KISS OF DEATH - The CPI(M)'s use of violence in Nandigram isn't surprising

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  • Published 10.01.07

“Terror is, for the most part, useless cruelties committed by frightened people to reassure themselves.’’

Engels to Marx, September 4, 1870

The time has come to begin writing the epitaph for West Bengal. It cannot also be an elegiac one since those who tried to build West Bengal’s future are profoundly implicated in the destruction of the state and all its potential.

The death of hope may have begun with Mamata Banerjee’s meaningless opposition to plans to industrialize West Bengal. That opposition was fuelled by Maoists whose predecessors in the Sixties had ushered in violence and bloodshed on an unprecedented scale into the politics of West Bengal. Today’s Maoists have acted as the agents of violence. But all this, deplorable as it indeed is, did not precipitate the death.

The death throes were brought on by what happened in the village of Nandigram in the early hours of Sunday morning. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) unleashed its cadre on the villagers to wreak vengeance. A few days before, CPI(M) activists and supporters had been forced to flee the village by people who were angry that agricultural land would be taken away to form a special economic zone. On Sunday morning, the police were nowhere to be seen even though CPI(M) workers had been setting up camps in the neighbourhood, and it was obvious that preparations were on for a bloody retaliation.

There are two very significant questions that need to be asked about Sunday’s events. One is why the police and the district administration made such a despicable showing of themselves. The other is, why did the cadre of the CPI(M) decide to take law into their own hands?

No definite answers can be given to these questions, but past experience provides certain clues to the answers. It is a matter of record that during the rule of the Left Front, whenever the CPI(M) has decided to exhibit its muscle power and organizational strength, the police and the administration have either decided to disappear or have remained as indifferent bystanders. Whether this abjuring of responsibility by the police and the administration is done at the behest of the ruling party or not is a moot question. The answer is probably yes, since there has been a pronounced propensity on the part of the CPI(M) to blur the distinction between the government and the party. The CPI(M) revels in declaring, in a variety of ways, that it is the state. On innumerable occasions, the people of West Bengal have seen during rallies, elections and bandhs, the police being inactive or absent while the CPI(M) cadre went about their business with nonchalance. It is also well known that Lal Bazar is not averse to taking orders emanating from Alimuddin Street. There is an easy interplay between commissars and cops. So it won’t come as a surprise to learn that on Sunday morning in Nandigram, the police did the disappearing act because they were asked to do so by their political masters.

A part of the answer to the second question is embedded in what I have said in response to the first question. Sunday was by no reckoning the first time that the cadre of the CPI(M) used violence against its opponents. They have done so many times before — Keshpur and Nanur are notable instances. But there are innumerable other instances, minor and major, when CPI(M) workers have used arms and muscle power to settle scores or eliminate opposition. In fact, in a political crisis, violence is the CPI(M)’s preferred mode of resolution. A very senior member of the party, Benoy Konar, expressed this when he said, in the context of Sunday’s confrontation, that his party would answer violence with violence. Over thirty years, such instances of intimidation and arrogance of power have become common. Given the fact that the CPI(M) is a party which is centralized and disciplined from the top, there is always the suspicion that Konar’s incitement to violence has some tacit official sanction.

It is important to understand that the use of terror is part of CPI(M)’s DNA. From the day communists seized power in Russia, they have used terror to suppress dissent, to implement policy and to establish its own power. It is usual to associate the name of Josef Stalin with the use of systematic terror, but the system was actually put in place by V.I. Lenin. The use of terror was ingrained in the Leninist project. Lenin was shameless in the way he used violence to kill, to imprison, to torture. The CPI(M) is a proud inheritor of that legacy. It is thus never shy, if it suits its own interests, to use terror.

This is not to absolve those who started the violence in Nandigram. But in a democracy, the use of violence by a ruling party cannot be justified by the logic of who cast the first stone. The onus was on the CPI(M), as the ruling party, to behave with responsibility even under provocation. Unfortunately, a party wedded to Lenin’s use of terror can be responsible only to its show of power. A group of people, frightened that they would lose their land, as well as some Maoists, went on the rampage. It was clearly a law and order problem and the state administration should have been allowed to quell the violence. This is what the administration is there for. But the CPI(M) chose to act to show its power and to establish control. It thus chose its own terror rather than that of the state.

In choosing thus, the CPI(M) has announced that whatever its rhetoric, it will not hesitate to use violence and its cadre to further its own political goals. It has also declared, perhaps without intending to, that it is not averse to taking West Bengal into another cycle of violence. This attitude is tantamount to the kiss of death for West Bengal. With violence looming, which industrialist will think of West Bengal as an investment-friendly destination? Which investor will feel secure with the knowledge that the CPI(M) will not hesitate to use its cadre power and terror against its enemies? Today the CPI(M) is wooing capitalists; will it do so to-morrow? Faith — that essential ingredient for investment — has been shaken, if not broken. What then is the future for West Bengal when the voice is that of industrialization, and the hand that of terror?

The state is benighted, caught as it is between an opposition that refuses to accept industrialization as the only path to the future, and a ruling party that believes that it can bring economic growth by way of terror.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

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