India: Mass rally in solidarity with Nandigram peasants

Issue 

The 8th congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) ended with a massive 100,000 strong all-India rally in Kolkata on December 18. A key focus of the rally was solidarity with the peasants of Nandigram against attempts to drive them off their land by the West Bengal government in order to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Many of the rally participants had to fight for their right to attend. Most of the rural poor cannot afford train tickets to get to such actions, so contingents of CPI (ML) supporters have to board trains with their banners and fight off police attempts to evict them. One CPI (ML) member was killed in the battle to attend the rally.

The rally was a demonstration that the genuine left is in solidarity with peasants of Nandigram, at a time when the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-run West Bengal government is repressing them. Some of the mainstream papers acknowledged that the CPI (ML) was the only party that had the capacity to organise such a large national mobilisation.

The rally was also in solidarity with peasants in Singur. In December 2006, the Singur peasants fought but lost the battle against the West Bengal government's forcible acquisition of their land for an SEZ for the Tatas car company.

When the West Bengal government attempted a similar land grab for an SEZ at Nandigram, the peasants gave full battle. The resistance of the peasants, who had originally won their land through struggle, was so strong that the government was forced to withdraw the SEZ proposal.

This was the first such victory in India.

However, the Nandigram peasants paid a heavy price for their victory. On March 14, police attempted to brutally suppress the revolt, killing at least 14 peasant activists. At least eight primary school-aged children were killed, and many women were sexually assaulted.

The total number of deaths is not known, with bodies still being uncovered in unmarked graves. A second massacre was carried out in November, this time by CPI (M) goons.

On March 16, a general strike in West Bengal was held in protest at the massacre, and the CPI (ML) responded by organising a demonstration of hundreds of thousands in Delhi.