Friday, December 7, 2007

The Vandals or the Jacobins of West Bengal

The Vandals or the Jacobins of West Bengal
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The mob furry spilled on the streets of Kolkatta on November 21, 2007 to protest the atrocities of the CPI (M) workers in Nandigram, its complicity in Rizwan’s murder and sheltering an anti-Islam writer reminds about the Jacobins that dominated the streets of Paris from 1789 to 1792.

The Jacobins lived in the slums and ghettos lanes and by lanes of the French capital. Those burly souls who survived on the dint of their labor use to form the Parisian crowd that protested against the long entrenched monarchy in France.

The credit goes to the Jacobins to unseat a decadent monolith ruling structure in France. The world owns to them the words like, Liberty, Equality and Freedom that signify the gains of the French Revolution. The then French bourgeoisie called the Jacobins ‘Oh those Vandals.’

There is no denying the fact that the mob furry on the street of Kolkatta was a clarion call to unseat the CPI (M) government that’s ruling West Bengal uninterruptedly since last four decades. The Marxist party has not only become capitalist but its ruling class has become monolith. People’s patience has been bursting at its seams against the left government’s anti- people’s policy. It just needed a spark to bring the people on the streets and eventually they came from much unexpected quarters, the Muslims of inner Kolkotta believed to be the supporters of CPI (M) government.

The fact remains they provided the much-needed heat for the revolution to begin in West Bengal opens up the debate whether the street protesters of Kolkatta could be called the Vandals or the Jacobins. Like the French the Marxist bourgeoisie castigated them, ‘Oh those Vandals of Kolkatta.’

A lot has been written about the events related to Nadigram, a place some 90 miles from Kolkotta. Some described it ‘intra-proletariat struggle.’ Others a clash between the agrarian forces and those who favor industrialization, while its also viewed as a revolt against the dictatorship of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Many others blame it on the opposition in West Bengal particularly Trinamool Congress that attempted to cash on the discontentment of the people of Nandigram. The general summery of all is that Nandigram essentially was a people’s war, a faithless commotion with no religious overtones.

However, according to the BJP the majority of the victims in the Nandigram clashes were those belonging to the Muslim minority community. The saffron party that survives on anti-Muslim campaign saw in Nandigram an opportunity to break the Muslim vote bank of CPI (M) in West Bengal and so in this case sided with the minority community. One may have quarrels with the politics of the BJP but it’s an irrefutable fact that Muslims suffered heavily in Nandigram.

The CPI (M) government was keen on industrial development through foreign investment in West Bengal. They mooted the idea of creating Special Economic Zone in Nandigram and decided to permit an Indonesian firm to build a chemicals plant across the Haldi River from Haldia port, in Nandigram.

The Left government gave the argument that the SEZ would create about 100,000 direct and indirect jobs and a lot of people would be benefited by this project in Nandigram.

The idea of SEZ tries to replicate the Chinese model of forced eviction of people from their lands, at a price determined by the government and this became the bugbear of the CPI (M) government.

The landowners of Nandigram who are mostly Hindus grudgingly seemed to have accepted the deal, but the local people who depend on the land as sharecroppers and were Muslims opposed the idea of SEZ. Their opposition was they would be displaced without any compensation, as they don't own the land. These created a rift between the local people and the CPI (M) supporters who forcibly tried to clear up the area but the local people who resided there thwarted any such moves.

Here comes the opposition leader Mamta Banerjee, who sees in this an opportunity to embarrass the CPI (M) government. She brings her own supporters as well as the Maoists guerrillas with guns to fight the CPI (M) government. As a result of it a turf war gets started in Nandigram.

On 14 March 2007, CPI (M) government sends police to Nandigram to clear the place. The local people blocked the road with the frontlines filled with women and children and they resisted the police unarmed. The state police acting in the most fascist manner and opened fire on the mob that killed 14 people and left 164 were injured. However, even then the CPI (M) cadres were unable to enter Nandigram.

Some independent investigation has brought to light the fact that the bullets used in the conflict area of Nandigram on March 14 were not the standard ones used by the police force of West Bengal. This gave rise to speculation that the CPI (M) cadres could have disguised themselves as police and may have fired on the unarmed local people.

These findings made the local people agitated and with the backing of the Maoist they expelled the CPI (M) supporters out of Nandigram forcing hem to live in relief camps.

After the violence of March, the government announced that the land acquisition proposal for the SEZ was shelved. However, even then the tension continued to simmer on the ground. The CPI (M) was bent upon to clear the area of the Maoists and Trinamools supporters but there was no let up in the resistance against any such moves.

So the CPI (M) finally planned operation "take back" to reclaim Nandigram. They sent trucks load of their cadres to overpower the protesters and reclaim the land using all it might. There was brutal violence in the ensuing clashes and in the end the CPI (M) cadres finally managed to enter into Nandigram. They are said to have committed the same kind of violence that the Modi government had indulged in Gujarat. There were arsons and looting killings and rapes. The horror tales are too terrifying to tell. Mothers were raped in front of their daughters, daughters in front of their others.

In the end of the day the victim of this controversy happen to be the landless poor labourers of Nandigram. Undoubtedly they belong to the proletariats class but they still had certain faith and in this case majority belonged to the minority Muslim community.

Nandigram definitely cannot be compared with Gujarat where the oppressed belonged to the Muslim community and the perpetrators were of those of the Hindus faith. It was the CPI (M) cadres that were on the forefront of oppression in Nandigram and many among them belonged to the Muslim faith as well. However, there is little doubt that the majority who suffered belonged to the Muslim minority community.

The horror tales of the Nadigram against the Muslim community was so inflaming that it brought the Muslims on the streets of Kolkotta to vent their anger. The incense of Taslima Nasreen was there round the corner, the murder of Rizwan ur Rehman aggravated against the CPI (M) rule.

The West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has tried to patch up the whole issue by admitting that March police firing in Nandigram was a political and administrative failure and has also announced compensation to Nandigram victims. However it remains to be seen how long the mob furry could be bottled up by the CPI (M) government. It seems the Jacobins have arrived in West Bengal.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@

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