WHERE PARTY RULES - Only an incompetent government sanctions terror

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By Rudrangshu Mukherjee
  • Published 12.11.07

In the communist pantheon, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will occupy, when history passes its verdict, a higher pedestal than Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and even that leader beyond human reproach, Vladimir Illyich Lenin. This is because Bhattacharjee is the only communist leader under whose aegis the State has actually withered away in one part of the world. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has ushered West Bengal into the ultimate communist utopia.

It may strike many as incongruous that the biggest champion of industrialization that the blighted state of West Bengal has ever had should actually preside over the collapse of law and order in his state. Capital and industry cannot flourish without law and order. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is thus the maker and the unmaker of his own dream project. Such incongruities can only thrive in West Bengal.

Absurd incongruities are described by a popular saying in Bengali — bhuter mukhe Ram naam — a ghost or an evil spirit taking the name of Ram. One is reminded of this saying when the governor of West Bengal is condemned by the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for having transgressed his constitutional limits. This exhortation of the Constitution by the CPI(M) is as rich as it is absurd. When and where has the CPI(M) abided by the Constitution, its letter, its spirit and its unwritten but assumed conventions?

Events in West Bengal, especially over the last few months, in Nandigram and elsewhere, have demonstrated the scant regard the CPI(M) and the government that it leads have for the Constitution and the rule of law that is enshrined in that hallowed document. It is abundantly clear to everybody — from the governor of the state to its home secretary and to ordinary people — that law and order does not exist in Nandigram and its environs. It is equally clear that CPI(M) cadre have had — and continue to have — a large role to play in this collapse of law and order. There is no point in raising the biblical question: who cast the first stone?

The comrades might actually be embarrassed by the answer to the question since they have made terror and cadre-power a mode of life and politics in rural West Bengal. Keeping that issue, important as it indeed is, to one side, the fact of the matter is that in a large area of south West Bengal, CPI(M) cadre have been directly involved in killing and destruction to regain control over territory which the party had lost to its political rivals. It is no longer possible to say that this violence is the handiwork of local party bosses such as Lakshman Seth and his ilk. The violence bears the signs of sanction from the party’s top leadership. Witness the crass instigation of violence in the various statements made by Benoy Konar, by the recent pronouncement of Brinda Karat, and even earlier, the declaration of Sitaram Yechury immediately after the violence of March 14. Yechury said then, “It’s a political assault. We will meet the challenge politically. This is not new for us. We have fought such political battles in the past.”

Konar and Karat removed all veils of decency, when, like fascist leaders, they asked their party workers to take to arms against their opponents. Yechury’s call was a little less crude and therefore worthy of dissection. It is undeniable that from the beginning of 2007, whatever be the cause of it, there was a breakdown of law and order in the area around Nandigram. Political parties were engaged in armed combat; men, women and children were being forced to flee their homes, leaving behind their sole means of livelihood. It was a situation that demanded the immediate intervention of the West Bengal government so that normalcy could be restored and people, irrespective of their party affiliations, could return to their homes and their work. But Yechury, a member of the CPI(M) politburo, completely ignored the position that the government machinery and the rule of law should prevail. Instead, he saw it as a political assault on his own party (his use of the pronoun, ‘we’, cannot be taken to stand for the government since he is emphatically not a part of the West Bengal government), and he suggested that his party would meet the challenge. Not the government, but the party: what was constitutionally the job of the government was appropriated by the party. The CPI(M)’s mode of meeting the challenge politically was, as events have amply shown, to unleash its cadre to recapture Nandigram through terror and the systematic use of violence. What can be more unconstitutional than this? The CPI(M) thus has at least two members of parliament who, in open defiance of the Constitution, have invoked the use of violence by its party cadre to resolve what was a law and order issue and therefore a governance matter.

The fallout of this was that for 11 months the government led by a CPI(M) chief minister dawdled and did nothing. It watched the violence escalate till the home secretary of the state was forced to describe Nandigram and its surrounding villages as a “war zone”. Is it possible to believe that the state government with all its resources could not quell the violence and disarm the population? If the answer is yes, then what does it say about the government’s competence, about its right and ability to rule?

The truth lies elsewhere. The government sat back and watched the CPI(M) get the upper hand in the battle in Nandigram. The distinction between the party and the government has become so blurred over 30 years of communist rule that this was easily possible, and perhaps even sanctioned. If the law and order machinery were allowed a free hand in Nandigram, it would, in the course of operations, be forced to arrest and disarm CPI(M) activists as well as their opponents. The CPI(M) would never allow a government headed by its own chief minister to arrest and disarm CPI(M) cadre. Thus, Bhattacharjee’s hands have been tied. Hence his hapless silence over the episode, which is nothing more than a tacit acceptance of the charge of incompetence.

Incompetence is the utopia of the communists, since it allows party cadre to have a free run of violence and terror. West Bengal is that dystopia: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

One can only appeal to the chief minister to forsake his spurious faith in a so-called infallible party. The party is not always right, irrespective of what his Stalinist gospel might have taught him. He should act according to his conscience. He once famously quoted the poet, Shelley, “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed.” Let his conscience bleed a little. He has no further to look than the governor of West Bengal.

The surname, Gandhi, is not an easy one to bear. Gopalkrishna Gandhi does so with great dignity and courage. True to his distinguished lineage, he has allowed his conscience to speak and made himself the only source of some light in the hell called West Bengal.