It needs no special powers of observation and deduction to arrive at the conclusion that the law and order situation is deteriorating very swiftly. What is worse is that there is no official acknowledgment of this and therefore no steps are in place to stem the decline. One reason for the absence of official acknowledgment is the unpleasant complicity of the government, the administration and the ruling party in the escalating violence. The first official recognition came, in fact, from the governor of the state, M.K. Narayanan, a few days ago when he condemned, in no uncertain terms, the goondaism that prevails in West Bengal. The governor, as behoves his high office, did not accuse any one political group of perpetrating the climate of terror and violence but for those who live in the state it was not difficult to comprehend the target of the governor’s comment. An important member of the ruling party rather gratuitously, but perhaps correctly, accepted that governor’s comments had been directed at his party and government. He went on to show the governor what he called “the yellow card’’. Mr Narayanan now knows, one hopes, who he has been playing football with.
The trend of treating the government and the party as one merged unit was begun by the Left Front but the present dispensation has completed and sealed the merger. The Writers’ Buildings serves as the headquarters of both the government and the ruling party. Ministers blatantly use their office for party-political purposes instead of governance. The police either do not or are prevented from carrying out their duties in apprehending those who have incited violence or have taken part in it. But the same police force acts with alacrity when an offence against the government or the chief minister is reported, and in so doing it does not hesitate to trample upon an individual’s rights of freedom. These are alarming aspects of contemporary West Bengal and these have nurtured the climate of goondaism that the governor identified and condemned.
The governor’s office is the highest in the state. The governor, like the president of the Indian republic, is supposed to stand above and distant from the political fray. But this same distance also bestows on him an august responsibility: conscience keeping. The governor’s comments on the law and order situation articulate the fears and perceptions of innumerable citizens of the state of West Bengal. It also provides a moral assurance to those who are the victims of the violence and of the government’s somewhat dubious indifference. Political matters in West Bengal are moving fast to what a Chinese curse describes as “interesting times”. The battle lines are being drawn and the governor’s comment and the reaction to it make it evident that he cannot ignore the ground realities.