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In progressive's paradise: Nandigram II

In progressive's paradise: Nandigram II

Author: Ashok Ghosh
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 10, 2008

High treason in West Bengal as Communist police gun down comrades for daring to question the loot of NREG funds

To many, it may sound dichotomous to press for a programme and then to dump it unceremoniously, but to a Leftist it should appear mischievous. The failure of the Left Front Government to implement NREG after fighting hard for it to be incorporated in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) is clear manifestation of hypocrisy practiced by some of the constituents of the ruling coalition in West Bengal for quite some time now.

The Left parties had fought hard to incorporate in the CMP the NREG, ensuring 100 days of work in a year for the rural poor. But a recent survey shows how dark it is beneath the lamp. It shows how the Left Front Government of West Bengal has not only failed miserably to practice what it has preached for years, but it has also been found guilty of gagging the voice that dared to raise the issue.

The Forward Bloc, despite being the second-biggest Left Front partner and a part of the Government in West Bengal, was received with bullets and mass arrests when we raised the issue.

The situation is such that we have not been able to guarantee even 10-12 days of work, leave alone 100 days. And we are told that the national average for the NREG scheme is somewhere around 40 days. If this is not a crime, what is?

A survey showed that at least Rs 620 crore has been returned for the failure of various departments of the State Government to use it for job generation in the rural areas. This, when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has repeatedly gone on record saying job creation is the only goal he has in mind. Even a fraction of the enthusiasm shown for acquiring agricultural lands for capitalists could have produced the desired results. But the bottomline is that the panchayat system in Bengal runs on vested interests.

Is it not disheartening to note that last year the State could spend only 7.54 per cent of the funds sent for the NREG? As per available estimates, the State could spend only Rs 26,474.70 lakh out of Rs 351,313.23 lakh sent for rural job creation. Not only this, the Government failed miserably in implementing other schemes as well.

In Sampoorna Gram Swarozgar Yojna we could utilise only 66.36 per cent of the fund available. It was even lower at 58.13 per cent in the case of Sampoorna Gram Rozgar Yojna.

The Bloc raised these issues at Left Front meetings. We also sent letters to the Chief Minister seeking a status report, but nobody responded. This and many other issues forced the Bloc to strike it alone in the panchayat election. In the last State conference, the party decided to go it alone in the panchayat election as it was sure that the CPI(M)-run bodies were laden with corruption.

After so many years of functioning together we have found that the biggest constituent party in the Left Front has allowed panchayati raj to degenerate into a one-party rule where nothing but vested interest works. From its outwardly appearance, the village panchayats may seem to be working properly, but within it the whole system has become corrupt where only a few people close to the village leadership -- needless to say that they belong to the CPI(M) -- eat away the pie. Generally it is seen that only those who belong to the CPI(M) get the benefits of the NREG programme.

That party is further divided into groups and the group in power eats the cream. And a dissenting voice is silenced mercilessly. No wonder they say, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Another survey found that rural West Bengal has the largest number of people who cannot spend more than Rs 12 per day whereas the national average is around Rs 20. Against this backdrop, isn't it a crime to raise false hopes of urbanisation and neo-industrialisation? Is this not a blot on the face of the same Socialist movement that once claimed to champion the cause of the have-nots?

Realising that the Forward Bloc could no longer permit this degeneration, we staged village-based movements for the past one month. More than 7 lakh villagers gheraoed panchayat and SDO offices. About 4,000 of them were arrested. But things reached a Nandigram-like climax on February 5, when the trigger-happy police of our own Government shot dead five of our workers. Such was their efficiency that the bullets fired from AK-47 rifles did not miss a single target as they struck the victims in their heads.

Dinhata was a second Nandigram where the political establishment looked the other way when police fired at innocent, unarmed protesters demanding proper account of their money. This is not the real face of the Left Front which was based on a shared vision of Socialist principles. The West Bengal Government is deviating from its original path.

The Forward Bloc will not allow this to happen. We will not allow Nandigram to take place for the third time.

-- As told to Saugar Sengupta

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