Who would have ever thought we would live to see the day the CPM government would be under fire, not just from the spontaneous bedlam generator otherwise known as Mamata Banerjee but from its long-trivialized Left front partners and the ever-sympathetic jhola liberals, when its activitists would be running scared from villages (the same villages where once their writ ran supreme) and when sharecroppers, small land-owners and minorities, the pillars of their 30 year old rule, would emerge as their most trenchant opponents.
Who would have ever thought this day would come.
Let’s take a step back and take stock of the situation at Nandigram. Even though the decision to stop all land-acquisition in Nandigram had been taken, the villagers had kept up their “resistance” by forming armed patrols, digging up roads and throwing logs, preventing the entry of anyone from the administration and more importantly, evicting all the CPM cadres from the villages. CPM local leaders were getting beaten up by “Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee” (Committee to stop eviction), a Trinamool front composed of angry farmers or local CPM renegade toughs (depending on whom you asked) so much so that loyal CPM local heavies are afraid to return to Nandigram. The wife of a CPM supporter alleged that she was gang-raped by members of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee.
In such a situation of lawlessness, it was entirely justified for the police to step in and restore the authority of the government in a place that had effectively cut itself from the country. What happend next depends on whom you ask. According to the police, they were met with bombs and other forms of crude weaponry and had to resort to firing in retaliation thus leading to the loss of life. According to others, the police intentionally used excessive force to teach the “Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee” a lesson. They argue that even though the villagers were armed, the restoration of law in Nandigram could still have been accomplished with a far less bodycount. The fact that the police were accompanied by CPM cadres who cordoned off the region from the press and the fact that the police have been known to act as “agents” of the Communist government (the BBC has gone so far as to suggest the people doing the killings were CPM cadres in police disguise) strongly point to the violence at Nandigram being retributive — after all CPM cadre being forced to flee from the rural countryside is not something that the party, not known to forgive an adversary, can just let go without a reaction.
This is not the first time that the police machinery-cadre army have colluded against a section of the population but this is perhaps the first time that for such an attack, a huge political offensive has been launched on the CPM, not just by its traditional rivals but also by some of its “friends”. In happier times in the 80s, when CPM through legislation (Bengal Land Holding Revenue Act among others) and through sheer brute force (sharecroppers and landless labourers forcibly encroached on land) “redistributed” property in rural Bengal, they created a constituency of eternally grateful voters who had obtained so much benefit from the Left Front that they became the bedrock of CPM rule in Bengal. In Calcutta too, the Left got unalloyed approbation from the intelligentsia for seizing land “for the greater good” and everyone from the peasants to the jhollawallahs was happy. As a cynic once observed that unlike Congress who put all the money into the pockets of their leaders, the CPM were smart enough to let the benefits of power percolate down their cadre ranks so that everyone had a vested interest in the perpetuation of its rule.
Jyoti Basu realized that as long as he followed the above principle, CPM would be undefeatable. Which is why he put the state on auto-pilot, let industry atrophy away in the face of populist trade unionism, made the education system an extension of the party headquarters at Alimuddin street and concerned himself with summer trips to London to “drum up investment” and endeavours to kill jackals who were disrupting his sleep by shouting at night. And despite the state falling behind on multiple indices, rural Bengal was happy and so were the bhadralok who formed the intellectual backbone of the CPM.
Buddhadeb changed all that. Desperate to make the state catch up with the Gujarats and the Maharashtras and with a dream to rapidly industrialize rural Bengal, Buddhababu stepped on the accelerator so hard that his vehicle is in serious threat of having its axles broken. In Singur during land acquisition for the Tatas, the CPM’s interests and the sharecroppers’ first came into conflict: while the nominal owners of land (the Jotdars) were eager to sell to the government (because they were owners only in name, forced to lease their land, because of CPM legistlation, for generations to the “landless” labourers or Borgadars), the Borgadars had everything to lose and refused to budge. This irony is brought into focus in a must read article in the Telegraph which starts off thus.
Itâ€™s a role reversal neither Joydeb Ghosh nor Ganesh Koley ever envisaged in Singur, a rural block in Bengalâ€™s Hooghly district. Yesterdayâ€™s jotdar (landlord) and a target of the ruling Left, Ghosh is today a comrade-in-arms of the CPM. Koley, originally a bargadar (a share cropper) and a beneficiary of the Left Front governmentâ€™s pioneering land reform, today views the ruling party as his enemy number one.
Not just the borgadars, the CPM has also lost the intellectuals and the liberals who now are all for property rights (while they were against it during the 80s) even though it stands to reason that industrialization will bring about more jobs and “greater good”. And they have also lost the minority Muslims, another huge support base over the years, as most of those affected by the land acquisitions are Muslims. In addition, they have been ambushed by their Left front partners who over the years, because of their marginal influence on Bengal politics, have been shunted to inconsequential responsibilities and who, smarting under the humiliation, have been waiting eagerly for a chance to embarrass the CPM.
Which is why Buddhadeb is in a real jam now, having to backtrack on Nandigram, taking fire from once-allies like Medha Patkar, snides from Left Front partners, facing a backlash from the intellectuals , having alienated the party’s core base and rescuing the floundering Mamata’s career from gradual irrelevance. Everything that he has stood for and pushed through is now threatened by the bloodbath at Nandigram as the party for its own survival, will predictably jettison its “capitalist-friendly” image and woo back its constituents, rolling back the changes that Buddha managed to bring during his rule.
And for that the blame lies squarely on Buddhadeb for doing nothing to change the defining characteristic of CPM rule in Bengal: the suppression of dissent by violence through the use of the police and the army of cadres. All that remains to be seen is whether the Red bastion ultimately crumbles as a result of it.