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Left double-speak

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

The Communists are learning an important lesson. They are finding out that while it is easy to get by doing nothing and opposing everything, when you actually try and do something positive, the whole ball game changes. Thus the forward-looking chief minister of the Communist-ruled West Bengal is seeking to bring back industrial investment into the state after having driven it out over the last 30 years. And guess what? The people, for whom his party claims to be the sole spokesman, are opposing him. So what does he do? He has the police pounce on them, of course. How can the people oppose the people's party?
When similar opposition has led to violence in other states, the CPM has been at the forefront demanding that the state government be dismissed. The police violence at the Honda factory in Gurgaon in Haryana in 2005 wasn't worse than what happened at Nandigram on Wednesday. At least, no one died there. But no one can forget the vituperation in which the CPM and the CPI leaders indulged. The same Communist politicians and trade union leaders are as quiet as church mice now. And, their poster boys are accusing the people of Nandigram of not being from Nandigram but of being outsiders who have come there to create trouble. Talk about double standards.
That said, it is interesting that the opposition to land acquisition for SEZs has been at the worst in West Bengal. After all, similar acquisitions have been made in other states as well and nothing has happened. One reason for this is that the very thing the CPM has taught the people, namely, to fight for your rights, has boomeranged on it. The people of West Bengal after three decades of Communist rule are perhaps amongst the politically most emancipated and rights-conscious in the country. The land-man ratio in the state is also very adverse and this makes it harder to find land that can be taken over without a lot of fuss. Nor can it be overlooked that the first land acquisition case to go to the Supreme Court in 1951, the one that eventually led to the Ninth Schedule, originated in West Bengal. The failure of the Communists to create alternative sources of employment has also made the people highly land-dependent. Add to this the ground-level oppression of the CPM cadres for the last two decades ""the Communists did a lot for the peasantry in the first 10 years after they came to power in 1977""and you get a rich mixture, which has now exploded. One would have to be extremely naïve to believe that West Bengal will see any SEZs in the near future. Also, it will be interesting to see what the party does with its chief minister. He has already crossed swords a few times with the Politburo and it may well be that he will be forced to quit.
Another point worth noting""and not just in the context of West Bengal and the Communists""is the fact that when land was acquired for setting up public sector industries""the so-called "temples of Modern India"""there was hardly any popular or political opposition. But now that it is being acquired to assist private industry, the balloon has begun to go up. Surely this tells us something. The wrong inference would be that public sector industry is better than private sector industry. The right inference would be that if land-use has to change from agriculture to industry, it is best to let industry deal directly with the farmers, instead of""as at Singur, where the Tatas have run into problems""letting the state government act as the intermediary.

First Published: Fri, March 16 2007. 00:00 IST