History Repeats

Bengal’s Bloody Politics

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Politics in West Bengal has always been violent. But till recently, it was generally a one-sided affair with the CPM beating and bruising the opposition. Now, with the political tide turning, the Trinamool is not only hitting back but also hounding Kolkata’s Marxists. This has turned the turf bloodier than ever, and with an Assembly election approaching, the scale of violence will only increase as the CPM fights to retain ground and the Trinamool to dislodge the party. This battle was reflected in last week’s violent clashes between the SFI (CPM’s student body) and the Trinamool Chatra Parishad. Over the past two weeks, political violence has claimed five lives and left more than a dozen injured in Bengal. With this vio­lence threatening to spin out of control, Governor MK Narayanan and leading intellectuals including Amartya Sen have appealed to both parties for restraint. Even the Congress plenary in Delhi passed a resolution on the politics of violence in Bengal and called for an end to it. But neither the Trinamool nor the CPM is likely to heed such appeals.

It is, in fact, the Congress which intro­duced the culture of violence in Bengal in the late 1960s. The political turf turned bloodier once the Left Front came to power in 1977; the Left, primarily the CPM, hounded out supporters and activists of the Congress from rural areas. The modus operandi was simple and chilling—armed CPM cadres would loot, rape, kill and maim activists of opposition parties before declaring the turf ‘liberated’. As a result, almost all of rural Bengal stayed under the party’s iron grasp for more than 30 years, before Trinamool challenged the Left’s might. If the Trinamool today is attacking Marxists, the latter have only themselves to blame for showing Mamata Banerjee the way. Her party has employed the same tactics to wrest control of vast swathes of rural Bengal from the CPM—by sending armed activists to a village to attack CPM supporters, pillage their houses and banish them from the village. This, in Bengal’s parlance, is referred to as ‘gram dokhol’ (capturing a village), a strate­gy perfected by the CPM and one that has only been borrowed, with devastating effect, by the Trinamool. Mamata Banerjee is as determined as the CPM was all these decades to snuff out all opposition; and that only bodes ill for Bengal. Not only will more lives be lost and thousands rendered homeless, investors will continue to skirt Bengal and the already-battered image of the state will suffer more.