Saturday, July 16, 2016

“Come and See Blood on the Streets”

By Nilotpal Basu

Peoples Democracy, 5th June, 2016

THE playing out of gruesome violence in post-poll West Bengal will put many a horrific nightmare to shame. What makes this violence almost inexplicable to the uninitiated in the `hell-hole’ of the present political landscape of the state is the `massive mandate’, which columnists and contributors are so eloquent in articulating. No wonder! We have been tutored since our childhood to believe that `victors’ have to be forgiving; there is no room for vengeance in triumph.

But, obviously, not so in present West Bengal. In fact, what is playing out is quite the contrary. The TMC chief and the re-elected chief minister had held out the threat in the run-up to the election in repeated public meetings that once re-elected, the new administration would see to it `inch by inch’ that the efforts of the people and the opposition to defeat the TMC is ‘taken care of’. The campaign had highlighted quite blatant threats to the Election Commission and sections of the administration who were active under the `model code of conduct’ for ensuring a free and fair polls to the assembly. It may otherwise escape the attention of the ‘columnists’ but only 32 lakhs separate the popular support of the TMC front from that of the opposition; but the TMC is most acutely aware of this reality. So, even though it may appear to be otherwise inexplicable, the violence can only be decoded by the special, if not obnoxious, nature of the regime that lords over West Bengal. It is an out and out authoritarian regime that runs the state. It was the same before the elections; now even more so.

That the rule of law is at best a notional idea in the state is clear. Despite the efforts of holding free and fair poll, the fact remains that four CPI(M) activists were killed in the run-up to the elections. And, each of these killings were directly linked to undermine the opposition and, in particular, the CPI(M) and the Left. The violence was linked to targeting of polling agents and potential polling agents and specifically aimed at scaring away voters. In most of these cases, the killers who have been named in the police complaints have not been arrested.

Despite the atmosphere of terror and intimidation, popular urge for exercising the franchise was visible. That the `MCC’ regime of the couple of months since the announcement of the election dates could not completely neutralise the affects of terror is also equally true. Therefore, the present spate of violence is particularly targeting the `resistance’ and its nucleus – CPI(M) and the Left. The clear design is to dismantle and decimate the Party and the Left, as well as, all other opposition forces.

In these pages, details of the violence have been chronicled in the last few issues. For sure, given the current trend, it will continue to be reported for quite some time in the future. But what has to be noted is not just the physical description of the violence; but the pattern which reveals this sinister design.

Notwithstanding the spread of the violence across the length and breadth of the 20 districts of the state, what is particularly noteworthy is the fact that violence and terror has been more intense and focused in areas where the opposition has managed to register an electoral victory over the TMC, be it an assembly segment, or a municipal ward or panchayat or even a single polling booth. The basic idea is to stifle the spirit of resistance and rupture the links with the people which have resulted in the electoral reverse of the ruling party in these places.

That areas which need to be specially noted to understand this cynical plot takes us to the Jadavpur assembly constituency. In 2011 assembly elections, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was defeated by over 30,000 votes. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the CPI(M) candidate trailed substantially. In most of the municipal wards, massive rigging led to the defeat of the Left candidates in the Kolkata municipal elections. However, this time around, Sujan Chakraborty, CPI(M) state secretariat member, won by nearly 15,000 votes. Not only that, he scored a lead in each of the ten municipal wards. This was made possible by both popular resistance as well as the measures initiated by the EC. Chakraborty defeated the incumbent power minister and former home secretary who was the TMC nominee. The chief minister herself had cast doubts about the results and expressed the need for `going into the matter’. Naturally, that is now playing out in the most medieval violence that has been let loose on not only the Party and the Left but even common voters. Attacks on houses and capture of Party offices is now the every day reality.

Another such area is Haldia, the industrial hub which adjoins Nandigram. In this area, the Party and the Left not only faced the violence by the TMC but also attempted disruption by the newly-formed party of Lakshman Seth, former MP and former Party state committee member who had been expelled for his anti-people and anti-Party activities. But braving all these, a woman, Tapasi Mondal of the CPI(M) was elected by over 10,000 votes. Therefore, this area has also come as a special target where indiscriminate violence including that on the house of the newly elected MLA is for all there to see. One could go on with countless similar instances.

Countless offices of the CPI(M), different mass and class organisations across the state have been forcibly occupied, gutted, demolished. Party leaders, mass organisation leaders, elected members at the local level, candidates and, of course, voters, none are being spared. Areas in which the TMC had to suffer reverse, voters are asked to pay an exorbitant amount as fines for carrying on their life and livelihood in their home and hearth.

The most cynical aspect of this violence is the complete inaction of the police administration in dealing with offences which stem from political vendetta. The reasons are not hard to find. Officers of the civil and the police administration who had been transferred out by the Election Commission during the pendency of MCC have been reverted back to their earlier positions immediately on the assumption of office, notwithstanding the public approval of officers who had covered themselves with positive impact on the fairness of the election process. Similarly, number of ministers who had lost the elections had been appointed in high level positions in their respective erstwhile departments. This is to send out a clear message that these defeats are of no consequence, so far as the ruling party is concerned!

The intense orchestrated violence is accompanied with another major threat of communal polarisation. The repeated visits of prime minister Modi in West Bengal in the run up to the assembly elections and his `intended’ attacks on the TMC was to create an atmosphere of polarisation and to cut down the possible electoral loss for the TMC. The North Bengal districts which were considered a strong ground for the Left and secular opposition saw a more pronounced presence of the BJP. Two of its three seats where they have won falls in this region. The votes polled by BJP in North Bengal is 16 percent as compared to 8 percent in the south Bengal districts. Overall, the BJP’s vote share has come down from 17 percent in 2014 Lok Sabha elections to 10 percent in the 2016 assembly elections. It is also clear that the victories were registered due to unusual decrease of the TMC votes in these seats.

Naturally, this selective presence of the BJP and the accompanying communal campaign is complemented by the TMC’s pandering to minority communal forces. The latest evidence of this is in the form of inclusion of Siddiqullah Chaudhury who was till the other day associated with Jamaat-e-Ulema and had openly supported the activities of fundamentalist groups in Bangladesh.
Therefore, it is the continuous quid-pro-quo between the ruling party in the centre and that in the state will loom large.

The authoritarian build-up during the last five years will be further accentuated is a fact which is becoming increasingly clear.

While it is clear that the violence that we are witnessing is far more intense and widespread than in the `hoodlum days’ of the seventies and the semi-fascist regime of Siddharth Shankar Ray, the growing unity of the people is also something which one cannot miss. Braving the violence in the very initial days of these post-poll violence are signs of resistance in certain areas. Villagers, poor people who have got together, chased away miscreants and attackers. There has been widespread revulsion against an incident where a pregnant woman had to suffer a miscarriage of her unborn foetus when she was pushed and kicked while attempting to save her husband and his companions from the attacks launched by the TMC goons. There is major protest particularly in the social media over the lynching of a girl student in Ashutosh College in South Kolkata when she went to collect her admit card for the examination simply because she happens to be an SFI activist.

Therefore, unity and resistance, is the way forward. Authoritarianism cannot be permanent. Issues of policy of both the central and state governments will definitely adversely affect the life and livelihood of the people. Struggle for restoration of democracy and against these anti-people policies will go hand-in-hand to restore civil rights. It is with this in mind that the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, in its recently-held meeting, has given a clarion call: “Under these circumstances, the CPI(M) calls upon the people of West Bengal to unitedly resist this murder of democracy and civil liberties in the state. The strength of the people’s unity is the answer to meet this unprecedented unleashing of violence.”


INTENSIVE political violence against the opposition is continuing after election results have been declared in West Bengal. Ten Left Front activists have been killed during and after the election process, four of them after the declaration of results. But the magnitude of the attack cannot be comprehended only through the number of the killed. 1,924 activists and supporters have been injured in the attack; many of them were admitted in hospitals. More than 9,200 persons have been rendered homeless, 2,876 houses were ransacked, destroyed or burnt. At least in 12 cases, cluster of houses in the villages were put to flames. In a clear message that opposition parties will not be allowed to function in a normal manner, offices of Left parties and mass organisations were attacked, destroyed, ransacked, seized or burnt in large numbers. 575 offices of the CPI(M) or Left parties and 128 offices of mass organisations were attacked in these ways. Another feature is the direct attack on livelihood. Hundreds of shops, mostly small, belonging to Left supporters were looted and ransacked. In villages, ‘suspected’ Left voters are being denied jobs including MNREGA. In industrial areas or in construction sites casual and contract workers are sacked. There is all-pervasive atmosphere of fear in government offices, municipalities and rural level administration.