Interview with Surya Kanta Mishra, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly by SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY.
FRONTLINE, Volume 29 - Issue 09:: May. 05-18, 2012
‘In denial mode'
“IT is as though criminals have started thinking that it is their government.” Surya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), feels that West Bengal is heading towards becoming an “anarchic State”.
In an interview to Frontline, Mishra spoke about issues ranging from the rise in violence in the State, the Mamata Banerjee government's policies and its claims of achievements made in the past one year. “Instead of taking the State forward from where it stood a year ago, they are reversing the process of progress and development, undoing all that had been achieved. The future really looks gloomy,” he said. Excerpts:
The CPI(M) has adopted a policy of wait and watch before making any proper assessment of the Trinamool government. But what is your preliminary assessment a year after it came to power? In which direction do you think the State is heading?
We had never said that we would not be critical. We said we would play the role of a responsible Opposition. We will not oppose for the sake of opposing as they [the Trinamool] did. There is a fundamental difference between our opposition and theirs. When Mamata Banerjee was announcing her achievements after 100 days or after 200 days [since assuming power], we pointed out that one could not make a proper assessment in such a short time. The problem is that she started claiming that she had completed 90 per cent of the work. We did not want any report card from her, nor did we want to grade her.
But one thing that has become clear after almost a year is that the government does not have any vision. It is directionless. They have neither any concrete programme, nor any sense of priority. They are trying to rush things through, which is proving counterproductive, be it in the area of industry, land, or problems in the Darjeeling hills. Every time they try to resolve an issue, they complicate matters further.
But one thing that the Chief Minister should not have done – a promise she has not kept – is the assault on democratic institutions and democracy in general. This is dangerous, and we had earlier warned that this assault would not be confined to us, the CPI(M). It will spread.
As to where the State is headed, nobody really knows. All that was done before is now being undone – like land reforms, the establishment of a democratic, decentralised panchayat system and other institutions of participatory democracy. Our successes in the agrarian sector, based on which we were setting up industries – all such processes are being reversed. This is endangering the overall growth of the State. I will not yet say that an anarchic situation is prevalent here, but I fear it is heading in that direction.
Over the last several months political violence and crime have been on the increase. Do you think the government is doing enough to curb them?
The violence against us has increased a lot. Since May 2011 [when the Trinamool-led government came to power], around 4,800 Left workers and supporters have had to be hospitalised – most of them in serious condition. A large number of them have, in fact, been crippled by acts of violence. After coming to power, the Trinamool forcefully occupied more than 700 CPI(M) offices.
The situation is particularly bad for Left workers and supporters in the eight districts of Pashchim Medinipur, Bardhaman, Bankura, Hooghly, Purbo Medinipur, Cooch Behar and the North and South 24 Parganas. In the first four districts that I mentioned, it is no longer possible to carry out even simple democratic functions; more than 40,000 Left workers have been driven out of their homes, party offices have been forcefully occupied, hefty fines have been imposed upon them. We have a detailed list of these figures.
It is not possible to understand the situation by the number of killings alone. In the 1970s, under the Congress government, there were more killings of Left workers. But the situation of silent terror that is prevalent today is more effective in demoblilising any political opposition. It is not that they are perpetrating such terror in places where the Left is weak; in fact, it is worst where we have a reasonably strong support base – like the first four districts that I just mentioned. You can see how we were proved right when we said that this violence would be directed not only against us; today, Congress workers are being attacked. Even sections within the Trinamool camp are fighting each other.
Apart from political violence, general crime has also increased greatly. It is as though criminals have started thinking that it is their government; and the police and the administration are just not handling the situation in a proper manner.
With all these things happening around us, the Chief Minister remains in denial mode, insisting that nothing has really happened. In none of the incidents of violence and crime – be it the Park Street rape case, the murder of two CPI(M) leaders in broad daylight in Bardhaman, or the rape on a train in Katwa – has the Chief Minister condemned the acts or apologised for them. Instead, she said they were orchestrated incidents.
What is your opinion on the government's policy relating to land acquisition for industries?
First, I would like to say, regarding land, that thousands of people in rural Bengal have been ousted in the last one year. Even Trinamool supporters have not been spared.
Now, regarding the State government's land acquisition policy. The government claims that it is against acquiring land on behalf of industries. So how can land be acquired for industrial purposes? Their solution has been to lift the land ceiling, so investors can directly buy land – but the government will have no role in acquiring land from the farmers. Unfortunately, this will empower the land mafia and the land sharks, and as a result, farmers will be denied their rightful compensation and rehabilitation packages, which will not happen if the government acquires the land.
Moreover, big manufacturing industries will be reluctant to come, as they know how difficult it will be for them, without the intervention of the government, to get the kind of land required to set up large plants. The situation is not conducive to big industries.
Not just in the case of land. The present government does not really have a proper industrial policy. Take the case of power. When we were in government, we left behind for the State a surplus; the present government is now in such a state that it has to reduce power generation to minimise losses. Moreover, the way the resource mobilisation plan has been done, nobody knows where funds for infrastructure development will come from. The process of industrialisation is not just about giving land. It is important that the atmosphere is also conducive to industrial growth.
What is the government's major achievement in its first year in power?
Apparently, the Darjeeling hills are peaceful – which everyone can see is not the case – and peace has returned to Jangalmahal. But this is just an illusion of peace. It cannot be considered an achievement, as it is paving the way for another wave of problems. Then, of course, there are a whole lot of promises that are yet to be kept. The only positive work that I feel the government has done is to have decided not to set up the Legislative Council as it had decided earlier. We opposed this decision, and they finally dropped the idea.
Instead of taking the State forward from where it stood a year ago, we are seeing that they are reversing the process of progress and development, undoing all that had been achieved. The future really does look gloomy.
There has been some disenchantment with the government among the urban middle class. Do you think this has spread to rural voters? Will it have an impact on the upcoming panchayat elections?
We have seen disillusionment among the urban middle class, even among those who voted for a change. But the attack on democracy that we talked about is even more intense in the rural areas. On top of all that, there is major distress in the agrarian sector, as is evident in the spate of suicides by farmers and agricultural workers groaning under the burden of debt.
Whether this will influence the results of the upcoming panchayat elections is very difficult to say. The ruling party has been threatening to prevent the Opposition from fielding candidates. It all depends on whether our candidates will be allowed to file their nominations. But I will say that when people start understanding the implications of what is happening around them, they will get disillusioned. But to go into the mode of active resistance takes some time.