Posted online: Saturday, October 06, 2007 at 0000 hrs
Even as the CPI(M) is preaching foreign policy to the UPA Government in Delhi, the comrades running the powerbase of West Bengal are busy tackling crises at the grassroots, one after the other.
For Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the first shock was the trouble that erupted following land acquisition at Singur for the Tata Motors’ small-car project. Barely had that died down, a much bigger crisis broke out in not-so-far-away Nandigram in December last year as farmers opposed the Government’s plans to acquire a much larger swathe of land for a couple of special economic zones (SEZs). The Nandigram trouble peaked in March 14 this year, when 14 people were killed in police firing.
As Bhattacharjee continued to woo industry, making announcements in fits and starts after the Nandigram dampener, the ground shifted again. This time, villagers in various parts rebelled against the pathetic state of the public distribution system (PDS). The first flare-up took place in Bankura, in the last week of August. Since then, the violence — in which shops have been burnt down and party leaders attacked — has claimed four lives.
The PDS crisis has two interesting points. First, while it is being led by the Trinamool Congress, at the grassroots it is backed by CPI(M) activists. Second, Muslims here have coalesced with the Scheduled Castes and Tribes to rail against institutionalised corruption. This, at a time when CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat has been going hammer and tongs at the Congress-led UPA Government alleging that it is neglecting the PDS system.
As if land acquisition and rationing system were not enough, the latest crisis has sprung from a poor but educated Muslim boy’s love for a rich businessman’s daughter. It seems that when Rizwanur Rehman fell in love with Priyanka Todi and married her, her father was livid and used his connections to bully the boy. The bullying failed. But the boy was found dead on a railway line. While the police is under siege for meddling in a domestic arrangement, senior leaders and CPI(M) ministers — Muslims and otherwise — have begun criticising the police.
Meanwhile, even as the CPI(M) in Delhi was challenging the UPA Government to do more for the Muslims, the Justice Rajindar Sachar Report showed that the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government in West Bengal had a dismal record in improving the lot of Muslims. Muslims, traditionally pampered by the CPI(M), suddenly woke up to ground realities. For long, Muslims have been important for the “secular” CPI(M). They account for 27 per cent of the votes.
With Karat and his colleagues in Delhi threatening the existence of the UPA Government, the CPI(M) in the state has already begun telling its district committees to gear up for the panchayat polls, which are due in June 2008. But the district committee leaders have lobbed the ball back to the CPI(M) state headquarters. They want the state leaders to clear three points first. One, why has the Government failed to take action against officials and policemen responsible for the Nandigram firing. Two, what should they tell their Muslim voters about the Sachar Commission findings. And finally, why is the Government not taking action against the police officers in the Rizwanur case?
BURDWAN/MALDA, Oct. 7 - Statesman Report
An angry mob, protesting against corrupt rationing practices, ransacked the house of a ration dealer, looted food materials and launched an attack on a procession and office of the CPI-M in Nababhat in the outskirts of Burdwan town today. The ration dealer is reportedly a Trinamul Congress supporter and the attackers were allegedly backed by the RSP.
As protests and public outrage against corrupt rationing practices spread to the neighbouring districts, angry villagers in the Kandi sub-division area of Murshidabad ransacked houses and shops of five ration dealers, went on a looting spree and also set on fire their go-downs in a series of incidents since yesterday.In Burdwan, a mob broke into the house of ration dealer, Mr Sheikh Fakir Mohammed around 8.30 a.m., dragged him out of his house along with his sons and beat them up. Even the womenfolk of the house were not spared. The mob also torched a tractor, six motorbikes and a Tata Sumo while furniture worth Rs 12 lakh were set on fire as well. Ten television sets, ten VCDs, a sound system, two refrigerators were damaged when the house was ransacked.
Gold jewellery worth Rs 8 lakh and Rs 14 lakh in cash were also looted. Soon after this, a group of CPI-M activists and leaders were also attacked when they tried to defend the dealer and a local party office was ransacked. Twelve CPI-M supporters, including two of their leaders, Mr Ganesh Chowdhury and Mr Arabindo Panja were rushed to the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital.
The police resorted to lathicharge to disperse the mob and eight villagers were arrested. Later, around 2000 CPI-M supporters, took out a rally in the village brandishing sword, lathis and chains.
The ration dealer later alleged: “The intruders were headed by RSP activists. Yesterday they had demanded Rs 15 lakh to spare house of vandalism.” Reports say that the dealer, is also a rich farmer and according to the district administration, “there has been no complaint against him.”
Mr Amol Halder, district CPI-M secretary said: “The miscreants are taking advantage of the current turmoil surrounding the rationing system. This dealer is a supporter of TMC, but our men went to his rescue as we are not tackling the issue politically.”
Meanwhile, the Murshidabad SP, Mr. Rahul Srivastava said that 37 persons were arrested in connection with looting spree at shops of ration dealers’ and go-downs of distributors. “A large police contingent has been deployed in trouble prone areas to combat the situation,” Mr. Srivastava said.
Police said that violence spread to Murshidabad following rumours that dealers in the district would compensate Rs 1000 each to ration cardholders. When dealers refused to do so, angry villagers looted the houses of ration dealers located at Sherpur, Simulia in Khargram today.
At Sherpur, two vehicles and two go-downs of Mr. Nazir Khan, a ration dealer, were set on fire. 24 persons were arrested in this connection. At Simulia, villagers looted the house of Aleyara Bibi, a modified ration dealer, when her husband was away from home. It was alleged that villagers looted even ornaments from her house.
“We do not have such information, but will enquire into the ornament looting case, if any. In fact, we do not have complaints and we are initiating suo moto cases here,” the Murshidabad SP said.
Police said that distributors serving the Kandi sub-division area could not supply materials for this week and some dealers left their home after hanging a closure notice in front of their shops. This created further trouble.