but the state still belongs to us,” said National Award winning director Aparna Sen, who along with the likes of Rituparno Ghosh, Bratya Basu, Kaushik Sen, Bibhas Chakraborty and other intellectuals boycotted the ongoing Kolkata Film Festival.
There was a outpouring of public anger, which led to a ‘maha michil’ on November 14 in the heart of Kolkata, decrying the barbaric violence by CPI(M) in Nandigram.
The 34 years of Leftist rule in Bengal is marred by unbridled violence. From Marichjhanpi to Memari, Sainbari to Singur, Nandigram to Netai, Nanoor to Keshpur – the comrades left no stone unturned to ensure there is no political opposition to them. Thousands of people have been slaughtered to keep communism alive in Bengal.
They say a nation cannot progress unless you take lessons from history. As Bengal stares at new political formulations in coming days, it is all the more essential to remember the bloodied past and the cost at which ‘Poriborton’ came in 2011.
“Tears of joy” – that was the reaction of Bengal’s Chief Minister on 31 August after the Supreme Court of India termed the land acquisition in Singur illegal and ordered for the land acquired to be returned to farmers. A fight that had started on 18 May, 2006 finally attained fruition. Life came a full cycle for not just Mamata Banerjee, our Didi, but for many of us who had been associated with the Singur andolan.
Back in 2006, the ‘Nano plant’ at Singur was sold to us as a panacea that would magically end all the woes facing the State; it was marketed as the one big investment that would propel Bengal to a position among States that would put other ‘vibrant’ States to shame. True, after three decades of Left rule, Bengal was desperate for a ‘magic pill’.
So, when Tatas decided pull out of Singur, the mainstream media branded Didi as ‘anti-industry’. The West prefixed before Bengal was laughingly referred to as ‘Waste’ meaning there was no hope left for the State. We always maintained we are not against industry. Investors are most welcome to Bengal. However, the manner in which multi-crop fertile land was acquired using cadre-power, the scant regard shown for due process, the sheer arrogance of the CPI(M) propelled the hapless people to rise up against the establishment. The Supreme Court verdict has only vindicated our stand.
Mamata Banerjee in Munich
The Singur verdict will embolden Mamata Banerjee. That she is not against private investment has been demonstrated in the two successful seasons of Bengal Global Business Summit and her trips to UK and Singapore. Despite the huge legacy of debt inherited from the Left Front Government, Bengal has been growing by leaps and bounds. The State’s GVA growth is 12% compared to 7% of India. The industrial growth of the State (8.3%) is also much higher than the national average (5.6%).
In this light, the CM’s trip to Germany was extremely significant. From 5-9 September, Team Bengal (the Chief Minister was accompanied by the State Finance, Commerce and Industries Minister Dr Amit Mitra, Mayor of Kolkata, several departmental secretaries, 29 industrialists and other members of the press) held several meetings at Munich, Stuttgart and Dusseldorf.
Team Bengal at BMW HQ in Munich
At a business conclave at Munich, Bengal CM made an impassioned appeal to investors to come to Bengal. She talked about easy availability of land, power, labour. She made a strategic appeal to move over an incident in the past. The response in Germany has been impressive.Top-level officials of BMW made presentations to Team Bengal during a three-hour meeting. Dusseldorf has expressed interest in making Kolkata their ‘Sister City’.
The opinion about Bengal is changing in the global market. A State which was once known as the Bandh Capital of India was running like any normal day on September 2, when 17 trade unions had called for Bharat Bandh. In fact, the man-days lost in Bengal due bandhs has come down to zero in the last five years. Business conclaves like the one in Munich help bolstering the message ‘Bengal Means Business’.
Standing ovation for Didi after Business Conclave in Munich
The seeds have been sown. The efforts of the State government to woo investors is clearly visible. All eyes on Bengal Global Business Summit, 2017. One thing is for certain: Bengal is back on the business map.
Photos courtesy: Ashok Majumder