There is no need to repeat what every right-thinking Kolkatan, nay, Indian, has already proclaimed: that the massacre of villagers at Nandigram by the police on Wednesday morning was indefensible and totally unconstitutional. Led by Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, poets, litterateurs, intellectuals, lawyers, the media and all shades of politicians, save that of the CPI(M), have condemned the police action and have come down heavily on the government, especially Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, for ordering this massacre of innocents. As the Governor has rightly questioned, where was the tearing hurry to send police forces into Nandigram to "restore law and order" (as the CM claims) there? The answer lies in the CPI(M)’s arrogance, its proclivity to use the police as an adjunct of the party, the CM’s pathetic lack of understanding of ground realities and the party’s contempt for democracy and democratic processes such as consultations, discussions and consensus-building.
A Sorry Figure
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cut a sorry figure, indeed, when he walked into the state Assembly on Wednesday afternoon only to find that the House had been adjourned for the day. It was symbolic: a Chief Minister, the leader of the House, not knowing that the Assembly had been adjourned for the day, is expected to know little of the dangerous consequences of ordering police to charge into a volatile area like Nandigram. Bhattacharjee sounded ridiculous when he told the media later that the scale of protests against the police caught him unawares. This is not the first time that he’s saying such a thing: he said the same when things spun out of control at Nandigram earlier this year. Why then, may we ask, does the CM always claim that he’s caught unawares? I’m not suggesting that he’s lying. He isn’t, I’d say. Its just that his level of understanding, his political acumen, and even perhaps his level of intelligence, is low. I take full responsibility for saying this—everyone, including the Governor, apprehended that attempts by the police to enter Nandigram would spark violence. The Governor had even warned the CM about this. To plead, after so many avoidable deaths, that events overtook him does little to absolve Bhattacharjee and, in fact, only shows him in an extremely poor light. Doubts have been expressed, and rightly so, over his capabilities to occupy the CM’s chair.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could have learnt a lesson or two from his Orissa counterpart, Naveen Patnaik—a person the CPI(M) loves to hate. Remember Kalinganagar, where 16 tribals fell to police bullets while protesting land acquisition for a steel plant on January 2, 2006? The tribals blockaded an arterial road to Paradip port. Patnaik and his officers continued to negotiate with the tribals, urging them to lift the blockade, for 14 long months. The state government framed a model rehabilitation package for land losers—by far the most generous, practical and egalitarian such package in the country—that was improved upon by the steel giant which plans to set up its plant at Kalinganagar. Ultimately, it was able to convince the tribals, who no doubt also realized that the state’s and the steel company’s intentions were above board, to lift the blockade. If the Orissa government could wait for 14 painstaking months to clear a highway, why did the Bengal government lose its patience after a little over two months to "restore the rule of law" at Nandigram? The answer: the CPI(M)’s and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s arrogance. How can anyone, any non-CPI(M) force, cock a snook at the mighty CPI(M) and be allowed to get away with it? The opponents of the party had to be taught a lesson, and they were, in a brutal manner. It's a different matter that the price to pay would be huge too.
A Shameless Lie
The state government’s defense, mouthed by Bhattacharjee as well as CPI(M) apparatchik, is that the police fired in self-defense. There isn’t, perhaps, a more shameless lie than this. If, as the police and its political masters claim, the people of Nandigram who put up a wall of resistance to the police, actually fired at the cops after hurling brickbats and crude bombs at them, then how come no policeman sustained bullet or bomb injuries? The only injuries that a handful of cops have to show for themselves are bruises that can only be sustained by blows or brickbats. Nearly all the victims of police firing had bullets lodged in their upper torsos, thus proving that the police violated standard operating procedure and aimed at their targets’ heads and chests. Some victims had bullet entry wounds on their backs, thus proving that they were shot while they were fleeing the cops. These are undisputed facts that give the lie to the police, and Bhattacharjee’s version. Even Jyoti Basu pointed out these facts at the Left Front meeting on Thursday. As for the CPI(M)’s charge that "outsiders" infiltrated Nandigram to create trouble there (hey, haven’t we heard this many a time before?), the allegation deserves to be treated with due contempt. All those who died or were injured at Nandigram were locals.
Scores of people, say credible reports emanating from Nandigram, are missing after Wednesday. At last count, more than 65 people are unaccounted for. They’re not among the dead at the morgue or the injured in hospitals. Locals claim they saw many of these missing falling to police bullets. So where are they? Where are their bodies? The fear among the locals is that armed CPI(M) cadres who trailed the police into Nandigram disposed off the bodies, killed many of the injured, and even abducted many and may have killed them. The brutal, bloody-minded CPI(M) cadres have done such things in the past and one wouldn’t put such horrific acts past them. What strengthens such shocking assumptions is that the CPI(M) cadres have, and are even now, trying to keep the media at bay. All newspapers and TV news channels have reported the opposition and abuse they’ve faced from the CPI(M) cadres while attempting to enter Nandigram. Why were the CPI(M) cadres, acting on the directives of their party bosses like Haldia MP Lakshman Seth, so keen on keeping the media away from Nandigram? Simple—they had and have a lot to hide there.
Talking about the CPI(M)-erected roadblocks that mediapersons, opposition politicians, and even the Governor, had to face, skirt and overcome on their way to Tamluk and Nandigram, I must say that these roadblocks were more proof (if any more is required) of the CPI(M)’s belief that it is the sole force that counts for in the state. And its wishes are the law in Bengal. That is the unfortunate ground reality in Bengal. But since the CPI(M) believes in such tactics, it is only natural and just that it must be prepared to face similar tactics outside Bengal. How about BJP cadres or Congress activists attacking CPI(M) MPs in Delhi and the rest of the country and preventing them from entering Parliament? The CPI(M) cannot, and should not, complain when, and if, it faces brutal annihilation in parts of India where it is not a strong force.
The backlash to police and CPI(M) action at Nandigram was swift and stern. The Governor issued a stinging censure; the Calcutta High Court passed strictures and ordered a CBI enquiry while observing that the police, "under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee", seems unaware of Article 21 of the Constitution; Jyoti Basu severely mauled his successor at the Left Front meeting while the CPI(M)’s allies (the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc) were no less forgiving.
They’ve served an ultimatum—the first time in 30 years that they’ve done so—asking Bhattacharjee to remove his police force from Nandigram and offer an unqualified apology, failing which they’d not be part of the Bhattacharjee ministry. Even Bhattacharjee’s close friends in the literary, art and intellectual circles—known as the ‘Nandan’ lobby after the state government’s cultural complex they, and Buddhadeb, love to frequent—have turned their backs on Bhattacharjee. They held a rally on Thursday and condemned the police and the CM. One of them, on being asked if Bhattacharjee should resign, said: "I’ll leave that to his conscience. But the next time he comes to Nandan, he should be clad in a police uniform". Bhattacharjee, to him and to lakhs of others, is no longer fit to wear that spotless white dhoti and kurta. The ‘Inner Voice’ The Bandh
And while everyone’s condemning Bhattacharjee and his government, as well as the CPI(M), in the strongest terms, one voice that has been strangely muted is that of the Congress. That’s because of political compulsions, we’re told. When Kalinganagar happened in January last year, Sonia Gandhi, responding to her ‘inner voice’, rushed there to offer solace to the tribals there. How is Nandigram different from Kalinganagar, apart from the fact that while Orissa is ruled by the non-Congress forces (the BJD-BJP combine), Bengal is ruled by the Left that props the Congress-led UPA at the Centre? Innocent lives were lost at both the places and at both the places, the human tragedy was avoidable and condemnable. Are we to assume that Sonia Gandhi hears her famed ‘inner voice’ only when it suits her politically? That seems to be the case. But I must add this: the Congress will lose whatever little relevance it still has in Bengal if it continues to side with the CPI(M). As Mamata Banerjee once famously said of the Congress in Bengal, they (the Congressmen) are like water melons, green (one of the colours of the party flag) on the outside and totally red inside.
Friday’s bandh called by Opposition political forces jointly and separately was total in Bengal. Even the CPI(M)’s allies—the CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP—offered silent support to the bandh! This column has always opposed bandhs. So have the chambers of commerce and corporate entities, as well as prominent media organizations, which rightly feel that bandhs don’t serve any purpose and are self-defeating in nature. But this time, things were different. This was a different bandh, felt everyone. This bandh had the support of many who oppose bandhs. A lot many who could go to work, and who have always braved bandhs to carry on with their lives, stayed indoors, on Friday. I, too, did so. Defying the bandh would have amounted to defiling Nandigram and insulting the memory of the innocents who became victims of state terror there. It just wouldn’t have been right. The CPI(M), and its Chief Minister, should sit up and take notice.
The ‘Inner Voice’