Even as the CPI(M) is preaching foreign policy to the UPA Government in Delhi, the comrades running the powerbase of West Bengal are busy tackling crises at the grassroots, one after the other.
For Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the first shock was the trouble that erupted following land acquisition at Singur for the Tata Motors' small-car project. Barely had that died down, a much bigger crisis broke out in not-so-far-away Nandigram in December last year as farmers opposed the Government's plans to acquire a much larger swathe of land for a couple of special economic zones (SEZs). The Nandigram trouble peaked in March 14 this year, when 14 people were killed in police firing.
As Bhattacharjee continued to woo industry, making announcements in fits and starts after the Nandigram dampener, the ground shifted again. This time, villagers in various parts rebelled against the pathetic state of the public distribution system (PDS). The first flare-up took place in Bankura, in the last week of August. Since then, the violence — in which shops have been burnt down and party leaders attacked — has claimed four lives.
The PDS crisis has two interesting points. First, while it is being led by the Trinamool Congress, at the grassroots it is backed by CPI(M) activists. Second, Muslims here have coalesced with the Scheduled Castes and Tribes to rail against institutionalised corruption. This, at a time when CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat has been going hammer and tongs at the Congress-led UPA Government alleging that it is neglecting the PDS system.
As if land acquisition and rationing system were not enough, the latest crisis has sprung from a poor but educated Muslim boy's love for a rich businessman's daughter. It seems that when Rizwanur Rehman fell in love with Priyanka Todi and married her, her father was livid and used his connections to bully the boy. The bullying failed. But the boy was found dead on a railway line. While the police is under siege for meddling in a domestic arrangement, senior leaders and CPI(M) ministers — Muslims and otherwise — have begun criticising the police.
Meanwhile, even as the CPI(M) in Delhi was challenging the UPA Government to do more for the Muslims, the Justice Rajindar Sachar Report showed that the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government in West Bengal had a dismal record in improving the lot of Muslims. Muslims, traditionally pampered by the CPI(M), suddenly woke up to ground realities. For long, Muslims have been important for the "secular" CPI(M). They account for 27 per cent of the votes.With Karat and his colleagues in Delhi threatening the existence of the UPA Government, the CPI(M) in the state has already begun telling its district committees to gear up for the panchayat polls, which are due in June 2008. But the district committee leaders have lobbed the ball back to the CPI(M) state headquarters. They want the state leaders to clear three points first. One, why has the Government failed to take action against officials and policemen responsible for the Nandigram firing. Two, what should they tell their Muslim voters about the Sachar Commission findings. And finally, why is the Government not taking action against the police officers in the Rizwanur case?