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Bhangar land agitation needs a mass leader like Mamata Banerjee

Last last time Kolkata saw such protests was in 2007 when 14 farmers protesting against land acquisition in Nandigram got killed.

POLITICS  |   4-minute read  |   02-02-2017

Bhangar Singur Nandigram Bhulchina Eder Naam.

After almost a decade, names, which were iconic with land movement in Bengal’s history, reverberated through College Street Boipara, the Calcutta University boulevard. Like the flute-player of Hamlyn, the slogans coursed through the college corridors and there was a sudden rush of adrenaline.

There was a buzz of excitement and boys and girls with satchels from the city’s elite university joined the procession of several thousand villagers of Bhangar, who hit Kolkata on a busy Monday to make the generally insulated city commuters sit up and take note.

The last time Kolkata saw such a swell of support of common people was in 2007 when 14 farmers protesting against land acquisition in Nandigram got killed.

The developments in Bhangar over the last fortnight — land agitation of the villagers, backed by Naxals and ultra-Left groups, against a 440/220 KV power substation, turning five villages into a liberated zone by preventing entry of police and political leaders alike, the villagers braving the bullets, state repression and finally the threat of being branded as Maoists — had the right mix of masalas for a Nandigram-like explosion.

But somewhere down the loop it fizzled out, failing to make the right noises. The primary cause was that it fell short of having a feisty leader, a street-activist of Mamata Banerjee’s stature to bring the divergent forces together and spearhead and sustain a land movement.

Close to 30 ultra Left outfits and 150 outsiders, some from Delhi and Kerala, had been camping in Bhangar for over the last eight months, since September October 2016.

“Land for the power substation was acquired at gun point and at throw-away price,” claimed villagers Abdur Rafiq Mollah, Rafikul Islam and Sheikh Shuja of Khamarait, Maachibhanga and Dibdibe respectively, the villages, which erupted in anger.

But the Central Power Grid Corporation Limited claimed otherwise. It had bought land at more than market price with a Trinamool Congress leader taking all the initiative to make a smooth arrangement of sale. Scared of going against the local leaders, the villagers found a platform to voice their grievances when the ultra Left groups, especially the CPI-ML Red Star formed the Jami Jibika Poribesh o Bastutantra Raksha Committee.

The seeds of another land movement were sown. Apart from instilling a sense of loss for their land, their homestead, the villagers, the Committee dada and didi were educating the villagers as to how a power substation and its transmission lines criss-crossing over 80 villages were out to affect their life, fertility of women, livelihood and above all the environment of Bhangar.

The stage was set and the final trigger was pressed after a midnight police crackdown in the Bhangar villages on January 16-17 to arrest the faces of the movement. The next morning the entry points of the villages were blocked with felled tree trunks, beer bottles and brick barricades.

Posters decrying the "Ma-Maati Maanush" government came up and the villagers were baying for the blood of the politicians and the police. Ten police jeeps were torched and rubber bullets and water cannons of the men in uniform were countered with crude bombs, broken bottles and stones.

But what took everyone by surprise was the way ordinary villagers put up the resistance, guerrilla style.

True, the resistance was shortlived and the villagers had to go backfoot after the arrest of one of their mentors — Sharmistha Chowdhury, member of CPI-ML Red Star. But the fault did not lie with the protesters or the way they were taught to build up a movement. Fault, if any, lay in the Jami Jibika Poribesh o Bastutantra Committee's inability to rope in a firebrand leader like Mamata on their side.

There is no dearth of political and apolitical entities in the movement, but what is miserably lacking is a Mamata-like persona.

A number of political parties, some known, some lesser known and some unknown have ganged up in what they see as a huge opportunity to corner and isolate the Trinamool Congress government, but not a single name has emerged as to who can give the movement a leader and some direction.

When the first-ever march in favour of the land losers of Bhangar was snaking through the city streets last Monday, the people in the drivers’ seat were no political personalities of some repute. Human rights activists, APDR’s (Association for Protection of Democratic Rights) Sujato Bhadra, RSP’s former MP Manoj Bhattacharya and PDS’s Samir Putatundu, who played a significant role in the Singur movement, were in the forefront.

The CPI-ML Red Star cadres and other Naxal outfits, for fear of being picked up by police, lay scattered all over the procession. The Congress has lightly touched-base Bhangar, to register its token presence in case land issue acquired the dimension of the Singur and Nandigram movements.

There is no dearth of political and apolitical entities in the movement, but what is miserably lacking is a Mamata-like persona who can squat on the road, block the National Highway, face the baton, go on a 26-day fast, unleash anarchy, making the government crawl on all fours to make the right noise for any movement to be successful.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: Times they're a changin' for Left in Bengal

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