The picture of a wounded second-year English honours student of Kolkata’s Ashutosh College in newspapers on December 17 stirred up the city’s sensibilities. His face was smeared with blood. The left eye was damaged grievously after being hit by a heavy object.
He was writhing in pain.
Until this incident happened, Kolkata had been hearing murder stories in Maoist-affected areas, and grown almost inured to them. Bullet-ridden bodies on the roadside had become an every day occurrence. But now violence was right at their doorstep!
Souvik Hajra lost his eye and is recuperating at a hospital in Hyderabad. This young Students’ Federation of India (SFI) supporter is no criminal. He happened to be standing near the college gate when there was a clash with members of his organisation with those of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TCCP), the students’ wing of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress.
The story of Swapan Koley is even more tragic. During a clash with TCCP men in his college in Howrah, this SFI activist was beaten to death by a mob, comprising mostly his co-students.
These are just two pictures mirroring the trend of violence in West Bengal. The aggressor in both the cases is the opposition, trying to pull down the CPI(M) castle in the two colleges, which are traditionally SFI strongholds.
If there is a wind of change blowing in the state, it has only rejuvenated the opposition. Their supporters had been victims of violence for the past three decades because their leaders failed to deliver and a regimented party like the CPI(M) crushed all moves challenging its authority. Police took sides in conflicts and the administration looked the other way as the armed cadre of the ruling party terrorised village after village during elections. In many rural booths, the elections were conducted without polling agents of the opposition. Interestingly, West Bengal never saw large-scale pre-poll violence till 2009. It’s not that an unbiased administration contained any possibility of violence. It was because there was an absence of resistance from opposition parties to instigate clashes.
For the ruling party, it was all hunky dory till there was a drastic change in the political scene in the 2008 panchayat elections, or, to be more precise, the post-Singur-Nandigram era. The opposition made a dent in districts, known as Left bastions. Within a year, the Lok Sabha polls shook the edifice of the Left Front, clearly indicating the Trinamool Congress’ ability to usurp the three-decade rule of the Left Front.
Let’s look at some figures. In the 2006 assembly elections, the Left Front’s share of votes was 50.18 per cent. In 2009, former chief minister Jyoti Basu’s premonition came true that “this election will be very tough” and the Left’s vote share came down to 43 per cent.
While West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts have been badly hit by political clashes, sporadic incidents of violence have been taking place in other places also. In most cases, like the violence in Mangalkot and Raina in Burdwan district, which have so far claimed three lives, the opposition has shaken the CPI(M)’s dominance.
The flash points are predictable. Cases of skirmishes are being reported from areas that were once the happy hunting ground of the Left but have recently voted in favour of opposition, mainly the Trinamool. The Left rout has been complete in districts like South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas, and the opposition has made inroads in districts like Nadia, Bankura and Burdwan. Maoist activities are rampant in West Midnapore, a traditional fortress of the Left. In the Sasan area of North-24 Parganas, the Trinamool Congress has raided the citadel of a notorious CPI(M) goon called Majid master and thrown him out of most areas of fisheries he controlled.
Explains Mohammed Salim, CPI(M) central committee member: “The opposition is creating trouble wherever we are strong. In the Maoist areas alone, 377 of our workers have been killed. They are being targeted everywhere. It is a very cleverly designed way of coming to power through any means.”
Trinamool MLA and assembly opposition leader Partha Chatterjee says the voices of dissent had so long been muffled by the “goonda raj of the CPI(M), suitably aided by the police and administration. Now that people have got the courage to speak against the state government and the party leaders, the CPI(M) has started terrorising village after village. The writing on the wall is clear and the Left is desperate”.
The upshot of the recent spate of violence is that the Trinamool-Congress combine is an emphatic threat to the Left Front government. It posed a similar one before the 2001 assembly elections when even a slipshod seat-sharing arrangement between the two parties brought down the tally of the Left Front below 200, with the CPI(M) losing its single-party majority status. Now that the CPI(M) has its back to the wall, the threat perceptions of the cadre are quite obvious.
Several villages in West Bengal, mainly those in the southern part of the state, are sitting on a powder keg.
On the one hand is an injured Left Front trying to recover its lost ground, and on the other is a charged opposition, led by the Trinamool Congress, smelling victory. All are waiting for the ignition.