Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Burning Bengal


Till recently the Left Front looked invincible in West Bengal, which it has ruled for over 30 years. Now suddenly, in the aftermath of the recent Lok Sabha elections, the Front and mainly its key component, the CPM are looking increasingly vulnerable.

The Left parties had become very used to power and all the privileges that went with it. This arrogance, occasionally evident amidst all the encomiums showered on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the darling of the middle class as the man who was carving out a new road, cost it very dearly in the elections.

The biggest threats the Left Front faced were the growing frustration among the state’s populace, both in the rural and urban areas. But this anger was channelised by Mamata Banerjee, who has emerged, quite extraordinarily, as the great white hope of the citizenry. She has fought against them at the hustings and now Banerjee and her troops are fighting the Left in the streets.

The CPM, it now appears, was not so strong after all. The party is facing tremendous challenges where it was once considered the strongest — at the grass-root level.

As a result, warfare has broken out between the CPM and the Trinamool Congress in various parts of Bengal. In areas like Khejuri, CPM workers are on the run against the Trinamool onslaught. Into these troubled waters have jumped the Maoists — who had earlier also been part of Banerjee’s Singur movement — and parts of West Midnapore are under their control. Simultaneously, the Left trade unions have also seen their power erode.

The helplessness of the state in dealing with this violence as Bengal burns underlines the extent of the collapse of the erstwhile arrogance. CPM strongmen have been caught amassing weapons and bombs — surely not what the ruling Left coalition wants to be faced with. It exposes their double standards when you consider the self-righteous way its national leaders deal with similar behaviour in other parties. That the Left has also participated in the criminalisation of politics is becoming apparent.

However, it is also clear that Banerjee will have to also reel in her workers as must the CPM. The violence has to stop because Bengal cannot afford to slip back to the dark days of the Naxal violence of the 1960s and 70s. The violence shows the level of anger that many in Bengal feel. Yet, the manner in which it is being expressed is counter-productive and will have to be contained immediately and this is the responsibility of both, the ruling establishment and the opposition.

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