Bengal on boil

Bengal on boil

It’s a war of position, though not in the Marxist sense of the expression. Marauding Communist Party of India (Marxist) members have tightened their grip over the Nandigram area, blocking all entry and exit points. The home secretary of West Bengal described the area as a “war zone".

There has been no respite for the residents of Nandigram since 14 March, when 14 people were killed in the area. Since then, there have been incidents of sporadic violence in the area. The current round began on 6 November, when two persons were killed in the area. It is yet to cease.

In any democracy, no political party or organization can claim to “capture" an area in its name. Those who do, such as Maoists in various parts of the country, are beyond the pale of the law. Only the government of the day has the right to enforce its writ through state machinery.

Equally, in the normal course of politics, parties win elections and form governments. The latter are autonomous; they may or may not heed the desires of the party, but under no circumstances can the distinction between the two be blurred. In West Bengal, this norm has broken down.

If the state government felt that Maoists, criminals and other anti-social elements were present in the area, it should have sent in the police to check them. Central forces, such as the Central Reserve Police Force, should have been allowed in, much earlier than Monday. It did neither. Instead, local CPM members have taken the law into their hands and have terrorized the people of Nandigram.

At the moment, it’s not clear why chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did not exercise any control. Does it spell the government bending to the wishes of the party? Is it a lack of will to take action against the CPM rank and file? In either case, it has led to a serious breakdown of law and order in the state.

Maoists controlling Nandigram only adds to the charge of breakdown of law and order. The state government has intelligence machinery. It’s hard to believe that mandarins in Writers’ Building were not aware of the Maoist presence. If they were, why was no action taken?

If law and order and proper functioning of government are issues in the Nandigram episode, it also reflects on the prevailing political culture in the state. The reaction of opposition parties in the state, the governor and the counter-reaction of CPM are instructive in this respect.

One can ask what Mamata Banerjee and L.K. Advani can possibly do in what is described as a “war zone"? If providing succour to those injured in the violence is the objective, that will not be served by going there. Instead, there is every likelihood of their inflaming passions in an already volatile area.

The near-hysterical reaction of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in announcing her resignation from Parliament and calling for a statewide bandh make one suspect that bringing down the political temperature is not her aim.

In contrast, governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, a former diplomat, issued a measured statement that addressed issues raised by both the CPM and the opposition. This included the return of villagers supporting the CPM to Nandigram. The CPM chose silence against the opposition, but railed against the governor. In both instances, political parties have little intent to sit down and resolve the matter.

There may be no easy solutions in Nandigram. There is plenty of mistrust between the neighbouring villages in the area, one that will take time to rebuild. The least that the chief minister can do is to leash the CPM cadres and restore order in the area. It is also incumbent on the Union government to step in if the situation does not improve soon.

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