By Amrita Mukherjee:
The white starched kurta, the self-righteous air of intellect, the bold rimmed spectacles, the extensive collection of any book remotely communist. As I walked into the humble abode of one of the oldest leaders of the Communist Party of India, a million questions ran through my mind, a million desperate answers that the populace of Bengal was seeking from their leaders, past and present.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw the lowest ever vote count the CPI(M) had seen since their inception in the region. Their minimal standing as opposition now begins to be questioned severely. The state seems to have reinstated their faith in what is popularly known as the government of “Ma, Mati, ar Manush” (Mother, land and people). However, a closer look at the days before and after elections paints a very different picture. The politically enthusiastic community of Bengal has always been associated with passion which often led to outbreak of violence in the region. This Lok Sabha election also encountered violence but of a very different kind. What earlier used to be clashes between parties was now just a one-sided regime of terror from the ruling government. It was not merely the party supporters who participated in inhumane violence but received extensive support from the administration that supposedly pledges to protect citizens from any extra constitutional action.
To get a clearer idea of the intensity and nature of violence that has become a regular feature of civil society in Bengal, I knocked the doors of someone who personally had been a victim. He wished to remain anonymous as his family continues to be threatened by the local supporters of Trinamool Congress. Having grown up in a Communist Bengal, I had often been exposed to the confident ideologically infested speeches of this CPI (M) leader and yet, for the first time I saw a shadow of despair over his face and his eyes clearly gave away his helplessness. Steadily, as the discussion progressed, he gave me an account of the incidents that took place across Bengal during elections and especially on 16th May. The process of terrorization had started much before the actual elections as people were intimidated by the ruling party supporters into voting for Trinamool Congress. These methods of intimidation became only sharper as the elections got closer reaching an anarchic climax once the results were declared. In the Hooghly district, offices of the CPI (M) had been burnt while a number of its supporters had been brutally hurt. In the Chandannagar region of Hooghly district, some of the oldest leaders including the gentleman I had a chance to meet were beaten while their families received death threats dare they lodge complaints. What becomes more scandalising is the fact that police never appeared on the scene, consistently refusing to accept FIRs and denying to the media existence of any violent action whatsoever.
The aggression did not remain limited to the rural regions as Kolkata saw innumerable incidents during this period. In Lake Town, Trinamool Congress goons targeted three college students for acting as Left Front polling agents, beating them with revolver butts, forcing them into mock executions, and smearing the blood of a CPM supporter on his mother’s face, saying that she would “see his blood again” if he stayed with the Left. The attack lasted three hours but Lake Town police station, barely 2km way, had no clue. Three of the victims – Kaushik Roy, Amit Dasgupta and Raju Sarkar – were taken to a government hospital where they were threatened again by the goons. A slightly different form of silent terror spread through the districts of Burdwan, Coochbehar, Alipur Duar, Jalpaiguri and Nadia as communist leaders were threatened such that they did not come out to vote.
In what seems to be an irreconcilable political rivalry that cannot be anything but violent between the two most prominent parties of Bengal, it is the common man that continues to suffer the most. In the first decade of the 21st century when they had replaced the three decades long Communist party from power, what they were seeking was a decisive shift from corruption that had found its way into every sphere of public life, violence that had almost become a culture and development that had ceased to exist. What they desired was an alternative to historically wrong and impractical idealist policy making trends of the CPI(M). The people of Bengal believed it was Didi’s Trinamool Congress that could redress all their grievances. Her model of a new Bengal allured the masses. Today, halfway through her rule, what the people have received is an intensification of all that they had abhorred and demanded alternatives to. Development remains alien as political instability and whimsical decision making continues to blur the economic prospects of the state. Lack of educational opportunities and unemployment becomes a significant migration push factor for the younger generations. The ones who continue to live here remain in a state of abject despondency. Clearly, their elected alternative has failed them.
What now has become a favourite for political analysts all over is predicting the future trends of the political scene in the state. While some swear by Modi’s mass influence believing that the stellar performance of BJP in Bengal is the harbinger of a new era of right wing politics, others continue to believe that Mamata Banerjee’s almost dictatorial regime is not ending anytime soon. Very few see hope for the re-emergence of Communism in the region. While all such trends continue to be tracked in the comfort of furnished high rises, the masses of Bengal cry out in desperation. To them, no leadership is worth their confidence, no party fit enough to rule. Yet a few like me would like to hope that one is mistaken if they think this culturally passionate, highly opinionated community shall simply watch their state being pushed to the brink of complete ruin. This soulful state, I believe, shall rise once again very soon to find a new direction, a new lease of political life, a new scheme of development, a very new Bengal.