'The Blessed Land': Narratives of Peasant Resistance at Nandigram, West Bengal, in 2007
In early 2007, the West Bengal state government in India sought to acquire over 10,000 acres of cultivated rural land in Nandigram, East Midnapur. The government, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) led Left Front coalition, sought to acquire this land to allow the Indonesian industrialists, the Salim group, to construct a chemical hub. Land acquisition had been increasing in India since 2005, when the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act was passed for the purpose of attracting investment from national and multinational corporations. Peasants in Nandigram were opposed to the acquisition of their land, and during 2007 successfully resisted the government attempts to do so. In response, the CPI-M sent party cadre to harass, rape and murder the peasantry, using their control of government to punish people in Nandigram. This thesis examines the events at Nandigram between June 2006 and May 2008 and investigates the narratives of peasant resistance that emerged in West Bengal. It focuses on three groups of West Bengal society: the peasants of Nandigram, the intellectuals and civil society of West Bengal, and the major political parties of West Bengal. Existing explanations of the events at Nandigram have focused on the role of intellectuals and civil society, and their views have dominated the literature. The existing historiography has argued that land acquisition policies and the subsequent resistance at Nandigram were an effect of neoliberal policies, policies that had been pursued by both the central and state governments in India since the 1990s. Resistance at Nandigram was explained as a broad movement that involved the peasantry and adivasi, but also the civil society groups that opposed neoliberal policies. However, as this thesis demonstrates, the peasantry at Nandigram rarely articulated their resistance as 'against' neoliberalism, and there was little consciousness of the movement challenging neoliberal policies. Rather, it was the local conditions and history of the area that informed their resistance. Amongst intellectuals and civil society, only a minority connected resistance at Nandigram to the wider issue of neoliberalism. The dominant perspective of these groups was that land acquisition policies, and neoliberal reforms in general, were necessary for the development of West Bengal. They criticised the CPI-M only for badly managing the process of land acquisition. The neoliberal consensus extended to the West Bengal political parties, muting serious debate over the economic direction of the state. The discourse of the political parties was limited to allegations of corruption, violence and criminality. Therefore, an investigation of how people in West Bengal viewed the resistance at Nandigram shows that discontent was not generally articulated in opposition to neoliberal polices. Rather, local politics and local issues had a more immediate effect on people's views, focusing discontent on the governance of the CPI-M. This resulted in the resistance at Nandigram evolving into a movement that sought to challenge the continued rule of the CPI-M in West Bengal.