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Anyone home in Bengal?

india Updated: Jun 18, 2009 20:40 IST

A spectre is haunting West Bengal — the spectre of anarchy. How an administration, famous for its cadre culture that has been nurtured over three decades, can turn so helpless in the face of a Maoist ‘takeover’ and violent anti-government outpourings in West Midnapore district may seem befuddling at first. But in a way, the writing was on the wall. The administrative structure as created by the CPI(M)-led Left Front government was always held together by the spit and glue of networked politics, and not by the more sturdy nails and wood of genuine democracy. With more and more CPI(M) cadres cutting the umbilical cords that tie them to both party headquarters and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government (the conflation of party and government being pretty much a CPI(M) speciality) since the ‘uprisings’ of Nandigram and Singur in 2007, the state government finds itself cut off from its power sources even when encircled by Maoists in their own strongholds. In the past, local party units, rather than any official law enforcement agency like the police, quelled any dissent in the provinces. Today, with the local party enforcers themselves against the ‘mother ship’, Mr Bhattacharjee’s government finds itself at sea brimming with anti-CPI(M) sharks.

On Monday, three whole days after the war between the anti-government forces spearheaded by the invading Maoists and CPI(M) cadres started in earnest, the extent of anarchy in the face of statutory inaction was made glaringly clear. A ‘zonal’ Maoist leader held a veritable press conference in the middle of a CPI(M)-exorcised Lalgarh, not bothering to unstrap the AK-47 from his shoulder, even as police forces were pitifully absent. The government keeping a ‘tactical distance’ was partly to avoid any hair-trigger moment that would unleash ‘police action’ of the kind that led to the backlash in Nandigram in March 2007 and partly to play old Centre-state politics.

On Thursday, the government finally sent in police and security forces to ‘reclaim’ Lalgarh. But much of the damage had already been done. By asking for central security forces after days of inaction, the former Home (Police) Minister, Mr Bhattacharjee not only admitted that flushing out the Maoists from Bengal was beyond the means of his administration, but also that it doesn’t want to get its hands dirty. The vacillation and inaction that have marked the government this week can lead to a larger damning observation: that there is no one in charge in West Bengal, two years before it holds state elections.