The land grab and repression on peasants’ resistance in Singur and Nandigram cost the CPI(M) its decades-long Government in West Bengal. The TMC, posing as the champion of peasants against land grab, had made its way to power. Now, the TMC Government has unleashed firing on villagers in Bhangor who were resisting land grab, killing two villagers.
The firing at Bhangor took place on the very day the West Bengal State Government hosted the Global Industrial Summit at Kolkata with great fanfare and Mamata told the gathering that Bengal is the most preferred destination for industry.
The CM Mamata Banerjee had assured farmers via a tweet: “No land will be acquired if people don’t want to give away land. Proposed power grid will be relocated if required.” However this tweet was subsequently deleted. Instead, Mamata Banerjee blamed “outsiders” for the agitation against land grab and tweeted, “Maoists are responsible for violence in Bhangor.” Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, the TMC Incharge of 24 Parganas, and the Mayor and Minister of urban affairs even threatened stern action if the ongoing ‘development’ work was disturbed. It is impossible not to recall that the TMC’s predecessors too had sought to discredit and blame the peasants’ agitation at Singur and Nandigram as a conspiracy by “outsiders” and “Maoists” to disturb ‘development’. The Bhangor firing has exposed the TMC’s double standards and hypocrisy on the issue of peasants’ rights and land grab.
A CPIML team, led by Partha Ghosh, Secretary of West Bengal State Committee visited Bhangor on 18th January, the day after the police firing in which 2 villagers were killed and many injured.
Bhangor is located between the twin cities of Rajarhat and New Town and lies on the border of North & South 24 Pargana Districts. The area has a predominance of Muslim peasants, and has multi-crop fertile land where apart from paddy and cash crops like jute and mustard, vegetables grow in abundance and carrots have an appreciable export market. The bone of contention was a National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) project to install a power grid for transmitting electricity to the adjacent Rajarhat New Town smart city and other districts of the state. The project work has been ongoing for the last 3-4 years and more than 90% of the work has already been completed. In between Polerhat (1) and Polerhat (2) lies Padymapukur,which is approximately 200 meters from the transmission centre. After interacting with the villagers, the team found that the cultivable fertile land was being slowly but steadily converted, the water bodies, fisheries (another important part of the local economy) were either seized or occupied through coercive measures by Arabul Islam, a powerful local TMC leader who is at the helm of the affairs of Panchayat Samiti, and his ‘Syndicate’ which is notorious for its anti-social activities.
After Rezzak Mollah, the erstwhile Land and Land Revenue Minister of the LF Government joined the TMC and became a Minister of Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet, Arabul and Rezzak contended for supremacy.
The flashpoint was the question of erecting pillars for the power grid in the vicinity. Though NTPC declared compensation to the tune of Rs 2 lakh per bigha, the villagers reported that they were forced to accept a meagre Rs 25K-50K by the Arabul syndicate.
Both the adjoining Parliamentary constituencies – Jadavpur and Barasat – are under TMC, as are all other nearby assembly and panchayat constituencies. Since 2008, the TMC has enjoyed exclusive political hegemony in the region. Systematically, the goons of Arabul forcefully acquired the fertile land of farmers which kindled the flame of mass anger against police-administration and all the local leaders of TMC. The villagers organised themselves under the banner ‘Save land livelihood ecology and environment committee.’ On 16th January evening, 2 villagers were summoned to the local police station and interrogated about which political force is behind the movement. The leaders were released at night. But the next day, at around 8 AM, criminals of Arabul attacked the villagers. From the local masjid, the alarm was raised, and thousands of villagers gathered to resist the attack. All the incoming roads were blocked. A huge police force came to the spot to quell this agitation. A student of the local Derozio college Mafizul Alam Khan (23) and a villager Alamgir Molla (27-30) were killed on the spot in police firing. Many were injured and several were missing.
The team found that the entire village was very apprehensive about this project, especially about the impact of high tension wire on their health. There was an enormous lack of trust in the TMC leadership, and resentment over the lack of any social impact assessment for the project.
With the spectre of Singur and Nandigram haunting it, the Government held a hasty meeting to declare that the project work would stop and police would not be allowed to intervene in this incident.
Other members of the CPI(ML) team were: Amalendu Choudhury, Basudeb Bose, Krishna Pramanick, Archana Ghatak, Jayshree Das, Mitali Biswas, Nirmal Ghosh, Ajay Goutam and Jayanta. State-wide protests were held on 17 January against the Bhangor firing.