Don’t do unto others, what they do to you
Do I sound like a liberal simpleton when I criticize or condemn the violence that has been unleashed in Khejuri by the ‘people’ led by the Trinzmul Congress?
Offices belonging to the CPM have been razed to ground, burnt down and vandalized. Photographs of people tearing away grills from the windows of these offices and carrying them as ‘booty’ with smiling faces tell you that the same old story is being repeated. The plot remains the same; only the hunted have turned into hunters and the hunters of the past are now running for cover.
Roads to Khejuri are blocked, ministers and leaders of the CPM turned away, again by ‘the people’. The police as usual stands mute witness as they have been trained in this state not to go against the ‘will of the people’. How does it matter to them that now these people do not belong to the CPM, masters for last three decades? They have learnt to follow, not the law, but the party. And these days in Nandigram Trinamul is ‘The Party’. And the enemy territory of Khejuri has also been annexed. Victory is complete.
Since the Trinamul candidate was elected in place of CPM’s notorious strongman Lakshman Seth, they have taken it upon themselves to correct all the wrong that was done by him and his party.
What is wrong if the villagers ‘assist’ the police in unearthing arms that were stockpiled in the CPM offices and the homes of their leaders? Why cry foul if the rage of the people burns the dens of left criminals? Why not rejoice at the destruction of the launch pad of the assault on Nandigram, i.e. the Khejuri party office of the CPM? After all, did not the raiding people find in these houses NREGA cards issued in the name of the villagers and held illegally by the CPM men? Does not it follow from all this that they were right in cleansing Khejuri of the foul elements who belonged to the CPM? And are not Trinmul members right in boycotting the police which has ‘wrongfully’ arrested members of its liberation army on charges of arson?
You cannot equate the Khejuri liberation with the Nandigram recapture by the CPM, we are told. Has there been any killing this time, any rape? It is the pent up anger of the people suppressed for last thirty five years which is erupting and devouring CPM. What we are witnessing is popular upsurge. The intellectuals , who had come out and spoken up very courageously against CPM atrocities last year try to convince you that what is happening in Khejuri is only a reflection of the will of the people! You are expected to develop a nuanced understanding of violence so as to differentiate between an act which only burns houses, drives out unwanted people and renders them homeless and the one that also rapes, wounds and kills.
Trinamul leaders have learnt their lesson well. The undoing of CPM was its targeting of the common masses. But masses would come automatically to you one you vanquish their earlier masters. This is the strategy Trinamul leaders seem to have adopted this time. They decided to strike when the CPM was totally knocked out and its ranks demoralized. The police, a time tested and trusted ally of the CPM was not available this time as they had already sensed that change was in the air. What could be a better moment to strike at the enemy?
Had not the people exercised their will already when they voted out CPM decisively in the Lok Sabha elections? Why did these ‘people’ have to be turned into marauders, brutalizing the opponents? Elections are a civilized site where you contest your opponent democratically. If the legitimacy that is gained through this non-violent exercise is used to justify violent acts, democracy dies.
This is what we have witnessed in Gujarat, where Narendra Modi sought to justify his subversion of the processes of the law in name of the popular mandate. And this is precisely this argument used by the CPM not so long ago in Nandigram itself. Did not people vote for them for thirty long years? Were not the people always used as a shield for all the hegemonic acts of the CPM? Gradually the party gobbled them up thereby completing the task of integration of the people with the party.
It is not very hard to understand why it took the opposition so long to register its presence in the citadel of the left. The CPM, using the opportunity given by the electoral mandate, captured all social spaces, all cultural and social institutions. Since politics is also a semiotic game they saw to it that every symbol representing Bengal had a definite left stamp over it.
You could not breathe a non-“left” air in Bengal. People were subjugated to the extent that they lost their consciousness of being thinking humans. The terror of left was such that it did not let their own intellectuals open their mouth against the party for the fear of being dubbed agents of the bourgeoisie. The CPM, very systematically dehumanized the Bengal society to such a extent that any act of opposition had to be, by rule , violent. The opposition of the CPM has turned into, in a sense, its mirror image.
The society of Bengal is also dangerously divided and polarized along party lines. It is extremely hard for a Trinamul person to live with dignity in a CPM village and vice-versa . CPM did not allow even its allies, like the Forward Block, CPI and RSP to grow beyond a point. They were shown their place whenever they tried to expand their political space.
I am quoting from an article by Siraj written after the sixth Panchayati Raj elections in Bengal, “ The unprecedented rise in the CPM terror and clashes leading to a good number of deaths….The number of seats won uncontested by the ‘Left’ front was 338 in 1978, 332 in 1983 and 1,716 in 1993. It had risen to 4, 200 in 1988 but dipped to 600 in 1998 but jumped (again) to 6, 800 in 2003. The ‘Marxist’ CM Buddhadev Bhattacharja also had to ask in writing to his ‘party men to abide by democratic norms and not to prevent opposition candidates from filing nominations for Panchayat polls.’ ”
The 2009 Lok Sabha election results have created an opening for democratic politics in Bengal. This is also an opportunity for revitalizing the agencies meant to maintain the rule of law like the police. By making them and the administration realize that their allegiance should be to the Constitution and not to The Party. There is now the temptation to make them change their loyalty which is easy.
West Bengal has forgotten that the best way to live democratically is to give dignity to your opponent and not humiliate and destroy him or her. The ‘Ilaka Dakhal’ campaign in Khejuri was ‘bloodless’ but in other parts of fierce battle for turf-control is on. Maoists and CPM members are locked in bloody gun-battles, wives of opposing party members paraded with garland of shoes. What it shows is that Bengal is still far from “the sphere of human agreement’, which according to Walter Benjamin is ‘non-violent to the extent that it is wholly inaccessible to violence..” Benjamin calls it ‘ the proper sphere of ‘understanding’ which cannot be achieved through force of arms , it has to be created only by usuing the most democratic tool, language.