People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 05, 2007
Unparalleled Brutality Of The AP Government
Seven Killed, 16 Seriously Injured
AK-47s and SLRs Used
Around 100 Rounds Fired On 500 people
Anti-Naxal Squad Personnel Used For Firing
THE barbarity of the police firing on peaceful protestors in Mudigonda village in the Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh is, indeed, unprecedented in recent memory. The people of the state were stunned to see the live media coverage of this outrageous police action where peaceful Left Parties’ protestors led by the CPI(M) were gunned down at point blank range. Six died on the spot. Another succumbed to injuries later. 16 people were grievously injured. As I went round the literally war ravaged centre of the village the next day, one could see bullet marks which pierced downed iron shutters of shops and high on the trees aimed at people on the roof tops. One person was killed as he was making a call from an STD booth. Another received bullet injury while he was bringing down his children from the rooftop of his house. Clearly, the police forces came with a premeditated plan of firing to kill. The judicial enquiry now ordered is bound to reveal that all stipulated measures to be mandatorily undertaken by the police before resorting to firing were not undertaken. In fact, not even one of them such as tear gassing, water cannons etc., were used. At the time of writing this it has been reported that the district principal judge in his report to High Court has confirmed that the mandatory procedure was not followed by the police. The State Human Rights Commission in its suo moto enquiry has also come to the same conclusion and recommended slapping of cases against the police personnel responsible for the firing. The police has confirmed that it fired 100 rounds and left only when their ammunition was exhausted.
Far from showing any repentance or remorse, the state administration, led by the chief minister, has embarked on an offensive not merely defending but justifying the action. This obnoxious attitude has reached such a pass that as we go to press comes the news that nearly 400 people of the village have now been charged with a criminal case under charges of attempt to murder! It is, therefore, not surprising that there is a growing groundswell of public sentiment demanding the chief minister’s resignation.
In order to understand as to why the Andhra Pradesh state government has resorted to such brutal repression and continues to justify, it is necessary to briefly recapitulate the origins and character of this land struggle launched by the Left parties.
The Congress party, in its election manifesto, had promised to provide housing sites for the poor. In response to the Left parties demand to have a proper assessment of the overall availability and distribution of land, the state government had constituted a land committee under the chairmanship of Koneru Rangarao, a cabinet minister, in December 2004. This committee gave its report in 2006. The state government was reluctant to either place the report in the assembly or discuss it publicly. Instead, on December 20, 2006, it brought an amendment to the Assigned Lands (Prohibition of Transfer) Act, 1977 before the assembly which was adopted.
In Andhra Pradesh, around 42 lakh acres of land had been assigned to landless poor since the inception of various policies in 1960s. Finding a decade later that a significant percentage of these lands are not in possession of the poor but have been illegally appropriated by vested interests, this 1977 Act (Act 9/77) was enforced which prohibits the alienation or sale of assigned lands to any third party. In case of a breach of this provision, the government is obliged to recover the land and restore it to the original assignee or his legal heir. If for some reason these were not possible, then the land must be resumed by the government for fresh assignment to landless poor persons. Thus, the assigned land could never be appropriated by anybody else.
However, this is what that was precisely happening. Assigned land was being illegally occupied by the land mafias and vested interests. But legally, they could not either register these lands or sell them. The amendment adopted by the assembly was to facilitate this. In other words, the amendment was to facilitate the legal transfer of assigned lands away from the poor to the vested interests.
To understand the scale of such a fraud, consider the following facts. In response to various court proceedings on such disputes, the state government informed that around Hyderabad city alone, 8716.39 acres of assigned lands were in illegal possession of 3830 individuals. The current market rate of land around the capital city is on average close to Rs 10 crore an acre. In this one instance alone, close to Rs 1 lakh crore property is involved. In an embarrassing moment for the Congress party, the chief minister himself had to return assigned lands illegally held by his family without offering any explanation as to how such lands came under his possession to begin with.
In order to legalise such illegal occupation of assigned lands (the list of people in possession of such lands is a virtual who’s who of the ruling class political parties leaders and big influential businessmen), the state government issued a government order under the amended act bringing assigned lands under 54 mandals surrounding Hyderabad under its control. Rs One lakh crore of property legitimately belonging to the poor was now being legally taken over by the vested interests.
Public anger against such virtual loot was building up. The land committee in its recommendations had stated in para 1.11: “In cases of alienation of assigned lands, strict action under the Act 9/77 should be taken restoring the land back to the original assignee and if it is not possible should be resumed back to the government for making fresh assignment to the poor. The list of assigned/surplus lands and government lands available in the Sub Registrar’s Office should be reconciled with the assignment/revenue records available at Mandal/Divisional level by the MROs every year to prevent contravention of the Act 9/77.”
The present amendment to the act was brought about precisely to nullify such recommendations. For these very reasons, the government was reluctant to make the report public.
Further, the report reveals that initially 16.63 lakh acres of agricultural land were declared surplus (this is in addition to the 42 lakh acres of assigned lands). For inexplicable reasons, this was reduced to 8.01 lakh acres. Of these, nearly 2.3 lakh acres are yet to be taken over by the government. The report shows that of the surplus land distributed, there are large number of irregularities depriving land transfer to the poor. Report recommends: “Provision shall be made in the Act to reopen such cases of Land Ceilings, wherever the cases have been decided basing on fraud and misrepresentation of facts, which are at Primary Tribunal stage. In cases where the Courts have already passed orders in Appeal or Revision, action may be taken to file Review Petition.”
Simultaneously, large irregularities were found in the implementation of the Indiramma housing scheme. The CPI(M) while bringing these to the notice of the government had demanded the establishment of an Ombudsman to resolve such disputes. The state government, despite accepting that irregularities have occurred, is refusing to accept this demand stating that the existing government departments are competent to deal with such disputes. The fact remains that without the compliance of the same government departments, irregularities could not have taken place in the first place.
These are the reasons because of which the state government is so adamant and its brazenness in dealing with the protests stems from its desire to protect the vested interests.
Seeing the intransigence of the state government, the Left parties decided to launch the land agitation. The CPI(M) started an agitation on the protection of the assigned lands on May 2, 2007 in Hyderabad, Tirupati and Warangal. The spontaneous response of the people was so overwhelming that this struggle spread throughout the state within a week. 195 mass organisations including various societies, movements etc., came under a single umbrella to carry forward this struggle to protect the assigned lands. Throughout the months of May and June, hundreds of thousands of people, braving the heat wave, came out on to the streets. These were met with brutal suppression. Over 25,000 cases have been booked (over 5,000 on women) and 3,080 had been jailed (including 520 women) before this police firing. All prominent CPI(M) leaders have cases of land grabbing foisted on them.
All through these three months, all efforts for meaningful negotiations and talks with the government failed due to the latter’s intransigence. In fact, the state government and the Congress party embarked on a ruthless disinformation campaign that the CPI(M) had started this movement to oust the Congress from power and, thus, to help the opposition Telugu Desam. The Congress leaders continue to stoop to such levels as to fabricate charges of CPI(M) leaders collecting money from the poor in the name of getting house-sites. Going a step ahead, the PCC chief openly offered money to CPI(M) for withdrawing the movement. It is only those who need to protect and gain from the huge misappropriation of public resources that can stoop to such desperation. The people of Andhra Pradesh have seen through such fabricated propaganda of disinformation.
Given the state government’s intransigence, various forms of agitations were held to press the demands of the movement including a one-day mass hunger strike through out the state. When the state government’s intransigence continued by refusing to enter into any discussions with the leaders of the movement, the state secretaries of the CPI(M) and the CPI, went on an indefinite hunger strike outside the state assembly on July 22. Similar hunger strikes began in all the taluk headquarters all across the state.
The state assembly was in session. The government, however, was not prepared to either discuss in the assembly or with the leaders on hunger strike. Although the government was forced to hold discussions with CPI(M) and CPI leaders on the eve of the bandh, they failed because of government’s intransigent attitude. After the assembly adjourned on July 27, and few hours after the failure of talks, at midnight the leaders on hunger strike were forcibly arrested. This led to the eruption of mass anger and call for a statewide bandh on July 28 when this brutal firing took place in Mudigonda.
Despite lakhs of people all across the state spontaneously coming out in this movement (in Hyderabad city alone, over 1.5 lakh people applied for house sites), the state government’s brazenness can only be understood by its deep links with the vested interests who want to misappropriate public resources on a massive scale.
It is for this reason that they continue not only to justify the police action but spread malicious disinformation about CPI(M) and its leadership. It is the CPI(M) cadre’s vandalisation and attack on the police which led to the police firing is one such disinformation. Live record of events exists and it is there for all to see how the police acted which it could not have unless under specific instructions from the government. Maoist elements have infiltrated the CPI(M) and they are responsible for spreading anarchy which results in police repression is another such disinformation. In Mudigonda, Bandi Ramesh, a key CPI(M) leader, alongwith many others, had joined the party from the CPI(ML New Democracy). Now this is a party that is present in the democratic process. In fact, Ramesh’s wife, a Party comrade, is the serving village sarpanch for the second term. Clearly, the Congress and the state government are seeking to justify the police action by falsely suggesting that firing became inevitable due to the activities of unlawful elements. This is sheer blasphemy.
Then, of course, the major disinformation campaign is concerning the police firing in Nandigram. Both these events are incomparable. Why?
In the first instance, the entire land struggle in Andhra Pradesh was a struggle to force the state government to implement its own election promises. In West Bengal, the efforts of the anti-Left forces is to prevent the Left Front from implementing its election promises of rapid industrialisation.
Secondly, the forcible takeover of Nandigram and adjoining areas under the pretext of protecting the agricultural lands from being taken over for industrial projects began on January 3, 2007. Given the misapprehensions amongst the people on land acquisition, the state government and the Left Front declared that no land will be acquired in this area. Despite this, the siege of the area continued. Thousands of CPI(M) supporters were attacked, harassed and driven out of their homes to live in refugee shelters. When all efforts to restore normalcy failed, on March 14, the police attempted to enter the area. When all other methods like lathi-charge, tear gas etc., failed to disperse the blockade, firing was resorted to. In the ensuing gun battle, 14 people died – eight from police bullets and six from bullets fired by the armed gangs.
Thus, unlike in Mudigonda where peaceful protestors were mercilessly gunned down, in Nandigram, it was a pitched battle between armed unlawful gangs and the police. Scores of policemen have been grievously injured. The attacks continue even now in Nandigram with CPI(M) supporters being attacked and killed a couple of days ago.
What is happening in Nandigram is a political challenge to the Left Front, more intense but similar to the earlier such instances in Panskura, Garbeta etc. Like those challenges were met, so shall this be. The process has begun with the recent adjoining Haldia municipal elections where the Left Front won 19 of the 26 seats.
Hence, any effort to compare the situation in West Bengal to that in Andhra Pradesh is only an effort to mislead while continuing to brazenly oppose people’s interests and uphold the vested interests.
Such protection to the vested interests at the expense of the people will not be allowed. The CPI(M) has decided in Andhra Pradesh that if the state government does not accept the genuine demands of setting up a commission to examine the entire question of assigned lands; legalise the occupation of government lands by eligible people; the establishment of an Ombudsman; implementing the recommendations of the Koneru Committee which has established that it is possible to give at least one acre of land to every poor family in Andhra Pradesh and other such demands formulated by the struggle committee, then the second phase of the land struggle will be launched after the independence day till the people’s interests are met with safeguards for future protection.