What is the Nandigram problem? Is it, as Wednesday’s discussion in the Lok Sabha on “the proposal to set up a Special Economic Zone in West Bengal” would have us believe, a violent fallout of a not-well-thought-out and even less well- implemented economic policy? Or is it a blatant case of cadres fighting a territorial war to the finish, with the state government throwing its gargantuan weight behind those who represent the ruling party? Or is it a total breakdown of the rule of law and order where politics is playing its nefarious role once again?
There are reasons to believe that what happened in Nandigram is a combination of all these aspects. Whatever the character of the tragedy there may be, the reaction of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, both in terms of words as well as action, not only stunned the people of West Bengal but also made the Prime Minister sit up and take note. Manmohan Singh’s statement on Tuesday that all people, “regardless of their political views and affiliations, were entitled to and should receive the protection of the law enforcement authorities” drove home a strong message pertinent to how Nandigram was handled by the state government. Mr Bhattacharjee’s response after the November 14 violence was breathtaking in its shock value. He had effectively defended CPI(M) cadres killing and pillaging, stating that he was first answerable to his party and only then to his government. It was this dereliction of duty and blatant partisanship that Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani pointed out in Parliament. His suggestion that Article 355 — that mandates the Centre to ensure that the state government conducts itself in accordance with the Constitution — be imposed was also valid, considering that the people of Nandigram had found themselves staring at the face of a new enemy: the West Bengal government.
But one thing that the Nandigram violence had not been projected as, was of having a ‘communal’ overtone. (Nandigram has a large Muslim population, many of the victims of the violence coming from this community.) On Wednesday, the ‘communal’ aspect, too, came out in the form of violent protests in central Kolkata. That those protesting had little concern for the genuine tragedy of Nandigram became evident when, under the fringe wing of the All India Minority Forum, the violent mob weirdly connected Nandigram with Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen staying in India. While Nandigram has little to do with ‘Muslim’ sentiments being outraged, the fact that opportunistic parties are looking for any excuse to vent their so-called rage should trouble a state government enough for it to want to maintain law and order, not to mention practice it as well.