Wave of Outrage and Protest
The Nandigram massacre has resulted in an upsurge of social activism and has shaken the social conscience in a way that is unprecedented in recent times. It has also resulted in tremendous isolation of the CPI(M) and the LF Government amongst the Leftist intelligentsia, not only in Bengal but all over the country. Spontaneously, people came out on the streets in protest on March 14 itself, and observed a bandh on March 16. All over Bengal, there was a wave of protest programmes that continues even now. Students, doctors, lawyers, writers and singers and theatre personalities – all seemed to speak out in one voice against the carnage.
Lawyers, doctors and students were among the first to react. Doctors took a team to Nandigram on March 15 itself. But they did not stop with medical help – rather they played a leading role in the protests. On 20 March, over 500 doctors, medical students and nurses held a Protest March, from Kolkata Medical College up to Dharamtolla. The March was organized by various groups of heath care activists - People’s Heath, IMA (Kolkata Branch), Medical Service Centre, Health Service, Association (HSA), Sramjivi Sasthya Udyog, Bhaskar Rao Janasasthya, Ganasasthya Swadikar Manch, Kolkata Medical College Democratic Students’ Union, and Peoples’ Right to Health & Education. Participants in the March included Prof. Asim Roychowdhury, Prof. Tapas Bhattacharya - Head of the Dept. Pharmacology, NRS Medical College, Prof. Sujit Das the former Secretary of HSA, Dr. Hiralal Konar, the Secretary of HAS, Dr. PK Sarkar, former Director School of Tropical Medicine, Dr. Debasish Mukherjee, Secretary of People’s Health, Dr. Debasish Dutta, President, People’s Health and Dr. Sarmistha Roy, Assistant Secretary People’s Health.
On 15 March, more than 2000 lawyers of the Bar Association of Kolkata HC, the City Civil Court, and Banksal Court marched from the HC premises to the Secretariat Building, where they were attacked by police and CPM cadres. They broke the barricades and entered the gate of the Secretariat. Other processions of lawyers were held in Malda and Siliguri and Burdwan, where lawyers boycotted the courts in protest. The protest of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind faced a crackdown in front of Alimuddin Street.
Students & citizens held a huge procession on 24 Mach 2007, in which over 1000 participated, marching from Deshbandu Park to Esplanade East. The procession was organized by organised by students of Jadavpur University, Independent Consolidation of Presidency College, Medical Colleges, Shibpur BE College Students’ Association, Teachers and Scientists against Mal-Development, the Chattra-Chhattri Sanhati Mancha. Among the participants were Tarun Sanyal (Poet), Madhu Chanda Karlekar (dramatist), Sudeshna Banerjee, Sanat Roychowdhury, Krishna Banerjee (editor of a Little Magazine Khoj), Kabir Suman (singer) as well as AISA leaders Bilas Sarkar and Malay Tiwari and Presidency College councillor and AISA activist Debolina Ghosh.
Immediately after the Nandigram carnage, historians Sumit and Tanika Sarkar and Pradip Dutta returned their Rabindra Bharati Awards issued by the WB Government’s Bangla Academy. Soon after, there was a spate of awards being returned and resignations from prestigious cultural and literary posts in Government institutions. Among those who resigned from the Natya Academy (an institution to which Buddhadeb is known to be personally close) were: Kaushik Sen, director, actor and playwright, directors and playwrights Chandan Sen, Suman Mukherjee, Bibhas Chakraborty, Bratya Basu, Ashoke Mukherjee, director and playwright, Samiran Majumdar (Editor Amrittok), (who returned the Best Little Magazine Award, Palak Chakraborty, Patha Chowdhury, noted playwright and director Manoj Mitra, Ramprasad Banik.
Among those who returned awards and otherwise protested were Sankha Ghosh, Poet and Vice President of Bangla Academy, Sukumary Bhattacharya, Nabarun Bhattacharya (who returned the Bankim Award), Ashru Sikdar of the Banga Academy, Sashi Anand (short film director) who resigned from the Nandan Advisory Body, Nabinanada Sen, another director of short films, who resigned from the Nandan Advisory Body, Anita Agnihotri (who returned the prestigious Somen Chanda Award), Amarendra Chakraborty who returned the Sarat Smriti Award.
Justice V R Krishna Iyer, in a letter to Prakash Karat, wrote:
“... …The brutality and bloodshed, at the instance of the police force is now bulleting of humble humanity. … the terror practiced yesterday at Nandigram fills me with dread and disappointment. The illusion of exploitative power has led the ministry to govern by the gun. … I am sure thousands like me will be shocked by the Nandigram incident. Please, please have some regard for those who feel that socialism is not terrorism, but humanism; and misrule by gun will not be the rule of the Left in State authority. Do forgive me for expressing my strong feelings with the expectation that the Left Administration believe and practice as a fundamental for the humble people, not for the proprietariat with the brute force of the bullet….”
From March 14 till March 24, there was a deafening silence from the handful of CPM loyalists amongst the intellectuals. Eventually, in a transparent bid to regain some credibility for the CPI(M), a statement was issued, initiated by Professor Prabhat Patnaik and some others from JNU.
The statement expresses “pain and anguish” at “loss of lives and injuries”. It might have been speaking of a rail accident –there is no attempt to condemn the massacre outright. They say “nobody belonging to the Left would try to justify” repression on workers and peasants. One wonders what the signatories make of Sitaram Yechury’s and Buddhadeb’s repeated statements to the effect that the violence ‘began’ when ‘outsiders’ and ‘extremists’, frustrated by their inability to mobilise local support, indulged in violence against the police. Are these not ‘justifications’? Would they not be seen as such if the political colour of the Government concerned were different?
There is much evidence to show that CPI(M) cadres were well equipped with police helmets and uniforms as well as a huge arsenal of ammunition; that they participated in the carnage; that they calculatedly kept the press out of Nandigram on that day. Yet the statement terms the Nandigram episode an “entirely unanticipated, unjustified and unfortunate turn of events”. It asks for an enquiry, having already absolved the LF Government and the CPI(M) of prior knowledge or planning or even of justifying the incident. One wonder to whom the appeal for normalcy, for not letting “the wounds of Nandigram become festering sores” is addressed to, one wonders. Is it to the women of Nandigram whose children are never going to return, the families of those who were shot dead in cold blood? Is it to those life-long CPI(M) voters for whom the red flag was abused as a weapon of terror?
As an attempt to persuade the Leftist intellectuals to ‘return to the fold’ and ‘forgive and forget’, the above statement is supremely unconvincing and insincere. A genuine admission that something has gone deeply and disturbingly wrong with the LF Government and the CPI(M) might have made a difference. Not this artful sleight of hand to allow ‘pain’ and ‘anguish’ to stand in for shock and anger after a cold-blooded carnage.
Praful Bidwai’s article Learning Nandigram Lessons in the Khaleej Times dated 26 March 2007, puts it bluntly:
“…The plain truth is, CPM apparatchiks instigated Black Wednesday’s operation to settle scores in the ‘cadres’ favour by using the state’s might. They imposed collective punishment, an obnoxious method, on the residents.
…The police shot to kill. Most bullet injuries were above the waist level. Many people were shot in the back. At Bhangabera Bridge, the police pumped 500 bullets into 2,000 people.
The Central Bureau of Investigation has gathered evidence that CPM “cadres” also fired into the crowd, many disguised in police uniform. It recovered 500 bullets from them. It also found a 657 metre-long “blood trail”, which suggests “a gunny-bag holding a body was being dragged”.
…Neoliberal industrialisation involves capital accumulation through expropriation of livelihoods. A progressive state must not condone it; rather, it should discipline and regulate capitalism in the interests of society.
But for Bhattacharjee, the Tata car plant at Singur, being built on a neoliberal pattern, is the model. In reality, it’s a stark case of crony capitalism, with subsidies equalling a fourth of its capital costs! It’s also an instance of elitist, socially inappropriate, high-pollution industrialisation.
…The Left, especially the CPM, must decide whether it wants to fight for socialism, or merely manage capitalism Chinese-style, however honestly. If it chooses the second option, it will go into historic decline. It must also make a decisive break with the undemocratic organisational culture it has inherited, which punishes dissidence and encourages a “my-party-right-or-wrong” attitude.
Unless the Left undertakes ruthless self-criticism, it can’t effect course correction.”
(As we go to press, the Kolkata High Court has unaccountably ordered a three-week freeze on the CBI’s report. There apprehensions of an ‘Operation Cover Up’. We must demand that whatever be the findings of the CBI team, they be made public.)
The range of citizens nationwide who have spoken out against the Nandigram massacre must resist every cover up move, and must continue to hold the Chief Minister, the LF Government and the CPI(M)'s topmost leadership squarely guilty for the carnage.