Sunday, December 02, 2007

India : States of insecurity -- West Bengal

IntelliBriefs: India: States of insecurity

West Bengal: The politics of land

The conditions in Uttar Pradesh are abysmal enough, but they are also only part of a wider malaise in India. This has been evident in the recent eruption of violent demonstrations by Islamist fundamentalists in the state of West Bengal (WB), ruled for more than a generation by the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M).

West Bengal has experienced persistent, albeit peripheral, disturbances for the past year over the issue of land acquisition in order to create a "special economic zone" in Nandigram, some seventy kilometers southwest of the state capital, Kolkata.

The Nandigram confrontation can be said to originate in classical democratic oppositional politics and the frictions of globalization and neo-liberalism. What has made it in political terms crucial - and perhaps prophetic - is the manner in which this originating element has unexpectedly begun to coalesce with, and been harnessed by, two of India's principal extremist movements: the Islamist and the Maoist.

The West Bengal government, in attempting to "recapture" Nandigram from villagers opposed to its plans (and who had earlier ousted Marxist sympathisers from the area), has displayed extraordinary incompetence; its police forces as well as armed CPI-M cadres have used excessive force, committed murder and inflicted "punitive" rape on local people. The result is that a small and altogether manageable local dispute has been transformed into a major conflict and iconic source of extremist mobilization.

A relatively insignificant Islamist organization based in West Bengal, the All India Minority Forum (AIMF), has used the events in Nandigram (which has a predominantly Muslim population) as a focal-point of its propaganda. More recently, the AIMF combined the issue of state repression with demands for the expulsion from Kolkata of the "blasphemous" Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. These demands were accompanied by days of open incitement by AIMF office-bearers, including inflammatory statements on national television news channels. The result was predictable: violent demonstrations and riots across Kolkata, necessitating deployment of the army and (on 21 November 2007) the imposition of a night curfew on the city.

The state government, despite ample warning of disorder, had taken no preventive action. Here too, local negligence reflects a long history where the the Marxists of West Bengal have treated Muslims in the state as part of its reliable "vote bank" and thus shortsightedly failed to challenge rising Islamist currents. In addition, they have long denied (until a recent modification of their position) the continuous demographic change in the composition of the state as a result of illegal migration from Bangladesh, and the implications of such open borders for national security.

The incidents in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are only the latest in the ongoing and unedifying - indeed appalling - spectacle of India's official responses to extremism and terrorism across wide areas of the country. At present, hysteria and speculative commentary dominate the immediate reaction to every new incidence of violence. But there is little evidence of a sustained focus by India's state agencies to improve their capacities and patterns of response, and to build an effective national-security system to protect against the augmenting threat of radical political violence.


This article originally appeared on openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence. To view the original article, please click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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