The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It is to be expected that communists in Bengal will have a somewhat complicated relationship with the pujas. The party must distance itself, on principle, from the opium of the masses. But for a party of and for the masses, this may not be as simple as it sounds. For a cadre-based party like the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to which extortion and intimidation come as naturally as atheism, the pujas provide ample scope for embarrassment. A member of the CPI(M) zonal committee is one of those recently arrested in Barasat for terrorizing a group of Bangladeshi tourists into paying subscription for the local puja. This unfortunate incident has proven to be opportune for some token punishing. The party has declared that if a member is found to be involved in such activities, he will be duly punished, even perhaps expelled. Moreover, the committee for that particular puja in Barasat has been stopped by the police from going ahead with its puja, and has been asked to dismantle its pandal. The committee has decided to protest, peacefully, but the police has remained firm.

Yet for every such reprimand and statement from the party, there is a host of actual infringements reducing the party’s public stand to predictable tokenism. There are several areas in the city and its suburbs where the puja committees force through all sorts of irregularities by exploiting political connections, including support from cabinet members. These “rogue clubs” thrive on the nexus that exists between the ruling party and neighbourhood organizations. In one case, the police have even pleaded with several puja committees not to call off their celebrations because of disciplinary action taken against them, since that might create a “volatile situation” in the area. Maintaining law and order during the pujas, without political intervention, will therefore remain a difficult business. Moreover, such cosmetic reprimands by the party cannot but lower its credibility in handling civic and organizational indiscipline. This is not simply an internal matter, but has lasting implications for civic life in Bengal.

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