Union home minister P. Chidambaram may or may not have heard of a place called Choeung Ek in Cambodia where thousands perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. While he was wildly off the mark in terms of the fatalities, he was quite close—in sentimental terms—when he labelled many districts of West Bengal as the “killing fields”.
On Thursday last week, Chidambaram is reported to have expressed his concern about the killings, saying many districts in the state have become killing fields. He said this was unacceptable, as those who were being killed were average political workers. His statement came days after four workers of opposition parties were killed in political violence in the state.
Why is West Bengal caught in a violent political ferment? It is a difficult question to answer. Some elements of an answer are, however, known: the desperate attempts by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, to reoccupy lost political space, the sullen resentment of the poor now becoming more activist, and the ascendance of the Trinamool Congress-Congress party combine. For a state as politicized as West Bengal, this is a volatile mix.
In any normally run state, this state of affairs would have been blamed on the ineptness of the state government. West Bengal is different. The manner in which Left-ruled states are organized, there is a certain split in authority between the government and the party. What the party says cannot be ignored by the government. Conversely, at times, what the party does cannot be checked by the government, however detrimental it may be to peace and order in the state.
Something similar is happening in West Bengal. The writ of the mandarins in the Writers Buildings does not extend to the CPM leadership in Alimuddin Street in Kolkata, let alone in far-flung places such as Burdwan and Lalgarh. Even if chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee tried to set matters right, he may not be able to do so. As the state assembly elections inch closer, the fight for political primacy between the CPM and opposition parties is unlikely to let such administrative niceties get in the way.
Is “killing fields” an appropriate term for rural West Bengal today? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org