Death in Bengal
The Pioneer Edit Desk (Feb. 7, 2008)
This time, FB faces CPM wrath
The unfortunate incident of West Bengal Police opening fire on protesters at Dinhata in Coochbehar district reflects that the State's police, controlled by the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government and dominated by Marxist cadre and local party leaders, are increasingly becoming trigger-happy. Admittedly, the Forward Bloc protesters were an unruly lot; they ransacked the SDO's office and set a police vehicle on fire. But to tackle such situations, riot control measures -- lathicharge, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc -- do exist. West Bengal Police, however, believes in a maximalist approach: It shoots to kill, not to disperse mobs, as if the purpose is to demonstrate the political domination of Marxists and punish protesters for daring to raise their voice against the State Government, especially the CPI(M). We saw this happen at Singur and, more pointedly, at Nandigram where, too, the police had shot and killed unarmed protesters for daring to raise their voice against Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's flawed farmland-for-industry policy. The police's partisan manner of handling situations continues; Dinhata is only its latest target. It all began when the FB called a State-wide agitation on Tuesday to register its protest against corruption in panchayats -- controlled by CPI(M) -- and for the implementation of NREG's 100 days of guaranteed employment of rural poor and assorted demands. Three points merit mention here. First, the FB is the second largest constituent of the ruling Left Front and has four Ministers in Mr Bhattacharjee's Government. Thus, in a sense, the CPI(M) stands indicted by its ally in power for rampant corruption and maladministration. Second, this is the first time in 31 years since the Left Front came to power that a constituent has taken to the streets against the CPI(M). This is also the first time that a Left Front constituent has called a bandh against the State Government. This shows the rapidly widening cracks within the Left Front due to Marxist bullying and muscle politics. Third, the CPI(M) can no longer take its status as 'Big Brother' for granted within the Left fold. It is now being held accountable for policy and action by its partners.
Tragic as Tuesday's incident may be, it also offers hope to the people of West Bengal, with the entire Opposition and the RSP joining Wednesday's bandh. It also opens opportunity for gradual coalescing of parties opposed to the CPI(M), albeit there is danger in resting hopes with the Congress as it will forever remain a doormat of the CPI(M) for two reasons: First, its local leaders are dependent on CPI(M)'s patronage; second, the compulsions of the Congress-CPI(M) alliance in New Delhi will prevent any meaningful anti-CPI(M) initiative in Kolkata.