Wednesday, November 14, 2007

CM of CPM, not Bengal

CM of CPM, not Bengal

He has been accused and condemned by others, most notably by governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Now Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has pleaded guilty and condemned himself.

His first public statement on the latest episode at Nandigram is an extraordinary admission of guilt by a chief minister. What he has said echoes what Prakash Karat said in Delhi yesterday or what Biman Bose has been saying at Alimuddin Street over the past few days.

That the chief minister not only admitted his party men’s armed recapture of Nandigram but also justified it can raise serious political and constitutional questions about his rule. The fact that he made his statement to the media sitting at Writers’ Buildings gives it a bizarre symbolism.

Here is a chief minister who publicly says that he had greater faith in his party’s armed cadres than in the rule of law to resolve the Nandigram crisis.

His statement makes him vulnerable to the charge of wilfully violating his constitutional responsibilities and letting armed gangs usurp the administration’s work.

It is also a call to the politics of guns that robs him of the moral and constitutional authority of his chair.

The consequences of this call can be dangerous in a state where street fights have long replaced democratic debate as the principal mode of political contests. And, it will make the search for peace at Nandigram far more difficult than it had been so far.

His own admission of wrongdoing will make it difficult for all parties, including the CPM’s partners in the Left Front, to join any peace effort that the chief minister may be associated with. The RSP’s threat to withdraw from the government would now appear to be a minor casualty.

What he has said about the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee’s tactics is not entirely untrue. There is no denying that the movement was not entirely peaceful or that several hundred CPM supporters were driven away from their homes.

But for a chief minister to publicly say that the agitators were “paid back in their own coin” is to endorse partisan warfare. That he still thinks and acts in terms of “our people, their people” shows that he wants to be the CPM’s, not Bengal’s, chief minister.

He has referred to the government’s peace initiatives over Nandigram during the past few months. Everyone knows that the efforts failed. Even two days before the CPM’s recapture of Nandigram, Jyoti Basu had talked of resuming political efforts for restoring peace at Nandigram.

But the party cadres’ armed invasion of the area would now suggest that all this was a cover for a plot hatched between the chief minister and his party.

His argument that he did not use force at Nandigram in order to avoid a repeat of the tragedy of March 14 is just as flawed. What happened last week confirmed the suspicion that he had deliberately delayed seeking the help of central forces.

The way the CRPF men’s passage to Nandigram was blocked by the CPM supporters all along National Highway 41, while Nandigram was being recaptured, has come as irrefutable evidence of the plot.

The way he sought to defend the indefensible at his media conference is also remarkable for another reason. His answers show no remorse, no regrets for either the human tragedy at Nandigram or the collapse of the administration. Even after the protests and the political storm raging in the state, he seems to be as combative as his comrades at Nandigram.

His remarks against intellectuals protesting in Calcutta betrayed disdain and impatience that are typical of the arrogance of power.

Not even industrialists would feel comfortable to do business with him hereafter. That could be the worst irony of it all for him. After all, he and his party ventured into an aggressive policy to woo new industries, even at the risk of alienating a section of the people.

If Nandigram had muddied his image, his defence today may have done it a worse damage. It would be a long haul for the CPM to get out of the mess.