Volume 1, Number 1 (2008)

The Devil in the Details: SEZs and State Restructuring in India

Anant Maringanti

National University of Singapore


Nandigram  is  a  cluster  of  villages  in  West Bengal,   India.   The   area   attracted   world media’s  attention  in  March  2007  when  the  local administration attempted to force their way in to villages from which they had been expelled three months  earlier.  Organized  by  a  local  alliance  of political parties, Muslim clerics and Civil Liberties activists,  under  the  banner  of  Bhumi  Ucched Pratirodh   Committee   (Anti   Land   Acquisition Committee),    hundreds    of    subsistence    and marginal  farmers  had  dug  up  the  roads  leading to  the  village  and  barricaded  themselves  inside. The villagers resorted to these extreme measures as  a    protest  against  a  government  proposal  to acquire  land  for  a  planned  petrochemical  hub. The resultant standoff between the Left Front-led government  and  the  villagers  lasted  10  months. Intermittent  skirmishes  between  supporters  and opponents  of  the  proposed  project,  and  police and Communist cadres’ organized assaults on the villages to retake control, resulted in the death of scores of villagers. The government and the ruling party managed through concerted action to retake control  in  November  2007,  but  the  victory  was pyrrhic. The Government of West Bengal has had to publicly undertake to abandon the proposed land acquisition,  while  the  Left  Front  which  exercised some  restraint  on  the  centrist  Indian  National Congress Party, is now on much weaker grounds.