(On 22nd February of Indian Express a report was published with the above title by Anirudha Ghosal saying “2 people have been killed in firing, and police can’t enter a village where a key protester against land acquisition is holed up. The Indian Express explains the standoff at Bhangar, where some are hearing echoes of Singur and Nandigram”. While this report gives some important insights about the unfolding Bhangar Movement, its analysis of the emergence and growth of CPI (ML) Red Star
Red Star leader Alik Chakraborty addresses people in Bhangar. Express photo
On January 17, a mob set fire to 10 police vehicles in Bhangar, 30 km to the east of Kolkata in South 24-Parganas district, and two men were killed in firing, the source of which remains contested. It was a violent escalation of discontent over the acquisition of land for a PowerGrid project in 2013, fanned since October 2016 by a public movement against the construction of a substation as part of the project. Well over a month on, Bhangar remains tense, with police unable to enter the village where the incidents took place, and a senior Trinamool Congress leader warning last week that the government would “not take any responsibility” for anyone who aids the “Naxals” behind the agitation.
Who are these “Naxals” who caught the government by surprise and ultimately forced it to promise the project would be cancelled? Why is Bhangar — a cradle of the Tebhaga movement of the 1940s in which sharecroppers mobilised by communists revolted against landlords — significant in a state that has seen strong agitations against the acquisition of land for industry over the past decade?
Who has been leading the agitation in Bhangar?
An organisation called Jomi, Jibika, Baastutantra o Poribesh Raksha Committee (Committee to protect Land, Livelihood, Ecosystem and the Environment), guided by a little known ultra-Left outfit called CPI(ML) Red Star. It is led by Alik Chakraborty, Sharmistha Chowdhury and Pradip Singh Thakur. While Chowdhury and Thakur have been arrested, Chakraborty remains free.
What sort of presence does Red Star have in Bengal?
Not much, which is probably why the police initially “underestimated” the movement. According to estimates by law-enforcement agencies, Red Star’s cadres outside of Bhangar do not number more than a few hundred. Police say the outfit first came on the radar just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when it put up a candidate — Shikha Sen Roy — for the Dum Dum seat. Sen Roy got 1,544 votes and finished last — but that situation has now changed considerably. According to a senior police officer, Red Star has created “a committee of stakeholders from different political backgrounds and mobilised people from different walks of life”, and “come a long way from 2014”.
When, how did Red Star come into being?
Like all factions of the CPI(ML), Red Star traces its roots to the organisation formed by Kanu Sanyal and Charu Majumdar in 1969 against what they saw as the CPI(M)’s increasing involvement in parliamentary politics. In its present form, Red Star was formed after a faction split from the CPI(ML) in 2009. Its general secretary K N Ramachandran is critical of both the CPI(Maoist) — whose “anarchist line” he has said is “harming the revolutionary movement as a whole” — as well as the Left Front in Bengal and Tripura. According to the Red Star constitution, the Front, in its years in power, became “synonymous with the ruling class parties”.
After walking out of the Kanu Sanyal-led CPI(ML)’s All India Special Conference in January 2009, Ramachandran formed the CPI(ML) Red Flag. The Red Flag, however, splintered again within months — over the issue of joining hands with the CPI(M) in Kerala before the 2009 parliamentary elections. Ramachandran walked out again, and Red Star was born, with the goal of ushering in a communist revolution that steered clear of both the “left adventurist” line of the CPI(Maoist) as well as the “trap of parliamentary politics”. The moderate faction, CPI(ML) Red Flag, is led by P C Unnichekkan, and has a presence in, besides Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
How did Red Star become active in Bhangar?
A combination of factors is responsible. Pradip Singh Thakur, who had accompanied Ramachandran out of Red Flag, has deep local contacts in the village, which were utilised as Red Star began its mobilisation exercise, police maintain. It kept a low profile, and stayed under the radar of police and the local Trinamool organisation.
Second, unlike other CPI(ML) factions, a key issue in Red Star’s agenda is protection of the environment. To the issue of inadequate compensation for the 16 acres of land acquired in Bhangar, the party has been able to append concerns about anticipated threats to the area’s ecology from the power project.
What is the situation in Bhangar now?
An uneasy calm prevails. Last Thursday, Mayor of Kolkata and Cabinet Minister Sovan Chatterjee gave an ultimatum to both “Naxalites” and their sympathisers in Bhangar. “Any Naxalite force that thinks it can find refuge here, those who get involved in a political struggle… (and) aid Naxalite forces, we will not take any responsibility (for the outcome of their actions),” Chatterjee said.
The villagers have lifted a blockade they enforced for 10 days after the incidents of January 17, but police still can’t reach the ground zero of the protests — and have made no overt attempt to do so since January 28. A senior officer of the state CID said, “Khamarait, Machhi Bhanga, Tona and Gazipur in Bhangar were the worst affected by the land acquisition and we can’t enter these villagers, where we believe Alik Chakraborty is hiding.” On Saturday, 17 Left parties marched in Kolkata to demand, among other things, “unconditional release of the Bhangar protesters”.
Why is Bhangar important to the Trinamool?
Officials say it fears that the protests could give a new lease of life to the Maoist insurgency, as well as provide oxygen to the Left Front. “In Mamata’s Bengal, with the Left aligning with the Congress for elections, there is massive scope for an ML group to grow. Take the involvement of Jadavpur University students in the protests, for instance. These are young people, angry with the communist parties. It is a great opportunity for a new party to come in,” a senior police officer said.
The TMC’s inability to bring peace to the area has given an opportunity to other parties, agreed a leader of the ruling party. “The High Court is overseeing the investigation, and the Left is making inroads here. They have had at least three major meetings in the area and TMC hasn’t been able to enter the village.”
ForMamata Banerjee, the situation is personally frustrating — it was the land agitations in Singur and Nandigram that had propelled her to power for the first time in 2011, and Bhangar, if not controlled, has the potential to give her political headaches similar to the ones her communist predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee once suffered.
CPI(ML) Red Star’s explanatory note:
The above I.E. report shows that the history sheet on CPI (ML) Red Star is far away from facts. When police and the Intelligence Wings of central and state governments who abducted its GS, com. KNR, the officers who came to ‘interrogate” him during his 26 hours illegal detention from 5.30pm on 22nd to 7.30 pm on 23rd January were having many cock and bull stories including its relation with Maoists which were corrected by him so that they get the facts on the history of the this “small Naxal group”.
The CPI(ML) was formed on 22nd April, 1969, by the communist revolutionaries who had struggled against the revisionist line of CPI and CPI(M), led the Naxalbari Uprising and revolted against the CPI(M) leadership, with com. Charu Mazumdar, who became martyr in Lal Bazar police centre of Kolkata on 28th July, as its first general secretary. During the 1971-72, following the terrific state repression and due to theoretical, political differences following its left adventurist line, the party splintered in to many groups. Following this the CPI(ML) comrades in Kerala started a reorganization process, adopting mass line, initiating activities among workers and publishing Comrade and Mass Line monthlies in Malayalam and English. During the 1975-1977 emergency period once again they came under suppression and lost comrades Rajan, Vijayan and Balakrishnan during police torture. After the emergency was revoked these comrades came out of jails and started reorganizing the party uniting with a section of CRs from AP, calling themselves the CRC-CPI(ML). It denounced the capitalist roaders led by Dengists in CPC who had usurped power and turned China to capitalist path after Mao’s death. Analyzing the rich peasant led agrarian struggles taking place in many parts of the country then and the fast changes taking place in agrarian sector under neo-colonial domination of imperialism, it rejected the “semi-colonial, semi-feudal, people’s war” analysis of Indian state society, and path, and put forward the stand that India is a country under neo-colonial domination. By 1982 it convened its first All India Conference in which comrades from ten states and international delegations from Nepal, Sri Lanka and US participated. It launched an Anti-Caste Secular Movement, Anti- Nuclear Plant Movement and movement for the release of political prisoners besides starting peasant and workers’ struggles in some areas. As a section of the organization pursuing sectarian line did not accept these theoretical-political analyses, and the struggles led by the organization, there was a split by 1987, when it was reorganized as CPI(ML) Red Flag.
In the 1990s a section of Dalit Sangharsh Samithi in Karnataka with large number of youth comrades joined the party. Youth from Odisha, Maharashtra, MP, Chhattisgarh, TN etc also became active. An effort was made to develop a Unity forum of CR organizations, and under this banner a rally was organized in Delhi rejecting the neo-liberal policies imposed by Narasimha Rao govt in 1991. Many efforts were made for uniting the CR forces in to a powerful communist party denouncing the CPI(M) led Left Front which had become synonymous with the ruling class politics as well as the Maoist line pursued by some organizations who later merged in 2004 and formed the CPI(Maoist). Along with these unity efforts at national level, initiative was taken to forge an international platform of the communist revolutionary parties also. It was then, a section of its comrades in Kerala led by Unnichekkan tried to infiltrate a revisionist line of supporting the CPI(M) in to the party. There was a serious ideological struggle against this line and the Sixth All India Conference in 2003, which expelled the leaders of this trend who are reduced to a handful of persons now.
Pursuing the unity efforts, in 2003 unity discussions were started with the CPI(ML) section led by Kanu Sanyal, which was formed by merging OCCR and CPI(ML) Unity initiative. Though a large area of unity was there, KS section was still advocating the “semi-colonial, semi-feudal, people’s war line”, though in practice it was recognizing many of the changes taking place in the country. As both sections recognized the significance of developing an all India organization to lead the class struggle forward, it was decided to merge with differences, with the agreement that these differences will be resolved through a conference within two years. In 2005 in a massive unity conference at Vijayawada, the two organizations merged calling itself CPI (ML), with KS as the general secretary.
This unity enthused many sections of CRs who joined the party. But the KS section went on postponing the Conference to resolve the differences. More over, this section created obstacles for organizing class/mass organizations at all India level, for developing the mass struggles, and for expanding the international relations. It was in this situation the CPI(ML) Red Flag section led by KN Ramachandran decided to separate from the KS section in the beginning of 2009. An All India Special Conference was held at Bhopal in November preceded by a massive rally and attended by comrades from 13 states and international delegations. In this the CR group from W. Bengal led by com. Alik Chakravarthy participated as observers and later joined it. Many comrades of CPI (ML) Liberation dissatisfied with its rightist line also joined Red Flag in UP, Punjab etc. By the time of its Ninth Party Congress held in Bhubaneswar in 2011, it had expanded its activities to 15 states. It organized the Caste Annihilation Movement and the adopted that in the context of increasing ecological catastrophe the contradiction between capital and nature as one of the major contradiction to be taken up. It expanded its participation in parliamentary struggles as part of class struggle and got the party registered under Election Commission as CPI(ML) Red Star in 2012. Expanding and consolidating the international relations with large number of revolutionary parties, it became one of the founding members of the International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and organizations (ICOR).
During this period it led many peasant struggles and the workers movement in North Karnataka. It succeeded to build a powerful movement of the slum dwellers in Bhubaneswar and expanded this work to other states. At this time, the W. Bengal state committee and the jute workers it was leading initiated a number of major struggles for security of job and enhancement of wages. In the 2014 general elections to Lok Sabha, including five seats in WB it contested more than 50 seats from 15 states. In the mass movements against the privatization of Shivnath River and Rajnandgaon Special Economic Zone in Chhattisgarh, in Chilka, POSCO, Kalinganagar, Vedanta like movements in Odisha, in the anti-nuclear plant movement in a number of states etc, and in a number of workers’ struggles and land capturing movements the Red Star committees played a major role.
In W. Bengal, com. Pradip Singh Thakur, a veteran leader from the Naxalbari days, who was state secretary of CPI (ML) New Democracy for many years, left it due to ideological, political differences and had started working separately forming his own organization: CPI(ML) Red Flag in 2013. In 2014 LS elections and later he along with Red Star were part of the Struggling Left Front. Unity discussions were started with com. PST and before the 10th Congress of the Red Star held at Lucknow in 2015 beginning, his organization merged with RS and he was elected the state secretary of the party. In the Party Congress, the Marxist Leninist Committee of AP formed by com. Kolla Venkaiah in 1970 also merged with Red Star.
So today, this small Naxal group leading the Bhangar movement in W. Bengal has functioning state committees in 15 states and active contacts in other states. It has publications in a dozen languages along with its theoretical organs. It is active in social media. Its cadres are active in class/mass organizations among working class (TUCI), among peasantry and agricultural workers (AIKKS), among women (AIRWO), among youth (RYFI), among students (AIRSO) and in the cultural front (RCF). Its leading comrades and cadres are active in Caste Annihilation Movement, in Slum Protection and Housing Right Movement, in different ecological movements including Anti-Nuclear Plant Movement, in democratic right movements etc. It is presently active in mobilizing for the 50th anniversary of Naxalbari Uprising culminating with a massive march to Naxalbari on 25th May. It has initiated a Democratic People’s Forum based on a Common Minimum Program rejecting the neoliberal policies and advocating a people oriented and sustainable development perspective. So, contrary to what is repeated, the CPI (ML) Red Star is not such a small group, nor it has any soft corner towards the Maoists. Its Party program clearly declares: “rejecting parliamentary cretinism and the line of sectarianism and individual terrorism, upholding the path of revolutionary mass line, it resolves to utilize all forms of struggles and organizations to mobilize the working class and all revolutionary classes and sections for a massive countrywide people’s uprising to overthrow the Indian state and to seize political power”.
How did the struggle start?
The TMC government led by Mamta Barnerjee had come to power in 2011 after unseating the 34 years long rule of CPI(M) led Left Front government mainly using the Singur and Nandigram movements. It had pledged that it will not resort to annexation of agricultural land for any projects. After repeating its victory in 2016, it had once again vouchsafed that no peasant will be displaced from his land. But while repeating such pledges, at many places in the state land confiscation was taking place to promote corporatization. What happened in Bhangar area is one such incident. Going against the provisions of the new land acquisition act, without telling for what purpose the land is taken over, the state government used force and tricked the people first to take over the 16 acres of land in the name of constructing a small sub station with its transmission lines going along existing roads. Ex. TMC MLA Arabul Islam and present MLA and minister, Abdul Razak Mollah, with their goons joined hands with the administration and police to take over the land forcefully. People were not told what the PGCIL is going to do or about its consequences.
The PGCIL has gone about this project in an absolutely high-handed manner, refusing to talk to the affected farmers and displaying an utter lack of transparency. The government and administration paid scant heed to the farmers’ grievances. Once the Singur, Nandigram like cheating in Bhangar started, sporadic resistances started. The chief minister and TMC men started blaming outsiders for it. They alleged Maoists, who are not at all present in the area, were responsible. The hazardous effects of the Power Grid where not told to the people. Only after the people approached the Red Star comrades, people were educated about the consequences of the proposed Power Grid. After the massive Raj Bhavan march on 22nd December and especially after the peaceful road blockade on 11th January, the police and hundreds of the goons were let loose to terrorize the people. On 17th January when the people got mobilized against attacks on their villages by police aided goons, the police resorted to lathi charge, tear gassing and then firing in which Mujiful Khan and Allam Molla were killed. It was after this, the people retaliated and barricaded the villages. It is the Jomi, Jibika, Bastutantra O Poribesh Raksha Committee which is leading the movement.
The Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL, a Govt. of India Enterprise and a Navaratna to boot) is constructing the Rajarhat 400/220 KV, SF6 gas insulated substation and associated 953 Km (480 Km passing through West Bengal) length of 400KV double circuit, 450MW transmission lines, which will affect hundreds of villages across the region. Though the PGCIL has named it the ‘Rajarhat substation’, it is located entirely in a different place – Bhangar – and even in a different district! According to a notification of PGCIL, the transmission lines from this substation will be passing over 80 villages of seven districts, namely South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Nadia, Hooghly, Burdwan, Murshidabad and Birbhum of West Bengal, before entering the state of Jharkhand. The nine to twelve transmission lines coming out of the Rajarhat Grid will affect more than 30,000 families in South 24 Paraganas alone. An extremely potent greenhouse gas SF6 (Sulphur Hexafluoride, SF6) will be used in the substation and an electromagnetic field will be generated, once the transmission line becomes operative. While a significant amount of research efforts are going on internationally in finding a replacement of SF6, the gas will be used in the substation without any concern of the authorities for the danger it will pose to the people and the environment. Once a transmission line is laid, the farmer has to forfeit most of his rights over his land, crop and plantation. In the name of preventing damages due to ‘flash overs’, maintenances of line the power line installing company has unfettered rights of cutting the tall trees, entering into the fields and thereby damaging standing crops, year after year. Moreover, the transmission-line support structures and lines are laid near and within the ponds, where the farmers cultivate fish. The support structure within or near to the ponds will change its ecology, making them unfit for fish cultivation. The electromagnetic field will also change the growth and breeding pattern of fishes, for which fishermen will suffer substantial losses. For installation of support structure, the ponds, fish embankments (bheries) have to be dried and the machine and human activity that will go on in installation of towers will grievously damage the soil bed, swamp and under-bed micro-organisms, making them unfit for fish cultivation. The electromagnetic field will also affect the magnetic alignment ability of fish and disrupt their movement. Since 2015, from the day work on forcibly acquired land initiated, people were first assured that a small power house would be built in the area to cater local demand. Later, people learnt that the project was being planned at a much massive scale and it was not a power house as they were made to believe, but a 400KVpower grid. Things came to a pass when PGCIL started installing transmission line support structures (towers) on their fields without taking their consent, without following the guidelines for payment of Compensation towards damages in regard to Right of Way for transmission line, as approved by the order of Ministry of Power, Government of India, 15.10.2015. When people resisted such constructions on their fields, PGCIL started paying a pittance to some, ignoring the aforementioned guidelines. In this matter the local administration and ruling political party leadership too worked in tandem with the PGCIL.
The people of the area, who stand to lose not only their land and livelihood but also fear complete destruction of the ecology, have organized themselves under the leadership of the Committee against the power grid project and administration. None of the authorities have bothered to hear their complaints and to resolve them. Instead, the administration was prepared to go to any extent to put down people’s resistance using terror tactics. On 22nd January com. KNR, the general secretary of CPI(ML Red Star who reached Kolkata to meet the villagers and party comrades was abducted, kept in illegal custody for 26 hours and deported back to Delhi. Com. Sharmistha, CC member of the party and general secretary of the AIRWO and com. Pradip Singh Thakur, PB member and state secretary of the party along with many villagers are arrested, sent to police custody and now jailed imposing UAPA provisions.
In W. Bengal itself, and especially In Kolkata these developments led to more and more students, intellectuals, artists and struggling left organizations and individuals along with many mass organizations coming out in support of the movement. The 30th January protest rally in support of the Bhangar movement was massive. Like in Vietnam liberation struggle days, similar to resistance against Singur – Nandigram land acquisitions, once again militant slogans in support of Bhangar and the declaration that it is a continuation of Singur and Nandigram are raised. The 30th January protest rally in Kolkata was massive. This rally is followed by a number of protest programs in the city and other areas in the state. At all India level also solidarity programs are organized in a number of places. Presently Bhangar has become the symbol of the resistance against corporatization and annexation of land from the peasantry for corporate projects, destroying their livelihood and environment, devastating people’s life. The TMC government’s plan is to suppress the people’s movement of Bhangar using police and goons. But, as proved by the mass rally at Bhngar on 19th February, developing a broad based democratic movement the villagers and the Red Star cadres are challenging it with the support of all progressive forces. It is a democratic movement. Whatever may be the provocations, the Committee shall pursue this path till victory. The signature campaign going on, the Kolkata Convention on 16th March, the various fact finding teams visiting the villages and the proposed People’s Hearing by prominent jurists, scientists and democrats on 4-5 April are intended to mobilize all round support to this people’s movement. Red Star has decided to continue this path of resistance till the project is formally withdrawn, all forcefully taken over lands are returned, all comrades are released and all cases are withdrawn.
The central Committee of the Party is organizing a solidarity campaign at all India level in support of Bhangar movement. Besides the CC has called on all state committees to intensify efforts to launch movements for Land, Housing, Livelihood and Environment with mass participation.