‘What makes people think that we are destroying agriculture?’ West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had asked this newspaper recently while talking about the agitations against farmland acquisition. After the bloodbath in Nandigram on Thursday, the answer to that rhetorical query becomes brutally evident: people think the worst because the worst happens. Mr Bhattacharjee and his government may have seen the light at the end of West Bengal’s tunnel in industrialisation, but old habits die hard. Instead of making a bid for an inclusive drive for industrialisation, where patience and preparation were sorely needed to change minds, the CPI(M) sought short-cuts and sleight-of- hand operations. The knee-jerk reaction of reaching for the cattle-prod was evident in the violence unleashed by cadres in Nandigram on January 7. The same stratagem of ‘making them fall into line’ was re-enacted this week with horrific force, the authorities using the statutory cover of a 2,000-strong police contingent.
The party explanation of ‘cadres gone wild’ and ‘outsiders starting the trouble’ has few takers. The strategy of sending a police force to Nandigram was chalked out in the Chief Minister’s office. Mr Bhattacharjee is no spring chicken. He knows enough about ‘police action’ from his experience as the Home (Police) Minister during Jyoti Basu’s chief ministership. So now, with the concerted effort to paint the firings as an attempt to bring law and order in the badlands of Nandigram gone terribly wrong, Mr Bhattacharjee should know how credible he sounds. Even those who have been supporting the industrialisation drive — and have been irked by the often pointless campaigns opposing it — have been left wondering whether Mr Bhattacharjee can be trusted to do what is good for the people and the state in the right manner.
Clearly, a party that has implemented policies in the past in a way hardly democratic has been found employing Stalinist methods. Mr Bhattacharjee had recently stated that if the people of Nandigram did not want industrialisation — and its resultant prosperity — land would be sought elsewhere. One had taken his word for it, despite the niggling matter of the land acquisition notification, the origin of the agitation, yet to be withdrawn. If there were fears that the government would ‘cheat’ people of their livelihoods before Thursday, people are now terrified of being cheated of their lives. Instead of still hoping to bludgeon round pegs into square holes, the CPI(M) should seriously consider a political solution that involves listening to other views and not simply sending police forces where netas fear to tread. With such brute force on display, the risk of investors losing their appetite is very real. Industrialisation is desperately needed in West Bengal. But not if it means having to kill your own people for the purpose.