West Bengal’s ruling Marxists may not be the only politicians who use criminals for party games. But they seem to be particularly cynical in trying to put up appearances every time their criminal underside is exposed. There was thus no element of surprise when yet another leader of the Calcutta district unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Dulal Bandyopadhyay, and two of his associates were given the life sentence by a court for their involvement in the murder of two people at Dum Dum. The surprising thing was the way the secretary of the party’s state unit, Mr Anil Biswas, sought to wash his — and the party’s — hands of the sordid episode by announcing the expulsion of the three partymen. Mr Biswas’s argument that the party waited for the court verdict before punishing the guilty comrades carries no conviction. It is unbelievable that the party did not know of the criminal activities of Bandyopadhyay and his group. In fact, it had ample time to make its own inquiries during the seventeen months the court heard the case. The delayed action by the party suggests that it could actually be waiting for some excuse to exonerate the guilty comrades. People may have the same suspicion about the party’s decision to set up a three-man committee to look into complaints against other partymen in areas around Dum Dum.
What is more disturbing is that criminal elements in the CPI(M) pose a far greater danger to the rule of law and to the common people. As the leading party in the ruling Left Front, the CPI(M) has an enormous capacity to influence the police and the administration. In fact, one of the reasons for the delay in the investigation into the Dum Dum case was the pressure feuding party leaders are believed to have put on the police. Some of these leaders sought to intimidate witnesses and others by openly taking the side of the accused. That the police did not succumb to these pressures is largely due to the stand taken by the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, that the law must take precedence over partisan politics. The problem is that Mr Bhattacharjee’s own party seems hell-bent on doing the opposite in most of the cases in which criminals patronized by it are involved. The Dum Dum episode once more makes a mockery of the CPI(M)’s much-touted “rectification programmes”, supposedly to weed out corrupt or criminal elements from the party. Mr Bhattacharjee, therefore, needs to assure the people that he is serious about breaking the nexus between crime and politics. The best way to do it is to start cleaning up his own party.