Scene I: College street, Calcutta.
A couple of young men and women sprint through the back alleys, throw crude bombs at policemen standing guard behind sandbag barricades and melt into the smoke cover from the explosions. The “guerrilla action” has the police and the paramilitary reacting with teargas shells, lathis and firing in the air.
Scene II: Gopiballavpur, Midnapore.
The villagers look quizzically, even suspiciously at the young men, who are obviously from far-off Calcutta, from well-off families and are educated. They are told the outsiders are there to rehearse an uprising, of course with some local help because they know little of life in the villages.
That was in the late sixties and the early seventies, when the Naxalite movement in Bengal caught the fancy of city-bred young people who wanted to change things. They were inspired by Mao Zedong’s revolutionary ideology, by Charu Mazumdar’s line of “annihilation of the class enemy” and, above all, by their own frustration with what they saw all around them.
Scene III: Singur, Hooghly, December 2006.
They arrive from Calcutta by local trains and drift into the villages of Bajemelia and Berabari in twos and threes after nightfall, huddle in a hut and discuss the plan of action with some local residents but generally keep away from the villagers. Then, on Action Day, they attack the police with much the same crude bombs their compatriots of another generation used in College Street. A group of villagers join the charge of the light brigade. In a throwback to 1967-70, the policemen burst teargas shells and use lathis to chase the protesters away.
The next scene is set on AJC Bose Road in Calcutta today, where a small Maoist group smashes the glass panes of a Tata Motors dealer’s showroom, pastes some posters outside the office protesting against the Tata group’s small-car project in Singur and quickly melts into the passing traffic. The operation lasts barely two minutes.
The first major confrontation between the government and anti-car protesters in Singur caught almost everybody by surprise. The government and the police may have anticipated trouble at some stage. But it clearly had no clue to the Naxalite/Maoist action plan in Singur. The government’s worries centred around Mamata Banerjee and her party, especially after the violence in the Assembly. But, when it happened, the first major violence in Singur caught even Mamata and the Trinamul Congress completely by surprise.
The result was a confused reaction by almost everyone, including the media. The first response, therefore, was to the police action — by not only Mamata but also the CPM’s partners in the Left Front.
The CPM understandably sought to defend the police action but did not seem to have realised the full political import of what had actually happened. It blamed the violence on “outsiders” all right, but neither the CPM nor Mamata quite realised that the incident marked a new political development — the return of Naxalism.
There were a few other parties involved in the day’s incident, but their action was clearly of the Naxalite variety.
Thus, while the police act- ion was highlighted, the poli-tical import of the Naxalite charge in Singur was not immediately understood by even the media, including The Telegraph. It was not adequately understood that the “outsiders” in Singur had given the campaign a dramatically new turn.
Slowly, the realisation began to sink in. If there were any doubts, the attack on the car showroom must have removed them.
This brand of Naxalism seems to be very different from the Maoism that has struck roots in parts of Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia, mostly among tribal people. This one appears to be closer in spirit and form to the movement that thrived and died on College Street in 1967-70.
Once again, Singur is a call to revolt for some city-bred youths who do not like the way things are. To them, the land acquisition in Singur is only a symbol of the injustice they want to fight. And, they have no faith in Mamata’s ability to fight it, because they suspect her of faking a pro-farmer stance in order to settle scores with the CPM. In fact, they have no faith in any constitutional means of redress of their grievances and hence the return to the old ways.
Now that there is a better understanding of the incident, both Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata may have to rethink and rework their strategies over Singur. Surely, Mamata would not like the Naxalites to usurp the initiative from her.
More important, she may be worried that a Naxalite takeover of the campaign would be the end of it. She cannot have forgotten the lessons of Keshpur in 1998-2000, where she took the help of some fake Maoists to fight the CPM.
After small initial victo- ries, her campaign — and her party — was wiped off the area. That she is back to a conventional, acceptable form of political protest such as hunger strike may be a reaction to the Naxalite threat to her campaign.
For Bhattacharjee, the Naxalite twist to the Singur tale has an obvious message — he is now freer to tackle it as a law and order problem. Even if that remains a major challenge, it may help the government deflect attention from the issue of land acquisition or the land-versus-industry question.