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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 6.11.07

There is always a danger when stridency becomes more important than substance. When Brinda Karat, member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), told a public gathering of the faithful that opportunist politicians in West Bengal should be given the Dum Dum dawai, she allowed her emotions to overtake her common sense. What Ms Karat prescribed was that politicians opposed to the CPI(M) should be exposed to public anger and violence. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that by public anger Ms Karat meant the wrath of the party cadre. When the cloud of rhetoric clears in her brain, even Ms Karat will admit that this cannot be the message of democratic politics, and certainly not from as responsible and as sophisticated a political leader as Ms Karat. She will soon recognize that she has done immeasurable harm to the efforts of the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, to restore some kind of normalcy in Nandigram. The chief minister, albeit somewhat belatedly, is trying to create an atmosphere of dialogue and discussion, so that the smell of gunpowder over Nandigram disappears. In one outburst, Ms Karat has sabotaged those efforts. She may have succeeded in rousing her party cadre, but she has also successfully thwarted the process of governance.

Ms Karat’s exhortation to violence is another example of the fragility of the democratic ethos in India. Democracy does not function on the basis of confrontation and violence. The basis of democracy is dialogue, discussion and debate. Yet, even persons like Ms Karat — educated in English and having claims to enlightenment — do not seem to appreciate this. There are too many instances of political parties disrupting a debate in parliament, refusing to participate in a discussion and then taking to the streets in an orgy of violence directed at rivals and at public property. The CPI(M), when it was in the Opposition in West Bengal, became master of the art of disruption and violence. Other political parties have taken a leaf or two from the CPI(M)’s books. It is bizarre to find Ms Karat invoking this mode of politics when her party is the party of governance in West Bengal. As someone with pretensions of being a mass leader, Ms Karat can indulge in a bit of rabble-rousing, but she should take care to do so within democratic norms. Something too shrill can sometimes be something too crass.