Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bengal burns, but how long?

The violence at Lalgarh in West Bengal is yet another subject over which political enmity continues to thrive at the expense of a permanent solution to the problem, explains Suvendu Roy Chowdhury

In a nation like India, where politics is at the core of every single activity, we are not surprised at the way the recent violence at Lalgarh in West Bengal perpetrated by the CPI (Maoists) has become an issue of tug-of-war between the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre and the Left Front government in the state. One just needs a reason and old rivalries just hit off. Read on.

Catching the Left on the wrong foot, the Centre, in a swift move, has declared the Communist Party of India (Maoists) a terrorist organisation and banned it under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act. Just 48 hours prior to the announcement was made, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee kept on praising the Central Government for the help it extended in flushing out the Maoists from Lalgarh in West Midnapore district of the State. Little did he realise at that time, that taking the advantage of the situation in Lalgarh and adjoining areas and the helplessness shown by the State administration in dealing with the situation, the Centre would act on its own i.e. going ahead with banning the organisation against the wishes of the Left.

They were put more on the back foot when Union Home Minister P Chidambaram said, “I advised the Chief Minister to ban CPI (Maoist) under Section 16 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908. I still think that the West Bengal Government should declare the CPI (Maoist) an unlawful association.” This was a suggestion which the West Bengal Chief Minister denied by claiming that administrative action was not enough. He stressed the need to politically isolate the Maoist. The Congress and the BJP also supported the ban. “We support the Centre’s decision to declare the Maoist group as a terrorist organisation and those states hit by Naxalite violence should now come forward and take effective steps,” remarked Congress spokesman Shakil Ahmed.

On the other hand, the BJP said “The government has banned the Maoist organisation in view of the violence perpetrated across the country by them and it’s a welcome step. In democracy, there is no place of violence. We also want bodies associated with these groups to be banned.”

Licking the wounds inflicted by the Centre’s move, the Left parties protested against the decision in unison. CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat claimed that it would not serve any purpose. Other leaders have also joined the chorus. Within 24-hours of Union Home Minister making the announcement, Bhattacharjee refused to go along with the Centre and reiterated the Left’s old stand of taking on the Maoists politically. But, there is a twist to it. Why does the state want to tackle the problem politically too? There are indications that by following this path, the CPI (M) would push its own activists into that area to gain control which the Union Government would quite predictably not approve of.

But aren’t we missing the real story? The tribal-dominated tri-junction of Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa has always remained a favourite breeding ground for the Naxals. Even after six-decades of Independence, people here cannot spend more than Rs 12 per day. They have never been benefited from various welfare projects launched by both the Centre and the State from time to time. The only beneficiaries were the local political leaders of the ruling parties, who have diverted all the funds in collusion with the babus. And the political leadership of the State and the administration for reasons best known to them kept on ignoring the loot. The neglect and the loot have virtually put the poor tribal people towards the Maoists.

With the suffering continuing, the battle for political hegemony made things worse. “The poorest of the poor cannot be left to fend for themselves while the elites party,” says Aditya Nigam, a fellow at Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The Left is right. Only administrative measures are not enough to tackle such a problem. Dependence on forces will definitely bring a situation where development will take a back seat and the fight between security forces and the Maoists will become a regular feature. But there is a worrisome gap in what they teach and what they practise. In their three decades rule in West Bengal, the Left coalition did nothing to uplift the living conditions of the tribal people living in that area. Drinking water, electricity, roads are missing. Health facilities are dismal to say the least. “Whatever the State Government is doing is wrong. People are fighting for certain demands. Respect it. The State Government has snatched the rights of the people living in Jangalmahal,” says noted writer Mahasweta Devi, known for her Left leanings.

According to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Naxalite menace poses the greatest threat to internal security and so, such a step was expected. In fact the PM has already made it clear that his government would do everything possible to maintain internal security. He is in no mood to show any leniency in this regard. It is time now for the Left coalition ruling in West Bengal to speed up developmental works in the area. Take advantage of programmes like NREGA, RTI, Forest Act, etc. Otherwise we may win Lalgarh, but the battle will not be over.

Bhattacharjee is facing one test after another since the results of the Lok Sabha elections were out. There is no denying that he is in a Catch 22 situation with his own fellow comrades not in favour of the ban, but he himself knows that he needs Central help to handle the menace. With his political rival Mamata Banerjee cashing in on the violence, the erudite CM has to act intelligently with the Assembly Elections coming up.

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