Governance failure in West Bengal

Armed militants occupy a wide swathe of territory chasing off local police and holding off federal security forces. No one is allowed to enter the area under their control—not journalists, not opposition politicians, not even famous NGO activists. Are we talking about Pakistan’s tribal areas? No, we are talking about the Nandigram area, in India’s Communist-ruled West Bengal state.

Marxists or Maoists, what’s the difference?

Armed militants occupy a wide swathe of territory chasing off local police and holding off federal security forces. No one is allowed to enter the area under their control—not journalists, not opposition politicians, not even famous NGO activists. Are we talking about Pakistan’s tribal areas? No, we are talking about the Nandigram area, in India’s Communist-ruled West Bengal state.

The Red Army recaptured all the Nandigram villages in a final, lightning offensive this evening while the state government pitched in by holding the just-arrived CRPF back at Tamluk.

Some 450 cadres crossed the Bhangabera and Tekhali bridges around 4.30-5pm and advanced towards the Opposition “fortress” of Sonachura, firing from behind 600 captive Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporters whom they used as human shields. By 5.30, Sonachura had fallen without resistance.

“The CPM game plan clicked. Seeing their supporters in front of the advancing cadres, the Pratirodh Committee men refrained from shooting and ran away,” a police officer said. [The Telegraph, linkthanks Ramesh Jagannathan]

As INI blogger Offstumped describes it, the mafiosi of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI(M), have brazenly seized control of territory even as the West Bengal state government is conniving in what is essentially a naked play for power. The CPI(M)’s capture of Nandigram was a well-planned, well-financed and well-armed operation designed to re-establish its political muscle (literally) in the region. The state government long enough for its street fighters to occupy the villages before belatedly agreeing to deploy the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to maintain law & order.

What we are seeing in Nandigram is the case of a long ruling political party changing the status quo on the ground not merely through the use of brute force, but doing so in quasi-military style.

There’s a lot of deliberate misrepresentation of the Nandigram issue. First, like the UPA government’s entire Special Economic Zone (SEZ) policy, Nandigram was about a dubious land grab, not ‘neo-liberal’ reform. There is nothing liberal about appropriating land from its rightful owners without paying fair compensation. Second, it’s not even about the SEZ now. The current violence is due to an attempt by an unpopular political party to regain lost ground. The methods used by the CPI(M) are not unlike those used by its Chinese counterpart—the use of party affiliated thugs to browbeat the protesting peasants into submission. Indeed, attracting foreign investment is not the only thing Chief Minister Buddadeb Bhattacharya’s regime has learnt from Beijing.

Even some Leftists are finding the CPI(M)’s behaviour repugnant. So you would think that such a naked assault on constitutionalism and political norms will be punished in India’s democratic system. But you would be wrong. The Left has so eviscerated West Bengal’s polity that key institutions of state are in effect instruments of the Communist Party. Ask yourself why, in this day and age, there is no independent reporting coming out of Nandigram? Meanwhile, at the Centre, the Left is a key supporter of the ruling coalition, and hence can be expected to bail its West Bengal unit out. Expect the call for president’s rule, or even a CBI enquiry into the Nandigram killings to amount to nothing.

Most of all, why should the Communists have anything to fear when ‘India’s National newspaper’ devotes a good part of its editorial to paste the governor for overstepping his bound.

20 thoughts on “Governance failure in West Bengal”

  1. There are two issues which I find quite disturbing..
    a) CPI(M) is now a private army with a political wing
    b) Wasnt the state machinery blatantly stopped from doing it’s duty? why only complain about Modi? Where is Tehelka now?

  2. Indeed. Where is Tehelka now! Nevertheless, I’m not surprised The Hindu would criticise the governor. The Hindu and its sister publication Frontline, are the unoffical mouthpieces of the Left Front. In fact, many of the articles written on its editorial pages and Frontline are from card-carrying members of CPIM, they just fail to mention it.

    Nandigram is a disgrace. And the UPA can do nothing about it without risking the government falling, and the Left Front knows this.

  3. I really don’t know whom to trust. On one hand, there are reports like the ones mentioned in this post. On the other hand, some newspapers–admittedly left leaning ones–make it out that those displaced during Feb/March(It was made out to be a popular uprising against govt atrocities. Same things happened back then as well.) took it upon themselves to go back to their homes precisely because the state govt was unwilling to disturb the status quo. It so happens that all those displaced earlier were CPI(M) supporters. Who is to know what the truth is.

    The article quoted in the post states that the Pratirodh people refrained from firing at their comrades who were being used as human shield. Assuming this to be true(remember I don’t trust any media), shouldn’t we also ask why and how the Pratirodh people came to have firearms? It seems to be a case of two parties with guns fighting over an area, so shouldn’t both parties be condemned?

    As far as land grab is concerned, I remember reading that the compensation scheme in Nandigram/Singoor was by far the best offered among all the SEZs. Even the share-croppers were promised some sort of compensation. Of course, it’s another matter that property rights are not sacrosanct anywhere in India, so all SEZs are land grabs. So Nandigram is no worse a land-grab than the others. I have no idea if this is indeed the case, but I remember reading it in a wide cross-section of the media.

    Whatever has happened over the last few weeks is reprehensible, but the communists don’t seem to be the only ones to blame for this fiasco. Nandigram is so complex an issue that a black and white opinion condemning one party totally while exonerating the other is bound to be incorrect.

  4. The Hindu is definitely a commie mouth piece. the last time i was in India I read a front page report of how commies from India had visited some sort of conference in Cuba and how people felt “enlightened” by the visit. I almost puked.

    That being said, how come no one sees the irony of this fight between Maoists and “Marxists”?? I do feel terrible for the poor and illiterate people of Bengal who have seen their lives and hopes crushed by the evils of communism

  5. >>That being said, how come no one sees the irony of this fight between Maoists and “Marxists”??

    NS, the fight is not between Maoists and Marxists. It is between a set of people who are (rightly or wrongly) opposing a government policy, and a miffed government trying to brutally impose its will by subverting state machinery for party use.

    The Maoists are a red herring, invented (by the same people who rail against salwa jhudum, for example) to justify the CPIM’s massacres. How can there be Maoists in West Bengal, given that “land reforms” have ushered in an agrarian paradise there? Note that the CPIM is not allowing independent journalists into its killing fields — just so the mythical Maoists cannot be discovered.

  6. Nandigram is a brutal lesson that the electorate of the state should leave under the dictat of the ruling communist clique of the state.

  7. I’m with Daneel at #3 with this exception:

    – the CPM goons appear to have had state support, co-ordination with police and the state government may not have made an honest and sincere attempt at disarming the BUPC thru peaceful means.

    That said, the law should take its course on gunners from both/ all sides of this.

    The larger picture is worrying -this was basically a mini-war and would have been called so, esp on this blog, had it happened in Pakistan.

    Such a comparison alone is sufficient wake-up call. There is an urgent need for *all* political parties to refrain from such violent conflict and actively round up such elements within their own support formations.


  8. Comrade Choorakkot,

    1. There were no Maoists.

    2. This state-sponsored repression was let loose NOT on “gunners”, as you conveniently claim, but on innocent men, women and children now seeking shelter in relief camps.

    3. There is no equal-equal equivocation here that you comrades are adept at conjuring up to justify CPIM’s brutality. This is a case of the government itself planning a “retaliation” for 11 months, arming its cadre with guns, giving them police cover, preventing journalists and the outside world from getting to know what is going on and then launching the final assault on a hapless population to regain the ground it lost owing to an earlier failed attempt at suppressing that population.

    4. Comrade Daneel Chorakkoot’s ingenious defence of the massacre is also ingenuous. Yeah, Nandigram is “complex” — most issues that flare up like Nanidgram are. But identifying the culprit is simple. It is the one who being in the government, uses the state machinery to unleash repression on the very people he is constitutionally mandated to protect , and even brazenly justifies that fascism, as Comrades Bhatta and Basu have just done.

  9. Oldtimer,

    1. You could be right about Maoists, news on this is changing almost live.

    2. I dont think there is serious dispute that there was violence from both sides, eg. from this one source:

    – CPM goons were killed in bomb blasts
    – driven back at some point by fierce resistance (how does an invading army get driven back peacefully?)
    – direction from which bullet hit EFR constable Tamang unknown

    stuff like this leads me to conclude that while the CPM goons were the villains, the ‘heroes’ are not very clearly defined. I’d think the innocent family members always suffer, whether from forcible eviction, or from this occupation.

    3. I dont see much daylight btwn what you said abt state machinery and my earlier comment, but if that embarrasses you for some reason, I can pretend that there is a lot 🙂

    4. Daneel is some other guy. Please tell me you are not that OT 🙁 who on some other blogs goes around conflating all dissenting opinion into one entity. I have generally found your comments to be fairly interesting, intelligent and engaging with dissent. I would hate to change my opinion.


  10. Hi Chorakkoot,

    Sorry for confusing you wiht Daneel Chopra, and it’s also quite charming to see you engage with my dissent of your ill-informed opinions.

    Yes, the tragedy of Nandigram is that there are not many heroes. Human Rights activists could have been heroes, if only they mounted some activism to haul the CPIM goons over the coals. Strangely, these chaps seem to have preferred silence over some active campaigning.

    The media could have been heroes, by exposing to minute detail how the state government armed the CPIM cadre to the teeth, and how it provided them police support to carry on their atrocities. Unfortuantely, media seems to have decided it is not hero material.

    The only hero that comes to my mind is governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. He ramained firm in the face of bullying by CPIM.

  11. To the author,

    Got redirected to this blog and the article, thanks to a common friend.The highly prejudiced editorial has been followed up by publication of letters to the editors by committed cadres who have thanks the newspaper for enlightening them about the true situation at Nandigram. Such editorials are not surprising coming as it does from a a highly acclaimed intellect editor and darling of the media whom I heard waxing eloquently in 1989 defending Tiananmen massacre, less than three weeks after the event,at Rani Seethai Hall a public lecture at well knowm auditorium in South Chennai. The Nandigram killings and the massive cover-up is typical of Marxist practices of early 20th Century.

  12. Heres another example. On today’s front page (Nov 16th), the “dhikkar michhil” (shame rally) has been translated as “peace rally”. the author is an “Antara Das”, which sounds like a Bengali enough name, and ought to have known perfectly well what she was doing.


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