Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's appeal to Shivraj Patil for a battalion of the CRPF will only meet the CPI-M's partisan ends. Make no mistake, this is a trap the CPI-M is laying for the Congress-led UPA government to walk into.
Law and order is a state subject. So the force the Union home minister will send will have to take orders from local officials. Everybody knows, Mr Bhattacharjee, who also happens to be the home (police) minister, uses his prerogative of transfer in such a way that policemen, particularly those in key positions, serve his narrow partisan ends.
Nazrul Islam, an IPS officer who is by no means indifferent to the Leftists, gives the example of Ramen Bhattacharjee, another IPS officer. Albeit known to be utterly corrupt, Mr Bhattacharjee was promoted to the rank of Director General of Police. "The reason is," says Mr Islam in Police Prosonge (About Policing), "a corrupt person is likely to take orders (from his political masters) unquestioningly."
The present SP of Midnapore East, of which Nandigram is a part, seems to be on the way out, having had an extramarital relationship with a criminal's wife. The chief minister will make sure the new incumbent gives the CRPF the orders that would serve the interests of the CPI-M.
Mr Patil should be aware that currently the CPI-M is making a bid to "recapture" Nandigram, which happened to be a "red bastion" not long ago. But its former cadres have now joined the Bhumi Uchchhed Protirodh (Anti-Eviction) Committee, which is itself non-partisan, and fighting tooth-and-nail not just to prevent their land from being acquired but also to secure justice for rape, murder and arson in their village.
Lakshman Seth, the CPI-M MP who lords it over in East Midnapore, is up against the BUPC. He is a self-confessed "beggar's child," but is now "quite prosperous," thanks to his party. It seems the state government, particularly the chief minister, wants to finish off the leaders of the BUPC through a supari killer, as it were.
But is the Union home minister going to accept the supari? He is probably aware that Mr Seth is allegedly spending huge amounts to shelter goons brought from Bihar, Jharkhand, and of course from all parts of the state. The stockpile of arms on the Khejuri side is heavy. One wouldn't be surprised if those at Nandigram have some traditional weapons to repulse the attacks on them. But with the state government on the side of Mr Seth, they can be no match for him.
Known as jahlad (executioner) in the area, Mr Seth now openly echoes Binoy Konar, with the latter threatening to take the fight to the streets. At the Mecheda bus stand on 1 November he harangued his cadres to "prepare to kill or get killed". He lectured within hours after the border between Khejuri and Nandigram had hotted up.
Kabir Suman, journalist and singer, reports he had himself counted 270 houses that the attackers from Khejuri had burnt down. The TV channels have shown some of these, in front of one of which a lonely old woman was seen striking her forehead in desperation.
In other words, the state government is a party to the dispute. Mr Patil should also know that nobody trusts the chief minister, who has told tissues of untruths about the number of people volunteering to offer their land at Singur for the Tata small car project, about the price paid, and about the proportion of fertile and fallow land in West Bengal. Such a man will surely break his promise as soon as he regains control of Nandigram. And Mr Seth confirmed this when he said at Mecheda that "we must free Nandigram and maintain the tempo of progress we have already set".
The state government has 19 battalions of armed policemen, in addition to its own usual police force. "It can, if it wants to, restore peace and tranquillity to just 28 mouzas of Nandigram within hours," says D Bandyopadhyay, a former IAS officer who has long administrative experience in the state. SM Murshed, another former IAS officer, agrees. So does Manas Chakraborty, a former Director General of Police. According to Mr Chakraborty, in case the Central reserved force has to be called in, the Khejuri and Nandigram police stations should be declared a "disturbed area" in the first place, and the CRPF must take orders from the Centre. This is obviously the most reasonable measure in view of the fact that the state government admits that it cannot "restore the rule of law to Nandigram".
Indeed, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wants a battalion of the CRPF because he does not want to be seen firing on innocent villagers any more in view of the panchayat elections ahead. He wants the CRPF to do the dirty work instead. So he sees spooks where there are none. "I have definite information," says he, "that a group of about 100 Naxalites are moving around Nandigram freely. Ranjit Paul, principal accused in the murder of Sunil Mahato, is there."
Actually this cock-and-bull story is intended to giving the dog a bad name before killing it. The chief minister mentions in this connection the Bandi Mukti Committee of Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, which gives his game away. Everybody knows that the Maoist terrorists dare not venture out too far afield from where they are holed up.
We have all seen the APDR, and its so-called "outfit" Bandi Mukti, at work. A human rights group, the APDR may have some ex-Naxalites on its rolls, but people will laugh at you if you call them terrorists. Incidentally, Kolkata Police called even the octogenarian Mahasveta Devi, well-known litterateur, a "Maoist" and West Bengal Police registered cases of murder and arson against Pael Bag, a two-year-old kid, of Singur. Actually, the APDR is a great deal more non-violent than the CM himself and his party. It opposes even capital punishment as a form of violence. All their activities are overboard and strictly constitutional and legal.
CPI-M secretary Biman Bose's ploy too is only apparent. "Topographically," says he, "it is difficult for the state to function properly at Nandigram, because it is surrounded by water on three sides." If that's why the state cannot cope with the problems of law and order at Nandigram, then the CPI-M has no right to rule in riverine Bengal. How will the state then cope with similar problems at Basanti, Pathankhali, Nurpur, Gaonkhali, Gadiara and so on, for example, which are separated by several nautical miles of various tributaries of the Hooghly? Actually except for the Talpati canal, which separates Khejuri from Nandigram, the terrain is flat plain land.
In fact, this total misrepresentation of facts is intended to misguide the Centre and put the entire blame for its own misdeeds on the Congress-led UPA government. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's clothes are soaked in the blood of innocent villagers: he now intends to stain Shivraj Patil's clothes with it. And once the CRPF gets the leaders of BUPC out of the way, the communist chief minister turned crony capitalist can turn Nandigram over to the Salems of Indonesia. Never mind whatever he has so far said to the contrary.
(The author is former member, West Bengal Education Commission)