Category Archives: West Bengal

>Homage to a fighter extraordinary

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The mid eighties were the time when Bengal cricket was eagerly tracking around to find out its representative for the national arena, mostly controlled then by the Bombay lobby. Though Kolkata was famous for its football passion, cricket was not much behind – the city possessed Eden Gardens, a magnificent cricket ground which was also the oldest and biggest in the country, numerous clubs were trying to raise aspirant Bradmans, Trumpers or Larwoods in the vast stretch of the lush green maidan area. Local ‘para’ clubs regularly organized tennis ball cricket tournaments. By and large, the local cricket buffs fulfilled their appetite by involving themselves with devotional affection in this typical ‘goly’ (lane) form of cricket. One day matches (ODIs) were still not so popular and therefore a five day Test match in Eden Gardens was something like a festival. The lucky ones who had managed to grab a day’s ticket packed their lunch early in the morning and floated in the festive wind towards Eden Gardens. The unlucky ones had to keep themselves satisfied with the vernacular newspaper stories which used to devote their entire first page to cover the match and by the passionate radio commentaries. When Doordarshan started telecast Test cricket directly, there were fewer households that had a television set. Those houses which owned one, was invariably swamped by community visitors from 9 o’clock morning to afternoon till the days telecast was over. Fans crowded in front of the majestic Grand Hotel, where the cricketers generally stayed during Test matches to have a glimpse of the celebrity players. While Kolkata had every setting for cricket phobia – all the enthusiasm were falling short because the local heroes were unable to make any visible mark in the national side. After Pankaj Roy, Bengal couldn’t produce a cricketer who could wear the India cap for a lengthy spell.
Snehashish Ganguly was a talented cricketer in the mid eighties Kolkata. The elder son of an affluent father – a printer by profession but also a onetime state player and widely known as a cricket enthusiast. Snehashish was a fine left-hander batsman and an occasional right-hand off break bowler. Cricket watchers of Kolkata held high expectation about this local lad. In the 1989-90 seasons, Snehashish played six Ranji Trophy matches, scored 439 runs with two centuries and finished with an average of 73.16. Apart from his father, Snehashish also had an ardent follower in his family – his younger brother Sourav. When Sourav also started playing alongside him in the Bengal team, people used to identify Sourav as the younger brother of Snehashish.
From formation days Sourav was blamed for his arrogance. His teammates of St. Xavier’s School cricket team complained against him to their coach. He grew up in an opulent dwelling where his father had arranged an in-house multi-gym, a batting range and rare cricket videos to watch – a facility most of the budding cricketers seldom get. He was picked for the Bengal team in 1989-90 after his initial stint in the Under 15 tournament where he smashed a century against Orissa. In the next Ranji Trophy season Sourav scored 394 runs with an astonishing near eighty average. In a 1991 Duleep Trophy match against West Zone in Guahati, Sourav hit a tidy knock of unbeaten 124 runs and earned a place in the Indian team under Mohammad Azharuddin for the 1991-92 Australia tour. Quite naturally, his inclusion was ridiculed as a quota selection. Sourav was then 19 years old.
In Australia, Sourav was accused for behaving like a spoilt brat, like a ‘maharaja’ who refused to carry the drinks or baggage of his seniors. Those were the times when a junior member in the side felt obliged to do petty services for the senior members to gratify them. Sourav was definitely not a conventional junior member though there are absolutely no proofs at all that he was ever disrespectful about his seniors. An ‘attitude problem’ tag was stuck on him from the very beginning of his career. He played one ODI, scored only 3, and failed to impress the selectors for the next four years. Keeping in mind the past treatments delivered to other Bengal players of class – from Shyamsundar Mitra to Sambaran Bannerjee by an extremely politicized and parochial selection process, many considered that Sourav’s international career was finished. But Sourav didn’t think so. The bitter experience of this tour tempered him bit by bit into steel. He had also acquired some basic lessons that he will start implementing eight years later.
His inclusion to the Indian side touring England in 1992 was similarly credited to Jagmohan Dalmiya – the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) strongman from Bengal and the newly emerged Bengal lobby. After the departure of Navjot Singh Sidhu following an ugly spat with captain Azharuddin, Sourav was lucky enough to play his first Test at the Mecca of world cricket – The Lords. The Sourav myth that will rule the mind of millions for the next sixteen years was launched here with a classy 131 and the subsequent century in the next Trent Bridge Test. From 1992 onwards people referred to Snehashish as the elder brother of Sourav. Though Snehashish played 59 first class matches with a near forty average and made 6 centuries, he gradually faded away from the cricket scene.
There is nothing unknown to cricket followers about the controversial career graph of Sourav. The public opinions and emotions about him were always sharp and divided all through his career. But there is a general consensus about one aspect – that this young man had singlehandedly changed the way our national cricket team played its cricket. Only with the exception of the Tiger Pataudi era, the Indian cricket team was universally recognized for its meek and surrendering approach. Indian cricket was mostly observed to follow the achievements of individuals – not for the achievements of a team. Sourav transformed Indian team into a rock solid unit, with a combative and thorny approach which caused lots of uneasiness for many opponent super captains. What cricket journalist Harsha Bhogle observed as the basic persona of Sourav also became the identity of the team he led – not rude and disrespectful but defiant and increasingly confident. This changeover was achieved with a one point strategy that he had picked up from personal experiences of his first tour – nurture young talents, trust their ability and protect them from the parochial trends that have always influenced Indian team building. By doing so, Sourav turned the younger players into daring fighters who in return trusted him deeply. For the next five years after he was named the full-time captain, India played 49 Tests, lost 13 and won 21 which include the 11 wins abroad. Tiger Pataudi, considered by many as India’s finest captain, led in 40 Tests, lost 19 and won 9 including 3 wins abroad. Sunil Gavaskar led in 47 Tests, won 9 and Mohammad Azharuddin captained in 47 Tests and won 14 of them. As a captain, Sourav achieved a winning percentage of 42.86 in Tests and 51.70 in ODIs. In both form of the game Sourav surpassed the achievements of all previous Indian captains.
In his 16 years of international career, Sourav scored 7217 Test runs including 16 centuries with an average of 42.17 and took 32 wickets. He scored 11363 runs in the ODIs including 22 centuries with an average of 41.02 and took 100 wickets. Among those who have scored over 10000 runs in the one day matches, only Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting has a better average than him.
Even after these spectacular successes, Sourav always had to be ‘reselected’ as captain before every series. He was finally sacked in 2005 – first from captaincy and then as a member of the squad. Greg Chappell, the newly appointed coach of the Indian team gradually surfaced to be a manipulative and megalomaniac individual, pooled himself along with the animus administrators like Kiran More and Raj Singh Dungarpur (Dungarpur famously said at that time that, “Chappell is a genius; Sourav is much below him in stature”) and was successful in getting rid of Sourav. Chappell only wanted docile players to maneuver his crummy scheme and his Indian henchmen had to accomplish their personal aversion agenda. Thankfully, it did not take long to prove that Chappell is a total failure. After the disastrous 2007 World Cup performance of India, the scratchy Australian was duly removed from his job. Whereas Sourav, within less than a year after his removal astoundingly bounced back into the team in 2007. He returned with a 98 run ODI score against West Indies, became the top scorer with 534 runs and Man of the Series in the three-Test series against Pakistan. Surprisingly omitted from the ODI side, he scored nearly 2000 Test runs including a double century. He had to prove a point. And he did it in style.
If Sourav had ended his career as soon as he was sacked, he would have been still called a ‘hero’, but apparently a tragic one. History would have looked at him through the ‘great-good-error-downfall’ model of the Aristotelian ‘tragic hero’. But Sourav cannot tend to carry the ‘tragic’ tag along with him for the rest of his life. He has imprinted his own destiny through hard struggle, absolute determination, great courage and outstanding achievements. He has always seized the public imagination as the eternal symbol of the good combating the bad. Why should he like to see his feat as tragic? After the dignified manner in which he drew the final curtain, history will always recall Sourav not as a tragic but a true hero. He leaves behind the legacy of an extraordinary fighter and a wonderful leader who can proudly recall about his team that, “…I know, even when I get it wrong, that my team believes I was wrong in trying to be right.”

>An elegy for Singur

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After Mr. Ratan Tata’s pullout of the Nano project from Singur was announced, the industry minister of Bengal expressed in a glum voice that he doesn’t feel like living in Bengal anymore. The chief minister is in acute pain and distress, has turned mute and preferred to stay aloof from the rest of the world. The industry bigwigs have said that the decision is the most regrettable incidence which has dampened the festive spirit of Sharodotsav, the biggest festival of Bengalis. A sizeable section of the well wishers of Bengal are deeply sad. Particularly hopeless are the ‘willing’ farmers of Singur who has given their land, received the compensation and invested the money in small business projects largely depending on the Nano factory. With heavy hearted sadness from a devastated dream, an overall bleak mood looms large over this ill-fated state. For years to come, Bengal will have very little left to pride about itself before the world.
According to soil experts, the land inside the abandon Nano site will no longer be suitable for agriculture. Even if land is returned to the unwilling farmers (which is a distant possibility), the most optimistic and diligent among them will not be able to grow crops there in near future. No one will anymore be interested to purchase this infertile land from them even for purposes other than farming as after the exit of Tata, Singur will certainly have no significant land value. The land price will drop rapidly. The large number of 10852 farmers/landowners who have accepted compensation will also not be able to repurchase their once sold land as the money they received from compensation must have been already invested or used for setting up small trades. Where will they get the extra money to repurchase? Even the prospect of a new trade will diminish. Therefore, it is amply clear that the entire economy of Singur will be ruined. The collapse of hope among the inhabitants will generate a grave socio-economic problem even more than today’s. From a land of ecstasy it will now turn into a land of despair. Also as a section of the media predicts, Singur now appears headed toward a full-scale conflict between those who had given up their land for a dream of a better tomorrow with those who believed and followed Mamata Banerjee and her friends in the hope of squeezing out more compensation from the government.
The August 2006 Planning Commission report (Report of working group on Automotive Industry, Eleventh five year plan 2007-2012) says that the automobile industry today is providing direct and indirect employment to 1.31 crore people in India. Currently the industry employs 200,000 persons in vehicle manufacturing, 250,000 in component companies and 10 million at different levels of value chain – both through backward and forward linkages. The expected growth in the investments and output of India’s automotive sector during the next 5 years will create further employment opportunities in the country. Additional 15 million jobs are likely to be created by way of both direct and indirect employment in automotive companies and in other parts of the vehicle value chain such as servicing, repairs, sales and distribution chains. The employment opportunities would be in production for both skilled and unskilled laborers.
There are around 80 lakhs registered jobless youths in Bengal today. Sixty five per cent of them are educated and a large number of them are coming from villages. What will be the number of jobless youths in 2012? If no new jobs are created in the state, the number will reach near to a crore, as the numbers of registered jobless are growing by 4 to 4.5 lakhs per year in the state. Where will these educated jobless youths earn their living from? Obviously, they will be forced to move out mostly to industrially advanced states like Gujarat, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and Delhi. Will the economy of Bengal be able to survive only by farming and fishing? The alarming reality of uncertain job prospect for the rapidly growing number of unemployed was the basis why the Bengal government earnestly thought to give so much importance to the Nano project. The government, the chief minister, the industry minister worked overtime to obtain this project because they knew that it will open the floodgate of employment opportunities for its younger generation. Now after the exit of Tata, it is for sure, no one will even imagine putting up an automobile plant in the state. It is extremely doubtful that something like the Nano project is going to be repeated there in the near future. Investments in other projects will also get hampered as investors will not want to take the risk of investing in a state where any project could be stalled by the whims of an irresponsible opposition.
The quarrel between agriculture and industry was not the actual reason behind the Singur crisis. Neither was it about ‘forceful’ land acquisition for industry. All the ideological and ethical rhetoric instigated by professed sociologists and academics on this topic, all the crocodile tears for agriculture was simply bogus. Total land acquired for the Singur plant was 0.007 per cent of Bengal’s total agricultural land. This paltry amount of land cannot make a devastating impact on the agricultural future of Bengal. The propagators of this opinion are either idiots or deceitful. The crisis was structured by malevolent political minds, by stimulating a rotten greed to seize more money from selling farmland. There would have been no agitation or protests, no Mamata Banerjee factor, no guest appearances by Medha Patkar or Amar Singh, no revolutionary aggression staged by Anuradha Talwar or the Maoists if Tata Motors had directly bought land from the farmers. All ‘unwilling’ farmers would have at once turned ‘willing’ the moment their pockets were filled adequately. The romanticism of farming would have vanished in the blue. Post land reform Bengal, the farmers are not so stupid as many of us think they are.
Mr. Ratan Tata has said in his press conference that, “Two years ago, I said if somebody puts a gun to my head, you would either have to remove the gun or pull the trigger. I would not move my head. I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger.”
Mr. Tata is right. The triggered bullet has brutally killed a pulsating hope. The hope for a prosperous future of Bengal. A hope to create employment prospects for its younger generation and be proud to accommodate a unique automobile project of international importance. By pulling the trigger, Mamata Banerjee and friends has callously killed the Bengal dream for a better tomorrow.
Time has come now to firmly confront the killers. Time has come to nail each of them one by one who have destroyed the dream for a resurgence of Bengal. It could be someone within or outside Bengal. It could be a dubious central government representative temporarily stationed in Bengal. It could also be the invisible sponsor/sponsors of the agitation in Singur “from where the funds and logistic support came from”.
Whoever they may be, the time has come now for all who are still concerned for the state to look straight into their eyes and roar – enough is enough.

>Street fighters of Bengal and the Vietnam experience

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The unyielding campaigners against land acquisition say that opposing land acquisition is not necessarily an anti industry mind-set. See how our leader Mamata Banerjee always pronounces that she wants to see the cheery face of both the industrialists and farmers. Is it not possible to industrialize without acquiring farmland? Theoretically even the most intangible ideas can be proved as possible. So, industrialization without acquiring farmland is also possible. But a practical problem cannot be argued or concluded upon with theory alone. In Bengal, 24% of its total land constitutes the urban-industrial sectors, 13% of it is forestland. Farmland constitutes 62%, while the fallow land is only 1%. From where will the required additional land for new industries come? Is it the first time that land is acquired for industry and development projects in Bengal? Back in time, when Bengal was a leading industrial state in India, huge tracts of land had been acquired for mammoth projects like Durgapur Steel Plant, Alloy Steel Plant, expansion of IISCO, DVC projects, Farrakka hydroelectric project and so on. These acquisitions were easy as it was acquired from absentee landlords who owned large amount of surplus land but were not the actual cultivator themselves. In 1978, the newly elected Left Front government launched Operation Barga and undertook land reform measures. For the first time, poor peasants were given cultivation rights to the land they toil. Land reform directly benefited the sharecroppers – the poorer sections of peasantry, specifically marginal and small farmers. Consequently the agriculture achieved a remarkable progress and growth which changed the rural scene of Bengal. Also rural poverty sharply declined as wages were increased significantly.
After thirty years, the rural economy has started to show signs of stagnation. Farmlands are constantly been fragmented due to division of property among generation next in the rural families. The cost of farming has also drastically increased. Thus, farming is generating lesser remunerative price. Day by day, the numbers of landless people are increasing among the farming families, those who have no option other than venturing into trades or employing themselves elsewhere. Depending only on farmland is therefore not a sensible idea even among the farmers who are found to regularly migrate in big cities for temporary jobs during off seasons. Saying so, the fact cannot be ignored that farmers have a deep sentimental attachment with their lands. Losing their dear land is not a minor matter for them. The campaigners against land acquisition have cleverly used this sentiment to score their narrow political points.
Keeping this scenario in mind where Bengal badly needs industries and development for new employment and income earning opportunities, voicing against any form of land acquisition – be it for industry, power project or roads is in other words, a direct impediment to the prospects of the future generation of the state.
For almost two and a half years, the anti land acquisition groups has spearheaded protests and a strong propaganda war to malign the industrialization initiative of the Buddhadev Bhattacharjee led LF government in the most obnoxious manner with the active support of a large section of prominent media groups. It had started in May 2008 at Singur, climbed to its peak at Nandigram, turned again towards Singur now and waiting to explode in the near future at Katwa, a district town of Bengal where land acquisition process will start soon for a 1,320-MW power plant. The principal force in all the protests is the Trinamul Congress lead rainbow coalition – the People’s Secular Democratic Front and intellectuals christened by the self-proclaimed godfather of Bengali culture, Anandabazar Patrika (ABP) as ‘Sushil Samaj’, a rather puny Bengali rendition of ‘Civil Society’. They are hence highlighted as the ‘good guys’ of the society resisting land grab policy of the WB government, precisely the neo liberal ‘Stalinist’ CPIM – the ‘bad guys’.
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book Manufacturing Consent have elaborately discussed how a systemic propaganda system can ‘manage’ public opinion. In their path breaking study of the American media, Herman and Chomsky have shown how the American media undertook the sacred task of manufacturing public consent to support and legitimize the American establishment’s fictitious ‘fight for democracy’ crusade in truculent countries.
Similar in Bengal, the propaganda system is following a basic model of dividing the two participants of the conflict in black and white. The government and its main political party CPIM is ‘bad’ and the protesters are ‘good’. Therefore, when the government sends police to maintain law and order of an area it is stated as the ‘bad guys’ instigating ‘state terror’. When the protesters or the ‘good guys’ engage themselves in rampant carnage, forcefully evicting helpless villagers who are not supportive to them, it is called ‘spontaneous mass fury’. When a CPIM activist (an unworthy victim according to the propaganda model) is murdered, it’s called ‘CPM goon is killed by the oppressed and angry villagers’. When an activist from the rainbow coalition (a worthy victim according to the propaganda model) is murdered, it is called ‘a poor peasant is killed by CPM goons’. The former will therefore not generate sustained coverage; the later will elicit a propaganda outburst. When a CPIM leader speaks for a ‘political battle’, it is inflated as an atrocious war cry to persecute the democratic rights of common people. When a singer named Kabir Suman tempts people to kill three CPM everyday in public, it is taken as an emotional response to the ‘CPM atrocities’ by a socially conscious artist fighting for democratic rights.
The same activists were seen raising a slogan Amar naam tomar naam, Nandigram Nandigram (My name your name Nandigram Nandigram) in the streets of Kolkata on the days of the Nandigram hullabaloo. Medha Patkar became so glad hearing it that in her several media bites she referred to this slogan as a highly emotional expression by the concerned people of Bengal in solidarity with the ‘worthy victims’ of Nandigram. The ‘concerned’ people she was taking about had by that time marched in huge numbers by the call of the so called Sushil Samaj in a ‘historic’ rally at Kolkata. It was the same rally which had a starry frontal section, with a number of famous and ‘responsible’ Bengal intellectuals who were but totally disconnected from the rear end of the rally which was infiltrated by lumpen Trinamul supporters with vulgar placards and slogans. This slogan was a poor copy of the original Amar naam tomar naam, Vietnam Vietnam (My name your name Vietnam Vietnam), a truly historic slogan originated in the streets of seventies Calcutta in solidarity with the Vietnamese people, fighting against the brutal American troops. It could be concocted by one of the ‘Swajan’ intellectuals or radical Naxalites full of zip in Nandigram to reheat their sodden revolutionary spirits. Vietnam’s fight is highly regarded as a great symbol of determined resistance against imperialism. No one can deny this fact. The name of Vietnam arouses high emotion within the hearts of the rice fed middle class Bengalis. Thus, by imitating the slogan the protesters thought to come close to the virtual reality of the Vietnamese heroic struggle.
A French colony from 1893, Vietnam was combined into a single territory with Cambodia and Laos by the French colonialists and together recognized as Indochina. In 1925, Ho Chi Minh founded the Indochinese Communist Party, spearheading movements against the colonial power. During the Second World War, when Vietnam came under Japanese possession, Ho Chi Minh established a communist-nationalist alliance known as the Viet Minh which supported the allied forces. In August 1945 after the Japanese defeat, Viet Minh took power in Vietnam and declared independence from French colonial control, naming the country Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Vietnam was the first country in Asia to achieve independence from colonial domination, even earlier than India. After the war, the French tried to force in with their colonial power and a new colonial war broke out. From the initial stage, the French war was sponsored by American government through a secret fund earmarked for Indochina. After the Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 the French were forced to move out after splitting Vietnam into two parts. North Vietnam became a communist state under Ho Chi Minh and South Vietnam turned into a French-backed republic. The American objective in Vietnam, as usual, was to prevent a Communist regime from consolidating its power in a country of strategic interests to them. In the pretext of restraining communism in South-East Asia the American military escalated its intervention against a legally constituted and legitimate government. In 1965, American army began bombing North Vietnam, and sending troops to assist the South. Under the communist leadership, the Vietnamese people fought a heroic battle against the gruesome and brutal American troops and by 1973 were victorious in driving out the already despondent Americans. After South Vietnam fell to the Viet Minh in 1975, North and South Vietnam officially reunited under the communist party leadership In June 1976 and was renamed Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
From 1975 to 1986 the new socialist government of Vietnam established a centrally planned economy and collectivized land ownership by a collective agriculture policy. Private business was not encouraged. From farmland to industries the state owned everything on behalf of its people. But in the mid-1980s, the farm collectivization policy failed badly which turned into an economic disaster for Vietnam. The state run enterprises were at a loss, food was rationed and the country was on the brink of a famine. 1.5 million tons of rice was imported as the country could not grow enough rice to feed their own people. Another reason of this deep crisis was the collapse of the Soviet Union; Vietnam’s chief patron and aid donor. The doctrinaire approach to socialism was showing signs of a total collapse.
At this juncture, in 1986 the Vietnamese Communist Party in a historic shift announced a departure from its policy of central planning and collective agriculture and implemented a program of market socialism called Doi Moi (economic restructuring). The policy of Doi Moi consists of three interconnected fundamental points: a shift from a bureaucratically centrally planned economy to a multi-sector economy working under a market mechanism with state management and a socialist orientation; democratizing social life and building a legal state; implementing an open-door policy and promoting relations between Vietnam and all other countries in the world. One of the key reasons to this change was instigated by the baby boom in Vietnam after 1975 which has created an incredibly young population with an average age of just around 25. The need for the government and the party was to provide a secure future for these postwar baby-boomers when they come up into their prime.
Doi Moi took its time to show up the effects, but over the past few years economic liberalization has endorsed rapid, poverty-reducing growth for Vietnam. Over the past decade the country’s annual growth has averaged 7.5 per cent. As remarked by The Economist, Vietnam has become the darling of foreign investors and multinationals. New SEZs, industrial parks, software parks are coming up in huge numbers there. Obviously, these are not being built on sky but on acquired agricultural land. The Economist also says that, “The success of Vietnam’s economic transformation is often measured by the falling share of agriculture in the country’s gross domestic product. Industry and services are indeed growing even faster than farming and absorbing its surplus labour. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries now provide barely half of all jobs in Vietnam, compared with over two-thirds only ten years ago. Even so, over 70% of the population still live in the countryside, so a successful rural economy will remain the key to maintaining Vietnam’s impressive progress on cutting poverty.” (Emphasis added)
Did the Vietnam government under the leadership of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) ignore agriculture after adopting the liberalization policy? Absolutely not. Compared with the mid-1980s when the country was on the brink of famine today it has achieved an agricultural miracle and surpassed India to become the world’s second-largest exporter of rice after Thailand. Vietnam is also one of the world’s main providers of farm produce today. “Vietnam’s farmers have become important competitors in all sorts of agricultural produce, from nuts to peppers to rubber. They are even selling tea to the Indians. Its fishermen and foresters are also doing well by feeding the world’s growing demand for seafood and timber (though not always sustainably). Vietnam’s exports of farm, forest and fisheries produce rose by 21% last year, to $12.5 billion, and further growth is expected.” (Emphasis added) Vietnam’s economic progress contributed significant development projects in rural Vietnam. A vast electrification program has brought power supplies to more than 90% of Vietnamese homes. Nearly all children now go to lower secondary school and almost two-thirds of them continue to upper secondary level.
Bengal has many similarities with Vietnam. The land area of Vietnam and its population is almost the similar to Bengal. Also like Bengal, most of the population of Vietnam is occupied in agriculture. In both places the principal crop is rice. As Vietnam is self sufficient in food crops, Bengal has also emerged as the leading agricultural state of India in the production of rice, potatoes, fruits and vegetables.
There are also noticeable differences. First of course that Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a one-party state and Bengal is part of a multiparty Indian democracy. It can be argued that due to the authoritarian character Vietnam government can easily oppress the voice of the protesters while here in Bengal the protesters can stir up considerable resistance against the policies of the government and even stall them. There are other significant differences also. The Vietnamese people are practical and hardworking – ‘like a nation of bees buzzing inside a bottle, thrumming with repressed energy’. They are more concerned about their present and the future of their children but have not disregarded their past. In the contrary, Bengalis in Bengal are an indolent and emotional lot, happy to live in their romantic day dreams. They are stubborn lions in their homes but could amazingly amend themselves into a loyal, submissive and compromising kind outside their own milieu. Vietnam’s heroic struggle evokes nostalgia in their minds because they have a romantic approach to the word ‘struggle’. They are delighted to walk blindfolded towards their disastrous future, guided by the stagnant dogmatic minds of their homebred theorists and activists, those who are still living in the Tebhaga peasant movement days. Professor Amartya Sen described it as “supplemented intellectually by the old physiocratic illusion of prosperity grounded only on agriculture”. They have even hired stagnant minded advisers from outside the state to authenticate their hypothetical fears about the conflict between agriculture and industry as if their own set of contemptuous leaders was not sufficiently enough. In a classic case of paradox, they cherish the Vietnam experience of the seventies but ignore to look towards the Vietnam experience of today.

>The dilemma of Mamata Banerjee

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After suspending the Singur siege on 7 September night, Mamata Banerjee will again be on her glorious protest path from the 16th. The much hyped meeting mediated by the WB governor Gopal Gandhi ended with a statement that promised to provide land ‘to the maximum’ from the project site to those who have not accepted compensation. Immediately after coming out from the meeting, Mamata Banerjee announced her ‘total victory’ with a blatant lie delivered to the hovering media that “government has agreed to fish out 300 acres of land from the project area + 100 acres from the adjacent area = 400 acres.” Her fake doctorate certificate is a well known fact, this time we also came to know about her pathetic literacy level. How come the words ‘to the maximum’ suggest 300 acres? Nowhere in the statement was the amount of land that will be spared from the project site specified. But still, if her ‘total victory’ relieves Singur and Bengal– it was a fair enough situation for the government which has from the beginning avoided a confrontational way on handling this issue. Mamata took the advantage of this goodwill mood to blackmail the government– of course with the sublime guardianship of the ‘impartial’ governor, who as a constitutional head of the state arranged the meeting but never spoken out any criticism against the illegal highway blockade by her.
Next day, the Tata’s expressed ‘distressed at the limited clarity’ coming out from the talks and said that giving back 300 acres announcement by Mamata Banerjee is ‘causing confusion in our minds’. They asked for a clarification from the WB government. The government made clear that the specific amount of land was never decided in the meeting and the four member committee which was formed will assess the possibility of how much land can be extracted from the project site.
Everyone knew that the committee will conclude nothing. Mamata Banerjee knew, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee knew, the government knew, the people of Bengal also knew. Therefore, when the government firmly announced an unprecedented compensation package for both the unwilling and willing landowners on 11 September and clearly stated that they can spare only 67 acres from the project area, not 300 acres as Mamata Banerjee is parroting, everything came back to square one. An agitated Mamata Banerjee out-and-out ‘rejected’ the proposed government package for Singur which has surprised even the other Trinamul leaders with its wide range of compensation proposals.
Let us go through the package in details:
1) 67 acres from the project area will be returned,
2) Additional 50% compensation for all land losers, both willing and unwilling, which means that land losers will gain Rs. 4-6 lakh more per acre,
3) Additional 50% compensation for all recorded sharecroppers in case where land is owned by absentee landlords. Recorded sharecroppers were eligible for 25% of the compensation for the regular land losers,
4) Wages for 300 days will be paid at one go to all unrecorded sharecroppers and agriculture labourers,
5) State government will commit itself to providing government jobs or indirect employment within one year from the commissioning of the project to a member from each land loser family,
6) Such members will enjoy a special category status in the employment exchange and will be given privileged treatment for filling up vacancies in ancillary units,
7) All surrounding villages, under a peripheral development scheme, will get roads hospitals, schools and colleges which will be funded by the government through the gram panchayat which presently is with the Trinamul.
But all the compensations will be effective only if the Tata project continues from the Singur site.
After the government’s announcement, Tata Motors came out with a positive statement in support of the package, “Tata Motors appreciates and supports the recent initiatives of the government of West Bengal for the residents of Singur area where it had acquired land for the Tata Motors Nano project.”
This package has suddenly dumbfounded the Trinamul. Mamata Banerjee is in a dilemma; she neither can swallow it nor can spew it out. Deep in her mind she must be troubled to realize that after this unprecedented compensation package if the Tata’s still are compelled to abandon the project due to her agitation, her political future might be doomed by the same unwilling farmers who are flocking by her side today. Also sensing the inevitable, all her present advisers will vanish in the blue. It is not surprising that many of her Trinamul aids are praying to their guardian Bengal governor to arrange another meeting to wrap up the dispute with ‘some sort of accommodation’ of her demand.
She was possibly thinking that Tata will never move out from the project after investing 1,500 crores. But her gem of advisers like the Medha Patkars and Anuradha Talwars must have forgotten to pump the significance of a vital fact into her. The Tata’s had moved away from Gopalpur in Orissa’s Ganjam district where 4,060 acres of land were acquired for steel project in 1995. Nearly 700 families were displaced to make space for the proposed 2.5 million tones per annum steel plant which never came up due to similar political resistance. The agitation which blocked the project was led by the CPI. Till date the Tata’s has not returned there regardless of repeated requests from the state government and all political parties. Vast land is lying unutilized. Ironically, after the Singur siege the Orissa government, the CPI along with many of the displaced is inviting Tata to shift the Nano plant there. They have assured that “We will not oppose, rather we will welcome it”.
Why is Mamata Banerjee stretching the issue so long? She could have easily claimed that it is because of her agitation that the WB government was forced to come out with the compensation package. Would it not be a genuine ‘victory’ for her? Perhaps her fertile political brain is thinking that Buddhadev Bhattacharjee is so emotionally attached with the project that he will try to keep the project in Bengal at any cost. Also, her advisers must have assured her that after Nandigram the government is psychologically weak to act firmly. So why not squeeze the lemon to its optimum and obtain the maximum juice? Till 11 September, she was exactly doing the same. And who knows her better than the CPIM that the most wonderful part of her nature is that she does not know where to end.
To extract more and more political mileage she has already started squeezing out bitter juice from the lemon. Will she ever realize that this bitter juice is unpalatable to all including herself?
Image courtesy: Aajkaal

>The chemistry of the Singur agitation

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Globalization, global capital, farmers’ right, working class, land bank, unorganized sector, agro farming — these are some of the intricate words Mamata Banerjee is using repeatedly in her recent speech and interviews. Any close follower of her political rhetoric will assure that only few years back, these words were excluded from her lexis which mainly used to derive from populist phrases and lumpen dialects. These words started to pour out only after she started finding good friends among the ultra lefts — the Naxals. An open show of this amity is noticeable from the days of her first phase of Singur agitation, then at Nandigram and again now in the second phase of Singur agitation. CPI(M) was aware on this amity from the beginning, now even the mainstream media has started to highlight it. The Telegraph wrote in a story based on the subsidiary intelligence bureau (SIB) report to the Union home ministry that,

Naxalites working under the cover of social welfare organisations in Singur could instigate villagers to launch a violent movement. Their aim allegedly is to create terror and panic so workers at the plant are scared away. More than 100 youths from Maoists-infested West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia are said to be present in the area, as are some Jadavpur University students known to be Naxalite sympathisers.

Police officers posted at the factory site said they had spotted several “suspicious-looking” faces in the siege crowd.
The Naxalite activists are believed to have taken refuge in the homes of Save Farmland Committee members in Beraberi, Gopalnagar, Khasherbheri, Bajemelia and Joymollah villages.

A similar report was published by The Indian Express titled ‘Naxals, NGOs now lead Mamata agitation’. The report says,


With as many as 21 organisations and political outfits under one umbrella for the Singur agitation, there is growing suspicion that Banerjee’s agitation is being hijacked by many of these outfits. A front that was launched as a political coalition by Banerjee to fight the CPM now appears more and more influenced and guided by a strange chemistry of NGOs and politics.

The Indian Express report also commented that, ‘the Naxalites and former Naxalites walk in and out of these NGOs both as members and supporters’. Who are then these Naxals and NGO’s the media is talking about?

Four splinter Naxalite groups have aligned under ‘People’s Secular Democratic Front’ floated by Mamata Banerjee to counter the CPI(M) in Bengal just before the panchayat polls. Notable among them are the CPI(ML) State Organizing Committee, CPIML (Jana Shakti), CPIML (New Democracy) and Mazdur Kranti Parishad.
One of Mamata Banerjee’s chief negotiator today is Purnendu Bose who is the leader of CPI(ML), State Organizing Committee — a breakaway faction of Kanu Sanyal’s CPI(ML). At Singur, Bose represents Krishi Jami, Jiban O Jibika Raksha Committee a NGO working for farmers rights in Bengal, Two other leaders from the same faction are Pradip Banerjee and Dola Sen also very close to Mamata. According to the Indian Express report “Sen has almost become a Banerjee shadow — right from the days of the TMC chief’s 26-day hunger strike at Esplanade over Nandigram-Singur.” Pradip Banerjee is now a convenor of the Singur agitation. He was an important member among those who went to meet Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi in response to his appeal for a solution to the Singur knot. Interestingly, all the three leaders were expelled from Kanu Sanyal’s CPI(ML) after they joined Mamata Banerjee’s agitation in December 2006.
CPIML (Jana Shakti) is a Naxalite group based in Birbhum district of Bengal. It definitely has a ‘leader’ — Alok Mukherjee, who most probably is performing his revolutionary acts within the imaginary space of a revolutionary ‘underground’ as this faction is without a party office or any public activity. Paltu Sen, a trade union leader represents CPIML (New Democracy), and creditable for securing 100 votes in the Hind Motors trade union elections. The Mazdur Kranti Parishad has few presences in Hind Motors labor union and some other factories in Belghoria, a North 24 Parganas district town.
According to the media and police, protestors who have intercepted three busloads of engineers and staff of the Tata Motors plant in Singur last Thursday evening (August 28) and harassed them were not the ‘familiar political faces’. They belonged to the Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samity, the NGO which claims to be working for the rights of farmers and workers and without any political affiliation. This NGO is headed by Anuradha Talwar and her husband Swapan Ganguly. The activities of this NGO are the most suspicious amongst the lot. It runs a project on healthcare and sanitation in villages funded by the Ford Foundation. It also runs an eleven acre “collective farm” and claims it is funded by collections from locals and donations. Anuradha Talwar is today seen almost at every public function beside Mamata Banerjee. She also openly claims that ‘Mamata asks her for advice on all matters involving the Tata project’. On 27 August, a day before her ‘singing protest’ which compelled the Tata Motors management to stop work at the site, Anuradha Talwar secretly visited the US Consulate in Kolkata. There she met the Counselor for Public Affairs of the US Embassy Larry Schwartz, who flew in from New Delhi for the meeting. Though termed as ‘personal’, the timing of the meeting has raised suspicions. Is it a mere coincidence or something deeply dubious going around there?
Medha Patkar and her National Alliance of Peoples Movement initially had separate ‘activities and programs’ in Bengal to fight against farmland acquisition by the government for industry. But currently at Singur, she is sharing the same dais with Mamata and also working in close proximity with Anuradha Talwar and her NGO. Anuradha Talwar has emerged as the ‘talwar’ (sword) edition of Medha Patkar, fiercely vocal against the LF government, particularly the CPI(M).
Also present at Singur are other Naxalites who are not directly into the Mamata Banerjee core group but definitely aiding the anti Tata agitation. In December last year, the CPI-ML (Liberation) sent two state committee members with 22 student-comrades from Jadavpur University, presently the proliferating zone of the Neo Naxals, to resist the fencing of the land meant for the Tata small car project in Singur. Also to mention the ‘apolitical’ Naxal sympathizer artists and intellectuals, the “disinterested seekers of truth, iconoclastic humanists, freespirited intellectuals, or artists for art’s sake, who counterposed themselves to the corrupted “committed” house “hacks” of the Stalinist apparatus.” (James Petras: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited, Monthly Review, November 1999) According to the James Petras article, during the cold war, the CIA penetrated and influenced a vast variety of cultural organizations and helped their metamorphosis from disillusioned ex-communists to stanch anti-communists. Prominent among the disillusioned radicals in Bengal is the great anarchist singer Kabir Suman who only the other day has delivered a highly provocative speech from Mamata Banerjee’s Singur dais that “when I hear that someone has shot and killed a CPM, I feel extremely delighted”. And the last but not least to mention is the presence of the Maoists with their clandestine operating methods of creating terror and panic in the pretext of organizing mass movements.
The volatile image of Mamata Banerjee seems to have ‘transformed’ by these men and women after she has started to be extremely influenced by them. She has become more ‘stable’ in her approaches, more desperate and consequently more irresponsible. As expressed by Purnendu Bose, Mamata Banerjee consults them ‘every evening’ on every matter. “She will not act without taking us into confidence. We have been able to impress upon Mamata Banerjee the need for such a mass movement against capitalism. She will never act without our consent.”
This chemistry is thought provoking. Born from the womb of the Indira Congress and always closely associated with the reactionary section of the society, Mamata Banerjee has now become the savior of many a radical Naxal groups and personalities. Blessed and supported by the former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Roy, notorious for his Naxal cleansing in the seventies, she apparently is a strange choice by the Naxals. But looking from close, the choice is not actually strange but a classic case of a nexus between opportunist and utopian politics.
To wrestle the foremost political force in Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mamata Banerjee is trying to justify her radical image by allowing the Naxals to play around her. She had understood that her only prospect to claim significance solely rests on angling support from a section of the rural populace of Bengal, those who are directly affected by loosing their dear land. Ironically, this same rural populace earlier has hugely benefited from the land reforms orchestrated by the same Left Front government led by the CPI(M) which had intensely fought off all reactionary forces gathered beneath the Indira Congress banner. Bengalis traditionally love the revolutionaries. Hence, Mamata Banerjee’s last hope for absolute political power in Bengal is this revolutionary populism.
To the utopian radicals, the CPI(M) is a Social Democrat party who are ‘adjusting within the neo-liberal paradigm’. According to their theory, CPI(M) as a party is trying to cure themselves from their ‘enormous failures’ by embracing neo-liberalism. When there is no visible presence of a ‘genuine’ Left (read revolutionary) alternative, what option remains for the Naxalite leaders and civil society groups, restless for a genuine democratic revolution, but to share space with Mamata Banerjee? After all, Mamata is popular and yet ‘listening to them, more than her own party functionaries’. To satisfy there ideological conscience, these Naxals has come out with a strange theory: Trinamul Congress of Mamata Banerjee ties to small and middle capital, the CPM ties to big capital. Big capital is toxic, similarly is the CPM. They also feel proud to express that due to their radical presence ‘Trinamul’s basic character of populism has been put on hold’.
The Bengal bazaar has always offered a fertile space to carry out the art of unbound recklessness. How long it sustains this travesty will therefore be decisive for its future.

Source: The Indian Express, Fri, 5 Sep 2008

>The beast rider at Singur

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If one closely follows the ongoing intense agitation against the Tata Motors plant at Singur, the most fascinating finding will be that the leader and her associates actually have no convincing standpoint to agitate apart from creating a condition for rampant anarchy. From last Sunday, the leaders of the siege are constantly provoking fury among their supporters for impelling the government to use force. Thirty thousand trucks carrying essential commodities are standstill on the Durgapur Expressway for five days due to the siege, creating serious crisis of supplies. The government’s constant appeal to discuss and solve the deadlock is repeatedly been ignored. But why?

Because Mamata Banerjee really do not want a solution on the Singur crisis. After four days of ‘peaceful satyagraha’, from yesterday (28 August) the agitators started applying strong-arm tactics, blocking entry-exit of the Tata Motors employees and hassling them. The employees were slapped, heckled or chased away. Singur’s Save Farmland Committee convener has announced that they will not allow the workers to enter the plant. As expected, the plant has completely shut down its operation today.

This sign of restlessness among the agitating activists are nothing but a crafted strategy to poke the government. Once the government acts with force, which will invariably lead to bloodshed, the second line agitators will spark off with a tactical line tried and tested at Nandigram earlier. To expose the ‘brutal’ and ‘fascistic’ face of the CPIM led government, democratic minded intellectuals and the civil society will start off their deceitful campaign. It will be followed by the free and fair media with biased lies and half truths. The internet will be flooded with emotional posts from ‘concerned’ bloggers. The Governor of Bengal will issue statements on ‘bone chilling horror’ and the judiciary will instigate another suo-moto case to impale the government.

We are aware that the Lok Sabha elections are approaching. Singur and its aftermath must linger at least till then. Nandigram has helped Mamata Banerjee and her ‘front’ to win some panchayats. Singur must ensure more Lok Sabha seats to her. The ‘400 acres’ of land is just an excuse carefully designed for a greater political intention of the agitating louts.

Mamata Banerjee is presently demonstrating a valiant face by riding on a savage beast. Many might believe that the beast is tame under her. But she herself is not so sure about that. She is also uncertain about the consequence if she disembarks now. Her fear is that from the riders’ role she might turn into its prey. The beast with the rider has entered a blind alley. The present show is about to end. The only thing left to watch now is will this end consequently direct Bengal towards the end of its industrial future?


>Mamata Banerjee and friends: the Singur siege

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One of Mamata Banerjee’s greatest achievements in Bengal today is the peculiar beehive she has constructed around herself. This conglomeration comprises virgin Marxists, ultra communists, political opportunists, renegades, NGOs, fundamentalists, right wing and left wing intelligentsia; all fervently anti-CPIM. Each one of them is finding solace under her competent leadership and audacious approach for an eye to eye confrontation with a ‘Stalinist’ party. This group also has an undeniably flexible body, one which can lovingly kiss the frog and the snake at the same time. Two recent fascinating additions in her bandwagon are Medha Patkar and Amar Singh. The first one is an ‘acclaimed’ social activist, constantly bleeding for the poor and subjugated. After the much hyped ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ failed to halt the Sardar Sarovar dam project subsequent to a Supreme Court ruling, this activist is scavenging all directions to find another fitting prey to ponder upon. She has now found Bengal a comfy place and Mamata Banerjee a reliable stanchion to revitalize her lost significance as a fierce agitator.
The second member is a high profile political vermin who has dashed in from nowhere and found Mamata Banerjee a ‘dear ally’. After reaching the siege sight at Singur in his Mercedes – Benz, this political crook pleaded apology to the ‘oppressed’ farmers of Bengal for his earlier stands on Singur-Nandigram saying he was ‘misguided by the CPM leaders’. Let the Singur agitators just forget and forgive the incidence of Dadri (Ghaziabad) where on 8th July 2006, UP police under Mulayam Singh government fired indiscriminately on the farmers who were similarly agitating against fertile land acquisition for Anil Ambani’s power project. The project was initiated and patronized by Uttar Pradesh Development Council (UPDC) under the chair of Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh’s closest confidant. Medha Patkar was then on the opposite side, a part and parcel of the ongoing agitation. Let the Singur agitators also ignore the fact that this same Amar Singh, who is now voicing tough words from Mamata Banerjee’s podium against the Tata project, was earlier proactive to grasp the same project for Uttar Pradesh.

Blatant hypocrisy, vicious jealousy, megalomania, denigration, intolerance and bigotry – all the typical Bengali characteristics are getting detonated on this new platform provided by Mamata Banerjee. This assembly, as anticipated, is the last hope to ‘liberate’ the despaired and strained Bengal populace from thirty years of uninterrupted Left Front misrule. Who can dare to disagree with the hovering notion that anti-CPM voices are the genuine representatives of democracy today?

It looks like Mamata Banerjee and her team of louts has finally hit the bull’s eye. Her ‘uncompromising’ stand on the disputed 400 acres (compensation is pending for 305.47 acres of land among which 51.11 acres are under legal disputes. The actual figure then is 254.36 acres, where the owners have truly refused to accept compensation. Therefore, Mamata Banerjee’s demand to return ‘400 acres’ is a blatant lie) of the Tata Motors plant at Singur is approaching the predicted outcome. On 22 August 2008, Tata group chairman Mr. Ratan Tata while addressing media queries has said that he is ready to pull out from Singur at any time if ‘Bengal feels that Tatas are unwanted’. He categorically said, “If anybody is under the impression that, because we have made this large investment of about Rs 1,500 crore, we will not move, then they are wrong. It is not a hypocritical investment…. We would move, whatever the cost, to protect our people (employees).”

Mamata Banerjee must be very satisfied after Ratan Tata’s concerned address. The mass she represents in Bengal also must be pretty pleased with their leader’s great fortitude to achieve the desired goal. After all, isn’t she fighting for the poor but unyielding farmers from whom the wretched LF government and the Stalinist CPM has grabbed land and gifted to the Tatas? Replying to Ratan Tata’s warning Mamata Banerjee replied, “Tata was not here for so long – did the people of Bengal starve to death?” After all, who the hell is this Tata? Why did the WB government provide them ‘undue advantage’? The Tatas have invested only Rs 1,500 crores while ‘several other industrialists are making a beeline to invest in Bengal’ was her candid response.

These sermons coming out from the chattering lips of a self declared ‘industry friendly’ leader is enough assurance for the section of Bengali psyche which wants to carry on farming and fishing uninterruptedly and still hopes to attain a bright future in the 21st century. Mamata Banerjee is indeed a very popular leader in today’s Bengal and many Bengalis consider her as the sole spokesman of anti-CPIM sentiments in the state. Her course of political action (or destruction) is directly correlated with the popular support she enjoys. For people outside Bengal, it might be unbelievable to watch enthusiastic crowd applauding in joy when their popular leader urges a major industrialist group like Tata to depart with prestigious projects from the state. But in Bengal it is an absolutely normal scene. Anti-CPIM populace in this state has found the appropriate leader they deserve.

In context with the whole project what is the role of the ‘400 acres’ Mamata Banerjee is referring to? This land is allocated for 55 ancillary units, which are an indispensable part of the main car plant. These units are expected to generate more jobs than the main plant. 30 of the 55 units have already started their works. The easy proximity to these units will help the Nano project lessen its inventory level and thus ensure cost reduction. If these units are setup outside and far-off, the production cost of Nano will be higher and most likely it cannot maintain its one lakh pricing. This is elementary mathematics which even a kid will understand. But Mamata Banerjee and her advisers are not kids. She suggested an alternative plan, “There are 500 acres opposite to the factory location, which CPIM promoters have bought from the farmers. The state government was looking for the alternative. Here is the alternative.” Media investigators have revealed that the alternative land she is suggesting has not being bought by CPM promoters but by many other small industries, directly from farmers who are now willing to sell their farmland as the price of land has sharply climbed up in Singur.

From the total 13103 owners of 997.11 acquired acres, 10852 owners have already accepted the compensation (82.82 percent). 2251 owners (17.17 percent) who owned 305.47 acres has not yet received or accepted the compensation. Nirupam Sen, the Bengal minister of industries have raised a snappy question: in a democracy, what should be the conclusive decision of a democratically elected government based on these figures? Scrapping off the project or to go ahead with it?

Let us deal with just two facts about the misrule of the Left Front government:

The first: from 1990-91 to 2004-05 the per capita agricultural production of food grains in India has dropped from 200 to 180 kg. But in Bengal it has grown from 160 to 190 kg. What does it mean? It basically means that compared to India, Bengal has done remarkably well in food grain production in the recent years. The present crisis of soaring prices in the country, a direct result of low production of food grains is therefore not a contribution of the state of Bengal. The industrialization drive of the Left Front government should be viewed from this perspective.

The second: total agricultural land acquired for industry purposes by the WB government in 2005-08 was 10207 acres. Assess this figure with the 29937 acres of land distributed under land reform program in the same years. In comparison with the land distributed in the first two decades of Left Front rule these figures are low due to a narrower base of land available for redistribution at present. Even today, the extent of land distributed in West Bengal is much higher than the extent of land acquired. (Land reform continues in West Bengal: V.K. Ramachandran)

Land acquisition debates and disputes are common phenomena everywhere in this country but nowhere has it been twisted into a complete deadlock situation like in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee is definitely gaining political mileage from this situation because a large section of the Bengal mass loves her brand of negative politicking. In plain words, this attitude of a section of Bengali populace is not only a sign of obstinate minds but also depicts stupidity to a larger scale. It is also the mark of a collective cerebral sickness that has extended confidence towards a similar sick minded leader Mamata Banerjee.


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