Sunday, December 2, 2007

Criminal face of a cognoscente

By Sankar Ray

West Bengal chief minister and CPI(M) polit bureau member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has a split identity: one, pushing through his open-door policy about investment, assuring business tycoons unequivocally of not brooking ‘militant trade unionism’ and two, shielding party-backed criminals to drive out opponents from CPI(M) strongholds that turned against the latter. The first role of wooing MNCs successfully brought for the first time the controversial former US secretary of state Henri Kissinger to Writers’ Buildings, Bhattacharjee’s headquarters. The other role has achieved the unleashing of violence at Nandigram by armed cadres and mercenaries while keeping police forces in the barracks to ensure indiscriminate killing of unarmed protesters. The results: the pogroms of 14 March (coincidentally the death anniversary of Karl Marx) and 7-12 November, 2007.

Two absconders among the key accused in the Chhoto Angaria massacre case of 2000 lodged by the CBI – Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali – with non-bailable arrest warrants were at long last caught red-handed for trying to smuggle out injured protesters from Nandigram in an automobile van of Khejuri Panchayat Samiti on 11 November. They were apprehended not by the police but by agitated people at Egra. The police lawyer entered their name as Madan Kar and Saiful Ali in the affidavit but on being challenged by the CBI lawyer, admitted their real names and the affidavit was withdrawn. The two – both West Medinipur district committee members -attended CPI(M)’s Garbeta zonal committee conference this year too and got reelected to the KZC. The police made no attempt to arrest them and instead falsely stated that they have been untraceable. Among the accused is a reporter of CPI(M) Bengali daily, Ganashakti.

Significantly, a few days before the latest action to flush out supporters of Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (Anti Displacement Committee), Satyasankar Panda, additional SP of undivided Midnapur district during the Chhoto Angaria violence, was posted in East Medinipur district. Panda’s entry has the nod of Bhattacharjee, in charge of police portfolio. Such reflection of criminal mindset of the CM is not rare. When asked about the withdrawal of police camp just before the armed hoodlums attacked Nandigram, he said: “The IG is in a position to reply to this”. The CM never felt the necessity to showcause the IG, a clear nod to the planned violence.

For the last 11 years, Bhattacharjee has been holding two portfolios – home and information & cultural affairs (like the Nazi leader Paul Joseph Goebbles - minister for interior and propaganda in the Hitler cabinet). The similarity seems more than coincidental. “Shielding criminals by inactivating the police is simply an act of crime. Which is one of the reasons we want Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to quit as he behaves more like a criminal than a minister“, CPI(ML) Liberation polit bureau member told this writer. He reminds us of Rabindranath Tagore’s stanza(part) – “Anyay je Kare aar Anyay je sahe/Tabo ghrina tare jyano trinasama dahe (free tr: Let thy hatred torch like grasses ablaze both who commits a crime and who tolerates it).

Bhattacharjee inherits the mindset of his mentor, the late Promode Dasgupta, a founder PB member of CPI(M), in his patronisation of criminals for narrow partisan goals. Chiding the police for not having been able to kill Naxalites in West Bengal in the early 1970s, Dasgupta infamously said, ” Do the police bullets have Nirodh (contraceptive) caps”. How CPI(M) cadres used to let loose violence to evict local leaders of allies of the then ruling United Front such as CPI and RSP in the late 1960s and early 1970 is still in the memory of veteran Left activists. An arrogant deputy CM Jyoti Basu and Dasgupta in those days sided with hoodlums wearing red caps, a tradition that has been kept intact. Bhattacharjee, dangerously, has not been an open instigator like his mentors. He maintained till very recently a cognoscente’s image, albeit ostentatiously.

Abani Ray, RSP leader and Rajya Sabha member, stated that in two days – 10 and 11 November – about 50 people were killed at Nandigram by CPI(M)-backed armed brigade. The official death toll was less than seven. Ray’s source of information is his party’s East Medinipur district committee. Kshiti Goswami, RSP minister in the LF government, sought permission to quit the post after the RSP report. He found a symptomatic manifestation of the Gujarat riots under Narendra Modi’s chief-ministership in the Nandigram carnage. Indiscriminate looting, destruction and burning of homes and eviction of thousands of people by hired criminals and action squads might well lead a student of history to such a conclusion, or at strong hypothesis.

Amnesty International expectedly condemned the “upsurge in political violence” at Nandigram for at least nine deaths, more than 15 persons injured and the displacement of hundreds of local inhabitants. “Human rights organizations have reported that violence erupted on 6 November as armed supporters of the ruling CPI-M fired several rounds at local farmers belonging to the BUPC. The state police reportedly failed to take action against the armed men, and also to fulfil their duty to protect the local population,” Amnesty stated in its latest press communique . It noted at least 25 killed and over 100 injured. “At least 20 women have reportedly been sexually assaulted during the violence, with at least 2,000 people displaced from their homes. The majority of the displaced are living in makeshift camps, unable to return to their homes for fear of being caught up in the violence”, it added.

CPI(M) leaders ignore such image-bashing documents and tell their rank and file that Amnesty receives foreign funds and is traditionally anti-communist. Amnesty has appealed to the LF government to institute “an impartial and independent inquiry into the Nandigram violence during the past year, promptly make the findings public and to bring to justice those believed to be responsible for the violence in proceedings that meet international standards of fair trial and “ensure the safe return of all displaced communities to Nandigram and neighbouring areas”.

The pogrom in Nandigram throws up a historical precedent which the CPI(M) leadership, including Bhattacharjee, is fond of recalling - the “semi-fascist” terror of the Congress regime in West Bengal in the 1970s. The criminal face of a cognoscente has been recognized. People have taken to the streets with posters screaming “Brand Buddhor duto tash - Sanskriti aar Santrash” (Brand Buddha’s two cards - culture and terror).