Friday, June 20, 2008

** Red Rag Adrift
Red Rag Adrift
Smita Gupta

Tremors In The Duma

- The loss in the panchayat elections has proved that the party is not invincible
-Many CPI(M) leaders fear the party's votebank is shifting
-People have begun to question the corruption of district/village-level leaders and the Marxist cadre
-Large-scale acquisition of rural land has affected Muslims sharply for most of them are farmers.
-Despite coercion and violence, a sizeable number of voters silently voted against the party

Corrective Camps

-The CPI(M) has sent out questionnaires to party functionaries right down to the panchayat level to get feedback on what had gone wrong
-The exercise will be completed by July after which the party will decide on the course correction to undertake
-The party has begun to mend relations with its Left partners, the CPI, the Forward Bloc and the RSP by being conciliatory in allocation of seats for the June-end municipal polls
-There will be no large-scale purges. The party will strengthen weak units.

Posters plastered over the walls of the dingy Trinamool Congress office in Nandigram hark back to the violence that stalked this idyll of Purba Medinipur for a year and half. Images of victims share space, ironically enough, with that apostle of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, and TC chief Mamata Banerjee. But the face that leaps out is of a man in khaki—the CRPF's Alok Raj. A 1989 IPS officer, his 12 hours in Nandigram ensured a free, if not entirely peaceful, polls here on May 11, resulting in a humiliating defeat for the CPI(M) and a thumbs down for the petrochemical hub planned in the area. For Nandigram's beleaguered residents, Raj is a hero (even though Tamluk CPI(M) MP Lakshman Seth slapped molestation charges against him; they have since been dropped).

A few theatrically evocative lines from a Sunny Deol film, Indian, written across the poster in Bengali captures their sentiments. "Jab ek pulis mar jayega/tab log kahenge accha hua/ek ghooskhor mar gaya. Jab ek sainik mar jayega/tab log rote hue kahenge/ek shahid ho gaya. (When a policeman dies, people say a bribe-taker is dead. When a soldier dies, people weep and say, a martyr is born.)"

Clearly, the locals view the state police as the CPI(M)'s "strongarm", while revering the paramilitary forces as saviors. A young Muslim woman, at the primary health centre with her sick child, tells me: "Ami Alok Rajer jonne dine paanch baar dua kori (I pray for Alok Raj five times a day)". Indeed, the message from the recent panchayat polls in the Left citadel of Bengal is that the CPI(M) party machine can be breached.

The people are clearly no longer prepared—after 30 years of unbroken absolute rule—to tolerate the corruption, arrogance and poor governance visible at the lowest levels of the panchayat administration. These results also highlight a growing alienation among Muslims, who account for 27 per cent of the state's population.

Since most Bengali Muslims are farmers, the land acquisition issue has hit them hard. In addition, the Sachar report, which confirmed that employment figures for Muslims here are abysmal, was used by the Jamait Ulema-e-Hind's Siddiqullah Chowdhury to fuel the discontent.

Indeed, it is the Muslims who are at the forefront of the cry for "poriborton" here.Of course, the Left still has a majority in all three tiers of the state's panchayat system, controlling 13 of the 17 zilla parishads (down two from 2003). But in ZPs like Murshidabad and North 24 Parganas, where it has a slender majority, and the four districts of North Dinajpur, Malda, South 24 Parganas and Purba Medinipur that it lost, the going will be tough now.

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