By Uday Basu
When the CPI-M Politburo member-turned-chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee transformed Nandigram, which was an “oasis of peace” till 11 months back, into “killing fields”, he ceased to be a nephew of the rebel, young poet, Sukanta, and became a cousin of Pol Pot, the blood thirsty monster who led the ethnic cleansing of Cambodia in the 1970s. Incidentally, the name of the communist outfit Pol Pot headed, Khmer Rouge, had a red tag (“rouge” in French means red) like the colour of Mr Bhattacharjee’s party flag.
After the ruthless red terror in Nandigram for about a week since 3 November when democracy was buried alive and the ghost of Stalin let out of the grave to haunt the hapless villages, Mr Bhattacharjee and his fellow comrades, such as the Karat couple, have forfeited the moral right to utter a single word on the present day version of Nazi concentration camp - the prison of Abu Ghraib. For, Nandigram was turned into something far worse than Abu Ghraib.
From 3 November Mr Bhattacharjee has forfeited the right to call President George W Bush, which he did after the US invasion of Iraq, “the leader of a gang of killers”, since the description fits him no less.
From 3 November Karat & Co. has lost the right to indulge in the luxury of the rhetorical outburst against the USA that it’s out to clamp its hegemony over the Gulf and other Asian countries.
The Marxist chief minister must now shed all his pretensions about being a man of culture and refinement and take off his mask of being a “humane and sensitive” head of a government; he has been wearing the mask since he assumed office.
Those who know him had no doubt about his real identity when he donned the chief minister’s mantle and projected himself as Mr Clean, both physically (clad if immaculately white and starched dhoti and kurta and a mop of grey hair) and mentally.
It was a makeover the Marxists desperately needed after Mr Jyoti Basu lost his sheen as a “leader of leaders” as a logical corollary to warming the seat of power for about 23 years. His tenure ended as one of great expectations scandalously belied. He became a liability for the party and Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee came within striking distance of capturing power.
The CPI-M, then under the stewardship of the astute political manager, Anil Biswas, staged a coup of sorts by replacing Mr Basu with Mr Bhattacharjee six months before the 2001 Assembly poll. The gamble richly paid off as much because of Miss Banerjee’s fickle-minded political behaviour as of Mr Bhattacharjee’s image of integrity.
Mr Bhattacharjee responded to the needs of the times so well that the people hailed him as one who could deliver the goods with elan. To be true to the image he and his party were craftily building, he rushed to a remote village in South 24-Parganas shaken by a series of dacoities. The newspapers splashed his photograph as he was perched on a cycle-van to reach the villages which lacked the roads to let his motorcade trundle along. Here was a common man’s chief minister, the people thought. He perfectly played to the gallery matching the words he spoke to this writer in an interview in The Statesman during the run-up to the 2001 Assembly poll that he wanted to be “known”, as Tagore wrote, “as one of yours”( people’s).
Six years later, the same chief minister couldn’t even think in the wildest stretch of his imagination to go to Nandigram and see with his own eyes why the ill-clad, ill-fed villagers had fortified themselves against the state administration and the cadres of the party that runs the administration.
The explanation that the chief minister gave to justify the Stalinist repression when the media wasn’t allowed to move into the war zone, where a one-sided battle was waged by heavily armed CPI-M cadres with the police withdrawn, was that the people of Nandigram had evicted 1,500 CPI-M supporters from their homes and didn’t let them return.
“Our men paid them back in their own coin”, the CPI-M man-turned chief minister gloated after the operation was over. When told that the peace that was restored in this barbaric way was that of the graveyard, Mr Bhattacharjee shot back shamelessly and with overweening pride: “Was there heavenly peace during the past 11 months?”
Well, to “pay” the chief minister “back in his own coin”, of course, Nandigram was an oasis of peace (an expression he is so fond of) till 11 months ago, but who destroyed the “heavenly peace?” It was Mr Bhattacharjee himself in collusion with his party.
It’s the height of hypocrisy for the chief minister to pretend that the people of Nandigram overnight formed the Bhumi Uchched Protirodh Committee, took up arms, hounded CPI-M activists out of their homes and turned Nandigram into a liberated zone. It was Mr Bhattacharjee who “murdered the sleep” of these wretched villagers by trying to take away their land for the now aborted mega chemical hub project to favour big capital, such as the Salim Group of Indonesia.
One feels like reminding him of Macbeth: “Glamis hath murder’d sleep, and therefore Cawdor/ Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more.”
It’s no argument as put forward by Mr Bhattacharjee that the people of Nandigram should have laid down their arms and embraced CPI-M cadres as their brethren the moment he announced no land would be acquired and there won’t be a chemical hub there. The plain truth is: Who would trust such a chief minister?
So, Nandigram concluded eternal vigil is the price of freedom. Only a painfully protracted peace process, as advocated by veteran politicians like Mr Jyoti Basu and the Forward Bloc’s Mr Ashoke Ghosh, was the only way out of the Nandigram imbroglio.
But, Mr Bhattacharjee and his party had other compulsions. They will have to face the rural electorate in the panchayat poll only a few months away. For them Nandigram in the hands of villagers owing allegiance to the BUPC was a chilling reality that the CPI-M can be “paid back in its own coin” and that the rural people could no longer be chained by the fear of Marxist muscle power.
The revolt by near-starving rural masses against corrupt ration dealers, many of whom were CPI-M leaders and their kin, was spreading frighteningly for the past few months. Only if the backbone of resistance against CPI-M terror was broken at Nandigram, the message could be driven home to the rural population that they mustn’t dare defy the Marxists, or else they would meet the fate of Nandigram.
The chief minister certainly calculates the message has been delivered and the Opposition may not be able even to field their candidates in the panchayat poll as it happened the last time when it complained that about 25,000 candidates couldn’t file their nomination. If that happens, the Stalinist operation at Nandigram would be considered a grand success.
But the gain would be far outweighed by the loss of whatever credibility the Marxists have had as champions of the poor and staunch opponents of the politics of gun and political vendetta. Will they now be able to expand their influence, as it resolved in their last party Congress, outside the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura? After they bared their fangs in Nandigram not even the most die-hard Marxists would believe so, since the country has seen the real face of the Karats and their lieutenants in West Bengal.
(The author is a Special Representative of The Statesman, Kolkata)