Dec 20: Having emotional attachment with Kolkata since childhood, I have been dismayed at the recent response from the people on Nandigram vis-à-vis violence in the city last month. Though a Bengali friend of mine was very furious over the incident on Kolkata streets, showing his utter indignance over the fundamentalists taking over the peaceful city, he remained calm and indifferent to the happenings in Nandigram. He used words like “marauders” and “vandals” for those responsible for violence in Kolkata to which I agreed, but became diplomatic when I asked him to comment on Nandigram. I was flabbergasted. How can a PhD scholar, who has shown exemplary honesty and integrity on various issues, especially terrorism on which he blamed Muslims for all the ills, remained silent on Nandigram. I can understand, like my friend’s, the predicament of the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Much later I knew that Nandigram is Muslim dominated area. So, that was the reason.
The recent vandalism in Nandigram by the CPM cadres is the sheer testimony to the fact that party ideology is more important for political parties and their followers than the people’s plight. And to safeguard the party dominance, the state would not only ignore the crimes of its cadres, but also turn a blind towards the injustice done to the people. Since the leaders of Left parties have left no stone unturned in signaling out Narendra Modi for all the atrocities committed on the Muslims in post-Godhara riots in Gujarat, they are mincing words over Nandigram. Even the cultured people of Bengal are conscious about what they should speak out and what not.
While the West Bengal Chief Minister called out the army and imposed curfew in a jiffy, and rightly so, when there erupted violent disturbances over Nandigram and Taslima Nasreen issues in Kolkata, he made no such efforts to contain the CPM goons in Nandigram for days. And the next day, the situation was brought under control in Kolkata. It shows if the government wills to control the situation, however tense it is, it can do so very successfully. But why the same Chief Minister took more than one week to send CRPF to Nandigram during which time much damage was done? Why did he behave like Nero while Nandigram was burning? Political observers rate this apathy from the CM as the deliberate act to allow his party’s cadres to establish their rule, not the rule of law.
Because in the case of Nandigram, the same Chief Minister remained indifferent and callous for days, more than dozen people lost their lives and hundreds fled their homes to live in camps as fugitives. For days, the CPM cadres went on rampage, creating havoc among the local farmers, killing the political opponent at will and forcing men, women and children to leave their houses in fear. They indulged in full scale rape and torture of the village women, not even sparing young girls. These CPM goons stopped only when they were able to put up the red flag in the area. In the process, they shed enough blood of innocent people. Perhaps blood was necessary to show the supremacy of the red flag.
This exposes the tall claim of the CPM, like those of other outfits, that its cadres are well disciplined and maintain decorum. However, in Nandigram, they exceeded all limits in unleashing terror. It proves the point that when it comes to the setback or defeat like situation for any party – left or right – the cadres behave as violently as any fanatic from diehard fundamentalist organization. In fact, all parties, organizations and their members – whether religious or secular – are as fundamentalists as the Marxist apparatchiks. While it looks very nice to criticize or lampoon the stances and ideologies of the fundamentalist organizations and individuals, it does not suit proper to behave in a similar fashion. What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.
Even leaders like Mamta Banerji, who has been loud and vocal on SEZs issue, especially she went fast unto death in Singur, remained silent over the Nandigram killing. Her reticent approach is no less than a puzzle, while other CPM leaders tried to either evade the issue or showed indifference. Where is the fire brand Mamta that we have know for years? Why is not Prakash Karat coming heavily on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Nandigram killings?
Bengalis are proud of their culture and etiquette like any other community. They believe that they are the most civilized people on Indian soil. However, what happened in Nandigram is enough to put every head of Bengal in shame. Besides, the people of Bengal have been very vocal and reactionary on any or every issue and take to street on minor events in protest. On Nandigram, no one came on the road to lodge protest over the brutal killings of innocent people. Not only this indifferent attitude of the people of Bengal questions their integrity, but it also shows how they react very selectively or cleverly when issue related to their own creed is at stake. Impartiality is something which has been exposed so far the intellectual thinking of the Bengalis people is concerned. If voicing opposition to every fundamentalist’s stance is secular mentality, keeping silence over Nandigram is communal. If you condemn or hate violence on Kolkata streets that Muslim fundamentalist organizations called to protest Nandigram killings, you need to hate Nandigram as well. In supporting Taslima, people are actually favouring the Bangladeshi author less than they are opposing the Muslims more. We must hate all those who are making life difficult for Taslima, but we must hate all those who killed innocent people in Nandigram as well.
Nandigram is no longer just an area in East Midnapore district of West Bengal. Nor another name for a struggle against the acquisition of land to create an SEZ, which has the potential to trigger off similar protests around the country. Nandigram has become synonymous with the blatant support of the state apparatus for a policy of an “eye-for-an-eye”, so as to rule. This is not the first time that this has happened. In 1984, for three days the state looked the other way as mobs led the attack against innocent Sikhs burning many alive, following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In 2002, again for three days, mobs – led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal and BJP – killed and raped in Gujarat to avenge the killings of kar sevaks in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra with the tacit support from the Chief Minister.
In Nandigram, the CPM cadres led armed goons to recapture villages, kill innocent people, burn their houses and gangrape women, as more and more dead bodies are being exhumed from graves of the unfortunate men and women. In all the three above cases, the state colluded or passively facilitated to teach the “other group” a lesson. But in Nandigram, the government went a step further. It openly defended the violence as “morally legal and justified”. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee used the words “us” and “they” for the CPM cadres and the inhabitants of Nandigram respectively. The media was prevented from entering the area as Operation Nandigram got underway. This did not happen either in Delhi in 1984 or in Gujarat in 2002.
The CPM leaders are busy justifying what happened by saying that a state had been established within a state and Maoists had taken over the villages and CPM cadres evicted in March this year not allowed to return. The point here is not a clash between two contending groups for control of the area. The point is the role played by the state which cannot be countenanced in a democracy.
It will take a long time for the CPM to live down Nandigram. The party has been in power for 30 years due to its secular stands but Nandigram has given a new focus to the disenchantment that has been growing against it. In Bengal, it has been widely perceived that people do not make difference between communities on the basis of religion. That is absolutely not true. Just because the majority of the people in Nandigram happened to be Muslims, the CPM cadres behaved antagonistically. In Singur, we did not find such outrageous killings. The double standard is palpably exposed.