True to her melodramatic style, Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee greeted Wednesday’s landmark Supreme Court judgment striking down the acquisition of land in Singur, with these words: “I have dreamt of this SC verdict for so long, for the people of Singur. Now I can die in peace.”
It’s difficult to ignore the sub-textual sense of triumph underlying that statement. Banerjee has indeed scored yet another remarkable victory against her political adversary, the Left Front – more particularly – against its fulcrum, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Supreme Court judgment on Singur turned out to be yet another milestone in the journey she began as Bengal’s Chief Minister, five years ago.
In a direct indictment of the former Left Front government headed by CPM’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Supreme Court in its judgment, said: “This action of the state government is grossly perverse and illegal and void ab initio in law and such an exercise of power by the state government for acquisition of land cannot be allowed under any circumstance.”
In 2006, the CPM-led government acquired 1000 acres of agricultural land in Singur to allot it to Tata Motors to set up the Nano car factory. What followed as a result of this decision was truly unprecedented in Bengal’s recent political history.
The use of CPM’s organisational machinery to coerce and bully Singur’s reluctant peasants into giving up their land, unleashed massive resistance protests first by farmers in Singur, and soon afterwards, by the farmers of Nandigram. As the Left Front government tried to replicate its coercive model of land acquisition in Nandigram to build a chemical hub, the farmers in that village exploded in anger. In no time, there was a continuum of popular resistance, of the kind Bengal had not seen for over thirty years and more.
For the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief, the strident popular movements became a turning point in the long-drawn and hard battle she had waged all these years. Banerjee, all of a sudden, became the face of a constituency that, till the explosion of peasants’ movements, had stayed unwaveringly loyal to the Left Front government since it came to power in 1977. The radical protests fanning out from Singur-Nandigram, and then drawing in the otherwise indifferent urban population of the metropolitan city of Kolkata – turned out to be the Left Front’s nemesis. Believing his government to be unassailable, then CPI Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had tried to eliminate the ideological and political core that was integral to the CPM.
And that reversal blew up in the CPM’s face.
The reasons for the people’s widespread anger was not difficult to understand. The middle classes had always regarded the Marxists with suspicion. Now even the Left’s traditional bastion of supports – the peasants – turned against them. Banerjee – as the popular saying went in Bengal – managed to project herself as “more Left than the original Leftists.” Yet despite successive and humiliating electoral setbacks, the CPM refused to look inwards into its own political bankruptcy, its dismal failure to govern a state it presided over for 34 years, its inability to re-invent itself in the face of the fast changing contemporary political scenario in the country. It’s only a reflection of this huge failure that till date, the CPM has not been able to bring itself to articulate a proper apology to the peasants of Singur-Nandigram.
In fact, how serious and deep the CPM’s unwillingness to introspect is, can be gauged from the way the party has responded to Wednesday’s Supreme Court verdict. At a press conference in Kolkata, the CPM state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra said, “This is not an issue of tendering an apology. We have said it clearly that the land cannot be acquired against the wishes of the farmer.” He insisted that the “The land was back then acquired by following the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.”
In the recent assembly election in Bengal, the architect of the Singur-Nandigram land acquisition model, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, held a rally in Singur. Digging in their heels, the CPM leader and his colleagues present on the podium at that rally, justified the party’s land acquisition efforts in Singur. A report in The Indian Express (17 January, 2016) said: “The other key signal from the CPM meeting appeared to be the emergence of a consensus on a “reassessment” of the Bhattacharjee government’s line on the Tata Motors plant.
The entire Left leadership present at Singur reiterated that the policy had been right — and if followed through, could have brought in sweeping changes and prosperity to Bengal.
The 2016 poll results, bringing Banerjee back to power with a majority even bigger than five years ago, showed how deeply immersed the CPM still is in its hubris. Never mind that the ground beneath the party’s feet has been hollowed out. And that, its arch rival the TMC has just been recognised as a national party by the Election Commission. Clearly, the CPM has little to fall back upon by way of cheering itself.