Nov. 6: Twenty-four hours before the Indo-US exercise starts at the airforce base at Kalaikunda in West Midnapore, the CPM wrapped the 14 villages around it with red flags in protest.
The district CPM leadership said it would mobilise 1.5 lakh people for the demonstration tomorrow.
A dozen F-16 fighter jets of the US Air Force have arrived at the airbase, about 130 km from here, for the exercise called Cope India 2005, along with about 250 personnel.
The airbase was abuzz with activity today with airforce vehicles making frequent rounds of the fenced 25-sqkm area. Some were seen running along the 3.5-km runway.
A much larger exercise in terms of organising people was under way outside as the CPM warmed up not just for war games but the real battle that is looming next year when Assembly elections are held.
From the array of red flags it might even seem the elections are already here. Two villages near the airbase ' Gaidua in the south and Dharenda in the north ' are under red cover for the night. The approach road to the venue of tomorrow’s protest has turned red too for a stretch of about 2 km.
Manoj Dhar, a local CPM leader, said: “We had initially started making arrangements for 100,000 people. But we estimate that about 1.5 lakh of our supporters will join the protest.”
The CPM has announced that the demonstration will be peaceful, but the administration has deployed nearly 1,000 police personnel, including 100 officers, who will be led by the district superintendent of police, Ajay Nanda. Rapid Action Force jawans have been kept in reserve at their headquarters in Midnapore. Three battalions of the Eastern Frontier Rifles ' stationed at Salua, 5 km from Kalaikunda ' have been alerted.
Unlike on some issues related to his effort to draw investments to Bengal, the chief minister and the party are one in protesting against the India-US exercise.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at a rally in Krishnagar he had repeatedly requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to allow the joint exercise.
“But he (Singh) pleaded helplessness. I told him to arrange the joint exercise with any other country like Russia and other powerful European countries but not the US. But the Prime Minister told me he had already given his word,” he said.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose said Delhi did not listen to its Left allies when they voiced protest at the coordination committee meeting. “This is unjust. We cannot accept the joint exercise.”
Bhattacharjee revealed that the Prime Minister had requested him to tell the party not to organise protests. “I told him the demonstration would take place. America killed lakhs of people, including children, in Iraq. At least, we should keep their sufferings in mind.”
Privately, the CPM might even be grateful to Singh for making Kalaikunda the venue for the exercise as it offers a rare opportunity to iterate the party’s anti-American position as well stage a massive organisational show before the elections to keep its cadre in match fitness for the real battle.
It may even be necessary for the CPM to display its revolutionary roots in what it has called “anti-imperialism” when the differentiating lines in economic policy between it and other parties get increasingly blurred.
Some might see a conflict between Bhattacharjee’s courting of multinational ' even American ' capital, which is apparently colourless, and the party’s decision to wrap Kalaikunda in red in protest against an India-US military exercise. But there may not be any.
China has major political differences with the US, the key one being the status of Taiwan, but it has not trouble embracing American capital. US-based multinationals also pump billions of dollars into China.
The CPM has decided to protest not only at Kalaikunda, but for some strange reason also in Calcutta. Demonstrations will be held near the Calcutta airport gate, opposite the American Center and on Howrah Bridge and Sukanta Setu at Jadavpur.
“Demonstrators have been requested not to obstruct airport-bound passengers,” said Bose.
There did not appear to be any public instructions for the cadre on how Howrah station-bound rail passengers should be treated.