This sums up my feelings of a few weeks ago. The anger and bewilderment are still there, now.
We need to keep our spirits up, it's going to be a long and hard and, perhaps bloody, struggle. Thanks for inviting me to this blog.
"Power corrupts"published in “Jabberwocky" The Statesman, 20 March 2007
The events of last Wednesday at Nandigram have left me stunned. In earlier installments of this column, I had discussed some of the concerns raised by the takeover of farmland for industrial use in Singur and talked about the ways in which complex debates seemed to be taking shape over vital issues such as the nature of development, the merits of industry vs. agriculture and so on. But 14 March 2007 has demonstrated that such debates might just as well be consigned to the dustbin of history. For the signal sent out by our rulers and the state machinery they control on 14 March was clinical in its simplicity: Do what we tell you to, or else…
Reports trickling in from Nandigram suggest that what took place there was nothing short of cold, calculated genocide. There are many who believe that the death toll is considerably higher than the official figure. Our High Court has stated that, on the face of it, the police firing was in violation of our Constitution and all that it stands for. Our governor spoke for many of us when he said that the firing had filled him “with a sense of cold horror” and went on to ask, “Was this spilling of human blood not avoidable? What is the public purpose served by the use of force that we have witnessed today?” Eminent intellectuals, writers, poets and others have symbolically returned awards received from the West Bengal government and resigned from government-constituted bodies. Meetings have been held, and will, I suspect, continue to be held, condemning the events of 14 March, condemning the government, condemning the CPI(M) and its cadres, condemning the police, condemning our chief minister…
But symbolic gestures and condemnation, important as they undoubtedly are, are not enough. As citizens of a free, democratic, nation, it is our duty to demand of our leaders that they not only redress the grievous wrong perpetrated last Wednesday, but also demonstrate to our satisfaction that such an occurrence will not take place again. I find it appalling that our chief minister has expressed regret for 14 March but has stopped short of apologizing for what occurred and has, so far, failed to assure us that such an event will not take place again. Perhaps, as the leader of a party with a huge mandate from the people, he feels that whatever he does must be meekly accepted as good by the inhabitants of West Bengal. Perhaps, after thirty years of unbroken rule, the Left Front believes in its own omnipotence. Perhaps the lack of any coherent opposition has led the CM to believe that the people will put up with anything and everything that is done by him and his party.
Responses to 14 March have been instructive. A businessman friend who has, so far, been appreciative of the direction in which West Bengal seems to be heading, asked me, in astonished bewilderment, “Tell me, are we still living in colonial times?” while another, never so supportive of the Left Front, said, “Forget resignation letters, just get me a light machine-gun!”
Unless our rulers find the means to address people’s concerns, redress wrongs, and provide believable assurance that 14 March was an aberration that will not be repeated, and do all of these in double-quick time, things could go rapidly, and horribly, out of control. The question is: will they demonstrate the political will and the human decency to do this, or will they trust on the brute arrogance of power, as they seem to have done so far, to see them through this crisis?
[Samantak Das is still shell-shocked at the events of 14 March.]