IT HAS been a year since the Bhangar land agitation started, sparking violence in South 24 Parganas over the state government’s attempt to construct a power sub-station. The protesters, who have been trying to organise themselves politically since then, are now mulling contesting the next year’s panchayat elections.
Over the last few months, 11 village committees have been set up in Polerhat II gram panchayat area, where Bhangar is located. Following this, on October 29, thousands of villagers had attended a sammelan and set up umbrella committee JJPBRC — Jami, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee (Committee to secure Land, Livelihood, Environment and Ecosystem). The committee, primarily comprising villagers, will approve any development project to be taken up in the area. JJPBRC convener and spokesperson, Mirza Hassan, said: “We are looking at all possibilities, including fighting the panchayat elections. It depends on whether the state government agrees to all our demands. But we are looking at fighting the elections.”
JJPBRC, as well as the 11 village committees, will hold several meetings over the coming months to take a final call, he added.
“A number of Opposition leaders have come and supported us. CPM MLA Sujan Chakraborty, for instance, attended the sammelan and lent his and his party’s support to us,” said Hassan.
From October 15 to October 27, 16 villages had held a series of meetings to set up 11 committees. Each committee, with between 40 and 125 members, will look after the general affairs of the villages. “The committees will access and approve development projects, which the panchayat or the government may take up. These will also monitor progress of government schemes and probe corruption. Basically, any decision to do with the village, however minor, will be taken by the concerned village committee,” said Hasan.
Incidentally, little-known Naxal group CPI(ML) Red Star, under the name Jami, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee, had spearheaded the Bhangar agitation last year.
CPM insiders said JJPBRC was set up following the party’s traditional model — several village committees coming together to set up a larger umbrella committee.
Experts said what is more significant is that the nature of activities that have taken place in Bhangar over the past few months mirrors the Singur and Nandigram land movements, which had catapulted Trinamool Congress to power in 2011.
In Singur, the agitation was carried out under the banner of Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee. In Nadigram, it was Bhoomi Ucched Pratibadh Committee and later in Lalgarh, People’s Committee against Police Atrocities. In all three cases, the umbrella committees had dozens of village committees working under them, mobilising booth level voters and ensuring the toppling of the Left Front government.
In Bhangar, while villagers are keen on contesting as independent candidates, they seem to have the full backing of both the Congress and CPM. Besides Sujan Chakraborty, leader of Opposition Abdul Mannan, Congress president Adhir Chowdhury, CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra and Left chairman Biman Basu have visited the area over the last few months. So have rights activist Binayak Sen, politician Yogendra Yadav and CPM’s peasant leaders Hannan Mollah and Biju Krishnan.
This is in stark contrast from the time Opposition leaders were not allowed into Bhangar by the government. But committee members maintained that their resistance has been so strong that not only have they been able to hold meetings, but now Trinamool leaders are being forced to stay away.
When the Bhangar agitation was at its peak, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that no move would be made to construct the power grid without the permission of the villagers. She has subsequently dropped UAPA charges against many protesters. A key leader of the movement, Alik Chakraborty, is now out of prison while still facing charges under UAPA.
Thirty-six people had been charged under UAPA. But charges against 30 have been dropped. Incidentally, they are all Bhangar villagers. The six cases, in which chargesheets have been filed, are against leaders who came from outside to help us with the movement. For instance, Alik Chakraborty. But he has also been freed,” said Hassan.