My Name Is Red

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 [ Caption: “Ami Miss Calcutta 1976” Ms. Sen—she is talking to a Maoist. With a red band on her head. Yes Ms. Sen, we may not know your “statistics” (Context: this Bangla song—ekhono to keu jaane na amar statistics) but we sure know how “independent” you are.]

Over the past three decades, the Left Front’s Red fortress in Bengal had acquired its aura of impregnability based on the Party’s  absolute stranglehold over rural Bengal.  While anti-incumbency, outrage at lack of development, atrocities like Bantala and Birati  might have lead to the loss of a few seats in Kolkata and some impassioned editorials in Anandabazar from time to time, it remained so insignificant in the electoral scheme of things, that the Politburo Pilots merely shrugged them off as not something worth getting their tea cold over. This confidence stemmed from the strategic infiltration of the party into all the institutions of rural life —panchayats, police, business and district administration– all of whom could be expected to work synergistically to keep the rural populace “in line”.

And most importantly the confidence came from the strength of the Left Front’s cadre. Drawn initially from the “sarba-haras” (those who have nothing) and provided sustenance through aggressive land reforms achieved through a combination of legislative and extra-constitutional means (armies of landless laborers putting up red flags on the land they cultivated shouting slogans like “Langol jaar jomi taar” [The person who draws the plough owns the land]), the party apparatchik became the Left front’s eyes and ears on the ground as well as their muscle. A quick way to identify the party bosses: just look for the shiny new “pukka houses”  and there you have them. Over the years, the old feudal order in the village was replaced by this cadre raj, many of whom had graduated from being peasants to “contractors”, who lorded over the population with their rule backed up by the legal immunity granted to them by the compliant state administration.

The recent incidents at Lalgarh should be seen primarily as a desperate attempt by those left outside the ambit of the Front’s largess to lash out at the oppression unleashed over the decades by the cadre-police combine. From its violent targetting of party offices and party “key men” to the insistence of the villagers for the SP to rub his nose in the ground in front of everyone  their intent is obvious.

Payback.

Payback for the humiliation, the summary arrests and brutality.

This is of course not the first time that villagers have tried to revolt against the Party. But in 2009, with the twin blows of Nandigram and Singur, the consequent migration of a significant part of the Party’s strongarm to the Trinamool, the ceaseless attack on the party not only by its traditional opponents but also by its long-time intellectual support-base for whom Buddha-babu and his cavorting with capitalists has been socialistic anathema and finally a series of electoral setbacks , the Left government has been the weakest it has ever been in the last three decades. Add to that the steadily growing power of Maoists who have brought AK47s to a region where the cadre have traditionally fought with machettes, country-made revolvers and home-made bombs and the opportunistic support provided by the Trinamool and only then one begins to realize why the local population, manipulated by the Maoist leadership, have backed themselves to essentially declare a revolt against the state government and the party infrastructure, which some may argue is one and the same thing in Bengal.

In order to understand why the violence has been so sustained and brutal in Lalgarh, one has to look at the historical traditions of the district of Medinipur (now divided into two) of which Lalgarh is a part. From the times of Aurangzeb when the village of Tilkuti in Medinipur invited the Emperor’s wrath for constructing a Hindu temple in direct contravention to his decree through to the Chuar tribal revolt in the nineteenth century and the independent Tamluk government which effectively set up a parallel administration (the rebellion being voluntarily ended on Gandhi’s request) in parts of Medinipur in 1942 to Nandigram in 2007, Medinipurians have been known for their strong streak of independence and a healthy mistrust for centralized authority.

Given this context, it is no surprise that the strongest challenge to the Left government’s authority has come from this district. In the case of Lalgarh, the seeds of the present violence was laid when a high-powered landmine blast triggered by Maoists nearly assassinated Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya at Shalboni near Lalgarh while he was returning after inaugurating the JSW Steel Plant in November 2008.  With pressure to bring the culprits to book, the police then launched a repressive crackdown on the region detaining, humiliating and harassing the local population, many of whom were suspected of harboring Maoists or being active conspirators in the bomb blasts. This heavy-handedness provided the perfect fodder for local Maoists to inflame the local population and incite them to perpetrate violence against the local Left cadre. With the cadre in retreat, the Maoists then followed up with a chest-thumping “stop us if you can” march to Kolkata where the protesters brought to the city to a standstill and engaged in acts of vandalism.

The demands of the “people of Lalgarh”  or more precisely the Maoists that are pulling the strings have been removal of police posts from the region and stopping of night-time raids, demands that have been met by the state government. In essence, what that has done is that it has further weakened the rule of law in the region, a region where a steel plant is to be constructed, and energized the Maoists whose recruitment in the region has by all accounts been stepped up as it seeks to entrench itself from Tirupati to Pashupati.  The potential fallout of this on the state’s investment climate, especially after what transpired in Singur, is likely to be grave. Mamata Banerjee, whose contribution to making Bengal an attractive venue for investment is well known, is also caught in a quandary. Though she has endeavored to extract as much political capital out of Lalgarh as she possibly can, she has stopped short of walking shoulder to shoulder with Maoists, possibly because she realizes that should her dream of sitting on the Bengal throne be realized she would have to handle the consequences of absolute anarchy should the Maoists have their way. To her embarrassment, the agitators have called her bluff threatening her with boycott (i.e. no votes) unless she “breaks her silence”, with the accusation of staying silent being something Ms. Banerjee is usually not accustomed to hearing.

And so Lalgarh remains on boil caught in a ceaseless cycle of Maoist terror and retributive violence by state police with  a part of the state spiraling down into anarchy in the near future looking to be a very real possibility.

Bengal bleeds as a result. It bleeds red. All shades of it.

But then again, what’s new?

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34 thoughts on “My Name Is Red

  1. Can people stop going “me first” when a serious topic is the sbject?
    Nice article Greatbong. For the past couple of years, your posts are the most unbiased and informative commentary on Bengal I have ever read.

  2. Was waiting for a post on the recent tragedy in Bengal.
    I agree with the point of Bengal bleeding all shades of red and the worst part is that absolutely no one is interested in stoppin git from bleeding…
    Its a serious tragedy for us to see such a wonderful land fall to its pits…

  3. Hmm.. Red Army taking over “Lalgarh”. Was “Lalgarh” the original name of the place or something or an F2 after the red seize in recent years?

  4. It really pains me that nothing is going right for my state in the recent times. Hurts to see Bengal Bleeding. Lack of development has halted any growth here and now we are in reverse gear.
    Hope everything gets better soon. Amen !

  5. Good that you brought up the past “achievements” of Midnapur, although we don’t really know whether present case can be counted as “achievement” or not. I think in a way the ruling Left Front has become the “Class” they say they are fighting against – the shift is that the people now have identified the difference between Leap Servicing a cause and real action to address people’s problems.

    Propaganda can get you this far Comrade …and no more!! Yes US is not the best of the pals but much better than deprivation, hunger and illiteracy combined with social injustice.

    A Comrade commented that in capitalism “Man exploits man” – a capitalist replied “in communism, it is the other way around.”

    Now we can insert the Indian example also

  6. It is sad to know that even an educated insightful person like you has pin-pointed the current Government as behind the root cause of the Maoist movement in Lalgarh. People are being murdered over there,they were being murdered long before Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s convoy was almost blown off last November. When the Government was wanting to go into deliberations with these armed sons of many a gun,people called it inactive. When it takes a military action, people blame it for bleeding Bengal. Can anyone suggest, what it should do?

  7. It is indeed a dangerous trend when people start channeling discontent of political parties towards insurgency and anarchy.
    While I am no fan of the Left Front, I suspect that in this case the TMC and the Congress are taking advantage of the Maoists to wrest Lalgarh from the Lal army. We can expect no better from Mamatadi who would make a pact with the devil himself if it keeps the CPM out of power. But Manmohan Singh should pull the state Congress in line and threaten to throw Mamata out of the UPA if she sups with the Maoists.

    West Bengal seems to be caught between the CPM and Mamata and I am not really sure which one is worse. On one hand we have the systematic undermining of all institutions of govt by the CPM cadre and on the other hand we have the disruptive anarchy of Mamata who is trying to outdo the Left in its own game.

  8. As someone who spent a considerable amount of time in Midnapore, with forefathers involved in anti-British revolutionary movement in Tamluk, and with a close relative(passed away) as a leaders in Naxal movement… I will say the following,

    – The Naxals are a more poisonous version of the ruling Communist party. It is a sad irony that people in rural Bengal are resorting to a overdose of the same poison that has put them in this mess in the first place.

    – The ideological rot that has engulfed the Hindus of Bengal after partition (and their hands down loss of resources and territory to Islamic East), is going to continue this slide further, in this form. educated Bengalis must realize that.

    – You can moan and whine about this as much as you want,but as long as you do not identify the real issues, you will continue to be in this mess, caught between the so called “devil” and the “Deep Sea”.

    And the real explosion has not even begun, of the demographic time bomb, that is.

  9. Fighting a battle with guns and bullets will make everyone bleed. There is no doubt that Bengal gonna be the loser in the whole episode.

    However the military force should always be the first force to be unleashed when some takes up arms against the state. Government dint do that, it behaved like an Ostrich. Now that the problem has escalated very high military action is the only option and it is going to be expensive too.

    What must follow an military force is, process of building very highly effective governance and administration system, that the people will start believing in it. (We are never known for this except in the mythological Raam Rajyaa)

    If government fails to take this second step they will have to repeat the first step again and again making everyone bleed.

    They are likely to chose this option because its cheaper to ask our security men to lay down their life than building an efficient system. 😦

  10. guys please tell me name of a sigle communist country where people’s voice was not supressed.What is going on in west bengal is the direct consequence of what CPIM has done for more than 30 years.I don’t like mamata as a political figure but I deeply believe that a change is needed( in what ever form except the way maoist wants) so that whoever rules the state has a fear in mind that they are neither above people nor they are going to rule the state forever. 33years are too much for a government to stay in power with such a lackluster performance.At the end I feel sorry for the people and their families who are going to suffer the most.

  11. I suppose Maoist are landless worker class agitating against feudal and ruling class.

    I was reading atlantic and they have two good solutions on taxing for better world.

    1) Tax the land owners depending upon the value of the property.

    This way Maoist will not feel cheated also land will be put correct use by ancestral owners of land.

    2) Remove corporate tax on profit, this way there will wealth generation and job creation for workers.

  12. Sam

    Where do you live?

    You have no clue about this place do you?
    Corporate tax…hahaha

    – This is a place, which is heavily agrarian, with a heady mix subsistence living.

    – The landowners as as poor as the labourers.
    – Resources are limited and whatever resources are there are dwindling further because of new settlements of Bangladeshi Muslims, who are displacing the tribals.

    The communist government have not done any development, true to their ideology.
    The ultra-communist Maoists, (who are fighting the communists), dont like even the little development the communists did, because to them that equals to increase in inequity).

    The entire population is being taken for a violent ride.

    The Communists depend of the Muslims for vote bank, so they dont stop the settlements. The Maoists depend on Jihadis for funding and arms, so they dont want to touch them.

    Just sit back and lament this tragedy.

  13. Unfortunately when terrorists (read Maoists) blow up villages and kill policemen in Andhra and Madhya Pradesh and Orissa and Chattisgarh, it is not looked at as the fault of the state governments there… whereas in Bengal it is always so… Payback… bullies being bullied is all I read… can we recognize that these are terrorists? no less ruthless than Kasab or the Lashkar e toiba… In Bengal, the problem has been that the Trinamool Congress gave them political legitimacy… for short term electoral gains… when Mamata Banerjee becomes chief minister in two year’s time… the Maoists will not go away… and the intellectuals who are today shouting for a peaceful solution, where were they when the Maoists went on a rampage in Lalbagh… and killed every single CPIM man who was there in the village…

    A lot of us do not know, and have not read of the last non-communist government West Bengal had, how murder was used as a means of systematic political terror.. after the Lok Sabha I felt the CPIM deserved its defeat… given administrative failures… policy blunders … and supporting Mayawati… I thought it would do Buddhababu and comrades some good to sit in opposition… I am not so sure now…

  14. Did someone mention Bangladeshi muslims? :O They are being allowed to settle here?

    That really, really completes the picture. May Kali mata have mercy on this land.

  15. the problem with the maoist dissidence is that what started out as a movement is generally acquiring the garb of systemized terror. It is impractical to suggest that such a large scale massacre was without the support of outside elements who really have no connection to the original dispute.
    further, these so called elements are actively encouraged by political parties on both sides, which has further complicated the situation.
    Ultimately, it is the poor farmer who is bleeding. And, if a certain mamata banerjee thinks that she is inheriting the throne in two years with a cakewalk.. and her systematic manipulation of factors to her own advantage is going to work this time also.. she is highly mistaken.

  16. the people there want to replace communist party of india (marxist) with communist party of india (maoists) .. this is a very deep progress in 30 years ..

    at this rate we can hope for CPI (Leninist) then CPI (Stalinist) then back to CPI (Marxist) then maybe a bit of Leninist again then CPI (Guruda’s version) then CPI (Chai ka dukan APU’s interpretation) and so on and so forth

    .. maybe after 500 years the state will progress to socialism and when the planet inhabitants will start to leave for the martian colonies then probably banerjee da (the greatest leader of bengal to come) will finally introduce capitalism (with total subsidies)

  17. Greatbong….thanks for the highly informative piece!

    Though you didn’t comment what people like Aparna Sen mean in the whole scheme of things and is that a sign that so-called ‘intellectuals’ are also deserting the party….in favor of maoists?

    Am still confused what she is doing there? And as a news report said – Aparna Sen and ‘other intellectuals’ forced police to stop its atrocious action.

  18. Eii Eta Aajkay Online holo ki Bapar? I was also thinking that tumi ekhono porjonto Maobadi der oporay kono post na koray ki koray thaktay paaro!!

  19. The ever hawkish Lalkrishna Badvani (harbinger of bad msg as well as (“The Rusty LohPurush of BJP–Bandar Jati ka Party”)) came down from the Himalayas to the coast of Bay of Bengal to ask the religiously ambigous Mithunda one question—“Hindu honay ka garv hai?” ..To which the ever mercurial Dada, who reportedly has God’s number on Speed Dial, shot back—“Langhot pehen nay ka garv hai??”————————————————————-

    ————————————————-

    Tell me the irony of the story

  20. Cchandaheen Kobita Boudi,

    Eiita to probhuto deen “online” roeche. Tommar dorshon shokti ksheen hoye aascche. Torit gotitie langhot poro o Himaloye sadhona karo, ebong ratri baarotar por aar internet’er shaamne bosho naa, darshan shokti driro hobe.

    BJP’brindo ke kopibrinder shange toolonaar artho bujhlaam na. Aamiyo driro BJP samarthok …. kopibrinder shange ekmatro saamonjoshyo hocche kadalir proti durbolota. Aami jokhon laajta langhoter moddhye lookiye raakhi, tokhon kono shyalok buhjte pare naa je laj royeche. To bandor bolcho kon shahoshe? >:-[

    Maanlam je Advani morche pora louho-purush. Beta ekdom nimojjito kore (dubiye) dilo. 😦 😦

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