With The ‘Nabanna’ March Turning Violent In West Bengal, Is The Left Back As Opposition?

Posted by Vivashwan Singh in Politics
May 24, 2017

“Bangla Bipanna, Chalo Nabanna” (Bengal is in Distress, Let’s March to The Secretariat)

Nobody would believe me if I told them that 74-year-old ex-minister Kanti Ganguly was lying under the sun on the streets of Kolkata after the police attacked him.

Long before the mainstream Communist parties vanished from the front pages of Indian dailies, they were slipping from the edges of national consciousness. Once India’s principal opposition party, left-wing parties had diminished so much that they were facing political irrelevance until they did something radical on May 22, 2017, and recovered their spotlight.

West Bengal is currently in turmoil. Agricultural labourers and peasants from various corners of Bengal were participating in a peaceful protest on the streets of Kolkata under the initiative of left-wing parties. It gave a glimpse of the red prominence of the 1990s. The protest didn’t start all of a sudden. According to senior leaders of the CPI(M), the left had announced its campaign, “Bangla Bipanna, Chalo Nabanna” (Bengal is in Distress, Let’s March to The Secretariat) more than three months ago.

A segment of protesters’ protest demanded remunerative prices and resolving the agrarian crisis prevailing under the current Trinamool regime, while others were striving for the restoration of communal harmony and democratic rights in West Bengal. However, the Trinamool government, instead of meeting the demands of a great many people, took all measures to disrupt the peaceful protest of the left activists and unleashed the most dreadful assault on its citizens. This will haunt Mamata Banerjee for a considerable period of time.

The protest march was cut short, with the state police cordoning all roads leading to Nabanna. But the left activists attempted to break police barriers at different points including Mayo Road, Hastings, Santragachi and Dufferin Road. The police responded by beating the citizens with batons and lobbying tear gas shells to clamp down and make arbitrary arrests. The activists were left with no choice but to resort to stone pelting. The protesters used sticks and bamboo poles to break the barricades, while the police took help of water cannons.

Image Credit: Prateek Choudhury/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

According to the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, more than 900 people have been injured, many of whom are now undergoing treatment in different hospitals. Left front chairman and veteran CPI(M) leader Biman Bose, along with Kanti Ganguly, have been injured.

The left MLAs, including Left Front legislative party leader Sujan Chakraborty, managed to cross the security cordons in their cars but were recognised and stopped by the police at the north gate of the secretariat. These leaders were then taken to Howrah’s Shibpur Police Station.

Nothing can be more undemocratic than the MLAs being arrested during the time of assembly session, and the police not disclosing whether they are in police custody or not. The secretariat has become nothing but a virtual fortress, with all entries blocked along with deployment of a large police force. The police, in a pre-planned manner, spared neither the women protesters nor the elderly.

The rule of law does not allow a male policeman to beat up women. Moreover, even journalists were additionally targeted, so that there would be no one left to expose the brutal repression by the TMC administration. Fortunately, some television channels showed the city police using batons freely to disperse left activists as well as the spectators caught in the fray.

From the independent media outlets and some of India’s most intrepid and regarded columnists, the criticism of the West Bengal government has been intense, unequivocal and growing since the Bhangar incident. The harsh tactics of the administration have caused unacceptable violations of rights in the state. However, many so called social activists who were very vocal in the Singur-Nandigram incident, now shy away from condemning Mamata Banerjee’s anti-people policies. Various intellectuals came in solidarity with Singur farmers but no one except the left stood for the farmers when the same thing happened in Bhangar.

The CPI(M) West Bengal state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra said, “We believe our programme was successful. Lakhs of workers participated in it. Scared to see such a massive turnout, the state government used the police to build a resistance. It was a fascist-like attack. Despite such brutal atrocities on us, no one fled. They fought tooth and nail.”

As far as electoral politics is concerned, no one would have expected such a massive turnout since the left in Bengal was said to have lost its relevance. The struggle could have been more intense if the middle class had participated along with the working class in the protests. It is fishy that TMC candidates are continuously winning every consecutive election in spite of these anti-people policies. It wouldn’t be a shock, if someday, we find out that the votes given to the TMC didn’t come from the the ballot or the EVM, but from the barrel of a gun.

The left has proved that in spite of electoral mishaps, it is still a force to reckon with in Bengal. The old school Marxists have proved that it is too early to write the obituary of Communist parties in India. As far as history is concerned, protests have regularly motivated a positive social change and the progression of human rights. They empower people and groups to express grievances and dissent, to impart perspectives and to uncover flaws in administration. Protests are particularly crucial for those whose interests are usually marginalised. However, the TMC government might have regarded the Nabanna protest as either an inconvenience, which must be controlled, or their own burning pyre, which had to be extinguished at its earliest.