India: CPI (M) -- Reconciling `anti-imperialist' rhetoric with `neoliberal constraints'

Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (Liberation)

March 5, 2008 -- The draft political resolution released by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for its 19th Congress provides quite a revealing commentary on the opportunist political trajectory of the party. The resolution is characteristically elaborate about the description of the international and national situation. But when it comes to spelling out the concrete positions and role of the party, the resolution is rather vague and evasive. And as for the debate that the party now increasingly faces in its own circles, the resolution dismisses everything as a big anti-CPI(M) conspiracy!

The draft resolution devotes several paragraphs to the global economic situation under imperialist globalisation and the US-led ``war on terror''. It calls for a mighty worldwide anti-imperialist resistance that combines both anti-war and anti-globalisation sentiments and struggles on a global scale. But what task does the CPI(M) derive for itself from this global analysis and advocacy? The answer sounds pretty innocent -– ``rousing the anti-imperialist sentiments of the Indian people and mounting pressure on the Indian government to pursue a steadfast role in promoting multipolarity, defending sovereignty of nations and the non-aligned movement''.

Let us probe a little deeper. The CPI(M) resolution quite correctly identifies imperialist globalisation and the global war on terror as the two principal prongs of the global offensive spearheaded by US imperialism. Now, where do the Indian ruling classes stand in relation to these key components of the imperialist agenda? There can be no denying the fact that in both economic and foreign policy spheres the Indian ruling classes are moving towards ever closer integration with imperialism in general and US imperialism in particular. And this integration is increasingly assuming a strategic and military dimension as well. This policy course has remained unchanged through all the periodic changes of governments over the last two decades and the United Progressive Alliance [UPA - led by the Congress party] government has officially embarked on a course of strategic partnership with the US. Yet the CPI(M) resolution talks of mounting pressure on the Indian government to promote ``the non-aligned movement''!

The CPI(M) never offered any serious opposition to the Indo-US strategic partnership. The official announcement regarding the partnership was made during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's US visit in July 2005. ``Non-aligned'' India also voted duly with the US against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), not once but twice. The CPI(M) did nothing ``commensurate with its strength and stature'' except making some noise in the media. It was only when negotiations over the nuclear deal entered the near-final stage that the CPI(M) stepped up its opposition. That too was diluted in the wake of Nandigram and the government was allowed to proceed with the ``nuclear safeguard'' negotiations in the IAEA. While the UPA government binds India into ever closer strategic integration with the US, the CPI(M) voices only piecemeal opposition from time to time. So much for the CPI(M)'s claimed contribution to the anti-imperialist consciousness of the Indian people.

What about the CPI(M)’s role in ``resisting'' imperialist globalisation? Its governments in West Bengal and Kerala are now routinely borrowing funds and ``vision'' from imperialist funding agencies and consultancy firms. Asian Development Bank (ADB), Department for International Development (DFID), McKinsey are not only well-known names in the CPI(M)-ruled states but they are increasingly the last word in the CPI(M)'s new-found discourse of ``development''. Regarding the economic direction to be pursued by the Left Front government of West Bengal, the draft resolution calls upon the government to maintain a careful balance without accepting wholesale privatisation in all economic and social spheres. How is this talk of ``careful balance'' and moderated, calibrated privatisation any different from the economic policy advocated by governments of other hues in other states or at the Centre?

`Slowing down' reforms

The CPI (M) resolution claims credit for ``slowing down'' the pace of neoliberal reforms. Insofar as neoliberal policies have to co-exist in India with a parliamentary democratic framework and the ruling classes have to renew their license every five years, an element of moderation or cautious calibration is built into the very scheme of things. The credit for slowing down of reforms should go to the popular protests that are building up against the predatory policies of the government and it is no secret that in CPI(M)-ruled states such protests have to face stiff resistance from the party and the government.

Let us take some recent examples. The SEZ (special economic zones) Act was passed unanimously in Parliament in 2005. The CPI(M) owes an answer to the people of India why its 40-plus MPs voted in favour of the Act; or for that matter, under what ``compulsion'' its model government in West Bengal had to anticipate the Central Act with its own 2003 version of the same land-grabbing legislation. If the UPA government has now been forced to introduce some elements of ``moderation'', it has been in the wake of the people’s resistance at Nandigram [peasants resisting land acquisition have been brutally suppressed by the CPI(M)'s West Bengal government] and popular mobilisation against SEZs elsewhere in the country.

And the whole country knows what role the CPI(M) has played at Nandigram -– it has only perpetrated and patronised massacres at regular intervals in a desperate bid to thwart the resistance of the people. Likewise, if there is now talk of amending the Land Acquisition Act 1894, it is all because of the debate that has been generated by what has happened at Kalinganagar and Singur. It is indeed strange that a party that fraudulently uses an arbitrary law like the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 to acquire one thousand acres of fertile land for monopoly capital should wax eloquent about the need for ``amending and updating'' this antiquated legislation! We know how CPI(M) ideologues rationalise this hypocrisy. To them it is simply a case of ``distinction'' between a state government operating under ``neoliberal constraints'' and a communist party applying its ``freedom of expression'', and if we are not able to grasp this distinction we are guilty of ``inversion of reason''!

``Liberalism'' in economics is always complemented by illiberalism in governance. The deepening of neoliberal reforms in almost every sector of the economy has been matched by a proliferation of special legislation of control to incriminate every form of public dissent and protest. The so-called ``national security'' doctrine of the UPA government is fast degenerating into a gospel of unmitigated state repression and systematic truncation of democracy. The CPI(M)'s critique of neoliberalism is remarkably reticent, if not silent, about this growing danger.

Even when it comes to the demand for repeal of the most draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the CPI(M) merely advocates replacing it ``with a suitable law which can enable the army to be deployed in disturbed areas to combat insurgency that will do away with the draconian features of the existing law!''. Obviously, one will look in vain for any word of criticism in the CPI(M) document regarding the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act that has incorporated several features of the Prevention of Terrorism Act or draconian state laws like the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act which is being invoked by the BJP [Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party] government in the state to trample upon press freedom and civil liberties. The CPI(M)'s opposition to the BJP revolves only around the issue of communalism, with very little attention paid to the fundamental question of democracy.

For the last four years the CPI(M) has been actively associated with a government at the Centre. How does the CPI(M) describe its association? The CPI(M) is a signatory to the Common Minimum Programme which is the ruling UPA's commonly drafted and commonly monitored manifesto of governance. Yet the CPI(M) would have us believe that its association with the government is only selective. In fact while it claims credit for legislation on rural employment guarantee (will the CPI(M) tell us if it has been instrumental for the NREGA, why the rural poor in CPI(M)-ruled states have not even got ten days' employment a year instead of the assured 100 days?), right to information and prevention of domestic violence, and for the presumed slowing down of reforms, it blames the Congress [Party] for everything neoliberal and pro-imperialist in UPA policies! Whatever may be the CPI(M)'s formula for apportioning credit and blame, the fact remains that the CPI(M) cannot hide its actual status as a participant and major stakeholder in the UPA government.

The draft resolution boldly rules out any alliance or united front with the Congress Party. In state after state the CPI(M) enters into electoral adjustments with Congress (Gujarat was the most recent example), and at the Centre the CPI(M) underwrites a Congress-led coalition government, albeit without any ministerial portfolio. The resolution would like us to believe that it is a one-way relationship where the Congress depends on the CPI(M) with the latter remaining completely independent! [CPI(M) Chief Minister of West Bengal] Jyoti Basu was clearly closer to the truth when he had once famously described this relationship as one of mutual interdependence. The CPI(M) has no problem with sharing a common minimum program of governance with the Congress and with having seat adjustments wherever possible, yet it claims to be steering clear of any ``united front'' with the Congress.

With Lok Sabha [national parliamentary] elections approaching, the CPI(M) will of course now be more in the denial mode regarding its relations with the Congress. A typical expression of this denial mode is the renewed advocacy of a third alternative. The notion of the third front would come in handy particularly in states like Andhra Pradesh and Assam where the CPI(M) may well seek electoral adjustments with regional parties like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Assam Gan Parishad (AGP). Never mind if the CPI(M) had teamed up with the Congress against the TDP in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh –- the draft resolution describes the TDP as a regional party that seeks cooperation with the Left! In a way the draft resolution marks a near-complete liberalisation of the CPI(M)'s political line where ideology, elections and governance are neatly compartmentalised. Phrases like ``left and democratic unity'' and ``third front'' are used more for ideological posturing and political consumption while policies regarding electoral adjustment and governance are sought to be rationalised in the name of ``neoliberal constraints'' and ``constitutional compulsions''!

`Ruling classes, right-wing reactionaries and the ultra-Left'

The draft resolution calls upon the entire party to ``defend the Left-led governments from the attacks coming from the ruling classes, right-wing reactionaries and the ultra-Left.'' The call must be read in the context of the countrywide opposition and criticism that the CPI(M) has had to face following the forcible land acquisition at Singur and the massacres at Nandigram. Now this opposition has come primarily from the affected and aggrieved people of Singur and Nandigram which in turn has found widespread support from the broad democratic opinion not only in West Bengal but in every corner of the country. In the case of Nandigram, the local people who opposed the West Bengal government's move to set up a chemical hub were all long-standing supporters and activists of the CPI(M) itself. But a rattled CPI(M) establishment could not tolerate this unexpected resistance from within its own base and responded with a series of massacres.

The violence naturally evoked all-round condemnation. Yet instead of paying any heed to the voice of protest senior CPI(M) leaders took it upon themselves to justify the killings –- following the third massacre in November 2007 the Chief Minister openly said that trouble-makers had been ``paid back in their own coin'' -– while heaping scorn and ridicule on whoever condemned the killings and questioned the CPI(M)'s discourse of corporate-led ``industrialisation'' and neoliberal ``development''. Even a thoroughly partisan Prabhat Patnaik who had questioned the neoliberal direction of West Bengal was dismissed by the Chief Minister as an armchair economist devoid of any connection with reality! An eminent Marxist historian became an enemy of the people in the eyes of Prakash Karat simply because he had drawn a parallel between Gujarat and Nandigram! This paranoid arrogance has now been made party policy in the draft resolution.

The CPI(M) may club the ruling classes, rightwing reactionaries and the revolutionary left (ultra-left in its vocabulary) as its common enemy. This does not however prevent the CPI(M) from doing brisk business with significant sections of the ruling classes and their oldest political party, the Congress!

In sharp contrast to this arrogant sectarianism of the CPI(M), the revolutionary left knows how to distinguish between the ruling classes and the opportunist left. The CPI(ML) has serious differences with both the CPI(M) and the self-styled Maoists, but it never subscribes to the anti-communist tirade of the ruling classes and their ideologues. Inside West Bengal, the CPI(ML) has been the only party to have always maintained its independence and demarcation from the entire spectrum of right-wing forces, working consistently for a left and democratic alternative. The misdeeds and arrogance of the CPI(M) are providing a fertile ground for the right and the CPI(ML) is there to counter this process in the best interests of the left movement. The CPI(ML) does not have to indulge in any exercise to malign the CPI(M), but it is certainly the political responsibility of the CPI(ML) to counter the negative impact of the CPI(M)'s utterly indefensible acts like Singur and Nandigram. And this is not a separate task for the CPI(ML), but only an integral part of its overall mission: ``people’s resistance, left resurgence''.

[The CPI (ML) Liberation's web sites are and .]


From the May 2008 edition of Liberation, magazine of the CPI (ML) Liberation.

CPI (Marxist) 19th Congress

“Why, it’s not double standards, comrades, it’s dialectics!”

By Arindam Sen

How do we explain opposing Tata in Kalinganagar and welcoming him in Singur? How do we oppose globalisation and imperialist capital in other areas of the country while endorsing both in West Bengal? It was in response to many such doubts aired by some delegates to the 19th all India congress of CPI(M) that the above remark was made by one of the most visible and articulate leaders of the party. To what extent this ingenious application of Marxist philosophy enthralled his audience is anybody’s guess. Very interestingly, in a post-congress exclusive interview, a pro-party magazine like Frontline questioned the re-elected general secretary about the opinion that the “policy framework being given to the party-led State governments would be at variance with the national policy perspectives of the CPI(M) congress with regard to liberalisation”. This did indicate something, and Karat was further asked, “Would not this lead to a kind of confusion among the CPI(M) cadre?”
At the top of confusions and debates, however, it was West Bengal which really stole the show at the 19th congress. Bengal leaders dominated the cut-outs marking the Coimbatore skyline. The biggest attraction of the inaugural session was a video-recorded speech of the leader who had laid the foundation of today’s much-hyped Bengal model of industrialisation. Who could forget the tenacity with which the then octogenarian Jyoti Basu used to trot the globe in the 90s in quest of capital, never minding the meagre success he would score? He has been the only communist in history whom a host of bourgeois parties wished to see as Prime Minister of India. Even to this day he most religiously maintains a fine equilibrium of what he famously termed “mutual interdependence” with the Congress, allowing his colleagues to safely engage in occasional outbursts of anti-Congress and anti-Centre rhetoric without any jolt to the time-tested friendship. No wonder, then, that though he was not in a position to physically attend the congress, his personality and his politics were very much present there. It was for him alone that the post of “permanent invitee” was created in the Politburo -- another first in the annals of the party.
Following the inaugural session, eulogisation of Brand Buddha dominated the proceedings. A congress document supported the economic policy of the West Bengal government in great detail, project by project. This was only to be expected, because development of that policy has always been a joint endeavour of Bengal leaders and the party centre. As far back as in the party’s 12th Congress in 1985, BTR (yes, the same BT Ranadive who as the General Secretary of the undivided CPI in 1948 had sought to plunge the entire party into an adventurous insurrection to overthrow the rule of capital represented by the Nehru government) came down heavily against opponents of state-private joint ventures, helping Chief Minister Jyoti Basu take a big stride forward in his drive for industrialisation. From then onwards, top leaders including General Secretaries have offered all assistance and guidance to the process of continual rightward drift in the Left Front Government’s economic policies. Joint ventures, or what we would call PPPs today, proved to be a transitional step towards privatisation and then the neoliberal industrial policy document of 1994. Through all such steps right up to the West Bengal SEZ Act of 2003 and the current craze of corporate industrialisation, the central leaders stood solidly behind the Bengal leadership, providing theoretical justification to whatsoever the latter did, or wished to do. In 2005, for instance, the 18th Congress opened up the gates to foreign investment. By and by it became clear to all that there was actually no such thing as Kolkata line versus Delhi line. The Bengal line was and is the central line. To be more accurate, the Bengal practice has always been the motive force in the evolution of the all India political perspective. (In this congress too, the party adopted a policy document that further liberalised the economic policies of state governments run by it.) Politburo member Sitaram Yechury made this amply clear in Coimbatore when he said, “What is happening in Bengal is not anti-liberalisation. We are open to foreign capital. Whatever we are doing in Bengal, we are asking Manmohan Singh to do for India”.
Focusing the spotlight on Bengal and its Chief Minister was a carefully considered political decision. BB is obviously the brightest poster boy of the new-look CPI(M). It is he who best represents the aggressive version of social democracy which works directly and violently for big capital and against peasants and workers while still carrying the red flag. Highlighting him is the party’s way to project its own brand of neoliberal developmentalism as the best selling point to improve the stakes in the corridors of power at the central as well as state levels.
And this was also necessary to send the proper signals to the lords of capital in India and abroad. To be sure, they do rely on the likes of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram -- and their counterparts in the BJP -- for managing their affairs in India. But when it comes to marketing the economic philosophy of liberalisation-globalisation, their best bait after the fall of the ‘computer savvy’ Chandrababu Naidu is the ‘pragmatic communist’ BB. Long ago GD Birla advised his class colleagues: rather than forming our own “capitalist party”, let someone who has abdicated all property speak for us. The allusion was clearly to the “Mahatma” in loincloth. Today Buddhadeb and his party enjoy far greater credibility than Congress, BJP and others in speaking for Tatas and Salims, for World Bank and Wal-Mart. Certainly the latter would feel reassured when they see their brand ambassador being accorded the highest prominence in the all India meet.
But how about the bad name earned in Singur and Nandigram? Well, it was precisely for the purpose of covering up the stigma that a high level of praise was considered necessary. Of course, the customary one-line self-criticism was also there: a political and administrative mistake has been committed in Nandigram. The General Secretary conceded that Nandigram had supplied the anti-left forces throughout the country with a suitable handle for criticism. Singur was not forgotten either. A formal caveat was pronounced: it is better to spare agricultural land for industrialisation unless absolutely necessary. For the rest, it was declared that SEZs are fine -- though not so many and so big as contemplated by the centre -- and land acquisition by the state government on behalf of industrialists but “in the interests of peasants” will go on. Not all delegates were satisfied with this, though. A few from Maharashtra reportedly voted against a resolution that endorsed the concept and practice of SEZs.
For all the greatness thrust on him, however, the Chief Minister of West Bengal had a tough time facing a number of embarrassing questions too, from mediapersons as well as delegates. If there is so much of development, why does the state continue to be a laggard in areas like education and health services? The inevitable comparison with Kerala also came up. Buddhadeb apparently could not summon the courage to speak the truth and say that he had been too preoccupied with taking good care of his capitalist friends to look after these small matters. What he tried to say instead, not very convincingly, was something like this: yes we must do better... in Kerala, you see, the Christian missionaries set up many schools...
You say you are opposed to the centre’s “mad” rush after unnecessarily big SEZs -- asked some journalists -- why did you not move any amendments to the SEZ bill when it was moved in parliament? BB was clearly on the defensive: in fact we could not measure up the full implications at the time. You say you won’t allow foreign firms into the retail sector, but what do you do when Wal-Mart seeks entry in joint ventures with Bharthi? We are thinking over that, came the evasive answer.
But Buddhadeb is not given to wasting time in empty thoughts. He made it a point to go and meet the industrialists of Coimbatore. Come to our state, he said, you will get cheap and abundant land, electricity, labour -- you name it, we have it. But labour unrest? Don’t worry, now it is all quiet on that front, replied the confident Chief Minister. Incidentally Coimbatore itself has lately witnessed mighty and continuing waves of workers’ struggles led by the CPI (ML); naturally it did not occur to him or to other leaders to go and meet these workers.
But does it look good if the number one “Left” leader of Bengal comes to be known only as a friend of capitalists, a close confidant of Manmohan Singh and “Pranabda”? It does not. His predecessor in the CM’s chair used to do all these things, but that did not prevent him from waxing eloquent on the need to restructure centre state relations, moving resolutions on this topic in party congresses, and taking the lead in the “conclave politics” of opposition unity. Now BB is being groomed for that role too. This time around it was he who moved the resolution on restructuring of centre-state relations. With elections approaching, the party seems to be all set to project him as a firebrand “national leader” from Bengal.
With West Bengal occupying the pride of place in the 19th congress, all eyes were fixed on the new members of Politburo from this state. The election of veteran CITU leader Mohammad Amin in a position left vacant after the death of CITU General Secretary Chittabrata Mazumdar may have been more of a routine affair. But the election of Nirupam Sen from among a group of likely names was politically quite significant. Even as it embraces neoliberal developmentalism as its political mantra, the CPI(M) still needs to explain all the drift in Marxist terms, to try and show that some sort of left alternative is being put in place by the state governments run by it. Leaders like Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya have never been great experts here; at the state level the job used to be done mainly by Anil Biswas. Erstwhile editor of the party’s Bengali newspaper Ganashakti and then Secretary of West Bengal state committee, he worked out a theory of “development as a form of class struggle”, later fine-tuned as “development and struggle”, for the purpose. Prominent among those who assisted him in this work was Nirupam Sen. After the departure of Biswas, Sen took up the main responsibility. And that not only in theory but also in practice, he being the Minister in charge of industries, commerce and development. His election to the PB is therefore seen as a further endorsement of the political line he best articulates. And after the congress the first job the new PB member took upon himself was to fly off to Germany -- not to pay tributes to Karl Marx, but to invite German capital to the state. So far, so good.
But is everything going well in the party’s Bengal bastion? Not exactly, according to reports placed in the party congress. The proportion of Muslim members in the party is decreasing in Bengal and elsewhere, says the organisational report. What it does not say is that the alienation is a very normal outcome of the Advani-like steps and statements (on madarsas, or the treatment meted out to Rizwanur, for example) on the part of BB and his government. In recent times the latter have taken many a measure like appeasing Muslim fundamentalism on the Taslima Nasreen issue and announcing sops for the Muslim masses just ahead of the panchayat polls. But results are yet to show up.
Then again, the proportion of women in the party membership on the national level remains at a poor 12 per cent, and a poorer 10.5 per cent in West Bengal. The party does not, of course, admit that this has anything to do with the absolute immobility of its women’s wing and the callous attitude of the party and government in the face of growing violence on women, frequently with CPI(M) activists involved in such cases.
However, the number of party members is generally on the rise in this state too. That this growth represents more of an attraction for power and privileges and less of an urge to serve the people is well known and even recognized by the leaders. What the latter are particularly perturbed over is the fact that many comrades are refusing to renew their membership. The media uses the derogatory term “drop-outs” to describe them, but they are the ones who have still some ideological commitment left with them. They have tolerated the party’s continuing degeneration all these years out of sheer loyalty to the cause, but cannot any longer. In them the party is thus losing whatever remained of its most precious resource. Moreover, in West Bengal the process had started much earlier than in other states. While the current rate of non-renewal is only 3.5 per cent, the cumulative absolute number in West Bengal is therefore quite large. With the growing shortage of sincere and efficient workers, the party is steadily losing its skill in “managing” various social and class conflicts and thereby retaining all sections of the vote bank. This naturally leads to growing reliance on muscle power and higher incidence of corruption and bureaucratic tendencies. It has been also reported that behind the electoral successes lurk some worrying changes in the vote bank. This again was only to be expected because changes in political policies were bound to be reflected in shifts in the party’s social base sooner or later.

In view of all this the 19th Congress has issued the call of yet another campaign to rectify mistakes at lower levels throughout the country. Once again this is only a ritual, an exercise in self-deception. With fundamental ideological problems originating at the top and flowing downwards, such an endeavour is bound to prove as futile as on earlier occasions. When the Gangotri remains heavily contaminated, what is the use of trying to clean up the Ganga at the lower reaches?


Urgent Appeal:

May 6, 2008



The shocking news that at least 45 residents of Nandigram - farmers, fish
workers, small traders, were ruthlessly attacked and are hospitalized in
Nandigram, Tamluk and PG Hospital, Kolkatta during the last one week is a
matter of grave concern.

News of politically motivated attacks have come in from other places in West
Bengal as well, such as Nodia and 24 South Paraganas. A few activists of the
Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and Bandhi Mukti
Morca were not just beaten, but are learnt to have been booked under fake

It is not any armed struggle or spate of violence which is meted out with
unjustifiable and repressive measures, but a simple non-violent agitation
within constitutional framework is.

The situation is indeed worrisome and is worsening day by day, as the Panchayat
elections are nearing. While the intellectuals, artists and academicians of
West Bengal with various people's organizations are raising a unanimous voice,
we the concerned citizens across the country appeal to all who care for
democracy, freedom and life of the people in Nandigram and elsewhere to protest
against the violence on unarmed people, men and women, whose only fault is that
they have become
politically aware and organized to challenge the economic players and political
agenda, as well as party. With the Panchayat election in West Bengal at the
doorstep, democratic rights are impinged upon by the brutality of the ruling
party cadres, who are not penetrating propaganda or any political moves by the
opponents. People in the villages of West Bengal are looking forward for
elections and to exercise their right to vote without fear and coercion.

In the past, even when the innocent people of Nandigram have faced assaults
with iron rods, sticks, small bombs and even swords, the West Bengal police
officials, have remained not just mute observers, but supporters of the squads
of the party cadres, coming in on motor bikes. It's a matter of serious concern
that then even Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were not spared of the
political influence and were not allowed to discharge their duties.

In this context:

We demand that the Centre immediately plunges into action, through the CRPF,
ensuring their power to act without favour or fear, and engages in an earnest
political dialogue with its supporter, the Left Front.

We appeal to the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the West Bengal State
Election Commission to take every step to ensure peaceful and non-violent
elections, including putting up a team of independent observers, till the

We appeal to the friends within Left Front to prevent CPI(M) cadres from taking
to violence, which is a blot of democracy and their own ideology.

As responsible citizens, we continue to monitor the situation, of not just the
truly democratic and fair election process, but the safety of all the people
and their rights, of West Bengal, especially Nandigram who hitherto were
subjected to serious human rights violations.

Signed by:

1. Arvind Kejriwal, Activist

2. Amit Bhaduri, Economist

3. Dr. Manoranjan Mohanty, Delhi University

4. Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People's Movements

5. AshokChaudhary, National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers

6. Gautam Bandhopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha

7. Vijayan M J, Delhi Solidarity Group


Yesterday on the 4th of May a team of artists, cultural activists and
intellectuals visited Nandigram to get a first hand experience of the alleged
atrocities being reportedly perpetrated by the CPI (M) cadres and criminals.
The incidents we witnessed and heard reported by the affected people were
simply horrifying.

We submitted a memorandum to the Block Development officer of Nandigram,
Shantiram Gorai in demand for a peaceful, terror free atmosphere, so that the
people of Nandigram could exercise their independent choice and opinion in the
coming Panchayat Elections. Even the BDO claimed his helplessness in
controlling the situation because of lack of co-operation of the district and
police administration. Till date he had written 47 letters to the O.C. of
Nandigram Thana requesting, urging him to check the violence, but to no avail.
Only two of his letters have till date been answered. He acknowledged the fact
that the CPI (M) was responsible for the spate of violence and the atrocities
on the innocent people of Nandigram, people without any political affiliation,
and those connected to the Bhoomi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, or any political
Villagers of Simulkundu and Kanungochowk had all been hounded out of their
houses. The villages now lay unpeopled. Unauthorised structures had been
constructed over the Talpatti Canal as entry points for CPI (M) backed
professional criminals from Khejuri armed with latest sophisticated weaponry,
which was being brazenly ignored by the police, in spite of repeated reminders
from the BDO. The BDO himself had gone on inspection and found this out. But
still the police claimed ignorance of this fact. He also acknowledged that many
people had and were still fleeing their homes due to CPI (M) atrocities and
attacks. Their houses were being looted, ransacked, while men, women and even
children were being beaten up, assaulted and molested too. We witnessed a
pregnant lady, on the ground floor of the BDO office, who had been kicked
around on her belly and under parts of her body, with the wounds still
The BDO further informed us that at a camp in Maheshpur, Gokulnagar, there were
about 400 homeless persons residing at present. All had been hounded out of
their houses in the past few days, by the CPI (M) cadres and criminals. He
requested us to contact higher officials, in case they could be awakened to the
immediacy of the crisis to the lives, persons and property of the people of

Next we visited the Nandigram Block Hospital. We saw patients with head
injuries, broken limbs, lathi injuries and a variety of wounds, in the wards.
All claimed that they had been either pulled out of their houses and tortured
physically and threatened to dare go against the CPI (M), or assaulted on their
fields or on the roads by CPI (M) cadres passing by in rallies, conducting
house to house checks and delivering threats. Women were carried off into the
fields from in front of their men folk for daring to try protecting either
their husbands or children. The Medical Officer of the Block Hospital,
Shubhobrata Maity claimed that he was short staffed and no doctors were being
sent by the administration to tackle and meet the situation over there. As of
latest reports 2 patients have just been admitted with bullet injuries. (13.12

We visited the relief camp at Maheshpur where we saw about 400 people housed in
the school buildings, unable to return home, since the CPI (M) marauding gangs
were daily attacking them at their houses and assaulting them. Women took us
aside to reveal deep injuries in their various private body parts as they
narrated the incidents of assaults by CPI (M) men and others who had their
faces covered in black cloth. They further claimed that local CPI (M) leaders
along with their womenfolk attacked them and stood as barricades to prevent the
CRPF from stopping the atrocities. Besides the CRPF have been instructed by the
local police administration not to prevent such atrocities or arrest the
culprits or take any punitive action against the CPI (M) culprits. We saw a
70year old man with severe head injuries (13 stitches) who claimed he had been
assaulted inside his house. He could not say what his guilt was for which, at
this age he had had to suffer such insult and injury. Neither could any of the
women. They had just refused to part with their lands. Yet now the State Govt.
was claiming that they were not going to take their lands. So why were they
being subjected to such torture. Nobody seemed to have an answer, save claiming
that the CPI (M) was out to recapture its lost political ground in Nandigram at
gunpoint or by whatsoever methods.
We saw a handful of policemen guarding the camp. But they said that they
already had orders to move out that very night, leaving the people at the mercy
of the marauding gangs. They knew the danger these people of the surrounding
villages and in the camp faced. They realized the pitiful plight of the common
people but they had to follow orders, though they did not support what was
going on.

As we set back to return, calls kept coming in of the CPI (M) having opened
fire on Sonchura and Gokulnagar village. Injured people were lying on the
ground and being allowed to bleed. The CPI (M) armed gangs with party flags
surrounded the villages preventing any ambulance or person to come and rescue
the persons. As I write this report, intense firing has been opened at
Satengabari village, 7 people can be seen lying bleeding on the ground, yet
nothing can be done to retrieve them. Heavily armed CPI (M) cadres are firing
indiscriminately as the people are fleeing their houses in terror. 2 persons
are reported missing.

This is the situation at Nandigram. Can this be the picture of Democracy? May
be! The democracy of brute force! Where is the voice of sanity and reason? Fled in the face of gunfire???!!!


Violence on the Left: Nandigram and the Communists of West Bengal

AFTER A PERIOD of relative impotence, the Hindu-supremacist right in India has rebounded, with the December reelection of Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Narendra Modi as chief minister in Gujarat. Modi’s role in the mass murders of Muslims in that state in February 2002 has long been so well documented that he has been denied a visa to enter the United States. Recently, moreover, extensive corroboration of his role was elicited by a hidden-camera inquiry conducted by the news-magazine Tehelka. Despite overwhelming evidence that he is a mass murderer extraordinaire—or perhaps, because of it—Modi defied media predictions, and even exit polls, to win by a landslide, a victory in which fund-raising and politicking by Indians residing in the United States (40 percent of Indian Americans are Gujarati) played a large role. Because the rival Congress Party, which controls the central government in a coalition, understands well the intense hatred of Muslims that animates many Gujarati Hindus, leading politicians tiptoed around the issue of sectarian violence, hoping to defeat the BJP in Gujarat on its weak economic record. Only Sonia Gandhi, courageously and repeatedly, denounced Modi’s reign of blood. (American Gujaratis responded with an e-mail campaign denouncing Gandhi in abusive language.) Hitler is revered as a hero in school textbooks in Gujarat. In Modi, those who worship at that shrine seem to have found the type of leader they seek. Let’s hope that the nation as a whole does not embrace his charismatic call to hate.

Meanwhile, however, violence has been in the news from a very different part of the Indian political spectrum. People connected to the Communist government of West Bengal have been guilty of some extremely vile actions, including rape and murder, toward dissident peasants, in a struggle over land acquisition, and the government has done nothing to prevent these terrible things. This struggle has split the Indian left, between those who think that people on the left must maintain solidarity in the face of right-wing threats and those who insist on calling murder murder no matter who does it. It’s a conflict from which we can learn a lot, not only about Indian politics but also about what stance a contemporary left movement can reasonably and morally take on rural development issues.

West Bengal’s Communist Regime
Communist parties played a significant role after independence in two Indian states, West Bengal and Kerala, but they rose to power only in the late 1960s. The Communist Party of India split in 1964 over the Sino-Indian War. The party currently dominant in West Bengal, known as the CPI(M) (Communist Party of India, Marxist) backed China and initially opposed democratic nationalism. Nonetheless, despite grumbling about “bourgeois democracy,” the party gradually came to accept a nation-friendly parliamentary role, espousing democracy, if with less than wholehearted enthusiasm. Significantly, Stalinism was never formally repudiated. Economist Amartya Sen tells of explaining to his daughter, around 1975, who that mustached man was on the huge posters in Howrah station, Kolkata: “Look at him carefully, Indrani, since you will not see his picture anywhere else in the world any more.” In 1977 the CPI(M) gained a majority in West Bengal, and it has ruled ever since. Jyoti Basu served as chief minister from 1977 until his retirement in 2000, when he was succeeded by the current chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Although land reform was approved by West Bengal’s precommunist government, it was implemented under the communists, and West Bengal and Kerala remain the only two Indian states that have had successful land reform. There is wide agreement on both left and right that reform of these states’ quasi-feudal system of land tenure was essential not only to social equity but also to economic development. In other respects, however, the situation of the rural poor has not prospered under communist leadership. The great power of labor unions has caused a loss of employment in both West Bengal and Kerala, as industry seeks more friendly climates in neighboring states.

ON THE CRUCIAL issues of health and education, Kerala’s Communists have performed far better than those in West Bengal, making the state, in some respects, a model of successful state-led development. Kerala provides universal health care and has achieved universal literacy among adolescents, through an aggressive and well-managed program of public education that includes the clever idea (pioneered in neighboring Tamil Nadu) of a nutritious midday meal, as a carrot to lead parents of working children to allow them to go to school. The Supreme Court of India has now said that all states must offer this meal, even specifying the number of calories it must contain (at least three hundred) and the number of grams of protein (eight to twelve). West Bengal, by contrast, has shown little creativity in either health or education. Infant mortality, it is true, is lower than in most Indian states, but distinctly higher than in Kerala. Maternal mortality figures are distressingly high, and a major cause is lack of access to decent health care in the rural areas. (A recent UNICEF report documents the alarming frequency with which women giving birth die because they simply cannot reach a hospital in time.)

In education, the Pratichi Trust (established by Sen with his Nobel Prize money) has found that the education of the rural poor is in a very bad way, owing to lack of facilities, teacher absenteeism (around 20 percent), and the disgraceful practice of “private tuition” (teaching for money in rich pupils’ homes after school, which gives incentives to teachers not to teach in school, a practice protected by the corrupt teachers’ union). So, the record of the CPI(M) is mixed at best. One might also mention the CPI(M)’s neglect of the once-superb university system: Kolkata was the intellectual capital of the nation, and is no longer.

Rural self-government through the panchayat system exists in West Bengal, and, indeed, the state took a leading role in pioneering that system. It would be wrong to think that the Communists are distinctive in their support for this system, which now exists throughout the nation, has enjoyed constitutional protection since 1992, and has different, Gandhian roots. Although some panchayats operate well, what too often characterizes the panchayat system in West Bengal is the dictatorial way it operates: one hears of CPI(M) officials marching illiterate voters to the polls en masse: “turning out the vote” has an all too literal meaning. Nor could one reasonably say that communism has made much progress in eradicating class and caste in government. Indeed, as those familiar with Bengali nomenclature can recognize from names alone, the ruling elites are all firmly upper-caste Hindu, from elite backgrounds. This is true in all the major political parties, but one might have hoped it would have been less true in the CPI(M). (Muslims in West Bengal, as in most other Indian states, are disproportionately poor and ill-educated.)

In Jyoti Basu, the CPI(M) had one of India’s most savvy politicians. Whatever his failures on health and education, Basu combined a deep commitment to social equality with a canny awareness of the ways in which communism, to work for people, must be tempered by economic realism. He argued that communism’s fundamental commitment was to human welfare, and that in the present-day world, Bengal could achieve this only by allying itself, for certain purposes, with capitalist investment. For some time, the state has sought to attract both domestic and foreign capital, trying to convince industrialists that doing business in the state needn’t make them hostage to endless labor difficulties. Basu was (and still is, at the age of ninety-three) a consummate persuader and a pragmatist, and he had, and has, a superb ability to convince people to depart from ideology for the sake of a perceived common good. One of the state’s current problems is that Bhattacharjee is a much less able man, a dogmatic, unmoving hedgehog to Basu’s wily fox.

The heart of the state’s current problems is the condition of rural agriculture. Although the state has done much to enhance the quality of rural agriculture, it cannot remain as heavily dependent upon agriculture as it has been, although there are those on the left who romanticize agriculture and resist industrialization as an evil. (This, too, was a Gandhian tradition.) If jobs are to be generated and incomes raised, industrial development is necessary. Effecting this shift will mean devoting less land to agriculture. The rural poor, however, are not eager to give up their land and their way of life. Why should they? The government that wants to effect such a transition peacefully will need to do more than offer fair value for land: it will need a long-term, well-established program of educational development and skills training, so that the people who are thrown off the land have employment opportunities in the firms that will open on that land. It does no good to tell people that industrialization creates jobs, if these are jobs that they themselves can’t possibly fill. The Bhattacharjee government appears not to understand any of this; it seems to think that when it decides on an industrial strategy, everyone should simply go along.

UNFORTUNATELY for public debate, the CPI(M) has no credible opposition. The primary opposition party, the so-called “Trinamool Congress” headed by the theatrical self-promoter Mamata Banerjee (a Brahmin from a poor urban family, who poses one minute as the ally of the downtrodden and, the next, as the best friend of upper-caste large landowners) has no coherent development policy and has also allied itself opportunistically with the Hindu right, forming part of the coalition government that held power nationally before 2004. People committed to social equity stay with the CPI(M) because they have no alternative, and the government knows that. The CPI(M)’s key role in sustaining the Congress Party at the national level in the current coalition government adds to its arrogance.

Singur and Nandigram
The first sign of trouble for the CPI(M)’s industrialization strategy came last year, when the government announced a deal to set up a Tata Group car plant in an agricultural area near Kolkata. Although the government claims (controversially) that it offered fair market value for the necessary land, the local inhabitants protested vigorously. The government’s basic idea, though contested by those who unduly romanticize agriculture, has won wide support from development thinkers (including Sen, for example), particularly in light of the fact that the Tata Group, an India-based corporation, has a record of sensitivity and decency on employment issues. The protests, moreover, were clearly staged by Mamata Banerjee to at least some extent, in a grab for personal power after a bad electoral defeat. Singur’s population is not overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture. Still, there were ominous signs for the future, such as the government’s lack of attention to transitional skills training and to public debate. Many people wondered why the government had selected this fertile tract of land for industrial development, rather than nonarable land closer to the city; the government refused to answer such questions.

In addition, last year, a strange example of the government’s arrogance came to light in its handling of a tragic case of either murder or suicide. A young Muslim computer scientist, Rizwanur Rehman, married the daughter of a wealthy Hindu industrialist, Ashok Todi. Her family tried everything to break them up. The couple several times asked for police protection, in vain. Finally, the husband was found dead on a railroad track. The same (government-controlled) police, evidently eager to cozy up to capital by preventing any serious inquiry into the behavior of the Todis, quickly ruled the case a suicide without even a cursory investigation, although there was a good deal of evidence against such a conclusion. The government then defended the bad behavior of the police. Finally, after a public outcry, the CBI (India’s FBI) came in to do a real investigation, which continues.

Now to Nandigram. In 2006, the government announced plans to build a chemical plant in that district, west of Kolkata. The firm operating it was to be an Indonesia-based firm that lacked the good labor record of the Tatas. As in the case of Singur, there was little consultation and no program of skills training and employment transition. The resistance of local people (considerably poorer and more dependent on agriculture than the people of Singur) was both genuine and fierce, although no doubt Mamata Banerjee encouraged it. In February 2007, the government announced that it had abandoned the plan, but people didn’t believe it. Fears of dislocation and dispossession led peasants to form a group (very likely aided by Mamata) that seized control of several villages in the area, driving out by force the CPI(M) supporters who lived there.

On March 14, 2007, the government went in to seize control of these villages. Its pretext was that Maoist rebels belonging to a Naxalite terrorist group were training there and had smuggled in firearms. No credible evidence supported this assertion, as even government home secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy said, departing from the orthodox Party line. Police went in to take control, but it is also clear that many of the armed men were from CPI(M) Party cadres, a kind of private Party-led army and not the official forces of law and order. Shots were fired, mostly (it appears) by these cadres. Around fourteen civilians, including women and children, were killed and seventy wounded. The government’s official story is that armed Maoist terrorists were organizing the villagers and had put women and children up front, while firing on the government’s men from behind them. This story is not credible, in light of the fact that many people were shot in the back. No less a figure than Jyoti Basu himself reproved the government for its authoritarian strategy, saying, “Is this the way the Left Front government should function? I have been told that the mob went violent but on the contrary I saw men with bullets in their back on TV. Why is it so?”

Although the government tried to prevent journalists and other observers from entering the area and questioning victims, some were able to get in. Historian Tanika Sarkar tells me that she personally saw marks of sexual assault on the bodies of young women and girls, and, at the local government-run hospital, saw scores of desperately injured people whom officials had ordered discharged, although they could not stand or walk. A doctor who refused to sign discharge papers had been transferred.

As the months went on, things got worse. Although the CPI(M) tried to keep journalists out of the area, there is much evidence by now that armed Party cadres patrolled the villages, engaging in rape, assault, and murder. Opposition villagers were forcibly evicted from their homes, and many remain in temporary camps today, still vulnerable to violence. (Much of this is extensively documented in the report of an investigative People’s Commission published last summer.) In the late fall, things heated up, and numerous clashes were reported, again with Party cadres, not the official police, playing the aggressive role. The state’s high court ordered normalcy restored and refused to hear the government’s objections to the involvement of national forces (both police and investigators) in restoring law and order. Left Front chair Biman Bose scoffed at the court, calling its judgment “unconstitutional”—and was cited for criminal contempt. By now, the nation’s Supreme Court has agreed to review the matter on both sides, at the same time chiding the CPI(M) for wasting people’s time with litigation rather than doing something constructive for the people of Nandigram. By November, violence escalated, again with Party cadres, not officers of the law, taking the aggressive role. Indeed, the police were withdrawn, and the chief minister openly handed the area over to the cadres, stating that he was not just a chief minister, but also a Party person. Graves from these assaults are still being discovered by the central police force. It is alleged that government-controlled hospitals were reluctant to help the victims. Chief Minister Bhattacharjee defended the use of force, saying that the villagers had been “paid back in their own coin.”

Critics and the Left Split
Enter the governor. A governor, in an Indian state, is a basically ceremonial officer, usually nonpartisan. West Bengal’s current governor is Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the youngest grandson of the Mahatma, a man of delicacy, grace, and sympathy. A strict vegetarian and supporter of animal rights, he has a passionate interest in bird-watching. One might have thought this peaceful, cultivated man hardly a match for the thuggish party leaders of the CPI(M). One would have been wrong. Taking a degree of initiative unusual for a governor, he issued a lengthy public statement. Nandigram, he said, had become “a war zone,” and “No government or society can allow a war zone to exist without immediate and effective action.” The treatment of villagers “was against all norms of civilized political behavior.” He urged peace talks, a call in which he was joined by Jyoti Basu. He ended by saying, “Enough is enough. Peace and security should be restored, without any delay, from where they have been evicted from Nandigram.”

CPI(M) officials don’t like to be criticized, and they truculently denounced Gandhi’s speech. The state secretary, Biman Bose, said that Gandhi was “overstepping the constitutional limits of his office. . . .[S]ome of his predecessors had to depart without completing their tenure.” India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, however, backed up Gandhi on November 20, asking the state government to restore law and order. “It is the duty of the State Government that all sections regardless of their political affiliations get protection of the law enforcement agencies. I understand the spontaneous outpouring of grief and anguish over the issue as expressed by the artists and intellectuals in Kolkata.”

Singh was alluding to the public protest against the government’s violence in Nandigram led by leading Bengali artists and writers. West Bengal has always cared about intellectuals. It has the largest book fair in the world and a proud tradition of achievement in arts and letters, in religious, philosophical, and economic thought. (Sen’s Nobel Prize was occasion for a parade of approximately a million people in Kolkata in 1998, something difficult to imagine in New York or Chicago.) So it was no mere gesture when, shortly after the March 14 incident, leading historians Tanika Sarkar and Sumit Sarkar (joining other artists and activists who had begun protesting earlier) returned major literary awards that they had won from the government, saying that what had happened in Nandigram was even more shocking than the infamous British massacre of innocent civilians at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, more shocking because one would not expect better behavior from the British, but one would from this left-wing government. “We are shattered,” said Tanika Sarkar. “All this has happened and there is not a word of shame or apology from the CPI(M) central committee or state committee.” By November, many more had joined the Sarkars. Leading members of the film industry boycotted the state’s film festival, and on November 14—the occasion to which Singh was alluding directly, a group of artists and writers, including filmmaker Aparna Sen and writer Mahasweta Devi, held a protest against the government in downtown Kolkata. Some claimed that the violence in Nandigram was comparable to the use of violence against Muslims by social groups allied with the BJP in Gujarat in 2002.

THE CPI(M) government contains many decent people, dedicated to social welfare and equality. Among these, I am convinced, is Jasodhara Bagchi, chair of the West Bengal Women’s Commission, who has done a good deal to bring relief to women injured or raped in the violence. (Although she is accused of inaction in the People’s Commission report, and has been much criticized by protesting artists and writers for alleged inaction, the statements don’t seem to me correct: on March 28, she issued a very strong statement of protest against the March 14 violence, calling it a “shameful event,” and demanding both a thorough inquiry and compensation for the victims.) Similarly, the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK), a government-funded think tank chaired by Bagchi’s husband, Amiya, a noted economist, has done a good deal of valuable intellectual work pertinent to the state’s economic crisis, including work on industrialization and agriculture. (I must divulge that these two people are personal friends—as are the Sarkars on the other side—and that I am an honorary professor at IDSK, though with no remuneration.) It is perhaps not surprising that people who can do good work within the government, despite its flaws, would be reluctant to denounce it publicly, and I do not condemn their failure to do so, particularly in light of the extremely low quality and the fascist ties of the opposition. Nonetheless, one who stands on and looks at these events as an outsider must conclude that the government’s actions are vile and utterly unacceptable.

It is this issue that has split India’s left. The artists and intellectuals I’ve named are in a few cases motivated by a woolly romanticism about agriculture and an ideological opposition to all industrial development. For this they should be criticized. Some of them may also have had unrealistic expectations for this government, whose Stalinists roots they have perhaps insufficiently appreciated. For this lack of caution they should also be criticized. They also, however, have had the courage of consistent moral principle, standing up against brutality even when the perpetrators are friends. For this they are to be greatly admired. Not so admirable, by contrast, have been the statements of some leftists to the effect that one should not criticize one’s friends, that solidarity is more important than ethical correctness. One may or may not trace this line to an old Marxist contempt for bourgeois ethics, but it is loathsome whatever its provenance.

A particularly fatuous document of this kind was a letter authored by Noam Chomsky, signed by a number of Indian American intellectuals who should know better, and published in the Hindu, a leading national India newspaper, on November 22, 2007. Besides lauding the CPI(M) for “important experiments” for which it deserves no particular credit (such as “local self-government”), the letter reasons that people on the left ought to focus on opposition to the actions of the United States in Iraq, rather than fighting with one another. “This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist,” concludes Chomsky, having asserted, entirely without cause on that date, that things are basically back to normal and that the two sides have reconciled. This is the type of left politics that holds that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, no matter how many rapes and murders that friend has actually perpetrated.

HERE WE ARRIVE at an issue that lies at the heart of all the leftist political movements of the twentieth century: is solidarity itself a major political value or is the basic value that of justice to each and every person, treating each and every one as an end? The latter vision is that of left-liberalism, which has always held that the purpose of a politics of human welfare is to improve the lives of individual human beings, and that each human being counts as equally worthy of respect. By contrast, “solidarity,” both on the communitarian right and on the antiliberal left, has suggested to many that the lives of individuals may and often must be sacrificed in the pursuit of class or group goals, and that worries about the justice of such sacrifices are irritatingly bourgeois. That’s really what the split in India is about, and it corresponds to a split between the Nehruvian/Gandhian founding of the nation and its long-standing communist tradition. Nehru and Gandhi knew that people come first and that each and every person is precious. Gandhi had an extremely rare ability to feel and express compassion not for “the masses” or “the proletariat,” but for each person who suffered. (He said that his goal was to “wipe every tear from every eye,” thus reminding his audience that suffering and death are uncompromisingly personal. Classes may be useful analytical categories, but it is individual people who weep.) In consequence, Gandhi eschewed violence against persons as a political tool, and he showed vividly what it was to treat the human body as a mere means, and what it was to treat it as an end. This politics of personhood survives in West Bengal, in the stance of Gopal Gandhi; in the protests of many artists and writers; and, also, in the courageous work of many individual members of the CPI(M). It appears to have been forgotten (if it was ever accepted) by the government’s central leadership.

In assessing the specific situation of West Bengal, we must distinguish between the government’s industrial strategy, which I, like Amartya Sen, believe to be generally correct and the means the government chose to implement it, which are appalling. First, one should condemn the utter lack of provision for job transitions, made worse by more general failures in educational development. Second (the focus of Sen’s recent critique) one should condemn the government’s lack of interest in public debate and public discussion, to which one can now add condemnation of the rude and truculent treatment of reasonable opposition, such as that of the governor. Third, one must strongly condemn the government’s reliance on unofficial “private army” cadres. The rule of law requires that enforcement be carried out by the agents of the law. The private armies of Nandigram are in that sense no better than the private armies of the Hindu right. Fourth, one must condemn the government’s cavalier way with truth and evidence, as in the unsubstantiated allegations about Maoist activity in the area. Finally, and most strongly, one must utterly condemn the (apparently continuing, at least until very recently) acts of rape, murder, and assault against villagers, mostly by these “private armies.”

What led to this breakdown in governance? The seeds of catastrophe lie, no doubt, in the never-sufficiently-de-Stalinized background of this Party, always suspicious of democracy, always used to treating people as agents of class struggle rather than as individual human beings who need specific life prospects if they are to give up their land. This general orientation toward human beings led to a lack of appreciation that an industrial strategy, even if basically correct, needs to focus on what real people are able to do and to be, rather than thinking only in statistical terms. Under Jyoti Basu the party would never have erred in this way, so one must also impute the disaster to inferior, insecure leadership, fearful of genuine debate and transparency. The arrogance of long electoral success contributed further to turn this insecurity into an aggressive strategy for total control of the rural areas.

Is the comparison to the events of Gujarat, frequently heard on the right, but sometimes also on the left, illuminating? Not very, I believe. The murders of Muslims in Gujarat were part of a concerted antiminority strategy fueled by ethnic hatred. I have argued in these pages and elsewhere that the pogrom deserved to be called a genocide (“Genocide in Gujarat: The International Community Looks Away,” Summer 2003). People were killed simply because they were Muslims. The killings in Nandigram are examples of hideous lawlessness, and a determination to wipe out opposition, but there seems to be no ethnic or genocidal component to them. Sarkar’s comparison to Jallianwala Bagh (where the British, bent on total control, opened fire on peaceful demonstrators) is far more apt, and we might indeed see Bhattacharjee as a first cousin of General Reginald Dyer, unable to accept the reality of a human being who disagrees with him.

On December 26, 2007, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee went out to Nandigram and issued a public apology. He spoke with regret of the need to win people’s hearts, and he again assured the local residents that the plan for the chemical plant had been scrapped. Has this group learned its lesson? One would hope that the wise public counsel of the governor—and, one imagines, the behind-the-scenes counsel of many others—have convinced the CPI(M) that “bourgeois democracy” requires listening, together with a focus on educational development. If that turns out to be the case, well and good. If the government returns to its arrogant ways, however, it will continue to need and deserve the criticism of fellow egalitarians, who must not allow solidarity to trump justice.

Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, appointed in the Philosophy Department, Law School, and Divinity School. She is an Affiliate of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies and a board member of the Human Rights Program. Among the pieces consulted for this article are an issue of Tehelka called “Why Nandigram?” November 24, 2007; Nandigram: What Really Happened?, the report of the People’s Tribunal, published in Delhi by Daanish Books in December 2007; an excellent two-part article by Amartya Sen, “The Industrial Strategy: Developments in West Bengal,” the Telegraph (Kolkata), December 29 and 30, 2007; and Malini Bhattacharya, “Nandigram and the Question of Development,” Economic and Political Weekly, May 26, 2007.