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Bengal's transition between dystopias

Bengal's transition between dystopias

Author: Udayan Namboodiri
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 1, 2011
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/349913/Bengals-transition-between-dystopias.html

The CPI(M) desertified Bengal by concealing murder and plunder in a democratic garb. Mamata Banerjee's panacea is to make the mill stone of democracy heavier for the Bengali neck by reviving bicameralism and promoting unwieldy committees

One of the many clichés used as a balm by liberal intellectuals to soothe India's mass discontent with everything that comes with bad governance is "in a democracy, people have the power to change a government". Actually, this is worse than an untruth - it's a conspiracy.

The modern state of West Bengal is where all this nonsensical talk began -in the heyday of the freedom movement - and it i s there that Saturday Special travels this week to understand the method behind this madness. To 85 million Bengalis, 0democracy is a mill stone around the collective neck. Between 1977 and May 2011, the CPI(M) carried out unspeakable crimes against humanity but collected kudos from the national chatteratti of Delhi through an effortless system of packaging terror in a democratic garb. They were cheered for "devolving" power to the panchayats, but little did the innocents in the national capital understand the macabre rites of the village soviet process which the CPI(M) transplanted on Indian soil.

One wonders today how many Bengalis remember Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, their first chief minister. Dr Roy was a shining beacon for the rest of India, a giant of a man in every sense of the term, who navigated modern West Bengal from the hell of partition to numero uno status among states.

Today, Mamata Banerjee goes around North Block and Yojana Bhawan with a begging bowl, seeking "special consideration" for West Bengal, as if it were some north-eastern or backward state. In Dr Roy's time, many Bengalis wished for poorer neighbor Bihar to merge with West Bengal so that the two could form a formidable economic powerhouse. Of course, the idea was decimated by the democratic process.

"Democracy" has reduced West Bengal to a basket case today. If the villages were carpet bombed by corrupt panchayats who mouthed rhetoric about "democratic devolution", the huge industrial complex bequeathed by Anglo-Indian enterprise and consolidated by Dr Roy was systematically destroyed in the name of "labour rights." With time, there were no more CPI(M) Bengalis and non-CPI(M) Bengalis. There were only Bengalis who chose to leave West Bengal and Bengalis who surrendered to the "system" and stayed on.

The bigger tragedy is that even after succeeding in throwing off the CPI(M) yoke, the new rulers seem to be seized by a greater compulsion to install "perfect representation" rather than address poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and the other legacies of Communist rule. Mamata Banerjee is bent on reviving the bicameral legislature system in the state which was scrapped in 1969. Now, as if a Rs 2.3 lakh crore debt stock and 3.7 per cent tax to SDP ration were not bad enough, her zeal for "perfection" in democracy seems certain to land the people of West Bengal with a new parasitical organism with 57 legs (MLCs) which would need salaries, perquisites, free railway passes, pension and, who knows, its own residences and clubs?

Simply put, the proposed Vidhan Parishad is a death wish. But it would suit the political and intellectual elites fine, because poverty is the spring well of Indian democracy. The CPI(M) came to power as the ideal democratic force, replacing a draconian Congress regime under Siddhartha Shankar Ray which played football with people's basic rights in the 1973-77 era. The Marxists moved fast to institutionalise elections to rural local bodies because it was seen as an ingenuous way to expand the power base and install a gravy train which would ensure allegiance over an indefinite length of time. Of course, we found out what the agenda was only later, much later.

Rajiv Gandhi's famous statement about only 15 paise from every government Rupee actually reaching the aam admi was actually a national average; in Communist West Bengal it was only about 1.5 paise. The rest of the money was sucked up by an efficient siphon which transported these funds to the CPI(M)'s private coffers which made the party the most propertied entity in India -and also the biggest employer considering there are over 2.6 lakh "whole timers" who have to be paid.

None of this would have been possible without the collusion of intellectuals. They are the only people who knew what was going on, but maintained strategic silence. On June 4, the result of their crimes was all too apparent. In Benichapra village under Gorbeta block in West Midnapore villagers forced a police party to dig up a trench located close to the ancestral home of former minister Susanta Ghosh. From it emerged the remains of an uncertain amount of people, all of whom were evidently massacred.

These are believed to the remains of a large number of Trinamool Congress supporters who vanished on September 22, 2002. It does not require extraordinary imaginative skills to realise that happened to them - like in countless other places of the state in the 35-year period, they were shot Einsatzgruppen style after being forced to kneel on the edge of ditches. While DNA tests would reveal the true number of the deceased and their identities, the people of West Bengal would not care to wait for a long-winded, technical process to deliver the retribution they yearn for. And they are getting it.

In numerous villages across West Bengal since the fall of the CPI(M) on May 13, the hunter has become the hunted. In the words of Biman Bose, the party's all-powerful state secretary, "thousands" have become "ghor chara" (refugees) and are fleeing from place to place, often with wives and children, in search of shelter. This is a different Biman Bose from the one who functioned like a middle-aged Sanjay Gandhi through most of the 35 years of CPI(M) rule. When Congress, Trinamool Congress and BJP supporters were living on railway platforms or under the shade of trees in Kolkata's parks, Bose laughed at the suggestion that there could be "ghor chara" in liberal, progressive West Bengal.

While the CPI(M) banished people for questioning their power and authority, the Trinamool is merely seeking revenge. It is a sad commentary on the value of Indian democracy that this mindlessly savage system is not bursting on the national centre stage, but merely being treated as a provincial side-show. It was similar indifference which led to the flourishing of countless private arsenals across the state in the 1977-2011period. As Saugor Sengupta's (Lookback) article reveals, the CPI(M) literally implemented Mao Zedong's "power flows from the barrel of a gun" maxim. Why did the CPI (M) need Ak-47s, "hand cannons" and explosives if it was in the business of perfecting democracy? This is a question for its champions in Jawaharlal Nehru and Delhi universities to answer. Now that the Trinamool supremo is turning the state and its people over to a new laboratory, how long would it be before another democratic dystopia consumes the Bengali?

- The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer and author, Bengal's Night Without End, New Delhi, 2006

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