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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > June 07, 2008 > West Bengal, Genesis of Violence : Time for Left Introspection

Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 25

West Bengal, Genesis of Violence : Time for Left Introspection

Sunday 8 June 2008

Recent happenings in West Bengal is a further pointer to the fact that politics in our country has reached its nadir, an unfortunate inevitability to which all the political parties, most of all the Left bloc, have contributed. It was almost a re-enactment of the political scenario of the late 1960s when a foul-mouthed CPM, backed by cronies like the CPI and RSP, had tried to browbeat a courageous and conscientious Governor named Dharam Vira but ultimately got the bitter lesson when Indira Gandhi just smashed the backbone of Left politics in the State in the early 1970s.

In 2008 it is Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a courageous and conscientious man like Dharam Vira, who is occupying the chair of the Governor of the State. He had publicly condemned the alleged CPM sponsored state terrorism in Nandigram. Now the whole world knows that the Communist Government of the State has become friends of the infamous Salim group of Indonesia and it wanted to hand over the poor farmers’ lands in Nandigram to the Salim group which had allegedly extended its helping hand to President Suharto of Indonesia when the latter was persecuting the Communists in his own country.

After a gap of nearly 40 years the post of the Governor is again in the news. West Bengal is now in the midst of an unprecedented power crisis thanks to the 30-year-long worthlessness and inefficiency of the Left Front Government. While the common man suffers, the Raj Bhavan remains a citadel consuming huge amounts of power, an ugly show that all the predecessors of Gopalkrishna Gandhi allowed to take place. But in a true Gandhian manner the incumbent Governor has decided to switch off power supply in the Raj Bhavan for two hours a day in an attempt to share with the common people their ongoing ordeals.

But this has unnerved the CPM and Jyoti Basu stooped so low as to call the Governor’s decision ‘childish’. Other CPM leaders, like Biman Bose and Shyamal Chakrabarty, went further, quite in line with the tastes and outlook they have exhibited so far. Biman urged the Governor to forego his salary and open the gates of the Raj Bhavan to those who have no shelter. Shyamal compared Gopal Gandhi with Dharam Vira, averred that the latter had learnt his ‘lessons’ and tried to drive home the point that Gopal Gandhi would go the same way. Jyoti Basu, except calling the Governor’s action ‘childish’, has so far kept quiet. The reason is clear. Even after demitting the office of the Chief Minister, he is enjoying many perks and privileges not due to him under normal circumstances.

But these are not unexpected from Communist functionaries. They set examples of uncouth political behaviour long before the present Left Front came into being. Manikuntala Sen, a former MLA belonging to the undivided CPI, set an example of unparliamentary behaviour within the State Assembly. Then the Communists’ vituperative attacks against Ajoy Mukherjee, the Chief Minister of the United Front Government in the late 1960s, should still be fresh in the minds of the people of West Bengal. Ajoy Mukherje’s only ‘crime’ was that he could not allow vandalisation of constitutional institutions by some members of his own government. Even brickbats were thrown at him when he had started ‘satyagraha’ in the Curzon Park of Calcutta in protest against the politics of immorality and destruction by some partners of the United Front. It was at this juncture that Dharam Vira, the then Governor of the State, intervened and saved West Bengal.

Constitutionally speaking, Gopal Gandhi was well within his rights when he had, in the wake of the State Government’s brutal actions against the unarmed villagers of Nandigram, said that he had been grippled by a “sense of a cold horror”. Similarly his decision to switch off power in the Raj Bhavan for two hours is laudable. But the small-sized Communist politicians of the State cannot get over their cerebral limitations. The CPI, whose existence in the State depends on doles from the CPM in the form of one or two Ministerships, cut a pathetic figure. Nandagopal Bhattacharya could not criticise the Governor’s decision. At the same time he could not anatagonise the CPM. Therefore, he chose to strike a balance by calling into question only “the timing of the Governor’s action”.

NOW the time has come when the smaller partners of the Left Front are paying the price of their political chicanery. This became clear from the pitiable condition in which the RSP has now landed itself. Its leader, Kshiti Goswami, blew hot when the CPM cadres allegedly conducted mayhem in Nandigram in collaboration with the police. He even declared his resignation from the State Cabinet. Then the stage- managed drama took place. The RSP leadership asked Kshiti to withdraw his resignation and the latter complied like a obedient son. Similar has been the performance of the Forward Bloc. The police of the Buddhadeb Bhatacharjee Government had gunned down several Forward Bock activists in Coochbehar district. In protest the Forward Bloc called a Statewide strike. Its Secretary, Ashok Ghosh, breathed fire and brimstone while facing journalists but was always evasive when asked whether his party should now leave the Left Front. Ultimately the State level leadership of the party left the bereaved families of Coochbehar in the lurch and even did not mention the issue in the manifesto of the Forward Bloc, released before the just-concluded panchayat election.

The leadership of the smaller constituents of the Left Front, like the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc, have now become objects of ridicule. Of the three the CPI is perhaps non-existent in the State. It has only some ‘leaders’ and almost no workers. Therefore, it has no other way but to keep the CPM in good humour to return some of its members as MPs and MLAs.

Similar is perhaps the condition of the Forward Bloc and RSP although these two parties have their pockets of influence. The CPM, true to Stalinist style, is now trying to uproot these two parties from the areas where they command some amount of respectability. This was the reason why carnage took place at a place named Basanti during the panchayat election. Here also the RSP leadership is trying to become clever.

In public meetings the RSP leadership is taking a hard line even hinting at the extreme decision of leaving the Left Front. But at the same time the leaders are keeping the option of patching up with the CPM open. Manoj Bhattacharya, one of the public faces of the RSP, is never tired of bringing the name of Siddhartha Shankar Ray while indirectly putting forward the need of remaining within the Left Front. His is a line of self-deception: he alleges that the CPM is carrying on murderous attacks on RSP supporters but in the same breath says that the Congress under Siddhartha Shankar Ray had also done the same thing.

It is better to come out clear about what happened during the time of S.S. Ray and before the Congress came to power in 1972. It is true that the Congress had employed strong-arm tactics during the 1972 election. But that involved only 40 to 45 constituencies. Even if the Congress had desisted from committing such a blunder, it would have easily swept the election riding on the wave generated by Indira Gandhi’s incredible performance during the Bangladesh liberation war, a thing the short-statured leadership of Manoj Bhattacharya’s party can hardly think of. But then during 1972-77 the Congress in West Bengal certainly erred to some extent so far as its political behaviour was concerned.

WHO started the politics of violence in West Bengal? Certainly the assumption of power by the Left parties in 1967 saw the eruption of violence on all hands in West Bengal. Prior to that the Congress, under the stewardship of Atulya Ghosh, did sometimes but up physical resistance to the Communists. But those were absolutely local in character like breaking up of camps on any election day etc.

After the United Front came to power in 1967 even the city of Calcutta witnessed armed processions organised mostly by the CPM. Swords, spears and other kinds of weapons were openly brandished. Harekrishna Konar became famous for his provocative statements. People belonging to the Sai family of Burdwan were burnt alive with the State administration turning a blind eye while the gory incident took place. In the administrative history of West Bengal this was the first outrageous example of making the officialdom subservient to political interests. Community relations in the rural belt of the State got soured as the Left parties encouraged forcible seizure of paddy during harvest time.

Can the Left parties deny that the Naxalite movement, which gripped the State during 1970-71, was the logical conclusion of the politics of violence started in 1967? Many people have tried to romanticise the Naxal interrugnum. But it was basically the product of a combination of an unrealistically idealistic leadership and a misguided and city-based middle class cadre force who had their first initiation in the cult of violence in the political developments since 1967.

In many sense the destruction of West Bengal started since 1967. Left politics gave birth to the ruinous idea of gherao which ultimately started the process of flight of capital from the State. It hurt the medium scale industries, mostly owned by families, largely. These families had a sobering and salutary influence on the big as well as small city life of the State. The destructive politics of the two United Front governments shattered Bengali life from which the once prosperous and culturally advanced community has not yet been able to recover.

It is time for the Left political parties to introspect. Blaming the Siddhartha Shankar Ray Government will not serve any purpose. After the Left Front Government first took oath under the leadership of Jyoti Basu, it appointed three commissions of enquiry to probe the excesses committed by the S.S. Ray Government. But none of the three commissions has been able to prove any charge against the Congress Government. The politics of violence did not, however, abate during the rule of the Left Front.

So Biman Bose, the Left Front Chairman, was certainly not on any solid ground when he accused the intellectuals, who wanted to go to Nandigram on the day of the panchayat election there, of not raising their voice against “atrocities” committed 35 years ago. First, most of the intellectuals were too young 35 years back to leave any imprint on public life. Secondly, it does not prevent them from raising their voices now simply because they did not speak out three decades ago. Thirdly, what could have been the issue of their protest? Biman Bose meant the alleged excesses of the Congress Government of Siddhartha Shankar Ray. But the Left Front Government’s own commissions of enquiry did not find evidence against the Government of S.S. Ray.

Such a partisan attitude, as shown by Biman Bose, is one of the most important reasons behind the failure of Left politics not just in West Bengal but all over the world.

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