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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 30, July 11, 2009

CPI-M’s Downhill Journey in Bengal

Saturday 11 July 2009, by Barun Das Gupta

First the panchayat elections last year, then the Lok Sabha elections this May, and now the municipal polls. The CPI-M’s downhill journey to defeat, disgrace, despair and eventual dislodgement from power continues. One need not be an astrologer or a psephologist to predict that the curtains on the party’s 34 years of uninterrupted rule in West Bengal will be finally rung down in the State Assembly elections in 2011.

The civic election results are significant because they reflect the mood of the urban electorate. And it is among the urban voters that the CPI-M mounted a shrill propaganda campaign against Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamul Congress-SUC-Congress alliance, portraying her as the embodiment of forces opposing Bengal’s industrialisation and consequent generation of jobs for the educated unemployed middle class youth. She was conspiring to keep Bengal permanently backward—so ran the CPI-M propaganda.

The results show the people have decisively rejected this systematic campaign of calumny and character assassination. Of the sixteen municipalities that went to polls, the CPI-M won only three, while the TMC-SUC-Congress alliance won thirteen. Some of these municipalities were held by the CPI-M/Left Front from twelve to forty years.

Seven municipalities which the CPI-M won in 2004 were wrested by the alliance. Among these were Asansol (a predominantly industrial area in Burdwan district, considered to be a “bastion” of the ruling party), Dum Dum, South Dum Dum, Madhyamgram, and Maheshtala—all contiguous to Kolkata and fall in the Greater Kolkata urban agglomerate. Asansol it lost after forty years.

Of the three municipalities, the CPI-M could capture the Rajarhat-Gopalpur civic body, because there was no unity between the Trinamul and Congress and they set up candidates against each other. The same story was repeated at Mal where the CPI-M scraped through to a majority, winning four seats against the alliance’s three. The disunity also cost the Opposition the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad in North Bengal where elections were held simultaneously.

But the repeated electoral rebuffs have not had any effect on the ruling party. It continues to persist in its arrogance and intemperate attacks on all those who are critical. Along with the Trinamul Congress, the intellectual community of Bengal has become a major target of attack. Hardly a day passes without one CPI-M ‘neta’ or another making derogatory and disdainful remarks on intellectuals—many of whom had, until recently, been in the Left camp, enjoying excellent rapport with the CPI-M.

The State Transport Minister, Subhas Chakravarty, has even questioned their credentials as intellectuals. Mamata Banerjee’s announcement in the Railway Budget that monthly tickets costing just Rs 25 will be issued to poor people earning less than Rs 1500 a month, provoked a typical ‘Subhasease’: “In Kolkata’s Park Street, even a beggar earns Rs 5000 a month. So, to qualify for the cheap monthly ticket, the poor will have first to become beggars.”


Like the French Bourbons, the CPI-M, it seems, learns nothing and forgets nothing. But it has evidently forgotten that the Bourbons became historical anachronisms long long ago. The comparison with the Bourbons comes to mind as the party has learnt nothing from its experience at Singur and Nandigram.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee went to Salboni in Medinipur district to lay the foundation stone of a steel factory of the Jindals in November last year. While coming back, a mine exploded near a culvert after the CM’s convoy had passed. No one was injured. The CPI-M lost no time in blaming the Maoists for the abortive attempt. No explanation was offered as to how the Maoists could lay a one-and-a-half kilometre long wire connecting the mine through open fields without anyone detecting it in an area which was a known CPI-M stronghold.

Anyway, it provided a handy casus belli to the ruling party to unleash a war on the tribals of the area who were supposed to be harbouring Maoists. This reporter, who visited Lalgarh immediately after the incident, found that the police had raided a tribal village, some forty kilometres away from Salboni, after the incident in search of the elusive Maoists. The villagers faced the full fury of the police. A tribal women lost an eye, a pregnant woman was showered with liberal lathi blows.

Against this State terror, the tribals, along with the general public, organised the Pulishi Santras Virodhi Janasadharaner Committee (People’s Committee Against Police Terror). The movement spread to the tribal areas in other districts also. In the Lalgarh area, the Committee virtually took over control, the police were confined to the thanas and civil administration all but ceased to exist. But there was no anarchy. The Committee saw to that.

As far as the State Government and the CPI-M were concerned, the situation continued to worsen. And in the lexicon of the party “Maoist” became a generic term to tar anyone sympathising with the tribals or protesting against police atrocities on them. The shrill cry accusing the Trinamul Congress acting in tandem with the Maoists rose steadily to a crescendo. Social activists, human rights workers, intellectuals and artists—every-body was accused of collaborating or colluding with the Maoists. Protests by the concerned persons or organisations fell on deaf ears.

By the middle of June, supporters of the Trinamul Congress and Committee Against Police Terror started raiding party offices and houses of CPI-M leaders at Khejuri, Lalgarh and other areas. Huge quantities of firearms, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, swords, bombs and bomb-making materials, police uniforms and helmets were recovered and handed over to the police. (Nowhere did the police take any initiative to recover the illegal arms lying at the disposal of the ruling party. It was the villagers who did this job for the police. In most cases the police did not take any follow-up action against the persons concerned, like arresting them.) They also set fire to several party offices and the leaders’ houses. The CPI-M cannot, it must not be allowed to, get away without explaining why they were building up private armouries all over the State.

One of the houses destroyed was at Dharampur. It was a marble palace, costing about Rs 40 lakhs, built by the Binpur Zonal Committee Secretary Anuj Pande, who is a wholetimer drawing a party wage of Rs 1500 per month. It only confirmed the widespread allegation of the people that the party and its leaders had siphoned off lakhs and crores of rupees from Centrally-sponsored schemes like NREGS, Indira Awas Yojana. Sarva Siksha Abhijan etc. and by selling in the open market essential commodities like rice, wheat and kerosene oil meant for poor people living below the poverty line. (In most cases, BPL cards were not distributed to the poor but kept in the party offices or ration shops owned by those close to the party.)

Meanwhile, the State administration openly admitted that the Lalgarh situation had gone beyond its control. It requested the Centre to send para-military forces. The Centre agreed and a combined force of the State Police, CRPF and BSF started operation against the Maoists in the Lalgarh area from June 18. The entire area was made out-of-bound for all “outsiders” including media-persons and intellectuals. Despite this, stories of police atrocities on villagers and their womenfolk continue to trickle out of the “forbidden” zone.

A group of intellectuals led by the eminent theatre personality, Shaonli Mitra, visited Lalgarh on June 21. The police accosted them and searched their vehicles several times on the way to make sure that they were not smuggling arms or taking any dreaded Maoist with them, but did not prevent them from going. They were, therefore, surprised when, on return to Kolkata, they learnt that the State Chief Secretary had charged them with violating Section 144 of the Cr.P.C. and threatened to have them arrested under Section 188 of the same law. Also that they “escorted” to the Kolkata Maoist leader, Gour Chakravarty—a charge they vehemently denied. Gour was later arrested.

They revealed at a press conference that the police and the para-military forces had used an un-heard of ‘weapon’ against the villagers to starve them of food and water. It is a weapon which, in its novelty and originality, would have left even the famous German General, Clausewitz (author of the classic On War), speechless and agape. The men in uniform would just urinate and defecate on the villagers’ cooked food and drinking water sources like wells.

The operation in Lalgarh continues. Very significantly, the Central and State Police forces practically have not met with any resistance from the Maoists, several hundreds of whom were supposed to be in the area, armed to the teeth. No Maoist could be captured or killed. Either their strength was grossly overestimated or, like any guerrilla army, they avoided a positional warfare and beat a tactical retreat only to continue with their hit-and-run attacks at a place and time of their own choice.

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