The only novelty of the latest events is that they took place in the CPI(M)-led Left Front-ruled West Bengal at a time when these parties are supposed to be engaged in challenging the RSS-BJP-led fascistic offensive against democracy in the country.
On 4 July, the Union Government banned the Akhil Bharat Nepali Ekta Samaj (ABNES), which reportedly has a strong base in North Bengal, for its alleged links with Nepal Maoists, the first case of a ban under the infamous POTA in West Bengal.
Within hours, the CPI(M)-led West Bengal government followed the centre’s lead by launching its offensive against local Maoists. ‘In a pre-dawn sweep,’ reports a leading Kolkata daily, ‘in a Dum Dum (a northern suburb of Kolkata) locality that continued throughout the day and at Uttarpara (in Hooghly) police arrested four supporters of People’s War Group activists, one of them allegedly a member of the think-tank.’
The alleged think-tank member is a chemistry lecturer in the Kolkata University Science College, who was picked up without a warrant from his parents’ home – both of them distinguished teachers – moments after midnight, by a posse of policemen, including some Rapid Action Force personnel. After some initial interrogation at a nearby police station, those arrested were taken to Midnapore and produced before a magistrate after the expiry of the statutory 24 hour period, with marks of severe physical torture on the exposed parts of the lecturer’s body. The magistrate refused to release them on bail, but directed the police to submit a medical report on the injuries within five days.
A popular Bengali channel vividly showed the swollen and bloody parts of his body repeatedly during the day.
All this immediately created deep indignation and consternation in left and democratic circles in the state. A former vice-chancellor of the Kolkata University and some of its faculty members condemned the arrests and the brutalities. The next day, even the secretary of the CPI(M)’s Midnapore district committee criticised the police in a TV interview.
Within 24 hours followed another, and a more poignant, development, a central government employee was similarly picked up from the same Dum Dum locality in the same manner soon after midnight and taken again to Midnapore. What happened there is not known, but he was released the next day without any apparent mark of physical torture. Soon after his return home, he supposedly committed suicide by jumping before a running train. His wife said that he was unable to bear the humiliation of his arrest. Another clue to the suicide is provided by a report in The Statesman, Kolkata, that he was released only after he was ‘persuaded’ to sign a statement that he would help the police to trace an allegedly Maoist friend of his.
The CPI(M) chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, did not appear to be at all mortified or perturbed by these developments. During his usual briefings before the TV cameras in the State secretariat, he loftily declared that the police operations would continue as usual, though a joint secretary of the home department would hold an inquiry into the latter case. That is, he did not apologise for the unlawful tortures, nor did he promise punishment of the offenders for the violation of human rights.
When the chief minister reacted so callously to the torture reports, he obviously failed to anticipate the avalanche of public protests and condemnation that was to follow.
More than that, Bhattacharjee seems to have a streak of authoritarianism in him his modest demeanour notwithstanding. Six months ago we had observed:
‘the chief minister’s recent utterances have also antagonised some sections of the sensitive public opinion. For instance, his declamation that defaulting doctors and hospital staff members should be thrown out by the scruff of their necks or his speech at a public meeting that ‘My government will not tolerate such mindless violence unleashed by armed PWG activists in Midnapore. They should either shun their politics or violence or prepare themselves to die’.
Bhattacharjee should have known that the objects of his dire threats have seldom shown any hesitation to die for their commitments, right or wrong; there is, therefore, no point in issuing imperious threats to them. (The Marxist Review Occasional Notes, Special Number, January 2002).
Neither he, nor his government, nor his party seems to have undertaken a re-examination of the source of political sustenance that the new round of Maoist resurgence derives from the alienation of various segments of marginalised population in the State. The chief minister seems to be unaware of the direction he is heading for. Does he realise the serious danger of being caught in the snare spread by international, imperialist reaction and the national reaction of various hues, mainly saffron?
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s stepped up offensive against the PWG, as he himself gives out, is part of the coordinated inter-State drive under the aegis of the Centre. It is, moreover, no secret that this, in turn, is synchronised with the international thrust to help the anti-Maoist military campaign of the feudal-comprador-durbar to salvage the rotten socio-political structure in the world’s only ‘hindu rashtra’ – the RSS-BJP’s natural ally – in collaboration with the British and US agencies to be activised in the sub-continent. Do Bhattacharjee and the CPI(M) realised this ramification? One also hopes that the CPI(M)’s international department is aware that many a foreign observer, not known for any Maoist sympathies, has found the Maoists in Nepal as deeply rooted in the considerable radicalised rural poor who seem to be highly motivated in their confrontation with the possessive feudal-comprador-militarist power structure.
The international ramifications apart, the implications of the Left Front government’s involvement in the inter-State campaign under the Centre’s aegis against the inter-State Maoist network also need to be considered. Taking at its face value the Left Front government’s self-image as a progressive populist administration, its own self defence cannot be equated with the protection of the other State governments dominated by ‘bourgeois-landlord’, semi-feudal maliks and rising kulak power. Why should the CPI(M)-led government soil its hands by joining with the social reactionaries against the oppressed and exploited popular forces?
Bhattacharjee may be justified in taking umbrage against the PWG’s alleged declared policy of annihilation of political opponents. But, what about the annihilation of political opponents regularly practised without declaration by many other political parties in this State, possibly including his own? What is the rationale in drawing a distinction between the two?
History is perhaps repeating itself. Exactly 35 years ago, in July 1967, when we came out with the first number of The Marxist Review, we had to warn against the infantile revolutionism of the Naxalbari communists as also the incipient right-wing social democratism of the dominant CPI(M) leadership. We cried in the wilderness and the people of Bengal paid a heavy price in blood and tears.
This time when we repeat the writing, the national and international contexts are far more complicated. The price for this misconceived confrontation will be far more heavy.
9 July 2002
This is an abbreviated version of ‘The Marxist Review’, Special Number of July 2002.
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