If saying sorry comes easily to Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee these days, so do other posturings. There is no other way to explain his remark that “unwanted” elements — his euphemism for criminals — have entered his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is clearly a case of political doublespeak. The chief minister seems to pretend that the bloody panchayat polls have shaken him into a new knowledge about his party. His other pretence is even more scandalous — that he is an innocent, unsuspectingly fallen into bad company. His introspection therefore cannot but ring false. The fact, however, is that the chief minister as well as other leaders of the party have known for long about criminal activities of a section of its cadre. Worse still, some of the party’s leaders have not only connived at such activities but also taken great pains to promote and protect the criminals. The party’s patronage often emboldened them to hold public peace and safety to ransom. But the Marxists’ duplicity sets them apart from most other political leaders. While helping criminals and, in turn, being helped by them during elections and other times, they routinely talk of purging the party of them. What Mr Bhattacharjee has now said — about criminals entering the CPI(M) — has been said before by other leading lights of the party.
It would be naïve to expect such occasional public posturings to lead to any genuine clean-up of the CPI(M). At the heart of it are the party’s fundamental distrust of freedom and an open society, and its theoretical advocacy of the cult of violence. Far from being absolved from his party’s misdeeds, Mr Bhattacharjee must take full responsibility for them. In fact, his share of the responsibility far outweighs that of any other CPI(M) leader because he is the chief minister of the state. If killings and terror had marred the panchayat polls, he is the one who must take the blame. The danger of the CPI(M)’s moral decay is, however, far wider than Mr Bhattacharjee has suggested. Since the party has a stranglehold on every aspect of life in West Bengal, the “unwanted” elements become that much more dangerous. If the police had been so ineffective in preventing the loss of so many lives during the polls, it was largely because Mr Bhattacharjee sacrificed the interests of the administration to those of his party.
The party’s shadow similarly darkens the administration in education, healthcare and other spheres. It is ridiculous for the chief minister to try to pass the blame to an unreformed party. It would be wrong to assume that there is a schism between the party and the chief minister on running the government. During his long reign, Mr Jyoti Basu too would often pretend to join issue with the party but would eventually fall in line. Mr Bhattacharjee also remains as much a party faithful. He has done little so far to inspire hope that he is here to reform the CPI(M) at last.