Sunday, December 10, 2006

Is there any difference between the neo-liberals and the cpi(m) in west bengal???

West Bengal Chief Minister, Budhadeb Bhattacharya, is reported to have invited Medha Patkar for talks on the Singur developments. And while doing so, Mr. Bhattacharya is also reported to have made it clear that the NAPM leader will not be allowed to go anywhere near Singur and meet the farmers whose land has been bought over by the State Government to be handed over to the Tata Automobiles for setting up a car factory there.

The issues involved in this are as follows: Here is an instance of the State Government, headed by a member of the CPI(M), a party that owes its existence and growth to a tradition of struggles in defence of the people’s rights now using the law to prevent any such struggle. And then there is a larger debate on the development paradigm that the CPI(M) seems to oppose elsewhere in the country but is bent upon implementing in its own backyard.

A direct question, in this context, is whether the land acquisition that is now almost complete in Singur is different from the land grab, that is now under way, in Kalinganagar in Orissa? And following out of this is a supplementary question as to whether the struggle against the Government’s move in Kolkotta and in Singur is any different from the massive mobilization of the adivasis against the land grab facilitated by the Naveen Pattnaik Government in Kalinganagar or the Mulayam Singh Government in Uttar Pradesh in Dadri?

The answer is that they are all the same.

The Singur project also revives memories of yet another instance of land grab, perhaps the first in independent India’s history, in 1968-69 when Bansi Lal, as Chief Minister of Haryana managed to endear himself to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by abusing his powers to dispossess the farmers of Gurgaon of their land (as much as 300 acres) to be handed over to her son, Sanjay Gandhi. The Maruthi car project of Sanjay Gandhi, with claims to manufacture a ``people’s car’’ was exposed as a huge scandal by none other than the CPI(M)’s Jyotirmoy Basu in Parliament.

Let it be clarified here that this Jyotirmoy Basu died in March 1982 and Indira Gandhi and her emergency establishment did everything to humiliate him when he was detained in solitary confinement for 19 months from June 25, 1975. In other words, we are NOT talking about Jyoti Basu here. The Singur land grab is also a similar experience with the Tatas promising of making a car that would cost just a lakh of rupees! It is a dream as notorious as the Maruti was.

As for the CPI(M)’s campaign in this regard, Sitaram Yechury has this to offer: That the State Government will train the dispossessed farmers with skills to become fitters and mechanics and the women as tailors so that they are absorbed in the proposed car manufacturing unit! One only wished that Yechury had little more brains to realise that car manufacturing units do not employ such ordinary people and they look for graduates from engineering colleges to work in the plants. And in the event they offer employment to the ordinary villagers, they will be employed as peons and helpers on casual service and this will mean humiliating the farmer.

The other point being made by the CPI(M) is that the farmers have been adequately compensated. It may be true. But then, such money that is paid to them will, invariably, go into consumptive spending in the immediate context. It emerges now that IMFL and mobile phone sales have picked up in a large scale in the Singur belt and this is evidence of what lies ahead. Alcholism, consumptive spending and these two will eventually lead to impoverisation of the peasantry and could even lead to violence against the women and suicides soon.

At another level, the land grab will mean fall in the area of agricultural operation and consequently a fall in foodgrain production. And when this happens, the poor will end up starving because they cannot afford to buy foodgrains from the super-markets. True that the middle classes and the rich will not suffer this fate because they can afford to buy grains that will be imported as is the case with fruit juice and water.

In some total, the CPI(M) led Government is now doing what Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia are prescribing as the only way to develop India as a super-power. In other words, Budhadeb and his ``comrades’’ are only behaving the same way that infamous Mary Antoniate had said long ago: That if they do not have bread, why can’t they eat cake!


Anonymous Cheri said...

A government that seizes land from marginal peasants and turns it over to corporates does not deserve to be called neo-liberal, let alone socialist or communist. The West Bengal government's actions are more reminiscent of feudalism, where all land is held at the pleasure of the king and no tenure is secure.

Incidentally, a few years ago in the United States, a court ruled that while private property could indeed be taken over by the state for public good, this did not give the government the right to acquire private property so that it could be turned over to other private parties.

Communist West Bengal does what is unacceptable even in capitalist United States - the irony of it!

Reflecting on this land grab deal (and a similar one in Kerala, where land is being turned over for a 'smart city') it becomes clear that the priorities of the urban bhadralok trample over the voiceless peasant and worker. What if someone loses his land and becomes another dweller of the slums of Calcutta, as long as West Bengal maintains its 'investment friendly' tag?!

As in the Smart City deal, the question is: what are the gains, and to whom do these gains (if any) accrue?

Jobs? For the upper classes that have had access to higher, technical, English education.

Income to the government? With the tax holidays that SEZ's get, it is hardly likely that taxes et al would be substantial.

Net of gains to the public: zero.

Very much acquired for a public purpose, indeed!

Oommen Chandy, for whom the Smart City project was a life mission (like exiling ganja from Attappadi !) claimed it would help Kerala by creating so many jobs. What he neglected to say was: in all probability, a large portion of the jobs created would go to people outside the state; and, given the usurious fees in most private colleges which churn out the graduates for these jobs, a thin sliver of the Kerala population would corner most of the jobs.

Three sections of Kerala society were probably the most fervent advocates of the project. One was the managements of engineering colleges ("smart many jobs... join our college and be part... and by the way, drop your donations in that box.")

The second was the real estate brokers around the project area - land prices shot up in speculation of cash flush software engineers coming and looking for flats.

The third: the ammas of the mons who went to the colleges ("now mon can stay at home only and look after me, and not have to go to Bangalore or elsewhere") !

The bhadralok advocates of the Singur project would have their own reasons, but I suspect broadly similar thought patterns behind them.

On a slightly different point, this desire by globalisation's silent admirers to have projects in their own state (and not elsewhere) so that outmigration is limited, reflects a contradiction in their conceptualisation of globalisation. With free movement of capital, goods and services, it is but logical to assume that free (and necessary) movement of labour is a given extension of the globalising project. These admirers, nevertheless, seek the inward flow, but reject an outward flow of labour.

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Cheri said...

Also, how eager is the BJP to fight for the rights of peasants in Bengal, even as they spare no effort to boot those along the Narmada!

6:02 AM  
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