Friday, July 10, 2009

Wealth of CPI(M) raises a storm

Rajat Roy / Kolkata July 10, 2009, 0:36 IST

It’s a tale of two houses... or many more. On June 15, thousands of armed tribals ransacked CPI(M) party offices in Lalgarh, West Midnapore and then turned their attention to a white two-storied house in nearby

Dharampur. As the demolition squad got busy, crowbars in hand, hundreds watched on joyously, some others danced to the beat of the drums. The house belongs to one Anuj Pandey, the zonal secretary of CPI(M) in Lalgarh.

As the act of vandalism was telecast by several TV channels to millions of homes in West Bengal, a rather uneasy question arose: how could a party whole-timer possess such a house? The question must have put the party leadership in an awkward position, as this particular event did not find any mention in the state party organ.

But the reaction came from an unexpected angle. Ashok Mitra, a veteran Communist intellectual and critic of the present Left leadership observed in his column: When Naxalite mayhem was at its peak at Lalgarh last month, television cameras had occasion to zoom their sight on a particular event: a frenzied mob setting fire to an apparently newly built, dazzlingly white palatial building, standing in unabashed and isolated splendour in the midst of squalor and destitution all around: parched earth, dishevelled huts, rickety children with not a stitch on, men and women with sunken cheeks and deep hungry looks. Then came the astounding revelation: that mansion was owned by the CPI(M)’s zonal secretary — by profession, trader, and by caste, Brahmin; the party’s zonal office too was located there.

The anachronism would have ended there had it been an exception.

Unfortunately it is not. It is not that individual party members alone have built their houses in style, in almost all districts, sub-division towns and small towns in West Bengal. The ruling CPI(M)’s offices are grand structures. The new office building of the CPI(M)’s district committee in Burdwan is a case in point.

Built on disputed land on Parkus Road, the five story building is made of granite, marble, tiles and wood panels. Most of the office rooms at second and third floor and the 130 seat conference room are all fitted with air conditioners. The vulgar display of wealth in the party office has become a major cause of embarrassment for the party workers there. Interestingly, the old building, which used to house the district committee for long is nearby. That has also been developed into a five storied building, a part of it handed over to the party’s front organization

Krishak Sabha, and rest converted into a party commune. Traditionally,

Burdwan district remained a strong base of the CPI(M). In Burdwan town, the party has almost thirty buildings, which house its zonal office, a number of local and branch offices and various other frontal organizations like Krishak Sabha, CITU, DYFI and so on.

According to local party sources, very few of these properties are taken on rent, almost all of these thirty properties belong to the party. A member of CPI(M) Burdawn district committee (his name is withheld for obvious reasons) wondered sadly: “Was that accumulation of real estate needed at all ?”

The new building that houses CPI(M)’s Darjeeling district committee office in Siliguri matches its counterpart in Burdwan floor for floor. Built two years back on Hillcart Road, it is a four storey building which adequately shows that the Left leaders are no longer bothered about maintaining austerity in their public life.

Hannan Molla, a senior member of CPI(M) central committee, feels that this trend is only indicative of a serious problem plaguing the party: it has lost touch with the common people. He admits that as the party grew it might haverequired bigger office space. But that cannot be an excuse for this kind of vulgar display of wealth. But, the party old timers point out that the disease has already spread in almost all districts in West Bengal.

Tags : CPI(M) | Anuj Pandey

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