November 12, 2007EconomyPublic PolicySecurity

Governance failure in West Bengal

Marxists or Maoists, what’s the difference?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

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.

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