Chomsky and other intellectuals on Nandigram
To Our Friends in Bengal.
News travels to us that events in West Bengal have overtaken the optimism that some of us have experienced during trips to the state. We are concerned about the rancour that has divided the public space, created what appear to be unbridgeable gaps between people who share similar values. It is this that distresses us. We hear from people on both sides of this chasm, and we are trying to make some sense of the events and the dynamics. Obviously, our distance prevents us from saying anything definitive.
We continue to trust that the people of Bengal will not allow their differences on some issues to tear apart the important experiments undertaken in the State (land reforms, local self-government).
We send our fullest solidarity to the peasants who have been forcibly dispossessed. We understand that the government has promised not to build a chemical hub in the area around Nandigram. We understand that those who had been dispossessed by the violence are now being allowed back to their homes, without recrimination. We understand that there is now talk of reconciliation. This is what we favour.
The balance of forces in the world is such that it would be impetuous to split the Left. We are faced with a world power that has demolished one state (Iraq) and is now threatening another (Iran). This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist.
Noam Chomsky, author, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy; Tariq Ali, author, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope and editor, New Left Review; Howard Zinn, author, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress; Susan George, author, Another World is Possible if, and Fellow, Transnational Institute; Victoria Brittain, co-author, Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back, former editor, Guardian; Walden Bello, author, Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmaking of the American Empire, and Chair, Akbayan, the fastest growing party in the Philippines; Mahmood Mamdani, author, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War and the Roots of Terror; Akeel Bilgrami, author, Politics and the Moral Psychology of Identity; Richard Falk, author, The Costs of War: International Law, the UN and World Order After Iraq; Jean Bricmont, author, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War; Michael Albert, author, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, and editor, ZNET; Stephen Shalom, author, Imperial Alibis: Rationalizing US Intervention After the Cold War; Charles Derber, author, People Before Profit: The New Globalization in an Age of Terror, Big Money and Economic Crisis; Vijay Prashad, author, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World.
The Hindu, 22nd November 2007
Three days after the Left Front in West Bengal appealed for peace and for the “safe and secure return” to villages in the Nandigram area of all people forced to live outside, and in the aftermath of the beginning of peace talks at the local level, violence has erupted again in this area of rural West Bengal. The Maoists have resumed their armed campaign of terror; working people have been injured and killed in political violence; and, ever-willing to give chaos a chance, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has been reported as saying that her party would “paralyse West Bengal” indefinitely. For 11 months, the campaign spearheaded by the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC, or “Committee to Prevent Eviction from Land”) has brought administration and development work to a halt, and has sought to cut the area off from government and state power. According to one estimate, 15,000 children could not be given pulse polio doses; Rs.2 crore worth of expenditure on health infrastructure has had to be abandoned; health facilities have been unable to function; and Rs.2 crore worth of investment on electrification could not be made. People of the region, particularly peasant families owing allegiance to the Left Front, were systematically evicted from their homes and villages, with the number of refugees swelling to 3,500.
In February 2007, the government announced that the chemical hub would not be established in Nandigram. Even that announcement brought no respite. On the contrary, the forced withdrawal of the police from certain areas provided a new opportunity for the Maoists to set up an armed presence in the region, and for the opportunist alliance represented by the BUPC to regroup and continue their campaign of violence and externment, and of preventing the administration from functioning. No government worth the name can stand aside when people are indefinitely denied the right to occupy their homes and pursue their livelihoods in peace, and, when finally the internal refugees seek to return to their homes, their paths are blocked by arms and landmines. The Central government, which depends on the Left for survival, has eventually responded to the request by the Government of West Bengal by releasing a battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force for deployment in the Nandigram region. Intelligent and speedy deployment of these paramilitary forces can contribute to the resumption of peace directly by means of their armed presence and, more importantly, as a confidence-building measure among the people. This newspaper has editorialised on the part played by political slowness in responding to a tricky situation as well as administrative mishandling of a volatile situation in the tragedy of Nandigram in March 2007. But once the State government made it absolutely clear that the chemical hub would not be established in Nandigram, what raison d’etre could exist for the disruptive activities of the BUPC and the continuing violence of the opposition in West Bengal? What is now manifest is that the peace process in Nandigram has its determined enemies.
The role of Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi has, for a second time, come under the spotlight. In March 2007, he clearly stepped out of line in publicly airing his philosophical and tactical differences with the State government over Nandigram. He does not seem to have learnt any lessons from that experience and, in fact, his latest speaking out of line has had the effect of adding fuel to the flames. Let us concede that Nandigram represented a situation where the moral urge not to remain silent came into conflict with the restraints imposed by the constitutional office. Yet, of the restraints imposed by the office, there would seem to be little doubt, and a public statement critical of the government’s handling of the issue could not have been made without transgressing them. The Hindu has consistently regarded this as a major question of principle in the constitutional realm. The classic 1867 exposition of the role of the British monarch by Walter Bagehot applies equally to the office of the President and the Governor: “To state the matter shortly, the Sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights — the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. And a king of great sense and sagacity would want no others. He would find that his having no others would enable him to use these with singular effect.” The right to advise and the right to warn are to be exercised in private and in confidence, and not through public statements. This restraint required of the head of state is not a mere constitutional formality but is based on sound democratic principles. In the first place, the head of state must not, through statements critical of its functioning, place himself or herself in conflict with the representative government, which has a greater democratic legitimacy. Secondly, the head of state should appear non-partisan and remain above the fray when controversial and divisive questions are being debated in the political sphere, and avoid any public statements that could give comfort to one side or the other. The Governor’s public statements on Nandigram both challenged the wisdom of the government’s approach and came down on the side of the critics of its action. Further, Mr. Gandhi laid himself open to the charge of remaining silent when the supporters of the Left Front were at the receiving end. His conduct through this crisis has been constitutionally indefensible. Yet the Left Front government must not get distracted by this. Its top priorities must be to re-establish peace, ensure human security, and resume development work in Nandigram. The CPI(M) has a special responsibility in this regard — among other things, to be manifestly fair in its dealings on the ground, and to restrain its cadre from any campaign of reprisal.
The Hindu, Monday, Nov 12, 2007