Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where violence is ‘normal’

Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay
Posted online: Saturday , Jun 20, 2009 at 0330 hrs

Kolkata : In the 1970s the walls of various buildings of Kolkata and the districts were dotted with graffiti of a paraphrased quote from Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung: “Gram diye sahar ghero, Paschim Bange muktanchal tairi koro (surround the cities with villages, liberate West Bengal from bourgeois rule).”
Almost 40 years after the Naxalites dreamt of a “liberated zone” in West Bengal, it came true in Lalgarh in West Midnapore, where the village remained inaccessible to the police and the administration since November last year.

And as the Naxalites amassed arms and ammunition in that area, began killing CPI(M) leaders and demolishing their houses, the state Government had no other option but to swing into action and launch an operation to flush out Maoists from that area. But this is not the first time political violence has rocked the state.

The first United Front Government came to power in 1967 riding piggyback on the food movement that saw more than 100 people losing their lives because of police firing and lathicharge. And the decade between 1967 and 1977, the year the Left Front government came to power, saw one of the most choppy times in state politics, with instability in the government and a raging Naxalite movement that claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Ironically, the Left Front government promised peace and development and one of the first actions that the government led by Jyoti Basu took was to release all political prisoners, including a large number of Naxalites.

But with the Congress getting weakened, the CPI(M) started suppressing all opposition and the first manifestation of the Marxists crushing any sign of dissent was evident on April 30, 1982, when 17 monks of the Ananda Marg were burnt to death by goons, allegedly CPI(M) activists. Interestingly no case has been filed and no arrest has been made in connection with the gruesome killings.

In the ’80s, a movement that saw a lot of bloodshed was the 1986-87 movement in Darjeeling for a separate state of Gorkhaland, which was spearheaded by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subhas Ghishing. The resulting violence that set the hills on fire claimed about 300 lives. It was at the initiative of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi that a tripartite agreement was signed between the state government, the GNLF and the Central government, culminating in the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.

Another violent incident that marred the image of the state government was the police firing on a Youth Congress rally led by then Youth Congress president Mamata Banerjee on July 21, 1993, that led to the killing of 13 people. Both the Congress and the Trinamool observe martyrs’ day on July 21 every year.

In fact, according to state Home Department figures, police firing took place 2,747 times between 1978 and 1993 and claimed the lives of 1,021 people.

Between 1998 and 2002, Keshpur, Garbeta and Kotulpur area of West Midnapore saw clashes between the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress. The conflict first started after Trinamool Congress candidate Bikram Sarker won the by-election from Panskura parliamentary seat in 2000 defeating CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta. Spanning over four years, the clashes were actually triggered by the efforts of both the parties to take control of the area. Several deaths took place and ultimately, after the assembly elections of 2001 in which CPI(M) candidate Nandarani Dal won by a margin of more than 1 lakh votes, the Marxists ‘liberated’ the area from the Trinamool Congress.

The next major political violence was witnessed over the issue of land acquisition and the agitation took the bloodiest form in Nandigram in East Midnapore district where the state government proposed to set up a chemical hub. In all about 40 people were killed—14 of them on March 14, 2007, in police firing.

Violence also erupted in Singur over land acquisition for Tata's small car factory, with the Trinamool Congress spearheading the movement. Several instances of alleged police brutality marked the agitation in which farmers protested against the Left government. The conflict started as soon as the fencing off of the factory land began in 2006 and lasted until the Tatas finally pulled in October last year.

Naxalite violence, which was at its peak in the ‘70s but lost steam, has now come back with a vengeance, affecting the three districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. The Maoists have killed both CPI(M) men and policemen. According to one source, in West Midnapore district alone, 55 CPI(M) men died at the hands of the Naxalites between 1993 and 2009.

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