Divisive politics of West Bengal

Shikha Mukerjee: The Pioneer

Regime change in West Bengal is turning out to be a bitter political battle in which the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress are evenly matched. In the process, the State is rapidly descending into a spiral of violence.

Clean and effective Government seems to be what voters want. Voter satisfaction, it would appear, can be gained by providing the minimum that citizenship entitles the citizen to, if not uniformly and of a very high order, but nevertheless tangible and sustained, if the Pundits have correctly read the verdict in Bihar.

The attributes of clean and effective are difficult to identify, because expectations in India about what constitutes clean are probably based on a totally distorted idea of the requirements for probity in public life. The same is true of what constitutes effectiveness. One feature of what constitutes effectiveness, extrapolating from the Bihar verdict, appears to be basic law and order measured in terms of greater mobility of women and school going girls on bicycles.

Therefore, clean and effective boils down to a serious scaling down of the routines of bribery and corruption that public officials have engaged in historically in order to live beyond their official means and a stable law and order regime that allows people to feel reasonably secure, though not entirely risk free. In other words, some semblance of the rule of law has been re-established in the badlands of Bihar.

In contrast, the frequency of violent episodes and the spiralling death count in West Bengal indicates that the effectiveness of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front Government to deliver minimum law and order to its citizens has been seriously impaired. The death count provided by the CPI(M) of its own members and supporters in the Maoist infested areas of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia is over 280. Not a week goes by without a minimum of one more dead in either Binpur or Shalboni or Jhargram and now again Khejuri made famous during the confrontations over identifying Nandigram as a possible location for establishing a Special Economic Zone. Not a week goes by without some attack, even burning down of a political party’s office somewhere in the State. This is lawlessness.

The deliberate disruption of the normal is appalling. It is a shame that politics has grown so undemocratic in West Bengal, so violent and vicious that refugees of political violence returning home to Kamardah village in Khejuri block of West Midnapore district after months of a precarious existence in camps were attacked once again. The fate of the returning residents of Kamardah is to be forever victims of a political rivalry that is ugly and inhuman. Trapped between the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress, the villagers are pawns to be moved around to serve the political purpose of ‘recapture’ or ‘sanitisation;’ if the CPI(M) stands accused of ‘recapture’ then the Trinamool Congress stands accused of ‘sanitising’ Kamardah and Khejuri of supporters of the CPI(M).

If the CPI(M) is accused of using armed cadres to cover the return of the political refugees, then so should the Trinamool Congress be accused of mobilising overwhelming counter force to prevent the return of the refugees. When political conflict between parliamentary parties reaches a point where force and counter force are the norm rather than the exception, then the one value that becomes debased is the minimum tolerance required in a democratic polity, When law and order is not delivered to the citizen as the minimum condition then no political party ought to be allowed to escape from the responsibility of vitiating the normal to the point that the abnormal becomes routine.

The clash of politics in West Bengal in the last 10 years has resulted in hundreds of deaths. It is incidental that the CPI(M) counts the number of its dead since May 2008 and estimates that about 280 have been victims of Maoist violence. Before 2008 there were political clashes. Ordinary people died. Of that 14 died in the police action in Nandigram. The remaining dead were victims of political clashes. In Nanoor in Birbhum 11 landless peasants died in 2000. In July 2010, Ananda Das, an ex-legislator died. In May Sanjay Ghosh and Al Amin Sheikh were killed.

The clash of politics in West Bengal in the last 10 years has resulted in hundreds of dwellings, be they so humble as mud huts, being burnt and trashed. The escalating numbers in the past five years of destruction and damage of private property reveals the deterioration of law and order. No political party can avoid being blamed for what has happened, because people whose homes were destroyed or damaged were supporters of different political parties. As the dominant political force in West Bengal, the CPI(M)’s share of the blame is greater. But the Opposition is not blameless.

The violence and destruction as a resultant of political conflict has meant a loss of the sense of security that is the fundamental right of every citizen in West Bengal. With fear as a factor, the quality of political life in the State has declined. The decline is not limited to the areas where the Maoists are active in spreading their particularly potent brew of barbarous beheadings, kangaroo courts, night raids and day-time cordons around villages and fields. The decline includes places where political intolerance is rampant, with territories being marked off as belonging to one party or the other.

However divisive the politics in West Bengal is, that does not constitute a reason for the absence of law and order and the fundamental right to a secure life for every citizen. Regime change in West Bengal is turning out to be a war, in which the Government side and the Opposition are evenly matched. History may compare the period after 2006 to West Bengal’s worst period of political turmoil, the period after 1968, when terror stalked the streets of Kolkata and nothing and nobody was safe.

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