IN April through early May, Naxalbari was in news for BJP president Amit Shah’s visit and an adivasi couple joining Trinamool within a week of having hosted lunch for Shah in their hutment.
Irony, this happened close to the 50th anniversary of Naxal Movement on 24 May. Fifty springs ago, it was an uprising of the working class in hitherto unknown Naxalbari village that stemmed from an unflinching belief in Communist ideology to bring about social and economic equity.
This time it has been about drawing media attention for injecting a religion centric politics that has historically failed to make headway in Bengal, and a counter tactic for grabbing people’s allegiance by hook or by crook.
That, over the past near one month, Naxalbari has been in the news more for Amit Shah episode than the Naxal Movement turning 50, is ironic but not surprising! Such thing happens when the proponents of a landmark uprising hesitate to claim ownership of its history and hesitate to tell people the real story, leaving it to the ruling class to concoct a propaganda by publicising half-truth.
In all these years since its birth in 1967, Naxal Movement has been riddled by state suppression, factionalism, and the branching into Maoist Struggle that considers guerrilla warfare the only means to achieve social and economic equity, as against the core Naxal ideology of dependence on mass movement and using arms only as an enabler.
Factionalism and the Maoist deviation robbed the proponents of Naxal Movement an opportunity to tell people that the uprising did make some remarkable achievements for the exploited and the toiling masses.
These include putting an end to a cruelty named Hattabahar wherein tea garden managements in northern Bengal used to literally out throw ‘disobedient’ workers and their family anytime of the day or night without notice; abolishing Zamindari wherein a handful of wealthy individuals used to own huge tracts of cultivable land, and effecting land reforms that gave ownership of farmland to the peasants who tilled them.
In contrast, an overzealous ruling class kept on feeding the media about the collateral bloodshed of Naxal Movement. There has been a conscious design to bury every single piece of history that has got anything to do with Naxal uprising, and rather portray it as a misguided venture by some savage populace.
The net result: by and large the people in India, especially those in urban areas, consider Naxal Movement to be anti-development and anti-India. The perception gets reaffirmed every time the Maoists carryout a guerrilla attack on State forces, which get huge publicity in the media, while the issues that they fight for take a backseat.
The moderate Communist parties ~ CPI and CPI-M are equally responsible for the legacy of Naxal Movement getting overcast by relentless misinformation campaign by the ruling class and for being overtaken by the Maoist deviation.
This is despite that the foundation for CPI-M’s coming to power in Bengal and then ruling the state for 34 years was laid by the Naxalbari uprising and the years of struggle preceding that.
Until coming to power, both CPI and then CPI-M used to talk of a people’s revolution and made the Communist foot soldiers in northern Bengal strive hard to achieve the goal. Once in power, they watered down the idea of a revolution, leaving the foot soldiers in a state of disgruntlement and confusion.
It was almost akin to Mamata Banerjee distancing herself from Chhatradhar Mahato and Maoist leader Kishenji as soon as she assumed Bengal’s power seat in 2011. In the preceding 4-5 years, she had shared dais with Mahato and participated in protest against the killing of Maoist leader Azad in a 2010 police encounter in Andhra Pradesh.
The only difference between CPI-M’s stance during Naxalbari uprising and Mamata’s in 2011, is that she has been quicker in making the volte-face. The ‘politically conscious’ people of Bengal neither spoke out then nor they are speaking out now.
Given that Mamata Banerjee has consolidated her grip on Bengal’s vote bank, and BJP is gradually taking over the slot of the main opposition, CPI-M and its allies in disarray are now desperately looking for shortcuts to reinstall the politics of status quo that they practised for better part of the 34-years.
Even on the 50th anniversary of Naxal Movement, there is no sign of getting into introspection. There is hardly any effort at claiming the legacy of what had been the first “spring thunder” over India.
The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) Airport in Kolkata is set to witness hyper trade unionism over the next few months as the workers’ unions of varied political hues are gearing up for the November referendum that will elect one single union to represent the Airports Authority workers for the next five years.
Nine months into the state power, the Trinamul Congress is desperate to get the official trade union at the NSCBI Airport in its kitty; making the referendum all the more interesting.
That the party is taking the referendum very seriously is evident from the fact that it has deputed senior leader and Union minister Mr Sougata Roy as the president of its Airports Authority Staff and Workers’ Union (AASWU).
The pan-India referendum, this time scheduled for November, is conducted by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) every five years. This is to grant one union from among several, the official status to negotiate with the management in all airports in the country for a five-year term.
Since 2002, it is the Left-leaning Airports Authority Employees’ Union (AAEU), which is enjoying the official status for consecutive two terms. But with the change in the power-equations at the Centre and the change of guard in West Bengal, the AAEU this time is surely heading for a tough time.
At the NSCBI Airport in Kolkata, the Trinamul Congress-affiliated AASWU is making a strong pitch to capture the union power. With this in target, it has already started taking up “causes that concern the workers” and are mobilising its support base.
“Prior to 2009, no democratic environment prevailed among the airport workers as the CPI-M backed AAEU used to hoodwink everyone. If anyone dared a defiance, in connivance with the management, they placed that worker in a tough roster. We have succeeded in changing the scenario to some extent, but the final change would take place when we will capture the official union status through the referendum due in November,” the AASWU general secretary, Pradip Sikdar, said.
There are around 1600 non-executive AAI workers at the NSCBI Airport. Mr Sikdar claims around 250 of them have already switched over from the AAEU and more would join the AASWU as the referendum nears.
“We have already carried out several agitations in favour of the workers and would now intensify activities further to win over their trust,” he said.
Since the AASWU does not have a national registration required for taking part in the referendum; it is looking for a prospective partner either in the Airports Authority of India Workers’ Union led by Mr Khim Singh or the Congress MP G Sanieeva Reddy-led Indian Airports Kamgar Union, under whose registration it can fight November referendum.
Mr Dipankar Ghosh, general secretary of the incumbent AAEU at the NSCBI Airport, put up a brave face even though he acknowledge the fight this time will be “a little harder.”
“Till date of the 1050-odd workers that we have in the International Airports Division, 834 are paying us the monthly subscription. So one can easily decide, how much water is there in AASWU’s claim,” said Mr Ghosh.
But the cause for worry for the NSCBI Airport management is that both these rival unions are eyeing “prize posting” for the workers in the upcoming new terminal building to gain in strength.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 20 April 2012.)
Lok Sabha MPs belonging to the Left parties and the Congress from West Bengal are lagging behind their Trinamul Congress counterparts in utilisation of funds under the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS).
The revelation coincides with the Left and the Congress’s recent vocal criticism of the functioning of the eight-month-old Trinamul Congress-led government in the state.
According to the latest MPLADS expenditure statement released by the Union ministry of statistics and programme implementation, most of the LF and Congress MPs from Bengal have not been able to recommend projects for the full amount available at their disposal. As against this, many a Trinamul Congress MP has recommended projects surpassing even the actual entitlements.
This expenditure statement corresponds to utilisation of MPLADS funds from the inception of the present Lok Sabha (15th) till 30 December 2011.
The list of MPs lagging in MPLADS fund utilisation is topped by RSP MP from Alipurduar, Mr Manohar Tirkey, who has so far recommended projects worth only Rs 1.29 crore out of the Rs 4.16 crore available at his disposal.
Next is Miss Mamata Banerjee’s archrival and Congress MP from Raiganj, Mrs Deepa Das Munshi. She has so far recommended projects worth Rs 2.42 crore against the available Rs 4.44 crore.
Similarly, RSP’s Balurghat MP Prasanta Kumar Majumdar has recommended projects worth Rs 3.22 crore out of Rs 4.38 crore available; Congress’s Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury from Behrampore has recommended projects amounting to Rs 3.09 crore out of Rs 4.49 crore; Abdul Mannan Hossain from Murshidabad has recommended Rs 5.19 crore out of Rs 7.95 crore; Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury from Malda South, Rs 2.99 crore out of Rs 4.14 crore; Ms Mausam Noor from Malda North, Rs 2.97 crore out of Rs 4.14 crore.
The CPI’s Mr Prabodh Panda from Midnapore has recommended projects worth Rs 3 crore out of Rs 4.14 crore available; Mr Gurudas Dasgupta from Ghatal has recommended Rs 3 crore out of Rs 4.14 crore; Forward Bloc’s Nripendra Nath Roy from Cooch Behar has recommended Rs 4.01 crore out of Rs 7.80 crore and CPI-M’s Pulin Bihari Baske from Jhargram has recommended Rs 3 crore out of Rs 4.14 crore.
In contrast, a number of Trinamul Congress MPs from the state have recommended projects surpassing the available funds and in certain cases even their actual entitlement.
This include the party supremo and chief minister, Miss Mamata Banejee, who before resigning as the MP of Kolkata South constituency in October, recommended projects worth Rs 15.46 crore whereas the fund available was Rs 8.02 crore.
Likewise, the party’s Barrackpore MP and railway minister, Mr Dinesh Trivedi, has recommended projects for Rs 10.14 crore against Rs 7.95 crore available; Hooghly MP Ratna De Nag wanted projects amounting to Rs 9.77 crore against Rs 7.99 crore available; Howrah MP Ambica Banerjee has recommended Rs 8.53 crore against Rs 4.49 crore; Jadavpur MP Kabir Suman Rs 8.90 crore against Rs 4.44 crore; Sreerampore MP Kalyan Banerjee Rs 8.26 crore against Rs 7.97-crore; Kolkata North MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay Rs 6.05 crore against Rs 4.52 crore; Tamluk MP Subhendu Adhikari Rs 8.24 crore against Rs 7.97 crore and Uluberia MP Sultan Ahmed Rs 9.10 crore against the available fund of Rs 7.98-crore.
There are, however, three CPI-M MPs too who are very proactive in recommending MPLADS projects. CPI-M’s Ram Chandra Dome from Bolpur has recommended Rs 8.82-crore worth of projects against the available Rs 4.49 crore; Sk Saidul Haque from Burdwan-Durgapur has recommended Rs 7.94 crore against Rs 4.46 crore and Anup Kumar Saha from Burdwan East has recommended Rs 7.72 crore against Rs 4.47 crore.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 25 January 2012.)
If the repeated uproar in the state Assembly in the first week of the Winter Session is anything to go by, Left parties, especially the CPI-M, have begun the attempt to reassert their political presence in West Bengal.
The move comes after a self-imposed six-month restriction the Left parties had decided to observe in criticising the policies of the Trinamul Congress government.
In the two previous sessions of the state Assembly ~ the inductive session in May and the Budget Session in August ~ the Left watched silently as Miss Mamata Banerjee’s government swiftly moved one Bill after the other. In this session, the Communists are using the slightest excuse to make their presence felt.
At the same time that the restriction expired, a number of back-to-back incidents, the police firing at Magrahat, the fire at Amri Hospital and the hooch deaths in Magrahat, have put the Trinamul government on the backfoot. The CPI-M, therefore, has not needed to search very hard for issues to corner the government.
Just five days into the present session which began on 12 December, and the Left has attacked on a number of fronts ~ they created an uproar on day two over the government’s failure to use the MGNREGS fund, on day three over the chief minister’s continuous absence from the House and the hooch deaths, and on day four they staged a walk out over the introduction of a land bill in the chief minister’s absence. On day five, they also staged a walk-out over state industries minister Mr Partha Chatterjee’s comment yesterday that the CPM-M had played a role in the Magrahat hooch deaths.
The Leader of Opposition and CPI-M MLA, Dr Surjya Kanta Mishra, justified their actions saying that in the previous two sessions they overlooked the flip-flops of Miss Banerjee’s government as it was the Trinamul’s first time in power and it needed some time to learn how the legislative functioned. “But they cannot be excused every time,” he said.
The Trinamul Congress chief whip in the Assembly, Mr Sovandeb Chattopadhaya, told The Statesman that the Left was trying to grab headlines by creating an uproar in the House: “They do not have any substantial issues and are disrupting the proceedings on one pretext or the other. But we too know how to deal with such situations.”
The ruling bench’s criticisms come after senior ministers Mr Subrata Mukherjee and Mr Chatterjee failed to make a truce with the Opposition during two separate closed-door meetings in the Assembly with the Leader of Opposition on 14 and 15 December.
In an immediate move to counter the Left, Miss Banerjee has on her own called an all-party meeting in the Assembly on 19 December over the Magrahat tragedy.
But the Left too is holding firm and refusing to step back. Opposition MLAs met the Governor on Friday evening and accused the state government of serious violations of legislative procedures dealing with the presentation and amendments to a number of Bills.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 18 December 2011.)
Even in defeat, the CPI-M in West Bengal is back to doing what it has always been accused of doing best ~ data jugglery ~ as the beleaguered party is forcing itself to see a silver lining in the drubbing in Kolkata South Lok Sabha by-poll, when actually there is none.
Minutes after the by-poll result was declared on 4 December, CPI-M state secretariat member Mr Robin Deb said, notwithstanding the defeat, the party has increased its vote share in the constituency by over two per cent since the state Assembly poll held in April. This was, he maintained, in comparison to what the CPI-M had bagged in the same electoral segments during the Assembly poll.
The claim was based on simple calculations: in April the CPI-M fetched 32.88 per cent votes and this time it got 35.63 per cent; thus making it a net gain of 2.75 per cent.
The reality, however, is that the CPI-M’s share of votes has not increased. Rather, the vote of the Marxist party has gone down by nearly one per cent since the Assembly poll.
In the 30 November by-poll for South Kolkata LS seat, the turnout was 51.55 per cent; whereas, in the April Assembly election, the polling percentage in the seven constituencies that make up the LS seat was 71.06 per cent. That was a drop of 19.51 per cent in the poll percentage over April.
Corresponding to this overall drop in voters’ turnout, the Trinamul Congress polled 22.39 per cent less votes than the 6,65,894 votes that it had got in April. But the drop in CPI-M’s vote stands at 23.09 per cent from its April bag of 3,72,763 votes.
Thus, in effect, the CPI-M this time has got .70 per cent votes less than what it was able to manage in April. This is even as the decline in poll percentage was constant at 19.51 per cent, for both the CPI-M and the Trinamul.
Also, there was no other established political party putting up candidates in this by-election and thus, the fight was a direct one between Mr Ritabrata Banerjee of the CPI-M and Mr Subrata Bakshi of the Trinamul.
The worry for the erstwhile ruling party is compounded by the fact that four out of the seven Assembly segments in question ~ Kasba, Behala (East), Behala (West), Ballygunge and Kolkata Port ~ were once CPI-M strongholds. In fact, in the Assembly poll, barring the Kolkata Port seat, that was allotted to ally Forward Bloc, the CPI-M contested in the remaining six and was trounced by the Trinamul.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report originally appeared in The Statesman on 7 December 2011.)
KOLKATA, 31 OCT: After a gap of 36 years since the visit by the party’s first general secretary Puchalapalli Sundaraiah in 1974-75, the CPI-M’s present general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, is embarking on a tour of the trouble-torn North-eastern state of Manipur on 2 November.
During the two-day visit, the CPI-M general secretary is likely to meet the “Iron Lady of Manipur” Ms Irom Sharmila Devi. Ms Sharmila is on a fast for the past 11 years demanding the repeal of the Arms Forces’ Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Mr Karat’s visit comes in the wake of a persistent and sentimental request from the party’s Manipur state committee, which was unhappy at the fact that none of the incumbent CPI-M general secretaries have graced the militancy-hit state all these years.
Incidentally, Mr Karat will be visiting Manipur at a time when an ongoing economic blockade in Manipur has already entered 92 days and the people of the state are severely affected by the consequent rise in prices of essentials and medicines.
According to sources in the CPI-M headquarters AK Gopalan Bhawan in New Delhi, in this trip, Mr Karat will be accompanied by the party’s central committee member and former Lok Sabha MP, Mr Noorul Huda. Mr Huda is in-charge of the party’s state unit in Manipur.
“They will be flying down from New Delhi to Imphal on 2 November morning. Soon after this, Mr Karat and Mr Huda will take part in the party’s extended state committee meeting over there. This will be followed by an interactive session with the students and teachers at the Manipur University,” the sources said. On 3 November, that is, in the forenoon of the second and concluding day of the tour, Mr Karat will address a hall meeting of party members and supporters in Imphal.
The CPI-M general secretary will also hold a Press meet in the Manipur capital prior to flying back to New Delhi later that afternoon.
Although it has not yet been finalised, Mr Karat is likely to pay a visit to Ms Irom Sharmila Devi as she continues with her decade long fast from police custody in hospital. “Irrespective of whether the general secretary is able to meet Ms Sharmila, he will certainly deliberate on our party’s stand on AFSPA both during the hall meetings and at the Press conference. The CPI-M’s stand on AFSPA is that we support the recommendations of the Centre-appointed Jeevan Reddy Commission, which had suggested repealing of the draconian Act with a humane but effective law,” Mr Huda told The Statesman.
Though the CPI-M presently enjoys a minuscule presence in Manipur, in the early 70’s, the party had sound electoral strength in Manipur and in the adjoining Barak Valley districts of Assam.
Now, after being pushed to the wall in the traditional bastion in West Bengal, the party wants to focus on tiny states like Manipur that are still deemed fertile for a Communist struggle.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 1 November 2011.)
WHEN Franklin Prestage laid the railway tracks to Darjeeling Hills in 1879, in order to conquer the insurmountable steep incline, he employed a unique technique called the ‘Z-reverse’.1
‘Z-reverse’ is an ingeniously simple concept: while negotiating with the steep hill, the train climbs up a slope into a shunting neck and stops. It then backs up another steep incline reaching the other shunting neck higher up and there from, resumes the onward journey but at a higher level.
The inherent philosophy propelling the ‘Z-reverse’ technique is: when you cannot really move forward, better make a retreat and then find a new way ahead.
But for Franklin Prestige putting to use this commonsense, Darjeeling Hills would have never got to see the steam locomotives chugging at 7,400 feet above the sea level.
In 2005, Subash Ghisingh too, rightly embraced commonsense and reasoning when he agreed to the inclusion of Darjeeling Hills in the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution.
This was to facilitate a greater autonomy to Darjeeling, which has been demanding a separate statehood out of West Bengal.
A significant move it was. For, Ghisingh had been the man who had propagated the bloodstained Gorkhaland movement in the 1980’s. At that time, he acted like a stubborn leader, who did not dodge from the statehood demand until a large number of cadres were killed in the agitation.
Darjeeling got an autonomous governing body ~ the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), in 1988. DGHC was set up under a state Act. But Ghisingh realised the achievement came too costly against the massive bloodbath that the agitation had incurred.
Thus, when he got a second chance to bargain in 2005, instead of waging another bloody agitation over the statehood demand, his political maturity guided him to accept the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling.
Those in the know-how of the Sixth Schedule provisions would acknowledge, it was indeed going to be a remarkable step forward towards fulfilling Darjeeling’s aspiration for self-governance.2
More importantly, the achievement was coming without any fresh agitation on the ground or mindless insurgency, as has been the case with the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam.
It was surely a compromise, but never the end of the statehood prospects. The simple reason being that the Constitution of India was not obliterating the clause pertaining to the creation of new states. Nowhere in the Constitution there is any implicit or explicit mention that an area governed under the Sixth Schedule, cannot become a full-fledged state in future.
But Ghisingh’s political rivals misinterpreted the implications of the Sixth Schedule status on Darjeeling and compelled the Union government to shelve the idea midway.
The common public in Darjeeling, who were discontent with Ghisingh for his inept handling of the DGHC and growing isolation from the masses, swallowed the misinformation campaign. The ‘king of Darjeeling’ was dethroned overnight.
But the political culture of hero-worshipping has not ended in Darjeeling. Only that now Ghisingh has been replaced with Bimal Gurung and the GNLF with the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha or the GJMM.
In the past one and half year of his political reign that commenced in October 2007, Gurung and his party have gifted Darjeeling unrest and anarchy, all but for the demanded Gorkhaland.
His achievement so far ~ stalling of the proposed Sixth Schedule status, dethroning and ousting Ghisingh and other GNLF leaders from the Hills and compelling the Union government in convening tripartite talks on the Darjeeling impasse.
All these are but negative achievements and have facilitated nothing other than coagulating Gurung’s control over the Hills. But negative achievements can hardly hold public sentiment to ransom for a prolonged period.
Had not Gurung imported the BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling, by now, he would have probably found place in the political history of the Queen of Hills. Jaswant returning as a MP from Darjeeling has certainly extended the life span for the GJMM. But the NDA’s defeat has turned this extended breath completely useless.
Now, the GJMM has a friend in BJP that is only capable of paying lip service to Gorkhaland and an all-omnipotent foe called the Congress, which would not yield an inch to fulfill the statehood demand.
UPA government’s second-in-command, Pranab Mukherjee, has already made this clear and loud. As the GJMM leaders try to play down Mukherjee’s comments arguing that his is not the government, they are only living in self-denial for obvious political reasons.3
But conceding the reality, ally BJP has already advised the GJMM to go slow on the statehood movement. BJP leaders have called for reformulating a long-drawn strategy, replacing the March 2010 deadline that Gurung has set for achieving Gorkhaland.
If the agitation goes the other way around, it is only obvious that the saffron party would distance itself from the GJMM. After all the BJP cannot act as parochial as the GJMM over the Gorkhaland issue, for unlike the latter, its political sphere is not limited to Darjeeling.
Also the BJP West Bengal unit is openly against the Gorkhaland demand and it is a signatory to the all-party motion adopted by the state Assembly ruling out any further division of Bengal.4
Given the scheme of things, the obvious question now is ~ what can happen to Darjeeling? How can Darjeeling be freed of the suffocating state that it has slipped into?
To be candid, the probability of statehood is bleak, at least in the near future.
This is not only because West Bengal would do the last thing but part with Darjeeling. But the Union government too would not concede the demand, because, granting statehood to the Darjeeling district (even ignoring the fact that Siliguri is dead against the Gorkhaland demand), would surely open up a floodgate.
Every other district or region in India that represents one community or the other would start claiming statehood and there would be no end to it. The statehood demands for Telegana, Vidharva, Bundelkhand, Bodoland and several others are already active.
Bimal Gurung may stay adamant and shutdown the Darjeeling Hills for months, but that can hardly compel the UPA government to treat Darjeeling as a special case.
Gurung’s outfit has raised a voluntary youth force ~ the Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP), which is being imparted physical training by ex-Army men. The GLP are equipped with batons, as of now.
Some 4000-odd GLP cadres have already been deployed in the Hills to ensure “public discipline” during the shutdowns called over Gorkhaland demand. There are also reports of the GLP confiscating illegal liquor and so on.5
But to think of waging an armed rebellion in the coming days, so to pressurise the Union government concede the statehood for Darjeeling, would prove irresponsible and futile. The immediate instance is the Bodoland insurgency in Assam. In the past one-decade or so, hundreds of Bodo militants have died in pursuance of the statehood agitation but have achieved nothing.
Moreover, waging insurgency over political demands only allows the authorities to take a military approach on the pretext of national security. Darjeeling’s geographical proximity to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China would only bolster the approach further.
The bottom line is until and unless the Union adopts a holistic approach towards the active statehood demands or constitutes another State Reorganising Committee as is being suggested from several quarters, Darjeeling attaining statehood is completely an improbable proposition.
Under these circumstances, the best option before Gurung is to renegotiate the Sixth Schedule status that he had denounced earlier. Gurung can ask for some Darjeeling specific amendments in the Sixth Schedule clause and there should not be any problem for the Union government to concede.
By doing so, Gurung would be in a position to convince his followers that there is much difference between the Sixth Schedule of Ghisingh and the one that he has negotiated.
But if Gurung really feels serious about this, he will have to act fast. Fast enough before the Opposition overpowers the current Left Front government in West Bengal in 2011. It is now almost apparent that in the 2011 Assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul would dethrone the Left Front from Writers’.
Once that happens, it would be truly difficult for Gurung even to bag the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling, leave aside the demanded statehood. For, new into power, Mamata would not take the risk of annoying the majority sentiment in the state, which is evidently against granting any further autonomy to Darjeeling.
Moreover, considering that CPI-M is likely to play the role of a well-informed and organised Opposition, Mamata would be excessively cautious to avoid any criticism projecting her as an “anti-Bengal” element from the parochial point of view. Being an important ally of the UPA, Trinamul would also keep the Centre at bay from meddling into the affair.
This means Darjeeling would have no other option but to wait till 2016, if not more.
Hence, the best time for Gurung to negotiate the Darjeeling issue (even if as an interim measure) is right now. The more closer the state gets to the 2011 Assembly elections, the less inclined the Left Front government would be to grant Darjeeling the Sixth Schedule autonomy. This is irrespective of the fact that the state government was in agreement to this effect.
Even on accepting a renegotiated Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling, Gurung can still carry forward the campaign for Gorkhaland in conjunction with other statehood demands like the Telengana. The focus of such a united campaign would be to bring about a policy direction in the Indian Union, vis-à-vis the creation of new states.
There is another option though. That is, instead of accepting the Sixth Schedule arrangement, Gurung can allow the existing autonomous council ~ the DGHC to function, while sustaining the statehood campaign simultaneously. This would however, prove less remunerative for Bimal Gurung, but that’s how politics progress.
Many a times, one needs to halt back and employ the ‘Z-reverse’, keeping an eye on the steep incline. After all politics is seldom a straight drive.
2 VI Schedule, The Constitution of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India.
3 Pranab rules out Gorkhaland demand, The Statesman, North Bengal & Sikkim Plus, Dt. 20 July 2009.
4 Bengal BJP flays Jaswant Gorkhaland stand, says will hit party, The Indian Express, New Delhi, Dt 20 July 2009.
5 Morcha displays ‘seized’ liquor, The Telegraph, North Bengal & Sikkim, Dt. 7 August 2009.
[The author is a senior journalist with The Statesman (India), currently based at Siliguri and has been reporting on the Darjeeling fiasco since 2005. This article originally appeared in The Statesman Festival Number 2009]
It’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and not Prakash Karat, who should be held accountable for the Left debacle in West Bengal ~ argues Bappaditya Paul
Introspection. That’s what the Left leaders, especially those in the CPI-M, are now pitching for after the Left’s electoral debacle in West Bengal and Kerala. While Kerala has this tendency of alternately voting in and out the Left, the performance in West Bengal this General Elections is certainly a disaster.
After 32 years of being in power, the Left tally in West Bengal has now been reduced to only 15 Lok Sabha seats, whereas the Congress-Trinamul Opposition combine has occupied 26. In terms of geographical consideration, the Left has lost its bastions in ten out of the 19 districts in West Bengal.
As regards the CPI-M, the leading Left party has begged only nine seats. This is CPI-M’s worst ever Lok Sabha poll performance in WB in the last three decades, since the party had started off with five MPs in 1967.
The obvious question now is, who should be held accountable for this disaster? The popular argument that has been instigated by an indirect remark by the ousted CPI-M leader Mr Somnath Chatterjee is that, Mr Prakash Karat should be held responsible for the poll debacle and be removed as the party general secretary.
This argument is based on the reasoning that, had not Karat pulled out support from the UPA-I government at Centre, there was remote possibility of a Congress-Trinamul tie up in West Bengal and thus, the Left could have easily avoided an united assault by the Opposition.
But those who are pitching for Karat’s removal should be ashamed of the very fact that after savouring power for long 32-years, they now have to rely more on a divided Opposition than their own support base.
This points at the Left Front government’s bankruptcy, which has largely been the contribution of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during his chief ministership in the past eight years.
Buddadeb has proved to be a failure both as an administrator and a politician ~ take the examples of the Rizwanur death case, the Nandigram massacre, the Dinhata firing or the Darjeeling tangle.
One can justifiably ask, why Buddadeb had to defend the Kolkata Police commissioner Mr Prasun Mukherjee and his coterie of senior police officials, till the court compelled the state government to remove the sleuths for wrongfully meddling into the Rizwanur Reham-Priyanka Todi affair, leading to the former’s mysterious demise?
After the infamous Nandigram Massacre of 14 March 2007, Buddhadeb apologised several times in public saying, he would not have given the police a marching order, if he could sense that the police would go on a shooting spree.
Given his statement, are we to believe that without assessing the level of possible resistance and a detailed assault plan, the police went on for the massive troop buildup at Nandigram in the run up to the massacre? That too, without the knowledge of the chief minister, who is also in-charge of the state Home ministry?
That, the magistrate or senior police officials who were leading the 14 March foray into Nandigram, did not contact the Writers’, especially the chief minister, before triggering the bullets?
No sensible person would buy this story.
The truth is, in Nandigram the ruling Communists were losing out their political ground to the Opposition and thus, political considerations overlapped Buddhadeb’s administrative reasoning and he ended up facilitating the massacre.
On the other hand, when it came to the Dinhata firing on members of the Forward Bloc or the impromptu rise of Mr Bimal Gurung in Darjeeling; Buddhadeb unwisely relied only on an administrative approach.
In case of Dinhata, Forward Bloc had beforehand made public announcements about its proposed march on 5 February 2008 over the demand for a full-fledged ministry for north Bengal’s development. But in reality, it was a show of strength by the Cooch Behar FB leader Mr Udayan Guha, whom the CPI-M was paying no heed since his defeat in the 2006 WB Assembly poll.
Had Buddhadeb been a sensible politician, utilising both his administrative and political machinery, he would have reached out to Guha before the march and convinced him to keep the agitation pitch lower so to avoid any confrontation with the police.
But here came his CPI-M ego and he treated the FB march only from an administrative point of view, ending up killing five FB activists in police firing.
With this Buddhadeb earned the rare ‘credit’ of blotting the three decades’ of Left Front rule in West Bengal: first, his police killed the common people at Nandigram and then, showered bullets on the chest of Front ally FB at Dinhata.
Yet, he gleefully continued as the chief minister and did not even bother to relinquish the Home ministry portfolio.
Then came Darjeeling, where a novice politician, Bimal Gurung, rose from nowhere to denounce the proposed Sixth Schedule status for the Hills and stoked up the second bout Gorkhaland statehood movement.
In late 2007, Gurung had only began raising his head and was garnering public support for Gorkhaland through mass gatherings.
On 9 December 2007, one such meeting was organised at the Sukna playground on the outskirts of Siliguri and Gurung himself was present on the dais waiting for his turn to speak. But all of a sudden, Gurung received a call on his mobile and climbed down the stage while hanging on to the call and then left the meeting venue abruptly.
Later, his party’s Press and publicity secretary, Mr Binay Tamang, requested journalists not to publish/show Gurung’s name/images as being present at the gathering.
Reportedly, it was the then Darjeeling superintend of police, Mr Rajesh Subarna, who had called up Gurung and warned him that he would be arrested under pending criminal cases, if found appearing in public meetings.
Till then, the fear for the administration was visibly so deep in Gurung’s psyche, that he had left the Sukna meeting venue instantly.
Given that till then, Gurung had not been able to consolidate his support base; the CPI-M could have easily gone for a political offensive in the Hills. But Buddhadev, who was in charge of the Darjeeling Hills both in his party and in the state government, decided otherwise. He turned the CPI-M and the administration into mute spectators even as Gurung grew from strength to strength.
The rest of the story is known to everybody ~ Gurung now controls the Sunrise at Tiger Hill, well almost!
In the light of such track record, would it be too harsh to conclude that both as the chief minister and as a political leader, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has become a burden for the CPI-M in West Bengal?
Buddhadeb and his coterie ~ that exists from the south to northern districts of Bengal, must be shown the doors at once; thus kick-starting a rectification drive for repairing the devastated Red citadel in the state brick by brick.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman/India)
Interview ~ Sitaram Yechuri, CPI-M Politburo member
by Bappaditya Paul
Desperate to see a Third alternative government at the Centre, the CPI-M this time is too busy in the permutation and combination of smaller parties like never before. And with its man for all seasons, Mr Sitaram Yechuri on the prowl, both the Congress and the BJP must worry about their flocks. In an exclusive interview with BAPPADITYA PAUL, Mr Yechuri throws light on the goings-on at the backstage and the proposed priorities of the Third alternative government, if that happens at all.
Q After the 2004 elections, CPI-M supported the Congress to keep the BJP away from power. But this time around, what will be your priority ~ to stop the BJP or the Congress?
~ Both. We want to stop both the Congress and the BJP from occupying the power and instead, form a Third alternative government at the Centre.
Q In every practical sense, what you foresee the outcome of this polls?
~ Well, what I foresee is that the final act of this drama will unfold only post elections. This is in the nature of the political developments in the last two decades or so that, it is only post elections that the ruling front is formed. This happened in 1996 with United Front been formed post elections, in 1998 NDA been formed after the elections and in 2004 UPA formed after the elections.
So this time around what we are working for is a post election non-Congress, non-BJP alternative.
Q But is it really practical to think of a non-Congress, non-BJP front to occupy the power?
~ Well, this will be a new thing. I understand when people say, if it is viable, if the arithmetic will work? But remember when the 14th Lok Sabha ended, the total of the BJP and Congress MPs was less than the majority for the first time. So that’s an indication, in which way the wind is blowing.
And as you can see, more and more BJP or Congress allies like the BJD, AIADMK or the RJD, NCP has either deserted them or is keeping the options open. That’s why I say; concretely it will depend on the post election arithmetic.
Q Given the kind of alliances that we are witnessing this time, is ideological politics have become a thing of the past even for the Left?
~ No, no, that’s not true. We have been the one who constituently stuck to our ideological positions and we continue to do that. Because what is the necessity for such formation. You see, every time ~ 1996 or 2004, there was always the objective to stop the BJP from coming to the power which we believed, had to be achieved at that point of time for the future development of our country.
Here at the present moment, the objective is to give an alternative policy direction to the country and this we believe is very very important both for tackling the Capitalist global recession and also for the growing problems within the country like terrorism, social injustice etc. So who will affect a shift in this policy direction, that’s the issue.
Q Do you see the parties like AGP, NCP etc as potential Third alternative partners post elections?
~ As far as the AGP is concerned, I would consider it as most unnatural alliance with the BJP. Remember, the AGP was an important element in the formation of the United Front in 1996 and it was the UF that initiated the process of treating the Northeast as a special case ~ announcing special package for the NE, North East Council and so on.
All these were actually the contributions of a non-Congress, non-BJP government. So the AGP sticking with the BJP, I think its most unnatural. Lets see, what happens after the elections. Again our party is already into an election alliance with the NCP in Orissa.
Q Are you trying to woo others like the RJD, LJP?
~ Actually, today there is no need to go and woo anybody. Because the parties themselves are fairly mature and my observations in the last six months say that each of these parties are under tremendous pressure from their own social following. People are yearning for change and its now up to us, the political leadership, to give a tangible expression to the public sentiment.
Now, this pressure is working upon every small/regional party leadership and thus, some of them are already in touch (with us) for post poll tie-ups.
Q Does that include Mr Lalu Prashad?
~ Yes, he is in touch.
Q Can the Samajwadi Party also be a post-poll ally?
~ Well, we have appealed to all secular parties to come forward. We have worked with them in the past, so that should not be a problem.
Q Given the fact that both SP and BSP can’t be on the same boat, who would be your choice?
~ These are the things we will decide post elections. We have an understanding with the BSP that we would work together post elections. Now this working together is crucially depending on its political strength post elections.
Q But even after all this permutation and combinations, if the numbers are still not enough for the Third alternative to form a government, will the CPI-M concede to outside support from the Congress, like 1996?
~ Our objective would be not to have such a situation. Because, it was always the outside support that was the cause for instability of the previous governments be it (late Mr) VP Singh, (Mr) Devegowda or (Mr) Gujaral. Therefore, our objective would be to work for a government without the need for outside support.
Q So under any circumstances, the Left won’t do business with the Congress again?
~ Well, this is a question, which will have to be considered on the situations that emerge after the polls. But right now, our focus is to form a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative government.
Q You broke up with the Congress because of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. If the Congress decides to drop the Nuclear Deal as per the Left’s wishes, will you back the Congress then?
~ If the Congress was to drop the Nuclear Deal, why it went with it in the first place? If the deal was not an important thing (for it), then why they break such a stable arrangement with us? I don’t think this will happen; much water has passed by this time.
Q But if a Third alternative really comes to power, as you are envisaging, would you rework the Nuclear Deal?
~ Yes. Certainly we will rework the deal in the sense that there are provisions in the 123 Agreement that and our objective would be to eliminate all the baggage that came with the Nuclear Deal. Nuclear commerce per se is not any problematic; the problem is the conditions that have come with it.
There are pressures on our foreign policy, on defence agreements and understanding, the logistic support like refueling etc that we have to give to the USA whenever it undertakes any military adventure. All these conditions will have to be eliminated.
Q Would the Left, particularly, the CPI-M join the Third alternative government if that really happens?
~ We are bound by our 1998 party Congress decision, which says if there is such a situation in future, the Central Committee of the time would take a decision whether to join the government or not. So now we will have to wait till the elections are over and then the Central Committee would meet.
Q So you are not ruling out the possibility?
~ Yes. I said, the CC would discuss this and take a decision.
Q Of late, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr LK Advani are involved in a debate attacking each other. How do you evaluate the episode?
~ Neither of them have anything concrete to offer to the people. They are not able to offer anything tangible to offer the people and in the absence of this, they have indulged in hurling charges and counter charges. The whole thing is so surreal. I must say, both PM and Mr Advani has stooped to the same level.
Q Coming to West Bengal, what is your take on the Congress-Trinamul alliance?
~ What was de facto arrangement between the Congress and the TMC has now become a de jure arrangement. So lets see what impact it can possibly have this elections.
Q Given the trend in the recent panchayat, by-polls in WB, do you think that the common people are shifting away from the CPI-M?
~ No, I don’t think so. Whatever loss we have suffered was primarily because of the differences within the LF allies. But now the LF unity has considerably improved and it is our great source of strength. The common people too are realising that the LF government is on the right path vis-à-vis industrialisation and development.
Q Last General Elections, the Left’s MP tally was around 60. Where would the number stand this time?
~ I am not an astrologer. But whatever be the number this time, one thing is sure that politics in India without the Left is not possible anymore.
Q It was the undivided CPI that raised the issue of separate homeland for the Gorkhas, but now your party says that Gokhaland demand is unacceptable. Has Bengali chauvinism taken over the CPI-M’s policy on this?
~ Certainly not. We are not only saying no to Gorkhaland, but are also opposed to the demand for other smaller states that exists elsewhere in the country, like Telegana, Bhidarva etc.
We are opposing not because of the sentiments in the concerned region, our opposition stands on the solid reasoning that after the loss of so many lives and debates in between 1953-56, we came to the final conclusion that new sates will be formed on the basis of dominant language.
So what we are saying that do not disturb the basis for this state reorganisation. The moment you deviate, a Pandora’s box will open up and there will be no end to it that will ultimately weaken the country.
(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India/ The highlights of this interview appeared in The Statesman on 23 April 2009)
Interview ~ Mr PA Sangma / Ex-Lok Sabha speaker and NCP general secretray
by Bappaditya Paul
Born on 1 September, 1947 at Tura in Meghalaya, Purno Agitok Sangma began his stint as Lok Sabha MP in 1977. In the following years, he took charge of various Union ministries such as Commerce & Industry, Labour, Coal, Information & Broadcasting etc and was also the chief minister of Meghalaya from 1988-90.
In 1996, at the height of his political career, Mr Sangma rose to become the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
Following differences over Sonia Gandhi’s prime ministerial ambitions, notwithstanding her foreign origin, Mr Sangma left the Congress in 1999 and along with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar founded the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), of which he is a general secretary till date. BAPPADITYA PAUL recently spoke to him on the latest national political scenario and his future plans.
Currently, you and your two sons are MLAs and your daughter is a Lok Sabha MP. Aren’t you introducing dynasty politics in Meghalaya?
Not at all. It is the people who will judge and decide why my children are into politics.
I have been an MP for 30-years and because of this, all my children had the privilege of very good education, including the scope to study in some of the best universities abroad.
This is against the backdrop of me being a school dropout, who would have missed education had not the charitable Christian Missionaries picked me up after my father’s demise in childhood.
Had not the people elected me MP nine times, would I have been able to give the children the quality education they have had? No, and hence I told my children that they must pay back to the people of Garo Hills, the people of Meghalaya, by joining politics.
All that is fine, but by nominating your children as party candidates, aren’t you depriving other NCP activists in Meghalaya, who work for the party day and night?
There is a system in the NCP of inviting applications during every election from those aspiring for party nomination. My children never applied for party tickets; rather it was the people who wanted them as their candidates and the party honoured the sentiment.
There are so many politicians who put up their sons, daughters or wives to fight polls but not all could win. So, it is the people who take the ultimate decision and choose who they want as leaders.
But why did you leave the blooming national political career and return to state politics? Is it because of your differences with Sharad Pawar?
No, that is not the case. You see, I am aging and at the time I decided to return to the state, I was already 60. On several occasions I have said that there must be a time when a politician must retire, they should not stick to power.
Today, people over 80, even 90 and above are still in politics. I do not subscribe to this idea and I have set 70 as my retirement age.
Now, I want to spend the remaining years of my political career in training the upcoming politicians in my state and that’s why I decided to return to Meghalaya.
Are you suggesting that instead of eyeing a second term, Manmohan Singh should retire?
I am not suggesting anything; it is for them to decide. But everywhere in the world you see, people are opting for the young generation, people are opting for young-dynamic leadership.
Times are changing, times are different; there is such a huge generation gap. We are already outdated. How can we stay leaders now? We must give way to the younger generation.
Give way to Rahul Gandhi may be?
Well, Rahul Gandhi belongs to a political family and he understands political nuances. But there is a difference between politics and administration. Administration is completely a different area and it demands certain amount of experience.
Perhaps, Rahul should go for more experience before taking up the ultimate leadership as his grandmother Indira Gandhi did; before becoming the Prime Minister she was a cabinet minister first and learnt about the administration.
I had an occasion to tell Rajiv Gandhi: “Sir, you should not have become the PM straightway. Instead, you should have first become a minister for two years or so.” I would suggest the same for Rahul.
You split up with the Congress over Sonia Gandhi’s leading the party and India. Has there been any change in your stance?
I have never objected to Sonia Gandhi’s leading the Congress, never objected to her becoming the president of the AICC.
But when it came to the question of her becoming the Prime Minister, I objected. Because, I thought, in a country of one billion we are in a position to produce one Prime Minister; we don’t need somebody who is not born in India. I firmly believe it and I stick to it.
So Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin is still an issue?
Principle is principle, it never changes. Yes, it is an issue, if Sonia Gandhi again claims to be the Prime Minister.
Sharad Pawar’s name is making the rounds as the next Prime Minister. What are your views?
Having been in national politics for 30-years, I can certify that Mr Pawar is one of the very few Indian politicians who is development oriented, who knows administration, who understands science and technology. He is the right man to become the Prime Minister; he is cent percent PM material.
What are your predictions for the ensuing general elections?
Very confusing, I should say. But one thing is sure, it will be a hung parliament once again and no party would have a major game to cherish.
Perhaps, regional parties like the AIADMK, the BSP will gain over the Congress and the BJP and it may happen that a non-BJP, non-Congress alliance comes to power.
But even if that happens, I would have my reservations about its sustainability.
Your tenure as Lok Sabha Speaker was utterly uncontroversial. But Somnath Chatterjee was not that lucky and had to break up with the CPI-M while in office. Do you think Mr Chatterjee was right?
Absolutely right, and this will go down in the history of the Indian Parliament that here is a man, who upheld the dignity of the Speaker’s chair. He has proved that the Speaker is above any political affiliation and political party.
So the CPI-M was wrong in expelling Somnath Chatterjee from the party?
Hundred percent wrong. The CPI-M had no business to ask him to resign or ask him to cast a vote against the ruling coalition. Why should a political party tell the Speaker what he should do?
An MP is elected by the people after being nominated by his/her party, but a Speaker is elected by Parliament. Hence, a Speaker is answerable only to Parliament.
Do you think, Prakash Karat was actually responsible for ousting Mr Chatterjee?
I don’t hold any individual responsible for Somnathda’s ouster from the CPI-M. I know, in the CPI-M it is always the collective decision of the Politburo.
Do you have any plan to return to national politics, even if for a brief period? No, not at this moment.
(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India / This piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 11 April 2009 )