Political Parties, Social Activists Line Up To Uphold Posco Stiragitators Distrust Their Fluctuating Stands
Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik seems to be a worried man now-a-days, as his ruling BJD government has become isolated following the setting-up of POSCO project in the state. All major political parties, including social activists such as Swami Agnivesh, Medha Patkar, PV Rajgopal, leaders from left parties such as Gurudas Dasgupta and Basudev Acharya after visiting the proposed POSCO site villages have started opposing the project and extended their support to anti-POSCO agitators to stall the project. As a consequence to avoid any trouble, the Odisha government has suspended the land acquisition process temporarily.
The outburst from the major political parties such as Congress, BJP, CPI, CPI[M] NCP, SP, Forward Block is evident. The anti-POSCO outfit POSCO Pratirodhi Sangram Samiti (PPSS), a body spearheading the anti-POSCO movement in the locality, retaliated the administration’s endeavours resorting to stir in Govindapur village by starting a round-the-clock vigil at the entry point. Anti-industry brigade accompanying children, women, age-old persons braving scorching summer and incessant rain gathered at Govindapur village to prevent police men and civil officials from entering the area to demolish betel veins. Strangely, about hundred children and kids and two hundred women prostrated on the sand to prevent the entry of government officials to Govindapur. As a result, the administration conceded their demand on land acquisition and the process was abruptly stopped since June 21. The incident had drawn attention of all major political parties in state, so leaders from these parties thronged the area lending their support to the victim agitators.
Left parties accompanied by NCP, SP, RJD, Forward Block taking few anti-industry activists first moved to the spot and held a public meeting and reiterated their stand opposing setting-up of POSCO project. Left veteran Gurudas Dasgupta, Basudev Acharya with Bibhu Prasad Tarai, MP, Jagatsinghpur, visited Govindapur on June 21 and after lending their support to the agitators warned the Odisha government that it should withdraw the police force and stop land acquisition, or else things would take an ugly turn and Naveen Patnaik government would be held responsible.
A-15 members BJP team visited the POSCO site at Govindapur and Dhinkia villages on June 18 and after interacting with the anti-POSCO brigade fumed against Odisha government’s attempt to acquire land for POSCO project and assured the agitators to raise the matter in the Parliament in the coming monsoon session. A Congress team accompanied by few senior leaders stepped to Govindapur village and promised to support anti-POSCO agitation and it also renewed its stand to relocate the proposed POSCO site.
Swami Agnivesh toured the area on June 17 with a handful of POSCO opponents and appealed to government not to forcibly acquire land from farmers and assured the PPSS agitators to bring the incident to the attention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Social activist Medha Patkar during her visit to Govindapur on June 20 went hammer and tongs at the Odisha and union governments for their alleged pro-industrialists and anti-people polices. Addressing a huge gathering there she urged villagers and agitators to oppose any move of Naveen Patnaik government to acquire their fertile land for POSCO.
Sources revealed that the visits of major political leaders and social activists over the last one week encouraged agitators and agitation received momentum. So taking stock of the situation, the Odisha government decided to push back land acquisition and official communication indicates the process was stopped temporarily on June 21.
On the flip side, public and agitators’ apprehensions are flying thick that counter-attack by major political parties, anti-industrialisation outfits, social activists, and left leaders against POSCO and Odisha government originally emphasises to strengthen anti-POSCO movement and also to put BJD government in an awkward position, extracting political mileage for themselves.
Things can be verified from past records of these political parties towards POSCO. The Odisha government on June 22, 2005, signed an MoU with South Korean company POSCO for a $ 12 billion steel plant. Interestingly, BJP, who has now been fuming against POSCO, was sharing power with BJD in an alliance government during that time. Senior BJP leader Biswabhusan Harichandan, who was then Industry Minster, had signed the MoU on behalf of the government, but things turned sour after BJD broke alliance with BJP in 2009 general elections and since then BJP leaders proceeded to oppose POSCO. So recent stand of BJP supporting anti-POSCO movement draws public apprehension and anti-POSCO brigade disbelieves saffron leaders due to their fluctuating stand over POSCO in the past.
Coming to the attitude of Congress party, its team visited Govindapur on June 17 and held consultation with agitators and showed its opposition against state government’s resumption of land acquisition for POSCO. Recently, AICC general secretary in charge of Odisha, Jagdish Tytler remarked that Congress was not against the POSCO project but it opposed the forcible land acquisition. Tytler reiterated the Congress stand saying why Odisha government could not consider shifting of the project in the vacant land that is available some kms away from where it was presently acquiring land. So top Congress leader indirectly indicated the relocation of POSCO site. But the question rises if Congress is firm on relocation of POSCO project, then on January 31, 2011, Union Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh had granted environmental clearance to the POSCO project ignoring committees headed by retired bureaucrats NC Saxena and Meena Gupta adverse reports against POSCO and allowed diversion of 1253 hectares of forest land, why did he not stress on the relocation of POSCO site? No Congress leaders had suggested MoEF to shift the original POSCO site. So the recent stand taken by the Congress party made anti-POSCO agitators to raise their eyebrows over the Congress’ suspicious stand.
The left parties have continued their anti-POSCO stand since Odisha government signed the MoU with POSCO and is supporting PPSS till date. But things changed during 2009 general elections, when after snapping the alliance with BJP, the state ruling BJD made an alliance with left parties and sacrificed Jagatsinghpur Lok Sabha seat to CPI candidate Bibhu Prasad Tarai who won the election with a thumping margin after getting support of BJD. Interestingly, both parties completely overlooked their different stands on POSCO, but when anti-POSCO movement started in the year 2010, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had assigned the task to the Jagatsinghpur MP Bibhu Prasad Tarai to negotiate with anti-project people to sort out the POSCO deadlock. MP Tarai successfully brought PPSS leaders including its brain Abhya Sahoo to meet the Chief Minster, but it earned lukewarm results and since then the MP is opposing the POSCO project and demanding the relocation of project.
Social activist Medha Patkar had visited POSCO site villages in the year 2007 first time and drawn very little attention. Even the anti-land brigade PPSS had ignored her. After visiting the site, she spoke at a public meeting and criticised conditions enshrined in the MoU for POSCO project and assured the gathering that she would personally take up the matter to the Supreme Court of India challenging its legality. Ironically, she did not keep her promise; no petition was ever filed before the apex court for scrutiny of POSCO’s MoU till date. During her second trip to POSCO site in the year 2009, Medha spent a night at Dhinkia village and PPSS greeted her arrival and arranged a public meeting there but in reality PPSS expressed hesitation in bringing Medha in the forefront of the anti-POSCO movement. For the third time, Medha stepped to anti-POSCO bastion on June 20 and extended her support to anti-POSCO agitators.
Swami Agnivesh too acting on PPSS request visited POSCO site villages on June 17 and sources said no impact was seen among the project opponents and he returned giving certain promises to agitators.
In a related development, state government slams misuse of children and kids in POSCO agitation. State Women and Child Development Minister Anjali Behera has sought a report from Jagatsinghpur district administration whether the children and kids had come to the agitation on their own or whether they were forced for it.
By Kahnu nanda from Jagatsinghpur