KN Ramachandran, national general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Star, a rebel outfit that has been mobilising the Bhangar movement in West Bengal, went missing from Kolkata railway station on January 22. He was traveling to Bhangar in South 24 Parganas district to address a meeting aimed at keeping alive an ongoing agitation against a mega power project coming up there. However, two days later, he resurfaced in Delhi, alleging that the West Bengal administration was behind his disappearance.
The Bhangar protests, which broke out on January 10, have become a major headache for the state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. Especially so since it was the Trinamool Congress chief who spearheaded the anti-land acquisition movements in Singur and Nandigram in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Now, she finds herself on the other side of the fence with the residents of Bhangar claiming coercion and inadequate compensation for their lands that were acquired for the power project.
With the rebel outfit having organised a protest march in Kolkata against the state administration, the movement threatens to move into the mainstream. The opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist) reportedly gave its support to the demonstration.
Speaking exclusively to Scroll.in, Ramachandran opened up about his involvement in the Bhangar movement, about being labelled a Maoist, and why the chief minister should expect him back in her state soon. Edited excerpts from the interview:
The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Star is anchoring the Bhangar movement in Bengal. What made you decide to support this?
The movement is our way of resisting the installation of a power grid in Bhangar by the present Bengal government. By our, I mean, the villagers and the CPI (ML) Red Star.
We are protesting because poor farmers were misled by the government into selling their land at a subsidised rate. That apart, the government told the farmers it would be setting up a power sub-station, but it is now all set to install a power grid. There is a huge difference between the two, you see. The 15 acres of land the government acquired for the sub-station between Bengal and Purnia in Bihar is in the middle of an agricultural track.
The villagers are protesting because of the health hazard this will pose. They are protesting as the government misled them to acquire their land. They have been protesting for a long time, but none in the Bengal Opposition came forward to give the protests the shape of a movement. Not even the Left. So, when our members in Bengal came to know about it, they came forward and supported the farmers. And that gave birth to the Bhangar movement.
But wouldn’t having a power grid in Bhangar make life better?
I presume it could. But it would have been better if the government had stuck to its original plan of having a power sub-station. And, to make life better for the common man, it need not snatch away the land of farmers. You need not have it made in the middle of agricultural land.
Take the example of Jharkhand. It has several power grids but these have come up on barren lands or near jungles, not on the lands of farmers. You cannot do good to farmers by taking away their land or leaving them unprotected to the harmful radiation emitted by the power grid.
The issue here is this: snatching a farmer’s land without properly compensating him for it and, at the same time, putting his life at risk. I am amazed. Was it she (Mamata Banerjee) who fought for the rights of farmers in Singur and Nandigram? Once in power, she seems to have forgotten it all.
What kind of hazards will the power grid pose to farmers?
Before being associated with this movement, we had some scientific scholars visit the place and educate us on the health hazards a power grid would pose to residents. These power stations give out certain kinds of radiation that can be harmful to the health of those exposed to it. We tried meeting the officials, talking it out with the government. But who can explain that to the chief minister? She is just adamant on building it there.
What makes you equate Bhangar with Singur and Nandigram?
Why not equate them with Bhangar? It’s the same. Back then, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) snatched away the lands of poor farmers and now, she (Banerjee) is doing the same. We had protested then and we are with the farmers now also.
Sadly enough, back then, Banerjee had sided with the farmers, fought for their rights. But she has forgotten all that now and is doing the same (as the Left). So, the Bhangar movement is actually the ghost of Singur and Nadigram, which will keep hounding her till she returns the land of the protesting farmers.
You seem immensely displeased by the state government?
Why wouldn’t I be? I was whisked away by the state police just to stop me from addressing the rally at Bhangar. Our cadre are being hunted by the police for having done nothing. We are just giving a shape to the farmers’ movement in Bengal.
I think Mamata is more dangerous than the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She is a fascist, she listens to no one. She just does what she wants to do. I think it’s high time that her party members counsel her. She needs to understand that the common man in not in the mood to be taken for a ride. And we will support them at any cost.
Isn’t the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Star labelled a fringe group causing trouble in Bengal?
(Gives a low laugh) Maoists were there in Nandigram, they helped Mamata back then. But let me tell you, we are not Maoists. Rather, there are none of them in Bhangar. It is the poor villagers who are facing police brutality and being constantly harassed.
As of now, we have done away with the blockade (of roads). But we are on alert, and we won’t tolerate the police torturing or beating up villagers any more.
Recently, the group’s members took to the streets of Kolkata...
Well, that was a much needed move to make people know why Bhangar is a burning issue. We wanted people to know that this government is taking away the land of the poor.
However, Red Star member Alik Chakraborty was conspicuously absent at the rally.
The Bengal Police are after our leaders. After Sharmistha Choudhury (who was arrested last month), he is the next target. The police are of the opinion that if our leaders are put behind bars, the movement will die a natural death. But it won’t. On the contrary, we are trying to weave the land acquisition movements of Bhangar, Birbhum and Burdwan together. The idea is to create a mass movement.
Does that mean you will be in Bengal soon?
Definitely. I should be in Bengal some time soon.