Even by Bengal’s standards, the calls to shut down the state on two successive days are simply preposterous. The point is not whether a small party such as the Socialist Unity Centre of India can disrupt life as widely as the main opposition party, the Trinamul Congress, obviously can. When it comes to destructive politics in Bengal, there is little to choose between one party and another. And a party’s popular support is no measure of its capacity for violence. Yet, the issues on which the parties have threatened the shutdowns cry out for serious negotiations between the government and the opposition. If anything, the situation at Nandigram and the mess over the rationing system — the two main issues — show how violent politics of the street only makes things worse. If the rule of law has ceased to exist in Nandigram for more than six months now, the primary responsibility lies with the government. But Mamata Banerjee’s complaints, too, sound hollow because her party has used violence as viciously as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the battle for Nandigram. It is ominous that both the ruling Marxists and their opponents seem to have a vested interest in denying peace in Nandigram a chance. Their cynical politics has overshadowed the real issue of justice for the victims of the police firing there last March.
If governments and politicians never learn, the people must. It is easy to see how Ms Banerjee has sought to bend the ban imposed on bandhs by the Supreme Court. She has not called a bandh this time but has asked her followers to “immobilize” the state on Wednesday. Incitements to violence can hardly be more forthright. There is little hope that the government will do enough in order to foil the opposition’s plans. This is so because the administration in Bengal is what the CPI(M) bosses at Alimuddin Street want it to be. The only way the people can hope to break free of this vicious cycle is by defying such politics. Even in Bengal, many things now point to the people’s changing perceptions of politics. The growing aversion to the politics of bandhs and strikes is a major new phenomenon. This reflects a new hope in Bengal, thanks to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s aggressive agenda for the state’s economic makeover. But these are early days for a big enough change. The politicians can still turn out to be the worst enemies of Bengal’s promise.