One of the more shocking outcomes of the tragic events in Nandigram, has been the widespread comparison of it to the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, by intellectuals including academics, artists, activists and columnists. It is argued that both events were unleashed by charismatic leaders leading ideologically driven cadres. Further, both States West Bengal and Gujarat are carrying out neo-liberal reforms, and both Buddhadev Bhattacharya and Narendra Modi have as a consequence of their policies gone against the dominant sections of their parties, Buddhadev because of his open attitude to economic reforms and Modi because of his current ignoring of the Hindutva agenda. They are able to do this because of their dominance in their respective parties, and popular support. Because of these purported commonalities, it is alleged including by prominent scholars of modern India and secular columnists that Nandigram is, as it were, Gujarat 2002 in another form.
These comparisons may appear beguiling, but are profoundly deceptive. What happened in Nandigram may be described as a turf war over secular issues including the possibility of a SEZ, and the consequent displacement of thousands of people. Faced with popular protest in February 2007, the West Bengal CM promised that the Salim Group would not be allowed to establish a chemical hub there. But even then supporters of the Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee [BUPC] including Trinamul and Congress cadres instead of celebrating their victory, established a 'liberated zone' from which hundreds of CPI(M) cadres and sympathizers, and government officials were driven out. In order to restore the functioning of the administration, in March the police tried to intervene and in the consequent firing 14 people tragically lost their lives and many more were injured. In the violence there in many cases both attackers and the assaulted have been from the same community, including large numbers of Muslims. The 'trigger' for subsequent violence in Nandigram in this instance is quite different from what happened in Gujarat.
In Gujarat, there has been repeated communal violence against the Muslims, and even Christians, led by the 'sangh parivar' since 1969. For example, from around Christmas 1998 upto the first week of January 1999, in the tribal areas Christians had their churches, prayer halls and buildings torched. Despite dozens of FIRs filed no corrective action was taken. But in areas like Vyara a chilling slogan was painted: "aaj isahi, kal kasai" [today the Christian, tomorrow the butcher (Muslim)]. Immediately after Godhra in end February 2002, Modi echoed by L.K. Advani declared it an ISI planned attack, and Modi insisted that the charred, largely unrecognizable bodies be brought to Ahmedabad. After that there was a systematic pogrom against Muslims leaving some 2,000 dead and tens of thousands homeless. Rioters had precise information about Muslim properties and residences obtained from Government sources. This could not have been obtained within hours. Obviously the carnage had been preplanned well before Godhra. The failure of the Gujarat judiciary to try the accused has led to the Supreme Court to transfer some major cases to Maharashtra.
These two incidents in Nandigram and Gujarat are obviously miles apart, one a secular dispute over a development strategy and fears of displacement, and the other a preplanned massacre of Muslims in a State with a history of communal pogroms since 1969. Consequently, the CPI(M) cadres cannot be equated with the Hindutva brigade. The first are secular radicals dedicated to building an egalitarian and socialist society, the latter to building a "Hindu Rashtra" in which all non-Hindus will be inferior citizens. Thus the facile equation of both as cadres ignores the widely divergent, and even antagonistic ideologies. The purported similarities between the two CMs are equally far fetched. Buddhadev is a Marxist who is trying to use possibilities within the system including the controversial SEZs to push industrialization within his State. But as in Singur his government tries to give the maximum compensation possible including vocational training. This is because the Left Front government is also sensitive to the problems of the peasantry and the unregistered bargadars [tenants]. Gujarat's record of rehabilitation of the displaced, especially the displaced by the Narmada dam or communal riots, is nowhere as good. So here again the similarities are superficial.
The comparison of the two leaders as both charismatic is equally misleading. Buddhadev is charismatic among all sections and communities in West Bengal, despite the widespread anger and disenchantment because of Nandigram. On the other hand, Modi is feared and hated by the minority communities: Muslim and Christian. He may be charismatic among the Hindutva brigade, some of whom in the VHP and Bajrang Dal may be disillusioned by him, but not across the spectrum. So one is a Left leader, respected for his non-dogmatic thinking, while the other is a Hindu communal leader who has further communalized his State. Buddhadev is answerable to his State committee, central committee and Left Front partners, some of whom have been publicly critical of Nandigram. There are less democratic checks on Modi, thus the revolt by Keshubhai Patel, Gordhan Zadaphia and others.
All these facts are fairly well known. Then why this blatantly false equating of Buddhadev and Modi? It appears that the BUPC campaign of vilification of the Left Front, and Buddhadev in particular including exaggerated accounts of atrocities including gangrapes have been largely bought by the media. The Trinamul campaign as well of the Congress, traditional opponents of the Left Front has also been partially successful. But public, and media memory is short. Just months ago, the Trinamul legislators led by Mamta Banerjee ransacked the West Bengal Assembly. Nandigram has come as a godsend to the Trinamul and Congress to vilify the Left Front government. But what better way to destroy the West Bengal CM's record that by equating him with Narendra Modi? Of course, this is not the intention of many intellectuals who make the comparison in good faith, and are genuinely appalled by Nandigram. But no matter what the judgement of Nandigram is, the comparison to Gujarat apart from completely misrepresenting what happened there, is a gross belittling of how the minorities have suffered in Gujarat, repeatedly, and especially in 2002.
Courtesy: Asian Age, 26 November, 2007