By Pradipta Tapadar
Nandigram (West Bengal), (IANS) Five years after a movement that catapulted it into the national spotlight and spelt the beginning of the end of the 34-year Left rule, Nandigram is still counting the losses of the bloody anti-land acquisition movement.
Development is at a standstill and many of those who had been at the forefront of the movement and lost their family members say they were used as cannon fodder against the mighty Left, which was defeated by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in May last year.
“It was a fight for justice that we won. But what did we get? What did Nandigram and Khejuri get? Our houses were burnt by the CPI-M. But Trinamool took the entire mileage. And it no longer cares for the martyrs and the heroes of the movement,” complained Atin Nanda, a local Trinamool leader, lamenting the lack of development in the area.
Atin was one of the founders of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC). It was formed when the movement started Jan 3-4, 2007, against the notification for acquiring land in Nandigram and Khejuri in East Midnapore district, 125 km from Kolkata, for a special economic zone (SEZ).
It snowballed into a major agrarian agitation as protestors dug roads and damaged bridges, virtually cutting off Nandigram.
The disturbances culminated in police firing March 14 that left 14 villagers dead and scores injured. There were also allegations of rape and torture by police and the ruling Marxists.
The chain of incidents led to outrage across the country as civil rights groups, intellectuals and farmer bodies expressed solidarity with the protestors and flayed the then Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front government for its “brutality”.
The developments happened alongside the protests in Singur, where the government’s bid to lease out land to Tata Motors for the Nano car came unstuck after the automobile major shifted the factory to Gujarat as it was faced with a fierce anti-land acquisition protest.
The Marxists, entrenched in power since 1977, slipped in the quicksand of Nandigram and Singur, losing one election after another across the state as their hitherto impregnable rural base collapsed.
“We were used as bullets to take on the CPI-M. But now with there is lot of corruption in the panchayat bodies run by Trinamool. There are no traces of development,” said Shyamal Kumar Mishra, a former BUPC leader.
Mishra alleged that the rural job schemes under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and other developmental works of the area had been stalled due to infighting.
Swadesh Adhikary, a former BUPC member who lost two of his close friends during the movement, alleged that none of the Trinamool leaders had visited the houses of the martyrs after the party came to power.
Several people of the area are still missing.
Five years on, residents of Nandigram-Khejuri say that an industry can always be established without touching agricultural land.
“We were never against industrialisation. We wanted industrialisation but without affecting the agriculture. If an industry comes up on the vacant tracts of land we will be happy,” said Debasish Juri from Khejuri.
The political one-upmanship has begun again.
“It is true that the police officers involved in the March 14 massacre could not be brought to book but we are always by the side of the valiant people of Nandigram,” said Suvendu Adhikari, Trinamool MP.
Said CPI-M leader Mohammed Salim: “Nandigram was one of factors behind our defeat. But what did the locals get from the movement? They remain on the same boat.”
According to some experts, Nandigram has blocked the path of industrialisation in the state.
“Nandigram no doubt had provided a much needed jolt in terms of amendment of the 1894 draconian land acquisition bill. At the same time it has blocked the path of industrialisation,” said Amartya Mukhopadhaya of Calcutta University.