Explained: How Violence Became An Integral Feature Of West Bengal’s Political Landscape

Explained: How Violence Became An Integral Feature Of West Bengal’s Political Landscape Communist graffiti in Bengal. (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • The root cause of political violence in Bengal is not only the intolerance for the opposition that the CPI(M) injected into the state’s body politic and society, and which the Trinamool has merrily adopted, but also the sorry state of Bengal’s economy.

That Bengal outdoes all other states as far as political violence is concerned is no secret.

For close to six decades now since the Naxals started their depredations, followed by their close ideological cousins — the communists — ruining Bengal, intolerance of political opposition and violent attacks on opponents have ravaged the state.

The dark days of Naxalism in Bengal since the late 1960s were also marked by brutal counter measures by the then Congress government.

The imposition of Emergency marked another dark chapter of repression and attacks on opposition. But worse was in store for Bengal when the communists came to power in 1977.

A systematic programme of snuffing out the opposition, enunciated as ‘annihilation of class enemies’ (read: political opponents) in the communists’ holy ‘red book’, was launched.

The communists ensured that all those they deemed to be their political opponents were either exterminated or marginalised.

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.

Numerous reports have been published documenting the sorry plight of tens of thousands of opposition activists and their families having to flee their villages and towns and take refuge even outside the state.

The ‘party society’ that the CPI(M) established ensured zero tolerance for dissenters and political non-conformists. Bengal’s hapless citizens were forced to fall in line and kowtow the dictates of the communists, or flee the state.

The uprooting of the communists in 2011 triggered hopes that it would ring in the end of the reign of terror in Bengal.

Here's what followed though. 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 defected en masse to the Trinamool.

These musclemen, under the Trinamool’s umbrella, continued doing what they had done under the 34 years of Left rule in Bengal: attack and silence opposition (the communists as well as the Congress and, over the past three years, the BJP) and indulge in extortion.

The Trinamool leadership became dependent on these musclemen to maintain the party’s hegemony, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas.

And, as during the communist rule, these musclemen also provided protection to  the infamous ‘syndicates’ that have been flourishing for the last 10 years in Bengal.

The Anatomy Of Political Violence

But the reason behind the existence of these musclemen and goons that the communists, and now the Trinamool, employ to silence opposition is simple: 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.

The communists took advantage of the vast pool of jobless people for their own petty political ends. They offered some crumbs to them in the form of 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 etc.

These people thus remained beholden to the communists for their livelihoods, no matter how meagre and miserable those were.

But it was impossible for the CPI(M) to provide even this subsistence livelihood to everyone. So the ones who could not be provided such meagre means of income were recruited into the party’s notorious harmad bahini (army of goons).

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.

Lack of employment opportunities provided Bengal’s Marxist rulers a vast pool of youngsters ready to do the party’s bidding by attacking opposition activists, driving them out of their homes and even killing them.

They did so in return for political patronage that enabled them to extort money from small businessmen, traders, contractors, professionals like doctors and lawyers, and even government officials.

Those pursuing the subsistence vocations with permission from the CPI(M) party apparatchiks were also beholden to the Marxists and did their bidding in times of need, besides providing muscle-power during political rallies and elections.

The root cause, thus, of political violence in Bengal is not only the intolerance of opposition that the CPI(M) injected into the state’s body politic and society, and which the Trinamool has merrily adopted, but also the sorry state of Bengal's economy.

Another reason is the ‘party society’ that the CPI(M) established and the Trinamool has continued with. The party’s hold over all social matters — this extended even to match-making for boys and girls of families — ensured that the ruling party’s grip over society was complete.

“If people are gainfully employed in proper jobs in the private and public sectors (including regular government jobs) and do not have to depend on political patronage to run small businesses or engage in other vocations, they will naturally not do the bidding of the ruling party. And that means the ruling party won’t be able to find musclemen and goons to browbeat or exterminate the opposition,” said political economist Rahul Shikdar.

Shikdar, an assistant professor in Delhi University, says that is why the Marxists, and now the Trinamool, have a vested interest in keeping Bengal and its people poor.

“Development and industrialisation will mean creation of jobs and vocations and thus negate the noxious influence that the ruling party has over people. People will no longer be dependent on political patronage for their petty vocations and with enterprises flourishing and jobs aplenty, no one will become a muscleman of a political party. That is what the Marxists dreaded, and that is what the Trinamool also worries over,” said Shikdar.

The root cause of continuing political violence in Bengal is, thus, the state’s economy being in the doldrums, and the ‘party society’ that the Marxists had established.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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