Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > December 8, 2007 > Naroda Patiya to Nandigram: Distinctions and Similarities

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 51

Naroda Patiya to Nandigram: Distinctions and Similarities

Tuesday 11 December 2007, by Pamela Philipose

It is inevitable that when large-scale violence, which has the open or tacit support of the state, takes place, as in Nandigram 2007, Gujarat 2002 is recalled—just as Gujarat 2002 itself drew parallels with Delhi 1984. Such comparisons, by their very nature, are hasty, casual and therefore not wholly accurate, even though politicians belonging to the three major national parties, which have in their own ways presided over these three blots on India’s recent history, are partial to making such comparisons. They do this in a bid to absolve themselves of their own responsibilities as actors in such orgies of violence and to appear morally superior and politically more credible than their rivals.

There are significant differences between the violence in Nandigram and Gujarat of course. For one, the violence in Nandigram was confined—as CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat underlined—to one block of West Bengal. The 2002 killings in Gujarat, in contrast, were far more widespread—according to a State Intelligence Bureau report, communal violence had affected 24 of the 25 districts in Gujarat, although of course it was in places like Naroda Patiya that it was concentrated. Gujarat’s violence also involved a hugely greater number of people, and had a communal focus rather than the more defused targeting of those perceived to be political opponents, as in Nandigram. So when the CPM leadership attacks the NHRC for terming Nandigram the “worst scar on the face of the nation” and says that “superficial comparisons with Nandigram tend to undermine and trivialise the trauma and the suffering of the Muslim minorities in Gujarat”, it is right.

Having said that, there are disturbing commonali-ties too, and not just in the fact that the two political parties—the CPM and he BJP-claim to be parties with a difference. The first commonality is, of course, the sheer scale of the domination that both parties have exercised, and continued to exercise, over their respective States: West Bengal and Gujarat. Of course the BJP in Gujarat is still a long way from achieving 30 years of uninterrupted rule, which the CPM has managed to do in Bengal; but 12 years and three consecutive and handsome election victories is almost halfway there. The important point to note is the relatively unassailable electoral entrenchment both parties have achieved in these States: in the 2002 Gujarat Assembly election, the BJP won 126 out of 182 seats; in the 2006 West Bengal Assembly election, the CPM-led front swept to power in 233 out of 293 constituencies.

There is a logic to such overwhelming dominance—and this brings us to the second commonality: the impunity with which both State governments have chosen to run their show. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Chief-Ministerial arrogance finds an eerie echo in the Narendra Modi model. Both men incidentally claim that they are doing this for the greater good, progress and growth of their States, and have, in fact, the figures to prove this claim. Both Chief Ministers have emerged as exemplars in administrative acumen, and are committed to making their regions investment friendly by cutting down on red tape and working to root out endemic corruption. But impunity also means that many deemed to be “outside” the periphery of the government’s interests remain isolated, with their welfare unaddressed. A recent report by Neera Chandhoke et al in the Economic and Political Weekly, on those displaced by riots in Ahmedabad, points out that while Modi claims to speak for all of Gujarat’s citizens, “’representation’ happens to be a deeply problematic concept”. It goes on to observe that the Gujarat Government has done “practically nothing” for those affected by the 2002 pogrom, adding: “It is clear that for the present government these families do not form an integral part of Gujarat society and politics, they have been expelled both spatially and socially to the margins of the city.”

For the West Bengal Government, representation is defined in party terms. When Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, speaking as the CM from Writers’ Building, justified the bloody actions of CPM cadres, said that they were only “paying them back in heir own coin”, he may not have immediately recalled how another Chief Minister had explained away the widespread murder and mayhem that followed Godhra in a startingly similar fashion. Clearly, Chief Ministers who are less certain of power, more dependent on cultivating the oppositional space, more fearful of being swept out of their chairs, would not employ the language of Us versus The Other in this fashion. It is the impunity that comes from assured and uninterrupted power that prompts such a stance.

An extensive patronage network and cadre base built up over the years, is the third commonality to note. If the Sangh Parivar provided the muscle and support base for the BJP in Gujarat, and ensured sufficient numbers of hewers of wood and throwers of gas cylinders to create mayhem in Gujarat in 2002, the CPM has over 30 years of power in Bengal created a formidable cadre that has become increasingly lumpenised, criminalised, armed and parasitical on the State. They have come to exercise absolute control over every aspect of people’s lives at the grassroots in West Bengal today.

Finally, there is the fourth similarity: a clear disdain for institutions and institutional correctives. The Modi Government fed the National Human Rights Commission a tissue of falsehoods when it came inquiring into the Gujarat pogrom. The ’official version’ did not even have a mention of the role played by the VHP and Bajrang Dal. The State Government also attacked the Election Commmission and the man who headed it, when it sought to update the post-pogrom electoral rolls and raised diversionary arguments before a Supreme Court concerned about the Gujarat events. Today, the CPM is displaying a similar hypersensitivity to the adverse comment being made on its conduct of the Nandigram events, whether it was from the Governor, the Calcutta High Court or, indeed, the NHRC.

The CPM can explain to whoever is prepared to listen that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is not Narendra Modi, that Nandigram is not Gujarat. But the record shows disturbing similitudes that the party cannot air-brush out of the frame. It would need great introspection and much wisdom to set that record straight.

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)