Leftists forced on the back foot

  • Opinion
  • Monday, 19 Nov 2007

The Marxists fear the recent bloody events in rural Nandigram in the Left Front-ruled state of West Bengal would result in them suffering huge losses should they force early elections over the US-India nuclear deal.

A WEEK, they say, is a long time in politics. A few days of bloody mayhem in a tiny rural enclave in southern West Bengal has forced the power-drunk Marxists to allow some much wanted leeway to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He has now been allowed by the Communists to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency on India-specific nuclear safeguards.

For months the Marxists had threatened to pull down the government if it took the next step for the implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

Even now the permission granted is conditional. The government can discuss the India-specific safeguards but the Marxists have retained the veto on the final draft of the agreement before its implementation by the two countries.

But observers are unanimous that even the conditional nod for the government to dispatch an emissary to Vienna, where the IAEA is headquartered, marks a huge climb-down by the Marxists.

Their doctrinaire leader, Prakash Karat, the general-secretary of the CPI (M), had threatened to withdraw support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government should it approach IAEA.

The softening of the Marxist stance, by common agreement, resulted from the bloody events in the rural enclave of Nandigram in the Left Front-ruled state of West Bengal.

Trouble was simmering in this cluster of 100-odd villages in rural south Bengal since early this year when the Government tried to acquire land for a huge chemicals complex.

Marginal farmers with small pieces of land resisted. In the ensuing violence, at least 14 people were killed in March this year. The opposition Trianmool Congress and a local Islamic group led the struggle against land acquisition.

Following a prolonged agitation, the state government abandoned the plan to set up the chemicals hub in Nandigram but normalcy did not return to the area. The anti-government protesters mounted pressure against Marxist cadres present in Nandigram, driving them out of their homes.

However matters came to a head last week when armed cadres of the CPI (M) forcibly took control of 10 villages. Brandishing firearms, the Marxist marauders killed a number of people who resisted eviction.

The bloody mayhem in Nandigram resulted in a huge backlash against the Marxists. Even the Prime Minister, dependant on their support for survival, sought an explanation from the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee.

Leading members of the intelligentsia, including academicians, writers, film directors and actors, cultural artistes et al, who generally support the Marxists, condemned the ruling Left Front, calling it fascist.

On the call of the opposition parties and intellectuals, the entire state held a protest bandh on Nov 12. All road, rail and air traffic came to halt and private offices and educational institutions observed a forced holiday.

No less embarrassing for the CPI (M), the core of the ruling Left Front in West Bengal, was the public criticism of its handling of Nandigram by its own allies. Members of the Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc condemned the events in Nandigram in no uncertain terms.

Forced on the defensive, the Marxist Government agreed to deploy central forces in Nandigram. Even the local police, which had withdrawn from the enclave when trouble first erupted in early March, were ordered to step in and take charge of the affected areas.

To put the Nandigram imbroglio in perspective, there is no denying the lack of socio-economic development in the region.

The fear of loss of land holdings inflamed passions. The extremely backward region with no economic/industrial activity become a happy hunting ground for ultra-leftists preaching armed rebellion.

Last week’s armed action by the CPI (M) vigilantes was aimed at “recapturing” the villages from which they had been ousted since March.

It was why the Marxist Chief Minister Bhattacharjee justified the action by his followers, saying that “our people had to go in, they (anti-Marsixts) have been paid back in their own coin?”

For his remarks Bhattacharjee drew flak, being reminded that he was the Chief Minister of the entire state and not just the members of the CPI (M).

Forced on the back foot, the Marxist leadership now softened its stance on the nuclear deal. Of course, this was no favour to the Congress-led Government. It was a matter of self-survival.

The Marxists apprehended that an election at this stage, when the people in West Bengal are angered by its handiwork in Nandigram, would result in huge electoral losses.

The party did not want to force an early general election, a threat it had held till the other day if the government approached the IAEA for India-specific nuclear safeguards.

Notably, Marxists have ruled West Bengal without interruption since 1977. In the process the fine line dividing the government and the party had been fully erased.

Marxist cadres, especially outside the few urban centres, rule the roost. Even private enterprises are expected to clear all employment decisions with the local Marxist cells.

It was this arrogance of power, fully on display last week, that fuelled a wave of anger throughout the country. But the protest was the loudest in Calcutta and, most remarkably, was led by intellectuals who hitherto were proud of their pro-Marxist leanings.

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