Real face of Buddhadeb: A rally to protest CPM atrocities in Nandigram
Bengalis have this fascination for bhadralok Marxists, which is really a contradiction in terms but has stood the CPI(M) in good stead in West Bengal. As Deputy Chief Minister in the fumbling, bumbling United Front Governments, Mr Jyoti Basu presided over the lumpenisation of West Bengal politics and began the process of destroying West Bengal’s industrial infrastructure, which in the 1960s was not to be scoffed at. He made gherao into an instrument of state policy and lawlessness the hallmark of Marxist politics. When harried industrialists petitioned the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court and the judge sought an explanation, Mr Basu deployed thousands of his party’s hoodlum brigade to gherao the court. The Chief Justice saw merit in the dictum that discretion is the better part of valour.
As Chief Minister after the Left Front came to power in 1977, Mr Basu vigorously pursued his reckless agenda, denuding West Bengal of whatever little remained of its once thriving industry, while making it a point to holiday in London every year, ostensibly to seduce investors. From the Marichjhanpi massacre to the Bantala gangrape, his tenure as Chief Minister was one long saga of atrocities committed by either Marxist goons or the police, which he had swiftly converted into an extension counter of the CPI(M). Yet, people were easily persuaded to vote for him and the CPI(M)-led Left Front, election after election, because whatever his faults, he was a “bhadralok”. Never mind the fact that behind the spotless dhuti-panjabi façade lurked an evil man with a malevolent mind, a modern day Mephistopheles who derived perverse pleasure from West Bengal’s impoverishment.
His successor, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was seen and feted as a “bhadralok” twice over. His lineage was impeccable — graduate of Presidency College, nephew of Sukanto Bhattacharjee whose darkly haunting poetry is replete with metaphors of human bondage and struggle against hunger and poverty, translator of Russian poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky, poet and playwright of sorts at one with Kolkata’s intellectuals for whom Nandan is their second home, high on Marxist dialectics and suitably preachy. Bengalis could not have asked for more. What added to his appeal is Bhattacharjee’s ‘reformist’ zeal. He borrowed Nike’s slogan and came up with his (in retrospect, rather corny) one-liner: “Do it now.” Buddhijeebis, who have amazing power to influence opinion in West Bengal, overnight became ‘Buddhajeebis’ and wore their new identity on their sleeves. Mr Basu would let his mask slip once in a while and indulge in crudity; Mr Bhattacharjee, who claims to be a fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, would never do that.
But all this must now belong to the past. Mr Bhattacharjee’s bhadralok image has taken a severe beating and today he stands exposed as a charlatan who doesn’t deserve the office he holds. For all his pretensions of being a man of culture and integrity, he is no less Mephistophelean than Mr Basu. If imitation is the best form of flattery, Mr Bhattacharjee has proved himself an accomplished flatterer by aping his party general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, in justifying murder, rape and pillage by Marxist criminals. There is not even the faintest hint of regret that Nandigram should have become the leitmotif of the CPI(M)’s unrestrained thuggery. There is no belated acceptance of moral responsibility, leave alone assertion of authority, even at this stage when his friends have begun spitting at him. The Pioneer was not exaggerating when it suggested to its readers that for a lesson in fascism, they should read Mr Bhattacharjee’s shocking comments at a Press conference where he praised his party’s black shirts and poured scorn and ridicule on the hapless victims of their crimes. Among the victims, it needs to be noted, are a Muslim woman and her two teenaged daughters who were gangraped by the Marxist marauders. The two girls are missing; for all we know, they may have been killed or are being held captive to satiate the animal desires of those about whom Mr Karat and Mr Bhattacharjee speak so admiringly.
Compare this with the CPI(M)’s clamorous and vile protest against the alleged custodial killing of a wanted criminal and his moll in Gujarat. Recall also how 24x7 television channels, notably those headquartered in Delhi, went berserk, trying to pin the guilt of that alleged crime on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Contrast the timid, almost cowardly, media response to Mr Bhattacharjee’s appalling comments and Mr Karat’s chilling defence of the Marxist killers and rapists who have let loose a reign of terror and whose victims are largely Muslims, to the epithets and worse hurled by our newspapers and 24x7 channels at Mr Modi who has at no stage justified the 2002 violence in Gujarat or the alleged custodial killing of a mafia don and his moll. Is it because there is an ‘ideological’ affinity between the fascists of AK Gopalan Bhawan and mediapersons? Or is it because Mr Modi is a soft target and, unlike Mr Karat or Mr Bhattacharjee, whose storm troopers have been intimidating journalists and threatening dire consequences if they report the truth, will not retaliate? Or are there ‘linkages’ that influence our media, more so 24x7 channels, to black out Marxist crimes and invent scurrilous stories to demean others? If our media bravehearts wish to shame and shun Mr Modi, it’s their choice. But must they so shamelessly admire those who prescribe “Dum Dum dawai” — thuggery of the sort witnessed in Nandigram — as Ms Brinda Karat did at a rally in Kolkata? And support Mr Sitaram Yechury who has the temerity to insist that Nandigram can’t be discussed in Parliament because law and order is a State subject?
Mr Bhattacharjee has no doubt sold his soul to the likes of Indonesia’s Salem Group and, closer home, Ambuja Cement and ‘industrialists’ who were no more than small time Burrabazar traders till the CPI(M) came to power and facilitated their rags-to-riches journey. Mr Karat genuflects at Stalin’s altar and listens to the Internationale to relax, so we shouldn’t expect him to be touched by the plight of those maimed, killed and raped by his cadre. But what about mediapersons who tirelessly preach moral and ethical rectitude to others from their high perch in ‘national’ newspapers and ‘national’ news channels? By not admonishing those responsible for the ghastly events in Nandigram, they have legitimised the indefensible and paved the path for similar crimes elsewhere. Amen.
November 18, 2007.
On March 21, 2007, I had written the following article for The Pioneer's opeditorial page, contesting Mr Jyoti Basu's glycering tears for the victims of the police firing in Nandigram on March 14 in which at least 14 villagers were shot dead and scores injured:
Pot calls the kettle black
When in power, veteran Marxist Jyoti Basu, who presided over West Bengal's decline and death, was as ruthless and callous as Buddhadeb BhattacharjeeEven before West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's critics, both within and outside the CPI(M) and the Left Front it leads, could articulate their opposition to the ghastly atrocities that were committed by the police and Marxist cadre at Nandigram on March 14, one man had set himself to the task of cranking up criticism with remarkable energy and alacrity for his age.
Veteran Marxist and former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu did not lose any time in making public his disagreement with the "anti-people action" of his successor at Writers' Building. And, if stories emanating from Kolkata are to be believed, he promptly contacted leaders of the CPI(M)'s partners in the Left Front, notably those of the RSP and the Forward Bloc, and urged them to lash out at Mr Bhattacharjee.
At an informal meeting among the Left Front partners on March 15 in Kolkata, Mr Basu, having worked himself into a right royal rage, is believed to have pitilessly castigated Mr Bhattacharjee, demanding to know, with all the pomposity that he could command, as to who had ordered the police action. As a sullen Chief Minister decided against converting the meeting into a slanging match, Mr Basu continued with his fulminations: Why did the police resort to firing? Why were protesters shot in their bellies and their heads? In the end, he accused Mr Bhattacharjee of being "arrogant" and "uncaring".
In Delhi, Mr Basu's criticism found resonance in the timid response of the CPI(M)'s tele-friendly leaders, Mr Prakash Karat and Mr Sitaram Yechury. Both let it be known that had Mr Basu been at the helm of affairs in West Bengal, they would have been spared the ignominy of having to justify such barbarity. Almost taking a cue from them, the feisty Trinamool Congress chairperson, Ms Mamata Banerjee, told newspersons that "even a respected person like Jytoibabu has condemned the police firing".
Suddenly, it would seem, Mr Basu has emerged as a better Chief Minister, a more humane administrator and a farsighted leader compared to Mr Bhattacharjee. Many of those who are spitting venom at West Bengal's accidental Chief Minister - had it not been for Promode Dasgupta, Mr Bhattacharjee would have been penning poetry overladen with darkly haunting metaphors much like his uncle Sukanto Bhattacharjee who died at the young age of 21 raging against hunger and poverty or his favourite Russian poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky who committed suicide - it would appear, are yearning for the good old days when Mr Basu held the 'Red Fort'.
The truth, however, is that there are no good old days to recall. If anything, Mr Basu's record in office, first as Deputy Chief Minister in two successive United Front Governments beginning 1967 (for all practical purposes he was the de facto Chief Minister with a hapless Ajoy Mukherjee reduced to indulging in Gandhiana) and later as Chief Minister for nearly a quarter of a century at the head of the Left Front Government which has been in power for three decades now, the "longest elected Communist Government" as party commissars untiringly point out to the naive and the novitiate, is a terrible tale of calculated destruction of a State in the name of ideology.
It was Mr Basu, whose feigned outrage over the police going berserk at the behest of their political masters at Nandigram is now being cited to paint him in bright colours, who actively politicised West Bengal Police. It was he who instructed them, as Deputy Chief Minister during the disastrous UF regime, to play the role of foot soldiers of the CPI(M), first by not acting against party cadre on the rampage, and then by playing an unabashedly partisan role in industrial and agrarian disputes.
The 'humane administrator' and the 'farsighted leader', few would recall today, presided over the destruction and death of industry in West Bengal, denuding the State of its wealth and disinheriting future generations of Bengalis. Within the first seven months of the United Front coming to power, he ensured 43,947 workers were laid off because of strikes and gheraoes and 4,314 rendered unemployed after their factories were shut down. Flight of capital in those initial days of emergent Marxist power amounted to Rs 2,500 million. In 1967, there were 438 'industrial disputes' involving 165,000 workers and resulting in the loss of five million man hours. By 1969, there were 710 'industrial disputes' involving 645,000 workers and a loss of 8.5 million man hours.
That was a taste of things to come in the following decades. By the time Mr Basu demitted office, West Bengal had been reduced to a vast industrial wasteland. The only beneficiaries of the policies and programmes actively promoted by Mr Basu were a clutch of Marwari asset-strippers and promoters who moved in to convert industrial wasteland into housing projects. Mr Basu remains loyal to both; even in retirement he ensures promoters violating environment and other laws have their way while those who feathered their nests thanks to 'industrial disputes' instigated by Marxist trade unionists swear by him and his able tutelage.
Mr Basu is aghast that the blood of innocent men and women should be spilled in so callous a manner by the Government headed by Mr Bhattacharjee. Yet, Mr Basu, while in office, did not brook any criticism of the Marich Jhapi massacre by his police in 1979 when refugees were shot dead in cold blood. Till date, nobody knows for sure how many died in that slaughter for Mr Basu never allowed an independent inquiry. Neither did the man whose heart bleeds so profusely for the lost souls of Nandigram hesitate to justify the butchery of April 30, 1982 when 16 monks and a nun of the Ananda Marg order were beaten to death and then set ablaze in south Kolkata by a mob of Marxist goons. The man who led that murderous lot was known for his proximity to Mr Basu, a fact that the CPI(M) would now hasten to deny. Nor did Mr Basu wince when his police shot dead 13 Congress activists a short distance from Writers' Building on July 21, 1993; on the contrary, he continues to justify that incident.
Mr Bhattacharjee's initial reaction to the horrifying killings of March 14 was no doubt that of a cynical politician not unduly perturbed by the loss of a few lives. His subsequent "regret", which party apparatchiks insist does not amount to an apology, is not becoming of a man with pretentious claims to being a poet and a playwright. But was Mr Basu any more sensitive to the plight of those who suffered at the hands of his party's thugs? Did his heart cry out when women health workers were gang-raped and then two of them murdered by thugs with Marxist affiliation on May 17, 1990 at Bantala on the eastern margins of Kolkata? Or when office-bearers of the Kolkata Police Association patronised by the CPI(M) raped Nehar Banu, a poor pavement dweller, at Phulbagan police station in 1992? If we were to recall his response to such gross abuse of power by party cadre and party-affiliated policemen - "Emon to hoyei thaakey" (Such things happen), much like former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comment, "Stuff happens" - and his sly insinuations that the victims of such barbarity deserved what they got, Mr Basu would neither shine in comparison to Mr Bhattacharjee nor come across as an angel in red.
It's amusing to watch the name-calling in the wake of the violence in Nandigram. It brings to mind an old idiom fallen into disuse, that of the pot calling the kettle black. The Bengali version, popular in north Kolkata, is too risque to be repeated here.