Thursday, June 18, 2009

Violence in West Bengal

The situation in parts of West Bengal now is reminiscent of that in Kerala sometimes in 1959. Those familiar with the saga of the dismissal of the EMS Namboodiripad Government in Kerala in 1959 will recall that the issue then was a dilemma in the minds of those in the CPI then (the party had not split then) over the use of the police against the agitators.

Well. Let me hasten to add before I am held guilty of misrepresenting facts. The CPI(M) is under no such dilemma now insofar as using the police against the agitators. The party, as it proved in the case of Nandigram, where 14 peasants were killed due to indiscriminate firing by the police in March 2007, has no such dilemma as its leaders had in Kerala in 1959. Just like the various other State Governments run by the various other parties, the CPI(M) too is happy using the police against the people.

And where the people are led by the Maoists, as it is the case with the latest spell of violence in the Lalgarh region of West Midnapore district in West Bengal, the CPI(M)’s line is certainly not different from that of the BJP in Chattisgarh, the Congress in Andhra Pradesh and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. The Union Government, led by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, too is clear on this count. The Maoists, according to all the political parties, are a threat to everything that the nation and its rulers represent and hence deserve to be dealt with in a manner where even shooting them down like clay birds is justified.

Recall the fact that the political establishment as a whole, cutting across the Left to the Right (to use a cliché) was not seen moving even their little finger against the detention of Dr. Binayak Sen for a few days more than two years. Even while a section of the supporters of the CPI(M) and some other parties were seen participating in the protests demanding Sen’s release, it was difficult to have glossed over the fact that Sen’s detention, without any specific charge, in the Raipur jail was not raised, even once in Parliament. And the battle, both on the streets and in the various courts, for ensuring bail to Sen was left to be fought by spirited men and women who cared for democracy and the Constitution more than those who had sworn on oath to preserve the rule of law!

This indeed is the core issue behind the recent developments in Lalgarh and is bound to spread into other parts of West Bengal too. This is not to say that the violence, now unleashed against leaders of the CPI(M) in the locality, is justified. Such violence, let me stress, has nothing to do with the cause of revolution. It is, in fact, an expression of lumpenism. It is also important to stress, at this stage, that the violent mobs have the sanction from the Trinamool Congress, an important ally of the ruling UPA in Delhi.

That Mamta Banerjee is behind the orchestrated violence in West Midnapore is evident from the manner in which the Union Home Minister, P.Chidambaram has reacted to the situation. The Home Minister, as if speaking from under the banyan tree has stated that it is for the State Government to handle the situation and the Centre can only dispatch its forces. Well. This is what the Constitution ordains and Chidambaram cannot think and act otherwise.

And that is where the Left has landed in a crisis. Any use of force in Lalgarh will spell the beginning of the end of the CPI(M)’s stint in the Writers Building. Indications to this were already there in the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls last month. But then, the Left has an opportunity to attempt for a change of course between now and May 2011 when elections are due to the assembly in the normal course. The starting point for this course correction can be found in the developments in Lalgarh and elsewhere across West Bengal where the people are rallying behind the Maoists against the Government.

The process of course correction, to begin, will have to assume, apriori, that the people have a set of grievances that are genuine. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his comrades will also have to agree with the statement that these people have found something wrong with the CPI(M) only in recent times and that they were the bulwark of the party’s support for several decades. The CPI(M) will also have to concede that its shift, in the few years that went by, away from the ideological project that its leaders set out in 1924 (when the communist party was founded in India) had led the adivasis, the landless and the marginal peasant away from the party even while it managed to enlist support of the urban middle classes in the same period.

The party, then, will have to settle down to a strategy that will make it necessary for its local leaders and party bosses to walk on the ground and go back to the people to find out what went wrong. That could mean a lot of physical strain and also shedding their ego: The leaders, in fact, have grown o a staple of material comforts and a bloated ego that they know better than the ordinary people as to what the country wanted and what was best to them. There was no way that they would have done what they did in Nandigram and Singur otherwise.

This could also mean a short spell of intense violence and the death of more leaders of the local party organization. But then, it is possible that the party re-invents itself in the process. The other option is to swim with the tide, lead the central para-military forces into Lalgarh and ensure the killing of a large number of the people, unmindful of the fact that they were the bulwark of the party until a couple of years ago, and face another defeat when elections are held to the State assembly. The party has to decide on what it wants.