Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at a news conference in Delhi on Wednesday. Picture by Prem Singh
Calcutta, Jan. 19: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s admission of the existence of armed groups and the promise to disarm all such groups evoked mixed reactions from the CPM rank and file.
Some state leaders welcomed Bhattacharjee’s statements in Delhi and felt it would help both the government and the CPM in refurbishing their image, which took a fresh knock after the Netai killings.
“Being the head of the government, he told the truth. Even a child in the state knows that the Trinamul Congress, the Congress as well as the CPM possess illegal arms, not only in Jungle Mahal but also elsewhere. What will we gain by concealing that the CPM, too, has weapons?’’ housing minister and party leader Gautam Deb asked.
“What had happened in Netai is really bad. Pending the investigation, I heard our cadres had opened fire in panic. Whatever may be the reason, the party can’t accept the killing of unarmed villagers even if they were Maoist supporters,’’ Deb said.
“As the Maoist-Trimamul combine had targeted us, our cadres were supposed to extend ground support as well as intelligence feedback to the joint forces in their anti-Maoist operations. It would have been another matter if some armed rebels had died in clashes with us,’’ the CPM veteran added.
As he is trying to engage Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee in an effort to bring down the political violence, Deb could afford such a stand but not all his comrades echoed him.
The CPM’s district leadership in West Midnapore seemed to have not taken Bhattacharjee’s comments kindly. District secretary Dipak Sarkar, who is also the member of the party’s powerful state secretariat, refused to react despite several attempts.
Party sources said Sarkar was not exactly happy with the chief minister’s comments, though he felt relieved with the high court’s directive today allowing the state to continue the CID probe into the Netai killings instead of ordering a CBI investigation as demanded by the petitioners.
Sarkar, along with western region development minister Sushanta Ghosh, is said to be the architect of the CPM’s “armed resistance against the Maoist-Trinamul combine”, which helped the party retrieve a large part of the ground in the past few months.
Accordingly, the political stature of both of them grew in the party. However, the Netai fiasco seemed to have eclipsed them, at least for the time being, as the chief minister and the state party leadership are now trying to distance themselves from the duo.
“Buddhababu has his compulsions to prove his non-partisan credentials as the head of the administration. But it will be unfortunate if the state leadership now blames us alone. After all, they didn’t oppose when the party’s call for political resistance led to the armed resistance,’’ a pro-Sarkar leader of the district unit said.
But Sarkar’s detractors criticised him as well as the state leadership. “He had been projecting himself as the saviour of the party in Jungle Mahal and trying to make it a model for the entire state before the polls. The Calcutta-based leadership also pampered him before Netai. They forgot that paid mercenaries would not be able to make good our loss of popular support,’’ an anti-Sarkar leader said.
But the district CPM leaders admitted that Bhattacharjee’s assurance to disarm all sides would not harm the party much since most of the large settlements had already been dismantled and weapons had been put in safe places in the wake of growing pressure from the home ministry and the Election Commission.