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January 8, 2001
T V R Shenoy
Hemnagar's melancholy history
No smoke, runs the adage, without fire. Well, here is a new one for our degenerate times: no blood, bones, bullets, or burnt houses without murder.
I refer to the incidents that took place on January 4 in Hemnagar village, a hitherto unknown hamlet in the Midnapore district of West Bengal. It was here that Marxist goons attacked (and allegedly murdered) supporters of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress. The Union railway minister herself claims that up to eighteen men were murdered, some burnt alive. The CPI-M, predictably, says that not one life has been lost.
This last claim is almost certainly untrue. Even the Congress-I leadership in West Bengal (no friends of Mamata Banerjee) agrees that blood was spilt in Hemnagar. Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, a senior Congress leader, has gone on record asking for the dismissal of the Left Front ministry followed by President's rule.
Oddly -- or perhaps not -- I am yet to see a reaction from the member of Parliament for Midnapore, former Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta. Why is he not jumping to the defence of his beloved brethren in the CPI-M?
However, we do not really need any political party to testify to the fact that murder has been committed. The bullet holes, the blood stains, and the devastated huts speak for themselves. So does the cover-up initiated by the Marxists -- journalists found a deserted village when they visited Hemnagar (allegedly because everyone in the village was on a picnic in the jungle!).
I have long since ceased to be surprised at the streak of viciousness in the Indian Left. I can only hope that my fellow Keralites shall draw appropriate lessons from Hemnagar's melancholy history. Kerala, lest we forget, was second only to Bihar in instances of electoral malpractices according to the Election Commission. I have serious misgivings about the assembly polls that are due next year.
Let me return, however, to West Bengal. The impact of the massacre upon the assembly election (as in Kerala, they are due next year) remains to be seen. But there could be an immediate fallout in New Delhi. I think there is an excellent chance that Mamata Banerjee shall resign from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry.
Let me make it clear that the Trinamul Congress will not leave the National Democratic Alliance, nor will other ministers from the party leave the administration. But it is quite possible that the Union Railway Minister now feels that the situation in West Bengal is so grim that she must devote as much time as possible in the state.
She is right. What happened in Hemnagar was not an isolated instance of violence, nor need it have been something that happened in a sudden flash of temper. Over the past three years or so there have been an increasing number of reports about attacks by the Marxists on their opponents. The Communists are clearly worried about the effect that Mamata Banerjee has had ever since she left the Congress party.
It is not possible to attack a minister in the Union Cabinet. I believe there have been some reports of physical assaults on Mamata Banerjee; perhaps we did not take them as seriously as we should have. But it is definitely on the cards to attack the Trinamul Congress's supporters, secure in the knowledge that events in rural West Bengal rarely make it to the national headlines. It is a scary thought -- depressing too -- that we would never have heard of Hemnagar had the ruffians 'restrained' themselves to breaking a leg or two.
Under this kind of sustained pressure, even the staunchest of Trinamul Congress adherents might have lost heart. Let us not forget, after all, that the police in West Bengal have been rendered useless by almost a quarter of a century of Left Front domination. A Mamata Banerjee in distant Delhi, the Trinamul Congress cadre might have felt, could do little to help them.
But it is a very different matter if Mamata Banerjee gives up her chair at the Cabinet table and comes down to West Bengal. If nothing else, she is sure to have a media entourage around her, and the one thing that the Left Front dislikes is honest coverage. Not many people are aware of this, but the Communists are in the middle of a running battle with the state's newspapers; I am afraid this fact has not been given the coverage it deserves by the media outside West Bengal.
Of course, Mamata Banerjee will now have far more than a few journalists by her side. The bloodbath in Hemnagar has dramatically demonstrated just how bad the situation is in West Bengal, specifically how little respect there is for the law among Leftist cadres. In the post-Hemnagar era the Centre is duty-bound to keep a close watch on developments in the state.
In an ideal world, the violence in West Bengal (Hemnagar is not the only instance) should have sufficed for a declaration of President's rule. To tell the truth, I think this is not feasible. While P R Dasmunshi and his colleagues know the truth, Sonia Gandhi is determined to be blind. Without the support of the Congress, it is simply not possible to ratify the dismissal of the Left Front ministry in the Rajya Sabha.
But that need not prevent Congressmen from striking informal alliances with the Trinamul Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mamata Banerjee had proposed precisely such a Mahajot (Grand Alliance) one year ago, just before the local body elections. Sonia Gandhi scuppered that deal. But the Left Front still lost thirteen of the forty-five municipalities it previously controlled...
An open alliance of the three principal opposition parties is the one thing the CPI fears above all. The three have a combined vote-share of above 50 per cent. Of course, voters may stay home out of sheer terror. But surely Hemnagar was going too far!
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