Explained: How Violence Against Opposition Of The Day Became An Organic Part Of Politics In Bengal
Why is Bengal the political, economic and social disaster that it is today?
A peek into history will shed some light.
West Bengal is notorious for political violence. Yesterday, after the ruling party in the state, TMC, came out to have won a thumping majority in the recent assembly elections, its cadres attacked BJP workers as well as voters.
BJP State president Dilip Ghosh said six persons, including five party supporters, had been killed in the past 24 hours.
Reports of post-poll violence were coming both from north and south Bengal and almost from every constituency, he said, further adding that “violence is being perpetrated in front of the police. Thousands of our supporters are turning homeless.”
The BJP has also alleged that two women poll agents were gangraped and many women were molested in Birbhum.
Reportedly, BJP's party offices in various parts of the state have been vandalised and many workers and their properties have been attacked.
Country-made bombs have been hurled at the home of scientist and BJP's Purbasthali Uttar candidate Dr Gobardhan Das's home in West Bengal. The party workers in his village are also being attacked.
Bengal and Political Violence
Jaideep Mazumdar, analyzing the bloodshed that often marks political contest in the state, writes that, ultimately, it all boils down to the lack of employment opportunities and absence of the spirit of enterprise in Bengal.
“The Left and the Trinamool have found it easy to recruit musclemen or goons from the huge pool of unemployed, and unemployable, young men (and in some cases even women) in Bengal.”
“The flight of capital from Bengal that started in the late 1960s and early 1970s not only left lakhs of people jobless, but also resulted in no new jobs being created in the state.”
Mazumdar writes that for meagre awards like the permission to ply rickshaws and auto rickshaws, set up shanties and shops illegally on government or private land or engage in subsistence vocations as vendors, labourers, plumbers, painters, small vegetable and fish sellers, the ruling parties could hire musclemen to serve as their sword-arm.
He locates the culture of using hired musclemen to physically intimidate and even exterminate Opposition with the Left rule in Bengal.
He makes it clear that violence existed even before — the dark days of Naxalism since the late 1960s; the brutal counter measures by the then Congress government; the Emergency. “But worse was in store for Bengal when the communists came to power in 1977,” he writes.
Toeing the ideological agenda, the communists also began the work for ‘total control’ — seeing any democratic limitation on state power, any constitutional guarantee for individual freedom, as a bourgeoisie trick to be broken.
The ‘annihilation of class enemies’ was imperative.
What followed was a systematic programme of snuffing out and killing the dissenters. Musclemen were recruited into the party’s notorious harmad bahini (army of goons).
“In the rural areas, functionaries of opposition parties (primarily the Congress at that time) and even families perceived to be Congress supporters were attacked and driven out of their houses and their villages, dispossessed of their properties and their farmlands forcibly taken over.”
“The horrific Sainbari murders were one instance of this (also read this). Numerous murders of non-conformists or political opponents followed, a ghastly one being the Marichjhapi massacre, considered to be the worst state-sponsored killing of citizens in independent India’s history.”
“The communists also killed the spirit of enterprise among the Bengalis and made them dependent on the government, and by extension the ruling party (the two became the same due to sinister political and administrative engineering by the Marxists), for jobs and livelihood.”
So pervasive was the party’s hold over all social matters — it extended even to match-making for boys and girls of families.
When TMC dislodged CPI in 2011 in the state, it inherited a body politic with a shattered economy held up only by the deep and strong client-patron networks and ‘syndicates’.
In fact, Mazumdar writes, just before the 2011 elections in Bengal, sensing the winds of change, the musclemen who had been deployed by the communists to put down the opposition had defected en masse to the Trinamool.
He also delves into the deep politicisation of the state bureaucracy, most visibly, the police. He says that, faced with widespread protests led by communists over crippling food shortage in the state, the extensive use of police force to beat back political opponents was initiated by Congress chief minister Prafulla Chandra Sen in the mid-1960s.
Police brutalities, in part, made Sen’s rule unpopular. But Bengal had more bad luck. What followed was three assembly elections in five years, four spells of President’s rule and four governments which lasted between 87 days and a little over a year. Alongside, communist insurrection that started at Naxalbari in that region started spreading like bushfire throughout Bengal.
Siddhartha Shankar Ray-led Congress government that came to power in 1972 came down with the full force. Staged encounters, custodial deaths and torture, midnight arrests and many other atrocities and outrages marked the five years of Ray’s chief ministership.
“Things only got worse during the Emergency years. The police were completely co-opted by the ruling party and reduced to acting as an armed force of the Congress.”
From this point onward, it was quite easy for the CPI, and subsequently the TMC, to perfect the use of the police as an auxiliary force of the ruling party.
Other states too have been notorious for the “Gundaraj”.
The difference is that, there, owing to a weak state machinery, the political leadership is forced to share power with local equivalents of a feudal lord, which is why in a state like Bihar, Nitish Kumar could curb the Gundaraj by strengthening the state machinery.
On the other hand, in Bengal, the state, sitting atop a pyramid of syndicates, itself operates as the goon of the goons.
The ongoing attacks on Opposition party workers and those perceived to be its voters show that more than anything else, the recent elections mark a missed opportunity to change Bengal’s course.
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