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The Nandigram violence was an incident that took place in Nandigram, East Midnapore, West Bengal, India in 2007. This event occurred in the aftermath of a failed project by the Government of West-Bengal, under the former Communist rule, to acquire land for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The policy led to an emergency in the region in which 14 people died during police fire. This incident played a crucial role in the politics of West Bengal for the following few years. Mamata Banerjee and her political party mentioned this issue, and the political war cry Ma Mati Manush was kicked off in their election campaigns. Later, the CBI gave a clean chit to the entire Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government on the Nandigram firing.
However, farmers of the locality were adamant about giving up their land and gathered under the banner of the Bhoomi Raksha Committee, which was backed up by Maoists. While the then-governor was in the air and no contact was available to him, the police entered the Nandigram area, and violence erupted. The West Bengal government planned to expropriate 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of land for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be developed by the Indonesia-based Salim Group for industrialization. During the police shootings, at least 14 villagers were killed and 70 more wounded.
The Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), an organization formed by the Maoists, reacted antagonistically to the news. They blocked the roads leading to the Nandigram area from January to March 2007. Several FIRs were registered at Nandigram and Khejuri police stations, relating to violence, arson, loot, murder, etc. But the cases registered could not be investigated by the local police as they were unable to enter the villages during the standoff. Thousands of supporters of the Leftist parties were attacked and made refugees, to be accommodated at shelter camps.
Following the villagers' objection to and protest against the acquisition of land in Nandigram for the proposed chemical hub, the State Government gave in to the demands of BUPC. It finally announced the cancellation of the project in the first week of March 2007. But the situation showed little if any improvement. A team of policemen had been sent to dissuade people from digging up roads. One police officer, Sadhucharan Chatterjee, aged 59, was killed while trying to repair a road dug up by protesters, and 12 other policemen were very seriously injured.
The events of 14 March 2007
The administration was finally directed to break the People's movement's (BUPC) control of Nandigram, so a massive operation with at least 3,000 police officers was launched on 14 March 2007. However, prior information of the impending action somehow leaked out to the BUPC who amassed a crowd of roughly 5,000 villagers at the entry points into Nandigram to oppose the entry of police and assaulted them. In the resulting mayhem, at least 200 people were killed.
The deaths in Nandigram have led to a great deal of controversy concerning the left in India. The federal police said they have recovered many bullets of a type not used by police, but in widespread use in the underworld.
Immediately following the killings of 14 March, voluntary teams of doctors visited the Nandigram health centre, the district hospital at Tamluk and later, the SSKM hospital and compiled a comprehensive report.
Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the Governor of West Bengal, criticized the state government over its handling of the Nandigram incident, speaking of his "cold horror" in a press statement. This statement declared that the policy of Nandigram is significant to India.
Dr. Ashok Mitra, long-time Finance Minister of the Government of West Bengal (and a veteran CPI(M) leader) criticized the government and his party, stating that until death he will remain guilty to his conscience if he keeps mum on the happenings in Nandigram. He states that the CPI(M) leadership is blind of hubris and the party has turned into a wide-open field of flatterers and court jesters dominated by 'anti-socials'.
An editorial in The Indian Express said that the party machinery has become the "sword arm of an industrialization policy that involves settling complicated property rights issues." Some of the armed men who fired at the villagers, but were not part of the police, were later caught by security forces and found to be working for the CPI(M).
Renowned novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay and friend of the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also felt that industry was necessary, but the state violence was barbaric. Social activist Medha Patkar had visited Nandigram on 7th December, 2006 to protest against land acquisition. Other renowned persons who joined protests against the project and the actions carried out on 14 March 2007 to implement it include Magsaysay and Jnanpeeth, award-winning author Mahasweta Devi, Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy, film director and actress Aparna Sen, theater personalities Shaonli Mitra and Bibhas Chakraborty, painter Suvaprasanna, songwriter and singer Kabir Suman and many others.
The scale of the action left the state stunned. All India Trinamool Congress estimates put the death toll at 50. The PWD Minister of the Government of West Bengal, Mr. Kshiti Goswami of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (India) (RSP), a Left Front constituent, said 50 bodies were taken to hospital, but it was impossible to ascertain how many were actually dead. In response to this, people singled out as CPI(M) members and supporters and their families were driven out of the area by the locals and their houses burnt. A week after the March 14th clashes, The Hindu estimated that around 3,500 persons had been displaced into relief camps as a result of threats from BUPC. Accusations by Trinamool Congress that hundreds of people have been killed in the event were not confirmed. Ex Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said that two of the supposed victims, as claimed by Trinamool Congress, were later found in a completely safe place elsewhere in West Bengal.
The CPI(M) adopted the public position that land acquisition will not be made without the consent of the people of Nandigram. The proposed SEZ was ostensibly shelved following the 14 March police action. The local, district and State administration have however maintained that the Chemical Hub will take place at Nandigram itself.
The CPI(M) has accused the Jami Raksha Committee – a coalition of activists from various parties who oppose land acquisition – of armed attacks on relief camps which led to three deaths as well as a series of murders and a gang rape.
Amnesty International expressed serious concern that the Government of West Bengal had not taken the necessary concrete steps to ensure that all persons under its jurisdiction are protected from forced eviction and displacement, and that all those forcibly displaced during the violence are ensured, at the very least, minimum essential levels of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care and education, as well as their right to voluntary return or resettlement and reintegration.
On 16 November 2007, the High Court at Calcutta declared that "the action of the police department to open fire at Nandigram on 14 March 2007 was wholly unconstitutional and cannot be justified under any provision of the law". This Division Bench consisting of the Honorable Chief Justice S. S. Najjar, and the Honorable Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, further stated that "the action of the police cannot be protected or justified on the ground of sovereign immunity. The action of the police cannot be justified even under the provisions of Criminal Procedure Code; The Police Act, 1861 for The Police Regulations, 1943".
The Honorable judges also ordered the State of West Bengal to pay to the victims of the deceased as a result of the undiscriminating police firing on 14 March 2007 immediate compensation in the sum of Rs.5 (five) lakh each. They urged the "State Government to pay immediate compensation to the persons who were injured and whose particulars have been given the pleadings sum of Rs. not less than 1 (one) lakh each" and also "We further direct the State Government to pay compensation to the victims of rape who have been duly identified in the pleadings a sum of Rs.2 (two) lakh each".
After the bloodshed at Nandigram, and the stiff resistance from opposition parties such as All India Trinamool Congress, Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) (SUCI) and Left Front partners such as Revolutionary Socialist Party and All India Forward Bloc over land acquisition, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on 3 September expressed the government's preference for the sparsely populated island of Nayachar, 30 kilometers from Haldia, to set up the desired chemical hub.
November 2007 violence
A fresh round of violence came up in November 2007, as the villagers who were thrown out of Nandigram by the BUPC returned home. The return of the villagers was marred by violence unleashed by the ruling party cadres over the resisting BUPC cadre in Nandigram. The party eulogised the operation with its state chairman describing it as 'a new dawn' and the chief minister as 'paying them back in their own coin'. The last comment was directed presumably primarily at the extreme-left Maoist activists who, the CPI(M) claims, were active at Nandigram and the situation was described as one of "Red Terror".
On 12 November 2007, National Human Rights Commission of India sent a notice to the Chief Secretary, West Bengal, directing him to submit a factual report within 10 days on the conditions prevailing in Nandigram. Afterwards, social activist Medha Patkar said that war-like situation prevailed in Nandigram due to the continual presence of thousands of CPM cadres on all sides and accusations of police officers, present in the area supporting their program.
Film director Aparna Sen and Rituporno Ghosh decided to boycott the film festival in Kolkata in protest against the renewed violence Aparna Sen said, "Nandigram has become a slaughter house with blood being shed every day. CPM might be at the helm of affairs but the state still belongs to us”.
The Parliament of India decided to discuss Nandigram with urgency, suspending the regular question hour sessions, on 21 November 2007 after two days of complete suspension of the proceedings owing to the heated debates between CPI(M) and opposition party members in both the houses. CPI(M) was alienated in the issue by all the other ruling United Progressive Alliance allies considering the fierce nationwide sentiments against the massacre .
In May 2008, fresh violence broke out in Nandigram between supporters of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, and the CPM activists. Both sides exchanged fire and hurled bombs at each other, with CPM getting the worst of it.
On 5 May, CPI(M) mob striped three woman activists of Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee when they refused to join a rally organised by CPI(M). Owing to wide political and civil protests on the incident, the Government of West Bengal ordered a CID probe into the incident. CPM leaders denied the allegations, claiming that it was part of a malicious campaign by political rivals intending to defame them.
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi and a section of intellectuals including Aparna Sen from Kolkata, in separate press statements, demanded that panchayat polls, due on 11 May, in the areas falling within the jurisdiction of the Nandigram thana be deferred, for, elections might not be "peaceful and democratic".
The electorate of Nandigram reacted against the Left Front government's policy of industrialization through farmland acquisition. For the first time since the Left Front government came to power, the opposition wrested control of the East Midnapore Zilla Parishad by winning 35 out of 53 seats on 11 May 2008.
Parishad seats. The results of the election are:
- All India Trinamool Congress-35,
- Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) (SUCI)-1,
- Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M))-14,
- Communist Party of India (CPI)-2 and
- Democratic Socialist Party (Prabodh Chandra) (DSP)-1.
In all four seats of Nandigram – I and II blocks, which saw violence after protests against the government's bid for land acquisition for a chemical hub, the Trinamul candidates have won the polls by defeating the CPI(M) candidates including a heavyweight leader. Sheikh Sufian, a Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee leader backed by the Trinamul, defeated his rival CPI(M) candidate Ashok Jana by a margin of over 13,000 votes while Pijush Bhunia, another Trinamul leader defeated Ashok Bera, a CPI(M) zonal committee secretary, by over 2,100 votes.
West Bengal election
In the 2011 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election the incumbent Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee lost his seat and the Left Front lost power after 34 years. Mamata Banerjee and All Indian Trinamool Congress widely used these Singur and Nandigram issues and their political war cry Ma Mati Manush in their political campaigns. Firoza Bibi (whose son was killed in shooting by police) of the All India Trinamool Congress won the Nandigram assembly by-election with a margin of 39,551 votes defeating the ruling front's candidate Paramananda Bharati.
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- Nandigram Information – facts, details, accounts – updated regularly
- Lessons from Nandigram : What Next
- Arundhathi Roy says CM used Taslima to shift focus from Nandigram
- Sara Flounders member of the Workers World Party secretariat speaks of her experience after visiting Nandigram
- Nandigram Movement Timeline