(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 21 , 2008
A PEOPLE’S rally was held at Singur. The rally was called at short notice. The rally was held at the behest of the Bengal Left Front. The rally grounds accommodated a tad over a lakh of people.
Those outside of the venue itself represented nearly double the figure.
We knew because we were not able to ‘get in,’ maybe for the first time in our long experience as a reporter of the Party organs. We were simply overtaken by the enthusiastic people who came in their thousands much, much before the scheduled time of the opening of the rally grounds.
A happy mix of men, women, children, the young and the old, the students and the worker, the youth and farmers (the latter in their thousands) chatted with us and they enthusiastically said ‘this is how it should be -- given the support base we have been able to build up in Hooghly.’
The Hooghly leadership of the CPI(M) and the Left Front, those of them who, too, like us, could not be inside the premises, were beaming ear-to-ear with pride at the mass of the people that have rallied around, in some instances irrespective of political affiliations, to come to the mass meeting, or near it.
It is not so much as listening to the addresses delivered. It has more to do with the spirit of things: the cry from a hundred thousand voices go up, – ‘we want industrialisation, we want employment, and we want peace, at Singur, in Bengal.’
The discipline was overwhelming. About two lakh of people are milling around the NH 6. Long unending rows of people are sitting on the kerbs and munching patiently, contentedly paper cartonful of masala-muri, and listening to the speeches via loudspeaker ‘cones’ that are strung out in a long unending line on the highway itself
The two carriages of the highway remain quite open. Buses that had ferried people to the rally from far corners from the district – the rally is principally, if not solely, Hooghly-based – are parked leaning away either on the grassy shoulders or squatting along the wide boulevard of green verge separating the up from the down lane.
Yes, we do admit that traffic does not whiz through as it usually does past the factory, but today the traffic does not crawl along as well. Cars move at a slightly higher pace. Everybody is happy – no complaints from either the rallyists or the truckers and they cheerily wave at one another as they pass each other by.
Inside the ground, Biman Basu, Bengal CPI(M) secretary rising to speak to rousing cheer all around, carefully weaves his address around three points. First, the ruling Left Front must play a responsible role in the task of industrialising Bengal anew as a rush of investments are poised for implementation.
Second, the landlosers who are yet hesitant – for whatever the reason, and the reason is neither important nor a sticking point – must make haste and collect the cheques for the new investment package lying ready for delivery at the office of the land acquisition office at Chinsurah. Any problems or glitches will be worked out by the senior leadership of the district Left Front.
Third, the Bengal opposition may like to have a look at the millions of hands ready for work across Bengal, and quit the disastrous path it has chosen to block the process of industrialisation, based on unreasonable, impractical, illegal demands, demands that are motivated politically, and the politics involved is of a narrow, sectarian kind.
Any difference of opinion about the way industrialisation should progress can be settled across the table. Nevertheless, do not ruin the prospects of industrial development of Bengal for the sake of a small amount of political mileage, which too might prove illusory, and perhaps heavily counter-productive.
Biman Basu spoke on the issues that had come to the front recently. He said that the process of pro-employment, pro-poor, and pro-people industrialisation would strengthen Bengal’s economy. The welfare of the kisans and the interests of agrarian growth and diversification shall never be impeded. The industries will provide a wall of protection to the new generation of the youth from unemployment.
Biman Basu reiterated the basic slogan of the CPI(M) and the Left Front: industrialisation for employment, industrialisation based on a widening agrarian base, amidst huge cheer all around. Senior Left Front leaders addressed the rally. Their ranks included Ashok Ghosh (FB), Manjukumar Majumdar (CPI), Kshiti Goswami (RSP), and others.
MAMATA SHOW DISAPPOINTS
Mamata Banerjee organised another of her assemblages at Singur a day after the Left Front rally. It was poorly attended and the rallyists just sat down on the expressway – both lanes – and traffic was brought to a standstill. That was about the only high-point of the affair.
Fortunately, for the suffering commuters, the rally ended rather abruptly when Mamata Banerjee cut short her speech (did she run out of hackneyed arguments, one is left wondering) and sat down, muttering to herself non-stop on the dais, which among others (like her Naxalite and SUCI friends --thin in number, loud in boister) had the infamous duo of the Emergency days on her either side – Somen Mitra and Subrata Mukherjee.
Mamata, rejecting Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s new and attractive rehabilitation package, reiterated her demand for ‘400 acres’ for ‘unwilling farmers.’ This time there were not many takers for her line and she left the rally promising ‘more demonstrations when the governor returns.’
The rousing of the mass of the people’s will was expressed through out the state during the Left Front’s campaign to garner people’s support for industrialisation. The people loudly proclaimed ‘Mamata- hands off Singur!’ The protests took various forms – rallies, conventions, jathas, signature campaigns on both paper slips and on gigantic-size whiteboards across the cities and townships. This movement was preceded by the coming together in the first place of lakhs of people at Singur itself, political considerations swept aside for a historic moment, forcing Mamta to flee the scene and run to the sheltering cove of the governor’s house.
A programme of rallies was announced by Left Front chairman Biman Basu on September 13 at the end of an LF meeting. He said the movement will spread across Bengal in every nook and corner of every town, city, village, and hamlet, and among all sections of the people who want industrialisation, and who also want the intransigence and impediment to development by the Trinamul Congress to be defeated.
As the CPI(M) leader pointed out, stressing each word, repeatedly, the ‘Trinamuli chief is not opposing just the CPI(M) and the Left Front government – it is waging a war against the people of Bengal,’ and it is the people who she shall have now to contend with, come the zenith of the tide of popular resentment -- in the form of a vast statewide movement.
Mamata Banerjee’s very own men, the bickering duo of Becharam Manna and Rabin Bhattacharya, were not able, after the umpteenth visit to the Singur grounds, to find out the parable land from the factory premises beyond 50 acres – and that too, courtesy of the industrial development corporation of the Bengal government. Becharam even called for ‘pulling down the factory structure to ‘accommodate the “unwilling peasants”.’
The chief minister touched by the state of uncertainty affecting the people of Singur and beyond, then offered Trinamul Congress and the people of Singur a sustainable rehabilitation-compensation package that could well be, according to Biman Basu, a ‘model for the entire country to emulate,’ a package that would make the LF government a loser in terms of the state exchequer but a winner all the way as far as people’s interests and more were concerned. What did the package that Mamata in her haughty uncertainty refused, contain?
Let us straightaway quote, nearly verbatim, from the press release of the chief minister’s office that has also been run as a well-displayed front-page advertisement in all the leading English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali dailies that are published form Bengal.
1. There has been a persistent demand that the families affected adversely by the project be provided with some land within the project locale. The state LF government proposes to ‘provide land measuring almost 40 acres at mouza Gopalnagar (dagh number 13 under the JLRO) towards the south of and within the project compound,’ and an additional land plot of ‘30 acres at mouza Beraberi (dagh 05),’ again within the project confines, for ‘use towards the people’s interests.’
2. Besides, the LF government offers ‘financial assistance to the landowners’ and share-croppers so as to enable them if they are willing, to purchase agricultural land plots of their liking. The exceptions are factory spaces and devottar land (land meant for religious purposes). The assistance has been subcategorised into two parts thus:
The land price declared by the LF government at the time of acquisition as compensation will now be increased by an additional 50 per cent
Land losers / bargadars who have not yet taken the specific compensation amount will be able to do so from the concerned authority
3. Those of the landlosers who would agree and take the financial compensation package within September 22, 2008 shall also receive an extra 10 per cent as has been done with those who have already received the compensation funds.
4. All affected agricultural labourers (khet mazdoors) and non-registered share-croppers bargadars in lands where owners are identified shall receive the NREGA-specified rate of 300 days’ worth of wages. To avail themselves of the opportunity, they need merely to produce residential proof via ‘NREGA job cards received from the concerned Gram Sansad, and their voters ID cards.’
5. The affected families who have no means of earning in a regular way would be ‘provided by the LF government’ in the concerned department/s with ‘training at the rate one member of each such family,’ and then try to find them direct/indirect employment. They families may register their names early with the Hooghly district administration.
6. All the villages included in the project area shall be included in the collective rural development plan as promised.
An important and very relevant point was raised by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Rajya Sabha MP from Bengal Brinda Karat in a recent communication about the fate or otherwise of land acquired for the factory, that are categorised as having ‘absentee landlords.’
The answer provided to this very pertinent query is this: wherever the ‘landlords’ are found wanting, either being absentees, or having left for places known and not wiling either to return or to receive compensation or both, the ‘rehabcompac’ will be provided to those who till the land in any capacity, bargadars, adhiyaars, khet mazdoors.