RURAL POVERTY decreased between 1983 and 1993-94 at an annual rate of 2.24 percentage- points.
But the decline has slowed down to 1.15 points annually. To compound matters, W. Bengal has the lowest rate of generating work under the National Rural
Employment Guarantee Scheme — a mere 14 person-days per poor family, against the national average of 43, in place of the promised
100 days a year.
Worse still, according
to the National Sample Survey, “the percentage of rural households not getting enough food every day in some months of the year” is highest in West Bengal (10.6 percent), worse than in Orissa (4.8). An alarming
indicator is the number of school dropouts in the 6-14 age group. At 9.61
lakh in West Bengal, this figures is even higher than in Bihar (6.96 lakh). Of India’s 24 districts which have more than 50,000 out-ofschool children, nine are in West Bengal.
Yet another dark
spot is the Front’s failure of inclusion in respect of the religious minorities. Muslims form 25.2 percent of the state’s population. But their proportion in government employment is an abysmal 2.1 percent, even lower than Gujarat’s
5.4. This represents, sadly, the downside of the LF’s record of
protecting the minorities against communal violence. Clearly,
West Bengal has a long way to go before it can become a model. Regrettably,
its leadership’s priorities have shifted towards elitism. It now obsessively promotes industrialisation at any cost, at the expense of peasants and workers. It has set its mind upon neoliberal
projects like the Singur car factory and Special Economic Zones.
The results of the
neoliberal orientation were evident in Nandigram in March and again in the first half of November, when the CPM forcibly “captured” two blocks, over which it had lost control. The bulk of Nandigram’s people — including many CPM supporters — got disenchanted with the party
because it tried to impose an SEZ on them, earmarked for Indonesia’s
Salim group — a front for General Suharto’s super-corrupt
family. The SEZ
plan was tentatively abandoned under popular resistance, led (but not exclusively) by the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC). But the CPM
started a campaign of intimidation of ordinary people, turning thousands
into refugees, and resulting on March 14 in a murderous attack on villages, accompanied by arson, loot and rape. The attempt failed. CPM- BUPC clashes
continued in recent months, and pressure grew to call in the Central Reserve
Police Force (CRPF). To pre-empt CRPF intervention, CPM cadre launched
their second bid to capture” Nandigram, turning it into a “war zone”. The rest is history.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya presents the violence as a spontaneous clash between two organisations, in which the BUPC was “paid back in the same coin”.


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