gfiles magazine

December 5, 2011

Committing hara-kiri

indian communists
Committing hara-kiri
The CPI (M) is facing organizational problems in West Bengal since going out of power. Its support base is dwindling, its cadre is losing faith in the leadership, and its sources of money are drying up. And all these problems are emanating from its own organizational principle of totalitarian control of society. What the CPI(M) is facing now is somewhat akin to what the communists faced after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
CERTAIN facts are known only to those people who have witnessed their unfolding. Some of those people fall victim to the very process, some die, and many others remain silent spectators. And sometimes those facts are taken to the grave by those witnesses while at others they emerge into the open after the downfall of the perpetrators of the brutality.
In the erstwhile Soviet Union, Ivan Denisovich went to bed happy because, one day in his life, he did not suffer brutality. He forgot, blissfully, that every minute of his life was a reflection of human brutality. This is what the communists are capable of doing with millions of Ivan Denisoviches. They establish a totalitarian system, and then unleash repression in such a way that it becomes a part of life. It becomes normal.
For the first time, they have proved that they are capable of doing this even within a democracy. The rest of India did not know, and hardly cared, when, during the three-and a-half decades of communist rule, the people of West Bengal bled without realising they were bleeding. In two Midnapore districts alone, countless people disappeared in a dozen or so years. The number of such missing persons is more than 50 all over the State. A few have been traced after the change of regime: their skeletons are sleeping deep in the soil. Some others were killed and their corpses thrown into the river during the Nandigram repression.
Yet, only a minuscule minority of political opponents were murdered thus. The rest tolerated everything and gradually accepted aberrations as normal.
During a CPI (M)-called bandh, a bank manager in a remote part of Bardhaman district dared to open his branch. As punishment, the local CPI (M) workers locked the bank’s gate the next day. When the manager sought help from the police, the latter blamed him for defying the local committee diktat and refused help. In another case, when a young man got a job in a school, the managing committee asked him to produce a “no objection” letter from his local committee. In yet another instance, a panchayat denied any assistance to a few families and the entire village thought this was justified as the victims had opposed the party leaders.
No one outside West Bengal knew that these were no aberrations, but common practice in all the places the Left dominated. And it dominated everywhere except Kolkata and its surrounding areas, the districts of Malda and North Dinajpur, and pockets in North Bengal. No one, except for people in some parts of Kerala, knew what the “terror factor” denoted in West Bengal.
The CPM had used the police force as a private army and the administration as
an extension of party offices. No jobs were awarded to anyone without their nod.
SIMPLY put, it was fear of losing livelihood, not getting employment, being denied facilities meant for the people, and denial of all rights. The fear factor did not mean thousands were killed every day, but that fear of being killed or tortured lurked in the minds of millions.
It was all well-planned. It was not that it happened only in the last 10-15 years of the Left rule. It started with brutal attacks on the Bangladeshi refugees at Marichjhapi, who had been originally sent to Dandakaranya by the then Congress regime. Hearing about the Left victory in the State, they returned to West Bengal. They were brutally assaulted by the Left cadre and the police, and forcibly repatriated from the State. Then, on April 30, 1982, CPI (M) workers burnt alive 17 Ananda Margi sadhus, including a sadhvi, in Kolkata. No one was ever arrested for the killings.
On July 27, 2000, eleven Muslim landless workers were killed by CPI (M) party men in Suchpur under Nanoor PS (Birbhum district). In this case, action was taken and the Siuri session judge awarded life imprisonment to 44 CPI (M) workers. The saga of Nandigram is well-known. For more than a year, party hooligans kept attacking the agitators and allegations of rape and murder abounded. So is the story of Singur, where the communists allegedly raped and murdered Tapasi Malik, one of the protesters. At Netai, West Midnapore, in the name of fighting the Maoists, CPI (M) ruffians deliberately opened fired on the villagers and killed nine unarmed men. The villagers were punished for opposing the whims of the party representatives.
To impose such totalitarian control, a party needs elaborate machinery. Let us look at the principles the machinery worked on. To inculcate fear in the minds of the people, one needs two things. First, an effective organization with a dedicated cadre; second, making the police and administration personnel servants of the party through a carrot and stick policy. However, to successfully engineer these two things, one needs uninterrupted rule by the party.
They also served, who never bowed
IN the first decade of Left rule, there were some IAS and IPS officers who did not sell out to the Left bosses but soon many of them realized it was more prudent to buy peace. It ensured, career-wise, smooth sailing. Some bureaucrats, who still showed the temerity to oppose the wishes of the party bosses, were quickly shunted out. The most prominent was Prasad Ray, a cousin of Satyajit Ray, who tried to reiterate the truth during the Nandigram episode. He once said that CPI(M) workers had also opened fire on the agitators. On another occasion, he rejected the repeated claim of the party regarding a significant presence of Maoists in Nandigram. Party bosses were furious and, under duress, CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (who initially had a soft corner for him due to his lineage) transferred him to another department.
The same thing happened with Sujit Shankar Chattopadhyay, the Finance Secretary during the last years of Jyoti Basu’s rule. He fell out with Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta and other Ministers for sticking to the rulebook, and was shunted out. Among the IPS officers, the man who most had to bear the brunt of antagonizing the party bosses was Nazrul Islam. An upright man who never bowed to their diktat, he even dared to write fiction that sketched their wrong-doings. Consequentially, he never got a good operational posting after rising above the rank of DIG.
For a communist, the world is divided into black and white – comrades and enemies. Either you are with us, or against us. They are also trained to believe that those who oppose the wishes of the party are representatives of vested interests, perhaps agents of the CIA. In West Bengal, opposition to the forcible eviction of farmers from their land was labelled this way, and anyone visiting the website of the party will come across various examples of this. The opposition was portrayed as dark forces and the supporters of forcible eviction as the forces of sunrise. This stems from belief that they are the sole vendors of “proletarian interests”.
The tendency to divide the world into “us” and “them” is perceived among all political leaders and parties. But, in a true democracy, those who oppose the government will never be seen as the enemy. They have the right to oppose, and democracy entails accommodation of their opinion as far as possible. If it cannot be accommodated, it can still be respected. Even if it is so radical that the establishment cannot respect it, no one questions the right to express it. For instance, take the case of Noam Chomsky and the US establishment. But communists (and some other entities like the BJP, which is an offshoot of the RSS) cannot even dream of allowing such criticism under their rule.
TO ensure total control, the party has a well-structured organization. Forget about the central Committee or Politburo, for they deal with ideological and national issues, more relevant here is the State committee and the district committees, which deal with more mundane affairs. The State committee gave political and organizational directions and, according to that general direction, the district committees coordinated the work among all other committees below them. They got reports from them and, when necessary, passed them on to the State committee. For this, the district committee depended heavily on the zonal committees under it. These zonal committees formed the fulcrum on which the entire party machinery rested. They were the main instruments for controlling the territory under them.
They planned things, and were in regular contact with the administrative and police officers of their area. Even if the DM or SP was not amenable to bowing to the wishes of the party, the zonal committee members ensured that the wishes were implemented, bypassing them. Then they swung into action, and started monitoring implementation of their own diktats. For this, they needed the guidance of the district committees and active participation of the local committees under them.
A local committee (LC) had only organizational work. It had grassroots-level strength provided by the branch committee, which in itself was not very important. The main task of the branch committee was to gather information about citizens and pass it on to the LC, and act according to instructions from the LC. A map would be made of the citizens in the area, they would be divided into friends and enemies, the former helped and the latter punished. The punishment would mean deprivation of facilities, and how much punishment would be meted out would depend on the level of insubordination. Use of actual violence was relatively rare, and it was resorted to only when it was felt that ignoring the threat posed by the “rebels” might endanger the party’s control. Thus, for an ordinary citizen living in the rural or semi-urban areas, the LC members were the most dreaded.
The CPI (M) had 336 zonal committees, 2,005 local committee offices and 28,854 branch committees before being ousted from power. It had 5,730 zonal committee members, 23,850 local committee members and 2,68,411 branch committee members.
Its membership was estimated to be 2,99,350 in 2010. Slightly more than 1% of these three lakh members were whole-timers. The number was pegged at about 3,500. They were paid wages by the party ranging from Rs 3000 to Rs 6000. They controlled the party units and acted as the pivots. To help them, their wives were provided good jobs.
With the help of this well-oiled machinery, the CPI (M) established its totalitarian control over a large area of West Bengal. Its control was at its peak in Bardhaman, Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore and in large chunks of East Midnapore, Hooghly, Howrah, South and North 24-Parganas and some other pockets of other districts. This lulled the leaders into thinking they could never go out of power.
For a communist, the world is divided into black and white — comrades and
enemies. Either you are with us or against us.
BUT the CPI (M) has not yet reached its nadir. It may so happen that in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, it may draw a blank in the State. Those who were still scared in 2009 have become fearless now. It is doubtful whether in the foreseeable future the party will again get a majority in the Assembly. But, at least in the next Assembly election in 2016, it will not return to power.
The reason is that they have forgotten how to survive without being aided by the police and administration or, simply put, without muscle and power. They had sufficient arms, which were used to crush the Nandigram movement. When they “recaptured” Nandigram, the Chief Minister uttered the now-infamous remark: “They have been paid back with the same coin.” But using a private army is fraught with danger. There is the fear of the Union government and the courts. They managed the former by virtue of political support, but could not manage the judiciary, particularly the higher judiciary.
So they had to use the police force as a private army. They had to use the administration as an extension of party offices. Very few jobs in schools, colleges and administration were awarded to anyone without their nod. They formed unions among all sections of government or semi-government employees, and the same tactics of arm-twisting were used everywhere. Starting from bank and insurance workers to auto-rickshaw drivers, every organized group came under the party’s command. And when it seemed that the CPI (M) would always rule West Bengal, even non-Leftist intellectuals and artists made a beeline for its favour.
Now they are facing a stark reality. The police and administration have gone out of their control. Sushanto Ghosh, who was a heavyweight Minister, is in jail for murder. In East and West Midnapore, many comrades who terrorized people for years have gone underground. Dejection is setting in like rigor mortis among many of their workers.
Their own organizational principles and tactics have boomeranged and have alienated them from the people. As happened in Russia, where the old communists could never gain a foothold after ouster from power, our desi Marxists are unlikely to find a chance for total rejuvenation in West Bengal in the foreseeable future. This is so different from Kerala because the party was not in power there term after term, and the rot has not set in there. However, the organizational principles are the same in Kerala. g

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