West Bengal in grip of violence

West Bengal in grip of violence

Violence is threatening to tear apart West Bengal. In the latest round, large scale attacks coupled with torching and arson on offices of opposition...

Violence is threatening to tear apart West Bengal. In the latest round, large scale attacks coupled with torching and arson on offices of opposition parties had been unleashed. More than a thousand such offices have been under fire of the ruling party functionaries. The Left parties had to bear the brunt of these severe attacks; even Congress which partnered the ruling Mamata Banerjee led TMC both in the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2011 Assembly elections has not been spared.

And it is not just attack on party offices; opposition leaders and activists were blatantly attacked physically and framed in false cases. Importantly, the manner and circumstances underline that police and administration is doing precious little to discourage the miscreants, from this brazen violence. There is palpable sense of exasperation among the people. People are sick and tired of this violence. They are just craving for peace; a just peace with freedom and dignity.

For the people, the current situation is all the more unacceptable; because hope for a 'parivartan' fired by the present Chief Minister had captured their imagination. Assurance that her government will usher in 'change' and not wreak 'vengeance' against the opponents �helped people in making up their mind in favour of 'parivartan'.But in less than two years time, with the continued blatant unseemly violence -those hopes are in jeopardy. 'Parivartan' after a 34-year old 'regime change' appears to have gone sour.

Why this violence appears to be almost unstoppable? Many commentators have turned to the exceptionally charged and polarised nature of the state's polity. They argue that violence is an inevitable outcome of the bitter contest for hegemony over political space.

Still others go back even further into history to seek an explanation. With selective reference to cultural and sociological factors- "Kali" worship and heroic status of revolutionaries fighting the British colonial rulers- among Bengalis as the surest proof of this argument. That this brand of theory resembles those of colonial historians inventing the notion of 'criminal tribes'- is glossed over.

But a closer scrutiny of history and the current events would reveal that such explanations cannot be sustained. If polarised polity was the ground, then how could one explain that principal target of the current spurt of violence-was the iconic Presidency University? This eminent institution of higher learning is regarded as the cradle of Bengal's nineteenth century intellectual reawakening. Regardless of regimes, this institution enjoys a special place of pride.Ironically, in her own way Mamata Banerjee's government attempted to enhance its iconic status.

Alas! Vandals carrying flags of the ruling party's student organisation broke open the gates to enter the university premises to indiscriminately rough up students and teachers; not even sparing the Baker Laboratory where scientists like J.C.Bose and Mahalanobish had worked. And senior Ministers of the Government made stinging criticism of the VC and the Registrar who indicted ruling party goons and lamented police apathy in stopping this vandalism.

Can political polarisation explain Presidency's victimhood? Historically, one can also draw a parallel with a similar regime change in 1977.But then people had a different experience. Overcoming the violent legacy of the late 60's and 70's, peace was restored-with Chief Minister Jyoti Basu making it clear that retribution was out of question. Following up, there was general amnesty of political detenus including opponents of the left. There history of Bengal does not suggest that necessarily- regime changes and political polarisation -lead to violence and retribution.

Unfortunately, the current spate of violence is being attributed to the incidents before the Planning Commission. Implicitly it is suggested that untoward incidents in course of the protest action involving the finance minister Amit Mitra has led to the unleashing of terror by the TMC across the state. And it has affected not just political parties but also an institution like the Presidency University.

Was the protest uncalled for? In response to the state government's decision to debar the students union elections, left student organisation had organised a civil disobedience movement. . Sudipto Gupta -a 22 years old versatile state level SFI leader had been taken in police custody along with his comrades. He was found grievously injured in questionable circumstances. Soon, he succumbed to the injuries.

The current status of law in the country quite explicitly establishes that regardless of the manner of death, the responsibility would squarely lie with the police and the administration. But to deflect attention from the question of responsibility, the police spun a story that Sudipto had died accidentally. Worse still, the chief minister herself -who was brazen enough to be part of the IPL inaugural celebration on the day of this gruesome death, repeated this contention. Obviously, this was aimed at denying independent judicial enquiry which would fix the responsibility of the police.

This had enraged well meaning people � not just in Bengal but all over the country. Not satisfied with a denial of independent probe, the chief minister was even more insensitive to describe the death as a "small, petty matter". Protesting this obnoxious attitude can never be unnecessary and illegitimate.

Notwithstanding, the fact that the chief minister violated the security protocol and video footages establishing that she had entered and exited the Planning Commission untouched and unhurt, and the unarmed nature of the protest, what happened to Amit Mitra was unacceptable-condemnable. CPI (M) leadership taking responsibility was equally prompt in joining the widespread condemnation and disapproval.

But not only the TMC leadership, section of the media seems to be accepting the theory that the Planning Commission incident has led to the subsequent widespread violence. Even otherwise sober �an English daily editorially observed "Violence begets violence". This is obnoxious. This is nothing but reinvigorating the infamous Modi theory of "action and reaction" to justify post Godhra communal genocide.

No violence can be justified; more so if there is state condoning and sponsorship. After the untoward incident in Planning Commission, the chief minister had thundered � "I will see who will save the CPI (M)?" Ironically, this signaled the beginning of the grotesque violence that engulfed Bengal with the vandalising of iconic Presidency University.

The humble response to the chief minister's provocative question has to be that -it is her responsibility to save and protect the CPI (M) and other opposition parties. No constitutionally elected government can abdicate its responsibility of ensuring the fundamental rights of citizens including those who belong to the CPI (M). The people of Bengal has elected her to her office and entrusted precisely this responsibility.

Therefore, a time has come where the political process and the institutions of a democratic society has to force the elected government to redeem its constitutional responsibility. That is how the concerns of the people of Bengal who are craving for peace and dignity can be addressed meaningfully.

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