The correct epithet to describe Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would be the sorry chief minister. Ever since he succeeded Mr Jyoti Basu, Mr Bhattacharjee has been saying sorry for one reason or another — from the non-performance of the Left Front government on many fronts to the shameless attack on Mr Tapan Sikdar’s car on Monday. The sincerity of Mr Bhattacharjee’s apologies are not in question, but their irrelevance to his own party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is a cause for concern. Mr Bhattacharjee has been quick to condemn the violence perpetrated by the United States of America on the people of Iraq. But he has not expressed similar sentiments about the activities of his comrades who have unleashed a reign of terror in rural West Bengal. By only saying sorry again and again, Mr Bhattacharjee has only cut a very sorry figure. It is clear that Mr Bhattacharjee’s government is in no position to take action against persons implicated in crime and violence, from murder to rape to arson. This official inability is obviously related to the fact that often these criminals are activists of the CPI(M) and thus enjoy a considerable degree of political protection. The government, in a mockery of governance, is incapable of taking action against a powerful political party. Or to put it more bluntly, under left rule, the critical distinction between government and party has disappeared. It is difficult to make out if West Bengal is run from the Writers’ Buildings or from Alimuddin Street. Mr Bhattacharjee’s close proximity with Mr Anil Biswas, the secretary of the state unit of the CPI(M), is another aspect of the same phenomenon.
The number of violent incidents in the run-up to the panchayat elections has made certain things clear. One is that elections always bring out the ugly and violent face of the CPI(M). It is not averse to using violence and intimidation to protect its own rural bases of power. The agents of this violence are the party cadre whose ranks have now been filled by lumpen elements and criminals. But even those who do not belong to such elements are quick to take to violence because they know they enjoy the party’s and the government’s protection. The CPI(M) represents the single biggest threat to the rule of law and civilized existence in West Bengal today. Mr Bhattacharjee can carry on dreaming about a new West Bengal. But no investor in his right mind will put his money in a state whose government thrives on cadre muscle-power. Mr Bhattacharjee can prepare himself to say sorry again.