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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 11:26 GMT
Farmers and Marxists at loggerheads
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Communist party supporter with party flag in Nandigram
Marxists are believed to be have pushed for action in Nandigram
When West Bengal police opened fire on Wednesday against protesters in Nandigram it was not the first case of such strong action during the 30 years of Communist rule in West Bengal.

At least 14 peasants have died in the firings in Nandigram and more than 70 were wounded.

However, this is the first time that the Communist state government has ordered such massive police action against poor farmers - the backbone of its own political support base in the state, the very people who benefited from the government's land reforms and decentralisation of power.

"In a way, Nandigram may prove to be a fatal stab in their own back for the Marxists ," says analyst Ranabir Sammadar.

He says Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya's "top-down" approach is responsible for the present crisis after the Nandigram deaths.

"Normally the Marxists use their party machinery, trained cadres would fan out to communicate the government's programme, even cajole in some cases, but this time , it was totally top-down. Officials drew up plans and the villagers were told one fine morning your land is being taken away ," said Mr Sammadar.

The chief minister himself admitted that the land acquisition plans at Nandigram were flawed.


"I admit we made mistakes, so if the people of Nandigram are not convinced about the benefits of the chemical hub, we will not force it on them, we will take the project elsewhere in the state," he told reporters recently.

Buddhadev Bhattacharya
If the people of Nandigram are not convinced about the benefits of the chemical hub, we will not force it on them
Buddhadev Bhattacharya

So why did the same chief minister authorise such a huge mobilisation of riot policemen at Nandigram within a week of promising to take the chemical hub project elsewhere?

"Nandigram had descended into lawlessness. The police did not go there to acquire land , they went there to restore administrative control," said Mr Bhattacharya in his statement tabled at the state assembly.

Observers say the real push for the fierce police action at Nandigram came from the local level Marxist leadership.

The ferocity of the peasant protests at Nandigram since January had forced nearly 3,000 Marxist supporters to flee the area .

"This cannot go on, our boys must be able to go home," said Laxman Seth, the local Marxist parliament member.

It was the Haldia Development Authority controlled by Mr Seth which had issued the land acquisition notices at Nandigram for the special economic zone that was to contain a hub for chemical outlets run by Indonesia's Salim group.

'Red terror'

In Left-ruled West Bengal, there have been brief occasions when the Marxist political machine has been overwhelmed by the opposition parties.

Farmers attending a Communist rally in West Bengal
Farmers have traditionally been loyal to the Communists

"The Marxists have always retaliated in great strength to take control of an area slipping out of their hands. The lost ground was regained by red terror backed by a pliant administration," says political analyst Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhury.

But he said the party leadership and the armed supporters always took the lead in regaining such lost enclaves - as in the Panskura-Kespur-Garbeta region during the 2001 state assembly elections.

"In Nandigram, the party had lost complete support and all within a year of the land takeover question. So they forced the police to take the lead," said Mr Choudhury.

And the police it is alleged, equipped with automatic, let go whenever they ran into resistance from the peasants at Nandigram, who had killed five Marxist supporters and a police officer during the violence in January.

"There was a complete lack of fire control and professionalism. This is a clear case of massive overkill," said a former senior police official BB Nandi.

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