Something Sinister about it

There's more to Operation Lalgarh than 'flushing out' Maoists
Amit Sengupta Delhi

There is a major conspiracy theory currently gaining ground in Kolkata and Lalgarh, and the rest of West Bengal, that the CPM and Maoists are hand-in-glove. Or else, why should a perfectly peaceful, democratic mass movement of the people, the tribals and the poor, against police atrocities, be suddenly hijacked by the Maoists, with a unanimous media going berserk, screaming - "flush them out"? This media, especially in Delhi, had till date decisively ignored the Lalgarh struggle, the abjectly sub-human conditions in which they have survived all these years, or the muscle-flexing violence of a corrupt CPM local leadership. How come the CPM's local leader Anuj Pande, a full-timer, owns a palatial house and flaunts his wealth?

The timing itself seems dubious, especially, when the CPM is on the backfoot after its resounding drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, losing its acquired arrogance and territorial domination by brute force (which it took for granted), across the Bengal landscape, facing the wrath of the people and opposition forces. For the second time (first, after the Nandigram massacre), the crisis is reaching a flashpoint despite no reports of violence on either side and a cautious response at the Writers' Buildings and CPM headquarters at Alimuddin Street in Kolkata. This uncanny silence, at the time of going to press, is deceptive.

However implausible it might seem, this conspiracy theory stretches the brief that the men who are calling themselves Maoists are actually CPM rebels or in nexus, who are out to out-manoeuvre the Trinamool Congress and Congress, and the mass support base of the PCPA, so that a discredited CPM can regain lost territory and power. As in Nandigram, there are unconfirmed stories that CPM cadre are now entering Lalgarh's 'safe and sanitised' zones wearing police uniforms, under protection of the politicised West Bengal police which often toes the CPM line.

It should also not be forgotten that the Maoists are just one factor in the current crisis. The movement has been hitherto largely peaceful, and the recent events of attacks on CPM office and its cadre, especially, in its stronghold Dharampur, smacks of a story with hidden narratives. How come the CPM did not retaliate, even in its own undisputed territory, as it does all over Bengal where it runs its one-dimensional extra-constitutional party apparatus? And, why this sudden militarist counter-reaction to a localised act of violence, when the CPM has 'done it and been there' all these three decades of absolute, unquestioned muscle power, controlled by miscellaneous goons and cadre, who had nothing to do with communism except being lackeys of the power structure?

Besides, let us not for one instant forget the backdrop of the flashpoint. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was attacked allegedly by the Maoists in a landmine blast on November 2, 2008. He was returning from the Santhal tribal area of Salboni near Lalgarh after inaugurating the Jindal Steel Works project. The police attacked Lalgarh's villages nastily and repeatedly, assaulting women, arresting innocents, destroying homes, brutalising the people. So can the corporate angle of capturing tribal land and ravaging their ecology be completely ruled out in the current "flushing-out" exercise, backed by a fanatically pro-corporate regime and media in Delhi? "Capital has no ideology or colour," as Buddha had so famously said. Besides, Salwa Judum was a manufactured creation soon after the Maoists had declared that they will not allow the mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh to be sold off to big business.

This, however, in no manner condones the violence unleashed by both, the Maoists and the State, often using poor tribals as human shields. Nor does it deny that most contemporary people's movements against SEZs and corporate greed, and against the destruction of land, forests, river systems and mountains, precious and protected ecological heritage are not led by the Maoists. They are led by indigenous people - tribals, forest dwellers and peasants - experimenting with truth, new ideological paradigms, often using militant, non-violent Gandhian tactics, despite facing brute repression, police violence, arrests and imprisonment, with State violence in synthesis with big business lobbies.

At Lalgarh, Maoist spokesman, Koteshwar Rao, is not telling the truth when he says that he expects a quid pro quo from Mamata Banerjee because the Maoists helped the movement in Nandigram. This is as big a lie as the CPM lie then that the Maoists had unleashed violence in Nandigram and, hence, the police action and organised violence. One Delhi-based CPM feminist even fantasised that the Maoists were taking a sea route to enter Nandigram. (And where was she, on a lighthouse with binoculars? And, how come that favourite TV channel missed this Live Breaking News?)

Every documented truth, independent testimonies, eye-witness, journalistic accounts, have categorically stated that there was no Maoist presence in Nandigram. The CPM was using the Maoist phobia to justify the mass rape and massacre in Nandigram organised by its armed cadre and police, master-minded by its notorious then MP Laxman Seth of Haldia, and backed by the CPM regime in Kolkata. In that uncanny sense, it boils down to the reality that State repression was cold-bloodedly organised to recapture territory and win the turf war. With an eye on the Salem SEZ as it was for the State-subsidised Tata Nano project in Singur. As it is Lalgarh now, as a fresh test case.

Significantly, the struggle against land acquisition in Nandigram was led by Dalits and Muslims, mostly landless farmers, who would have been hit hard by the Salem SEZ. This was a peasant movement, basically indigenous, deriving its strength from a long tradition of radical peasant movements, including the abiding memories of the great Tebhaga struggle (1946-47) (two-third of the crop for the tiller, one-third for the landlord).

Like Nandigram, Lalgarh, too, will mark a rupture in the political landscape of Bengal. The Maoists, with their mindless violence, and archaic class annihilation line, has only made it easy for the CPM to use police repression to regain lost turf. The Maoists have not only pushed the democratic, peaceful mass struggle of the PCPA (with multiple support groups, including civil society groups, Trinamool and Congress) to a tense threshold, but have also compelled the poor people to flee to relief camps to escape the daily brutality of the police (see 'Injustice is red') and fear of mass arrests and torture. Hence, the line between the Maoists and the movement has to be effectively drawn.

This is because, finally, the conflict zone lies elsewhere: in this case, in a discredited CPM's legitimacy crisis and loss of turf all over Bengal, and the insatiable push for State-subsidised corporate zones in mineral-rich tribal areas. This is the cynical and inevitable chord of unity which unites predator market fundamentalists in Delhi and pseudo communists in Kolkata. And, the truth is: banning Maoists will not change this bitter realism of the new political economy of greed.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2009