Nandigram is different from Singur, ecologically, economically, socially and politically. It is a recently emerged delta on the coast of Bay of Bengal. It is far away from Kolkata and also from the district headquarters, Tamluk. Agriculture and estuarine fishing forms the backbone of the economy of the poor and the middle class in the region. In some areas, the same plot of agricultural land becomes a fishing pond. The people here are poorer than those in Singur. The communication system is still very much ill-developed. There is no rail connection in Nandigram. Buses, trekkers and van rickshaws are the only public vehicles. But the area has good old schools and a college affiliated to Vidyasagar University. The area is an old political fort of the CPI. The sitting MLA belongs to the CPI. CPI (M) has also made some inroads in the area. There are a few Congress and BJP pockets also.
The Trinamul Congress is weak here. Majority of the farmers can be called subsistence farmers. There are a good number of sharecroppers and agricultural as well as non-agricultural workers. In contrast to Singur there is virtually no absentee landowner in Nandigram. Neither the government nor any other institution has done any study on this peculiar ecological zone and its people. Consequently, the policymakers and the think-tanks of the Left Front government have very little idea about the nature of economic pursuits as well as the aspirations of the people of Nandigram. The proposed chemical hub of the Salim group for which about 22,000 acres of agricultural land and many houses of the people in Nandigram are being acquired without any plan for rehabilitation and without consultation with the local MLA and the panchayats is bound to create tremendous dissatisfaction among the people at the grass roots level. The poorer people of Nandigram (a large section of them are Muslims) are politically conscious, and tougher than the people of Singur. They know how to fight to safeguard their rights. These people are sceptical about the government moves. Pulse polio programme had lesser success in Nandigram. The industrial and the port complex of Haldia which is just on the other side of the Haldi river still shines its sodium vapour lamps towards the non-electrified villages of Nandigram. The peasants from this area supply fresh vegetables to the markets of Haldia. Very few people of Nandigram got employment at Haldia port-industrial complex. So, people here always talk about their poor and less developed conditions. They have already seen industries and port and ships and have also seen what these can do to them. Both industry and the politics around them is well known to the people of Nandigram. This is only a very sketchy overview and Kolkata based intellectuals are really ignorant about this place and it would not be very easy for them to visit and collect data on Nandigram. Let us wait and see what they do and say and what the people of Nandigram do to fight against non-transparency, undemocratic moves and terror and violence.
[The writer is Reader Dept. of Anthropology Vidyasagar University, Midnapore, West Bengal.]