The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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That Shabana’s death is being pitched against the left’s ugly display of power shows that the CPI(M)’s image has been irretrievably damaged

Is the issue about rights' The right to live versus the right to rally. It is possible to believe that even a brain turned to jelly by the constant repetition of party rhetoric would be able to discern, if only in a rare flash, which is the more fundamental right between the two. The funny thing is that the court ruling restricting rallies had done just that, restricted them to times and places. The right to take out protest marches and rallies, to hold meetings, had not been touched. To break out in a protest paralysing the city immediately after the ruling demonstrates either a fathomless incomprehension or an aggressive defiance of the law. It is important to understand what impulse drove those protest marches. Because while it is true that the rally was not the only cause of Shabana Parveen’s death, it also has to be accepted that the baby would have had a better chance of life had there not been a procession that day. It must not be forgotten that rallies are held on behalf of the “masses”. But the impulse behind the rally on the day Shabana died could only have been either stupidity or the desire to give law a slap in the face, neither of which has anything to do with restoring the right of protest to the “masses”.

The ironies are both peculiar and painful. Nine left-wing student groups were part of the rally on Tuesday. Perhaps there were some young people among those pouring defiantly down the streets, not in spontaneous outrage at exactly the kind of horror that Shabana’s parents and their fellow-citizens face everyday on roads, at hospitals and police stations, but in organized ranks dictated by the leading party in government. The expected equation among terms such as youth, protest, masses and establishment has been turned inside out. In this frighteningly topsy-turvy world, it would be absurd, perhaps, to expect that some of the young people in that rally would later think of what happened as anything more than a bad moment during the making of a political point, that any of them would think of turning himself into a different kind of political leader or comrade in the future.

It is quite possible that the most indifferent, unfeeling expressions of half-sympathy from politicians and their friends and followers are based on a laudable sense of reality. Maybe Shabana would have died anyway, and it is quite ugly, as ugly as the insensitiveness of politicians and people’s leaders, to pitch the tale of her tragic and pitiful end against the party’s unruffled display of power. But the fact that this opposition is being posed at all suggests that the party’s image among the people has been irretrievably damaged. It is not one little baby’s death that has done it, but the cumulative wrongs experienced by the very people the Communist Party of India (Marxist) claims to represent: the bullying, the criminal oppression, the injustices and unfair patronage, the exploitation and arrogance, that many members of the “masses” have become familiar with in recent years. Organization may be an admirable quality in a party, but that alone cannot make up for the suicidal folly that power induces.

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