Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bengal News

Kolkata, March 23, 2009


LF-supported Forward Bloc candidate for Barasat in north 24 Parganas and noted educationist Sudin Chattopadhyay was taken aback when he saw a rush of hooligans onto the stage. The occasion (on 18 March) was a ‘live’ TV show put up at Barasat where the organisers / TV channel owners wanted Prof Chattopadhyay to enter into a debate with the Trinamul candidate from the Barasat seat.

As the debate progressed it was clear that Prof Chattopadhyay was gradually gaining an upper hand despite his low-key, polite, and soft style of speaking vis-à-vis the Mamata banerjee-like aggression and fire-and-brimstone kind of approach by his woman rival candidate who has had to swallow defeats every time she had run for the polls, be it the assembly or the Lok Sabha. She had once run against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee from Jadavpur and had her ego bruised by the thumping margin of the former’s win. Her frustration came through rather easily this time around, if in a menacing manner, as Prof Chattopadhyay was soon to find out.

The organisers had managed to stash away a large ‘cache’ of drunken Trinamul Congress supporters around the open air space from where the show was telecast. Each round of question-and-answer session saw the Trinamuli candidate get the worse of the exchanges in terms of facts as well as argumentation. She kept becoming angrier as the FB candidate never strayed off the cool and the laid-back attitude he is quite well-known for, apart from his great debating skill.

The last straw was reached when the Trinamul candidate started to hurl abuses on the professor, and the Trinamuli goons, perhaps sensing that that was the signal, came rushing up the stage, swept past a sniggering presenter, and jostled with Sudin Chattopadhyay, beating him up with fists and worse.

The latter fell down bleeding and had to be removed to hospital after the local people had to intervene and stop the hooliganism. In hospital, the doctors realised that professor Chattopadhyay had suffered from at least one broken rib plus innumerable bruises on his face and body, and must be rested for some days before venturing out on the campaign trail. The Trinamulis had better come to grips with the fact that this show of terrorism would lose and not win them votes in a seat where the LF and the FB had always prevailed, whoever the rival has been.


Two serious charges have been levelled against the Election Commission of India (ECI) by the CPI(M). One deals with the time allotted to the different political parties with whom the ECI interacted at the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata on 19 March. The second is concerned with the order in which the political parties were called up for the tête-à-têtes.


The first concerned the order in which the political parties were called up. The ECI chose ostensibly an alphabetical order to call up the leaders of the different, national, and state, parties present on the day. They first called upon the AIFB. To the surprise of everyone, the Trinamul Congress that goes by the grand name of All-India Trinamul Congress in the official ECI documents was not called thereafter. The Trinamuli chiefs were in fact called up at the end the session.

Thus by the time the Trinamulis trooped in the ECI was aware of the say-so of all the Left parties who had duly been called in alphabetical order. In a protest letter, Biman Basu has said that the ECI should follow a single norm. Either it must prefer the alphabetical order, or it should go by the national / state status of the concerned parties. It chose to follow both, one set of norms for the Trinamulis and another set for the rest of the parties including the new-found Trinamuli political dost, the Pradesh Congress.


Second, the political parties were each allocated time slots of ten minutes each for interaction with the ECI, and this included the Pradesh Congress. However, it was found that the Trinamulis were allowed nearly an hour’s worth of time when they went to meet the ECI. The CPI (M) has pointed this pout in a letter to the ECI and has asked for clarification. We are left wondering what the discussion was going on about. The Trinamuli chieftains would not speak to the media when they finally came out, smiles pasted on their visages.


At the meeting, in the ten minutes worth of time the CPI (M) leaders led by Party CCM Madan Ghosh pointed to the following emergent issues, among others, that needed redresssal and early:

v A situation of terror is being built up in the state with one after another leading CPI(M) workers being heinously murdered

v The fundamentalists are on the prowl in a markedly intense manner

v The left sectarians are active in a violent way in the red clay districts and are making it impossible for the CPI(M) to carry out election campaign

v Opposition candidates are flouting the election code in a variety of manners including coming up with what amounted to graft, and include various infrastructural assurances

v Walls of government and quasi-governments were being written on with graffiti by the opposition

v The two official media of Akashvani and Doordarshan were patently biased against the CPI(M) and for the parties of the ruling classes

The CPI(M) asked the ECI to seal the interstate and the international border around Bengal during the poll period. They also asked the ECI to look into instances where the number of voters has suddenly increased, out of expectation.


The Lok Sabha elections approach. The opposition is panic struck. The rank of the panic struck includes reactionary forces here and abroad. Thus, we are at the receiving end of a wide array of conspiracies, some foolishly, overtly executed, and these are but few. The water runs dangerously deep in most instances of the orchestrated, concentrated, planned, scheming moves against the Left Front and the CPI(M).

Shall we begin with the obvious? Numerous groups of men and women are on the move across the villages and towns, the hamlets and the urban centres in Bengal even as you read this. They include women in widows’ weeds, young boys, and girls, with a gang of toughs hanging back.

The groups approach the households during the noon hour when the menfolk have gone out to earn their livelihood. They get hold of the women. They tell them horror stories of ‘atrocities perpetrated on us at Nandigram.’ Sometimes, the locale is a Singur hamlet. The refrain is the same. “Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has a yen for land. He will take away your agricultural plot and your homestead land. Buddhadeb represents the philosophy of the CPI(M) to ‘rob the poor.’ Beware of him, and of them. Chance comes to you every five years only. Take a plunge, and vote for change.”

Mostly, these ploys backfire. Curious women ask them of the details and for these bearers of the untruth the devil lie in the details. They cannot name the villages they inhabit. They will not give out their names, even names of their family members. They are then turned out, politely by the householders. The toughs slither closer, and utter whispered threats, and then they disappear in the waiting car or auto-rickshaw, their always engines awhirr as they wait.

That was the obvious. The conspiracy is professionally organised elsewhere. The target is the minority communities, or one minority community, the largest of them in Bengal, a community that has always been by the side of the Left Front and the CPI(M). Old men yet tell us with more than a touch of pride how most of the pioneering dozen of the founders’ brigade of the CPI had been Muslims! They recall the political-ideological-organisational contributions of such comrades as Kakababu (Muzaffar Ahmad), Abdul Halim, Abdullah Rasul, and Shahidullah in Bengal.

We find the imam of the Bada Masjid, up to little good-- for anybody. Shahi Imam of Bengal, who is the Mufti-e Azam, as well as the chief Mufti and Quazi of the state government of Bengal also being the Dar-ul Ifta and Quaza of Bengal per se, issues a press release of 21 March 2009, on a piece of paper that carries the official government emblem in the form of the Ashoka Pillar (Ashoka Stambha), as used in government documents, on the top left side of the page.

In that release, he falsely berates the present state administration for its ‘anti-Muslim’ frame of mind, and calls upon all ‘sane citizens,’ to ‘go ahead and make a change,’ while casting their votes. We find this not merely a perversion of facts but a dangerous communal approach that is also grossly inflammatory in character. Most Muslims would ignore the appeal. Nevertheless, the intent, or rather the severe malignancy of the exercise is sure to make happy and rock with pure pleasure, Mamata Banerjee, men, and women of her ilk, and, who knows, perhaps also the chieftains of their new-courted ally, the Pradesh Congress, and their patrons, here and abroad.

After all, even as a Bengali-speaking ambassador of the US to India is steps in, set to ‘begin the beguine’ for the imperialists from Delhi, the man on the spot of the US of A in Kolkata has chosen the cosy, air-conditioned, five-star confines of a central Kolkata hotel to meet more-than-once a chosen few Muslim leaders who are both familiar and comfortable with the idioms of fundamentalism and of anti-Communism. The agenda, we can assume, is not either religion or peace.

The Left Front has stepped up its election campaign. Smaller meetings are stressed on—baithaks, as well as pally or neighbourhood meetings, smaller gatherings at rural haats and urban bazaars are concentrated upon, discussions are opened to the masses on the issues of the day, the candidates march along the routes within their constituencies, always stopping by for a bit of political adda, and a glass or two of cool water, maybe an earthen pot or three of black tea – and while bigger rallies are held fewer in number, preference is gradually being allocated to intimate, personal, one-to-one, house-to-house contact with the masses.

The Left Front itself marches on in solidarity with the people, as one. Biman Basu, state secretary of the CPI(M) and the Bengal LF chairman has assured the people that the LF is united as ever, and that ‘we are fighting for all 42 seats, not one less.’ Wild predictions shall meet a wilder fate we are assured by the elderly and the young alike. In the meanwhile, Biman Basu rushes off to big and small rallies at several places in south Bengal having arrived at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan a few hours earlier from a lengthy trip to north and central Bengal.

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