Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hard lessons from Lalgarh
FOR about six months now the Maoists have entrenched themselves at Lalgarh in West Midnapore, virtually treating the area as their liberated zone. And all this while the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government not only remained a passive spectator but its heavily politicised and thoroughly inefficient police force was mortally scared to confront the Maoists. But when the ultra-Left outfit drove out the influential CPI-M zonal committee secretary of Lalgarh and tried to raze what appeared to be his palatial building, at least by rural standards, the state government sought Central paramilitary forces to flush the Maoists out.
What prompted the Marxist government to engage the Maoists in a battle like never before, with the help of the country’s crack Cobra force, especially trained to take on dreaded Left extremists? What happened to the bravado and political ranting of the CPI-M’s top leadership which had, so far, done nothing beyond calling the Maoists “devils and cowards who kill our party leaders and activists at night and then flee to the jungles of Jharkhand”? The Marxists believed they could hide their rank inaction and alienation from the rural poor by mouthing hackneyed slogans and talking about “politically fighting the Maoists”, but this only helped the latter inch towards their goal of carving out a corridor from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh through Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand.
To be sure, the Maoists changed tactics after their success at Nandigram which enabled the Trinamul Congress-led opposition to use the farmers’ fury against the CPI-M’s flirtation with big business and decimated the Left Front in the just concluded Lok Sabha poll. Instead of providing covert help as they have for so long been doing, the Maoists, after the Marxists’ rout, suddenly targeted local CPI-M leaders and activists in the Midnapore-Bankura-Purulia belt to expose how they had allegedly amassed wealth during the LF’s 32-year-old regime by siphoning off government funds meant for uplift of the poor and the downtrodden. The most glaring instance of this campaign was the attack on CPI-M zonal committee secretary of Lalgarh Anuj Pandey. The photographs of local residents, aided and abetted by the Maoists, demolishing different sections of his palatial building that newspapers splashed spoke of the murky web of corruption that CPI-M functionaries at different levels had woven. And that shook the CPI-M leadership, because if the Maoists’ campaign was allowed to go on unhindered, the backlash would be far more devastating than had been feared. In fact, the Maoists, while celebrating their triumph of dismantling the Pandey’s residence, shouted, “Come and watch how a zamindar’s house made with money sucked from poor peasants is being demolished.”
Kishenji, the Maoist strategist overseeing their operations in the state, was tireless in telling the media that 40 per cent of the money earmarked for rural development was “looted” by CPI-M functionaries, bureaucrats and contractors. If one is to believe him, a murkier tale of the outfit’s being used by the CPI-M and the Trinamul Congress has also come to the surface. He alleged that the CPI-M had taken their help to smash the Trinamul Congress’s network at Keshpur in 2001, while the Trinamul Congress used their fire power during the Nandigram agitation. He branded the Trinamul Congress and the CPI-M as two sides of the same coin. As usual, the CPI-M seized on this “disclosure” to go after the Trinamul Congress which, however, predictably enough doggedly denied the charge. The CPI-M would also rubbish the charge levelled against it if one pressed too hard. But that’s the game politicians always play to present a holier-than-thou image.
On the other hand, the cycle of violence, bloodletting and vendetta that has gripped the state was on the cards. But the intensity of the backlash and the timing could not be anticipated, even if one expected that the politics of revenge would rear its ugly head. CPI-M state secretary and LF chairman Biman Bose’s reminder that unlike the Trinamul Congress its allies, LF leaders had instructed their cadres not to resort to eye-for-an-eye tactics when the LF came to power in 1977 betrays his pathetic helplessness now that the truth is fast catching up about the legions of corrupt, rude and supercilious party functionaries.
In the first place, the Trinamul Congress has not yet captured power in the state and as such the comparison with the situation in 1977 is out of place. Second, the onus of containing the spiral of violence lies more on the LF than on the opposition, since it is running the state administration. Why is it that the Marxist government has abdicated its responsibility to establish the rule of law? Obviously, the administration has become too rusty because of the unprecedented politicisation during three decades of control. It is unable to act when the crunch comes, since the officers and cadres it controls, like their political bosses, have for all these years been far more busy enjoying the fruits of power than putting in place an efficient administration that works for the common man. The Trinamul Congress is explaining away the attacks on CPI-M leaders and activists by terming these as acts of “spontaneous” outbursts of the people’s anger against the ruling clique’s corruption and nepotism. It’s main intention is, of course, to shatter the already sagging morale of the CPI-M rank and file before the assembly elections so as to eliminate even the ghost of a chance that the Marxists have to prevent a change of regime.
Already the message has been sent across that unless they switch their loyalty to the Trinamul Congress during the next two years when the assembly elections are due, CPI-M supporters will be in for more trouble. The fresh spate of violence is intended to ram that message home.

The writer is Special Representative, The Statesman

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