Losing the plot: what Bhangor farmers' stir says about Mamata's land policy
How the times change. The Trinamool Congress took power on the back of its agitation against the previous Left Front regime's "atrocities" on farmers. Now, Mamata Banerjee's party is on the receiving end of the farmers' anger.
It was forced to stop the construction of a power station at Kamarait village in Bhangor, South 24 Parganas district, after two farmers were killed and as many wounded in police firing on villagers protesting against the project.
Nearly a hundred people from Kamarait and the adjoining villages of Uriapara and Machidanga were lathicharged and teargassed by the police when they came out to protest against the setting up of the power station. They were also incensed by the arrest of Sheikh Kalu, a villager whom the police alleged had incited violence in the area two days ago.
That didn't deter the villagers, so the police opened fire, killing one person and wounding four others. In retaliation, the villagers torched a police van, and pushed three others into a nearby pond.
"The police manhandled the villagers when they came out to protest. They also vandalised some houses and a mosque. So, the people became furious and retaliated," said Sheikh Alam, a villager who is a member of the Jomi Raksha Committee.
Today's violence in Bhangor is the latest confrontation that the Mamata government has had with farmers in Bengal. Last September, farmers in Burdwan launched an agitation when the state tried to forcibly acquire their land for setting up a Mishti Hub. The government has shifted the proposed hub to another location.
Then, farmers in Rajarhat demonstrated against the forcible acquisition of their land and denial of adequate compensation, forcing the government to order an enquiry. In 2012, over 150 villagers who were to be displaced for setting up the proposed Kawakhali township began an agitation, demanding "proper" rehabilitation and compensation for farmers whose land had been acquired with consent, and the return to about 60 families of their land that had been forcibly acquired without their permission. The state had to give in to the demands.
Now, in the case of Bhangor power station, Trinamool leaders claimed they have decided to shelve the project "till the farmers willingly give their land", and urged the agitators to come for talks. They, however, alleged that the stir was being fuelled by "outsiders". Power Minister Sovandeb Chatterjee said he doubted the "real intention behind the violence". "I invited them several times for a meeting but they kept refusing to meet me. The government has stopped the project as per their demand," he said.
Mamata went a step further, tweeting that "Maoists are responsible for violence in Bhangor".
In opposition, Mamata raged against forcible acquisition of farmland by the Left Front government. It was, in fact, her championing of this cause during the agitations in Singur and Nandigram that swept her to power in 2011.
Contradicting the party line, however, Horticulture Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who is the MLA from Bhangor, claimed the situation was the result of intra-party feud in the Trinamool. Indeed, sources who asked not to be identified for reasons of safety, said that two years ago, a local Trinamool strongman named Arabul Islam seized some land in Kamarait at gunpoint. Now that the power station is coming up on this land, the villagers believe that he acted on behalf of his party and see a conspiracy to deprive them of fair compensation.
Meanwhile, the CPI-M is sending a team of its leaders to Bhangor on Wednesday "to look into the situation".