ByÂ Riad Azam:
When incidents of political violence and sheer intolerance of contrasting political ideologies becomes an everyday affair in a state reputed for its distinct political culture and intellectual edge, it is indeed a worrying aspect for the democratic setup we live in.
C. Rajagopalachari once remarked, “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”, while commenting on its distinct socio-political ethos, which made it a state under the Indian Federal Structure, much ahead of its times. However, today Bengal has turned all but into a cesspool, and is taking its steady stride towards social and political anarchy.
A recent case in point is the death of Sudipta Gupta, an activist of the Students’ Federation of India (the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the principal opposition party of the Left Front coalition in West Bengal) on 2nd April and its subsequent series of events that ripped through the state as well as in the national arena, and which had serious ramifications. The Leftist Students’ Organisations had assembled in Kolkata, to protest against the State Governments decision of postponing the Students’ Union Elections in the college and University campuses throughout the state, citing problems of law and order. Now, this is a strange reductionist approach that is being undertaken throughout India, during the past decade. The problem of violence and flagrant use of money and muscle power during Students’ Union Elections is truly glaring. However, the Governments, instead of addressing the structural issues that have led to such a big problem, find it more convenient to clamp down all democratic decision making bodies in our college and University campuses. While this has been a common phenomenon in the prestigious University campuses of Northern India, Bengal’s institutions of higher learning did have their democratic decision-making bodies of students functioning, nevertheless, in a flawed manner. However, this recent decision by the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress Government meant, Bengal too was following suit.
The protesters were arrested following their scuffle with the police. While the police version states that Sudipta died after crashing with an electric pole, when he tried to jump off from the police van, the Leftist Groups have alleged that Sudipta’s death was a result of torture in the police custody. The death sparked off massive protests throughout the country, with the CPI(M) demanding a judicial probe. The incident actually provided the Left Front coalition, especially the CPI(M), a position of strength and enabled them to exhort political pressure upon the Government, something they desperately needed following their decimation in the 2011 State Assembly Elections.
However, a strange turn of events occurred on the 9th of April, precisely one week after the death of Sudipta Gupta. The Finance Minister of West Bengal, Amit Mitra was roughed up by CPI(M) and SFI activists as he was approaching the Planning Commission Building in New Delhi. The event back there in Bengal aroused angry reactions by Trinamool Congress workers, with offices of the CPI(M) ransacked all around the state. On the 10th of April an unprecedented event took place. The Presidency University (hitherto known as the Presidency College), a 196 year old Institution which has produced Nobel laureates such as Amartya Sen, found itself subjected to the misplaced wrath of the Trinamool workers. A mob comprising of Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), the students’ wing of the Trinamool Congress, led by the local councilor forced its way to the historical Baker Laboratory of the Physics department and damaged lab materials and assaulted a professor.
This entire series of events is actually a clear pointer to the vicious circle of political intolerance that Bengal has got itself into. For those of us who have lived under the 34 year Left Front rule in Bengal would remember the erstwhile Government’s art of hushing up its failure of the state machinery. Thus, we had Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali, the two main convicts of the Chhoto Angaria killings of 2003 (A village in West Midnapore District where eleven supporters of the Trinamool Congress were allegedly burned alive by CPI(M) supporters) being referred to as “doler shompod” (treasure of the party) by the CPI(M). Â Or the former Chief Minister of West Bengal Budhdhadeb Bhattacharya’s (in)famous “amra- ora” (We and they) remark. While rubbishing away the widespread protests following the killings in Nandigram (a village in West Midnapore), Budhdhadeb Bhattacharya had remarked “amra 235 ora 35” (We are 235, they are 35); an arrogant and haughty reference to the stark contrast between the seats won by the Left Front and the erstwhile opposition Trinamool Congress during the previous assembly elections, covertly meaning that their protests were of least political importance.
Unfortunately, the current Chief Minister has been repeating the same mistakes committed by her predecessors.
She has forfeited her own election slogan of “Bodla noye bodol chai” (We don’t want revenge, we want change). In the process, she has turned back the wheels upon the CPI(M), with her party workers running riot throughout the state, and the line of distinction between the party and the administration being blurred, something Bengal witnessed during the 34 year old Left regime, and desperately needed to be delivered from. Mamata Banerjee has also kept up the trend of making inane remarks on sensitive issues which demanded a more sincere approach. (Or should we say, she has outdone her Leftist counterpart in this regard?). Thus, we were left amazed with open jaws as Mamata Banerjee delivered her classic one-liners which include her dubbing of the hue and cry following infant deaths as a “mere drama”, or her conspiracy theory in calling the Park Street rape case as a “Shajano Ghotona” (a got-up incident).
The root of major problems which confront Bengal today lies in its political classes’ obdurate refusal in accepting its failure and its over- involvement in acts of shifting of blame. The issue has been further confounded because of the insincere role played by the ‘fourth pillar of Democracy’. The indigenous media of Bengal especially the visual side has indulged in brazen acts ofÂ favoritismÂ to an extent that at times they seem to be the mouthpieces of either the Government or the opposition, thereby further feeding onto the already existing political instability in the state.
What Bengal desperately craves today is stability and the salvation of its distinct political culture. The ongoing political vacuum can only be filled if our cradles of democracy; i.e. our University campuses are once againÂ democratized.Â The deplorable law and order situation has to be taken care of for the sake of prosperity of the state, which, given the present situation, seems to be an elusive idea. However, efforts have to be made from all quarters of the society for ensuring better days in Bengal, especially from those, whom Arundhati Roy calls, “have learnt to divorce hope from reason”.