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A Brief Commentary On The Birth Of Political Violence In West Bengal

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The era of political violence has been a matter of discussion since very early times. However, the context when it comes to India specifically has a lot of different characteristics. The idea of political violence in India has never been uniform and there are some states in India which take the crown in the context of a dubious record of achievement related to political violence. West Bengal is one of the states in India which has maintained consistently the record of being one of the most politically most violent states.

Papers already authored on the power and politics of Bengal frequently cite the political violence from the times of the Naxalbari movement in the late 1970s. The idea of political stability in Bengal has never existed as the state suffers from a lot of ideological differences. The history of the state has been of political violence, treachery, as well as instability if not complete control in the modern era.

Bengal rose to prominence due to British colonial rule when it was declared the capital. However, the onset of the British Empire took place after a treacherous removal of Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah from Murshidabad by his close compatriots. Then, the British also polarized the state into an early adopter of British Raj.

Things took a turn post-independence when after the initial years of Congress rule, a strong mandate the communist front got from 1977 in rural Bengal became a precedent for a stronghold in politics. A party that came in with the ideology of the socialistic and pseudo-communist attributes to lift the society of the rural Bengal and the farming community unknowingly had given that power of the soil to the structure that struck back at the mandate. The voices of marginalization were removed in a slow but steady manner. The precedent set by a continued role of the Communist Party from the late ’70s till ’90s, it hardly saw opposition.

Well, wait a moment, I said hardly. There has been a constant opposition against the communist regime which actually functioned as bourgeoise government in the garb of proletariat government. The deadly attacks on the young population of the Naxalite movement, marginalizing them as terrorists and eliminating some of the best brains in the country is a violent political disaster which cannot probably draw parallels. The idea of the violence since that time had reached a very different level and had spread its roots in rural Bengal and even semi-urban areas. The death and the violence that had been systematized as per the opponent’s name “Harmad” which meant militia for the communists. This violence was continued by the party that now came into power, only the colour of the political flag changed.

However, before we proceed on to the next chapter of the political change, a critical conceptualization of the political violence in Bengal is needed. The idea of the control over public discourse, especially the print media was one of the first steps. However, to complement the control of media the first and the foremost steps needed to be controlling the rural population. The idea of farmer solidarity and to control rural landholdings was definitely a very important step for the communist regime in Bengal to take over the mass population. However, the popularity wave that the communist rode on, decayed over a period of time, most likely because of the arrogance and evil that manifested in the form of control under a common red flag. A flag that carried the hopes of the millions of rural people to move away from the middle-class vote bank politics of Congress.

In Bengal, the hold of Congress did not remain strong when leaders like Bose moved away. Netaji Bose formed Forward Bloc, a party built on the socialist ideology. The party later got marginalized in the post-independence India when a bigger party in the form of Communist Party of India-Marxist came up as an alternative.

The idea of Bengal had altered since the British. With the partition, a huge chunk of the cultural and geographic identity of the province was lost. The division, the refuges and the distracted economics gave a push to the socialistic idea to play on the aspirations of people who had nothing. The lure of power was given to them and then slowly solidified. The opposition, except for in some pockets, was obliterated and marginalized. A dangerous precedent of not allowing the “others” to exist was set for the opposition and hence the cycle of violence born.

Parallels could be drawn from Stalin, Pol Pot but the Marxist party of India in Bengal was neither dominant in that openly brutal way nor did they have the machinery in the socio-economic context. A new idea of left radical politics was born to lead the fight for the people under the leadership of Jyoti Basu, a conniving and ironically elitist leader and one of the longest-serving chief ministers of Bengal.

The rise of the political leadership of rookie Mamata Banerjee took place in her youth as a protégé of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, former Chief Minister of West Bengal, before the onset of the “Red Communist Flag”. The idea of shunning capitalistic investment and technological growth in the most important years for Bengal’s economic growth never allowed the state to flourish in relation with the aspiration of the youth.

The culmination of the arm-twisting for investment by forceful land acquisition from farmers of Singur and Nandigram provinces in Bengal created a new chapter in the political violence history. The gruesome death of a young teenage girl Tapashi Malick crossed new heights of violence in the last stages of the ruling days of CPI(M). The circle was coming to a close from the Sainbari incident in the 1970s – From a mother being forced to ear rice stained with the blood of her own sons to the death of 16-year-old Tapashi Malik. These were the examples of the first part of the birth of political violence in the form of a mechanized institution which had been followed by other political parties in Bengal in their pockets of influence.

The idea of the Congress which had been harping on the political violence of their own in a very different way gave rise to the party Trinamool Congress which was supposedly the new force to stand up against the tyranny of the longstanding and decadent rule of CPI-M. An idea of struggle for the people had turned into a system for a struggle against the people. To rule them in a manner where containment of the popular opinion and pushing forward the party dominant discourse.

The rule of the law became the rule of the land where the panchayats which were meant for local self-rule had been turned into institutions of rigging, vote booth jamming and stifling amidst the muscle power of local candidates under the communist part in most parts of Bengal by raw violent and authoritarian regime created the groundwork for violent politics of Bengal despite regime change


*Bengal here refers only to West Bengal

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