Bound and gagged

Published: Saturday 15 August 2009

-- Forget Maoists, West Bengal's Left Front has lost its social constituency through years of inaction

The situation in Lalgarh in West Bengal's Midnapore district, still precariously poised, seems to have been overtaken by generous helpings of farce in nearby Kolkata and distant Delhi. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram kept urging West Bengal to ban Red ultras even as he completed the formality of notifying the cpi-Maoists as a proscribed organization countrywide. He might not have bothered had he been up to speed with the situation in the state.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been talking about a political campaign against the Maoists for a while, especially since the attack on his convoy near Salboni (near Lalgarh) in November last year. Now, in the wake of the ban, he has announced a three-pronged strategy police action, political campaigning and development.

The fact, however, is that for at least a year Maoist sympathizers, not insurgents, have been the soft targets of the government and cpi(m) cadres. Several have been incarcerated on charges ranging from pasting posters to being in the possession of what is presumably 'incendiary' literature. The role of the party cadre and the highly irregular proceedings against people who can at best be described as propagandists was dramatically publicized when the police tried to barge into the accommodations of some students of Jadavpur University with no authorization soon after the Salboni attack. It was only concerted and immediate opposition from the student and teaching community of the university followed by a public outcry that scotched this proceeding.

While all this has been going on, the Left has not been able to string together anything even remotely resembling a convincing rebuttal of the Maoist claim that the genesis of their entry into Bengal goes back to a few years ago when they were 'hired' by the cpi(m) to take on the Trinamul Congress.

Basic facilities like two decent meals and drinking water is stuff of fantasy in West Bengal's tribal areas
Down to Earth
There is, of course, very little reason for surprise at the cpi(m)'s political paralysis. For almost two years, the cpi(m) has been under siege. In its embattled state, a political campaign is out of the question, not least because the siege the opposition--whether Maoists or mainstream--has mounted rests on the foundations, the political and social logic and the social constituencies that until recently were the Left's mainstay. As for the development programme, only folks in a total state of denial as Bhattacharjee and his comrades can speak of it without a trace of embarrassment. For over three decades the Left Front has wilfully deprived the tribal people especially, but also huge sections of other poor people in West Bengal of the fruits of development. Forget development, basic facilities like drinking water and two decent meals a day are the stuff of fantasy. It is only the colossally deluded self-image of Left leaders, fed by years of rhetorical posturing as the saviours of the oppressed, that prevents them from seeing how despicably corrupt and venal the establishment has become and how irretrievably the people have been lost to them.

Since all that leaves the police action, whether it is necessary or not, there is a big problem. How long are central forces going to park themselves in Lalgarh? And what if the Maoists open new fronts in the vast swathes of utterly disaffected tribal territory?

Even a cursory reading of the news will confirm that the forces in Lalgarh resemble suspiciously an army of occupation, not because of the Maoists but because the people themselves are thoroughly alienated--as indeed they are in so many places in the country. All you have to do is leaf through a report commissioned by and presented to the Planning Commission about a year ago by a committee consisting of former bureaucrats and policemen, and academics and mainstream activists.

Which brings us to the Maoists. For a while now the prime minister has been describing them as the most wasting disease in the body politic. It cannot be denied that the Maoists possess their fair share of delinquencies. It can hardly, too, be denied that in the richest of lands in this country, among the poorest of the people they represent the only ray of hope. To deny that the Maoists prosper because they work for the betterment of the most wretched of people and not just through the invocation of terror would be a kind of blindness that no one can afford--certainly not those who guide the destinies of this nation.

Suhit Sen is an academic, a journalist and a freelance writer

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.