02 October, 2011

Mamata and Maoists: A Failed Marriage?

Uday India, October 22, 2011,


It was September 20, 2011.  The time was few minutes past 6 am. A man of wheatish complexion, averagely-built, draped in white full sleeve shirt and dark trousers; was walking towards a coaching centre at Pukuria village. It was quite normal for him as he was a school teacher in the area and used to deliver tuitions at the centre.  However, he hardly had inkling that it was his last journey. Two motorcycles carrying five men; emulating Khalistani-styled terrorists zoomed in on him and it was a dastardly act of firing at point-blank range. 

Before the assailants ran away towards the Patasimul jungles at the periphery of the village within the district of West Midnapore in West Bengal; they had carefully dropped few handwritten leaflets near the slain body of the school teacher. It was not incidental that the murdered teacher was a local leader of the Trinamool Congress (TC) and was ‘personally known’ to Ms Mamata Banerjee.

Naturally, Didi reacted. ”Such murders will not be tolerated”, was her open rhetoric. Didi also announced a Trinamool rally on September 24 in the affected area of Jhargram, to be led by her close lieutenant Mukul Roy.

Nevertheless, it’s well known to observers that the Maoists are ‘more’ than obstinate. And whether it is under their ever-elusive leader Kishenji or any other squad commander, they seem to have willfully started to implement Charu Mazumdar’s version of ‘Khatam’ (annihilation) politics at Jangalmahal in West Bengal. They were pursuing it even before the historic 2011 Assembly elections of West Bengal; but were hardly noted then by the TC workers. The reason was too simple to comprehend. Before the elections, the Maoists were at loggerheads with the erstwhile ruling party, the Marxists. And hence, Trinamool was relishing the politics of annihilation.

Ironically, but quite expectedly, the same Maoists have turned out to be strange bedfellows for the TC rank and file after the elections and the latter’s overwhelming transition to power. Now, interestingly, Trinamool alleges that the Maoists are colluding with the Marxists to destroy their positions in rural Bengal. And this was in essence what West Bengal’s Chief Minister had to exclaim on September 26; “The Maoists are trying to kill me.” Didi uttered these words a day after the Maoists had murdered two political activists at Jangalmahal.

Mamata’s Variable Approach

If one goes a little bit back in time, then a visibly different picture emerges. In the third week of July this year, Mamata Banerjee was jubiliant in announcing a ‘peace’ package in the Maoist-hit districts of Jangalmahal. She was rather hopeful that peace could be ushered into the three western districts of the state through her offer of a robust financial package  and formation of a team of ‘interlocutors’ led by activists like Sujato Bhadra, Debashis Bhattacharya, Chhoton Das et al. She even asserted the release of 46 political prisoners, who were incarcerated during the regime of the erstwhile Marxist government.
In the process, Ms Banerjee probably wanted to ensure two things. One: to send a message across to the Maoists that the pre-election ‘alliance’ was not over yet. Secondly, to proclaim an ‘alternative’ diplomatic solution to the Maoist imbroglio; which would be exemplary to not only the recently ‘rejected’ Marxists but also her allies in the Union government (read the Union Home Ministry)

However, barely two months down the road of ‘engagement’, she seems to have contradicted herself, if not altogether floundered in her attempt to resolve the Maoist insurrection. The following utterances of Banerjee in the week preceding the Durga Puja are sure to evoke consternation to political analysts: "I will give the last drop of my blood to fight Maoism.”

She is now treading the usual path of a Chief Minister whose authority has been directly challenged by the left-wing ultras. This was expected and is in fact quite normal. The Maoists had also known during the pre-election days that their partnership with the TC was a tactical one. If any part of their leadership had assumed that the TC would grant them a free run at Jangalmahal, then it merely reflects their intellectual inadequacy regarding strategic options.

For Mamata Banerjee too, the pre-election calculations must have been considerably different than the post-poll scenario. She might have presumed that a suspension of para-military operations would be enough to console the Maoists and bring that mirage-like ‘peace’ at Jangalmahal. Probably, she forgot that the basic objective of the Maoists is “seizure of state power” through their New Democratic Revolution (NDR). For that, their short-term tactical move could be alignment with either the TC or the Marxists, as the need may arise. Banerjee must appreciate that pacifying the Maoists tantamount to the taming of the Frankenstein’s monster.

What Mamata is likely to do now?

But to the amusement of many, she seems to have lost her cool too soon. It needed only a few murders of her partymen to infuriate Banerjee. She has reacted bitterly as she told the media on 26 September that “the police cannot sit idly while the Maoists continue with their bloodshed at Jangalmahal”. Her policy of initiating a “Salwa Judum” style militia at Jangalmahal has backfired with the Maoists. However, Mamata-di might as well have thought of taking into fold the tribal elements at Jangalmahal through this instrument as it could have been a pertinent employment-generating scheme. At the same time, she was covertly attempting to uproot the Maoist rebellion by pitching ‘a tribal versus another tribal’. And by all means, she is well aware of the latest verdict of the Apex Court and hence wants to legitimize the tribal militia.

In fact, Mamata Banerjee plans to take on the Maoists by issuing an executive order allowing the state to appoint about 10,000 policemen under special category other than the Special Police Officer (SPO) scheme. This is planned to take place from Jangalmahal alone. Such an executive order would allow the state government to pick the youth from a particular area alone which cannot be done if the appointments are done through the state police board as it means recruitment from every district of the state.

The signs are crystal clear. Didi has decided to ‘take’ on the Maoists instead of ‘talking’ to them. Tactical sense has probably prevailed on her. However, her sudden turn from negotiation to confrontation may be a matter of amazement to many; but not to those who are acquainted with her fits of temper of the old days and those who know that ultimately any government has to base itself on realpolitik.

Banerjee has added another feather to her burgeoning cap. In her brief tenure of four months, she has succeeded in reversing the land acquisition of Singur. It was her chief electoral plank and she kept her promise even after entering Writers’ Buildings. The higher judiciary was on the side of the state government and Banerjee’s victory at Singur can go a long way in establishing herself as a pro-poor, pro-peasant leader. That could be a significant factor in “winning the hearts and minds” of the tribal-peasant group at Jangalmahal.

The Challenges and What Mamata Must Do

But Mamata-di will face some challenges too. First, any out-of-the-track recruitment, in resonance with the erstwhile ‘execrable’ Salwa Judum; could spell legal problems for her. Gorkhaland issue will come to haunt her sooner, if not later. The Marxists will regroup and attempt to attack her government in every possible manner. Fourth, the infrastructural malaise that cripples Kolkata, let alone the other urban areas of the state, needs to be resurrected. Fifth, the climate of investment needs to be channelized with peasant-friendly corporate bodies venturing into the state. With the Singur Land Act at the background, that seems to be an unlikely option.

In this political landscape, if anyone had contemplated a peaceful solution to the Maoist imbroglio in West Bengal, then it would have been logical to doubt the political sagacity of that person. The Maoists would hardly recognize the path of ‘talks’ as a mode of solution as ‘seizure of state power’ is their basic goal. On the other hand, though Mamata-di had started off on a positive note, she is now treading the expected path. After all, her own position would be in jeopardy as Maoists are set to dismantle the democratic political structure in her province.

Notwithstanding the recent murders of TC political workers, Mamata-di, on September 29, gave a ‘go-ahead’ to Sujato Bhadro and his group for furthering the possibility of talks with the rebels. Well, it appears that Ms Banerjee is probably being tactical when she gave the green signal. ‘Talks’ can be a weapon to gain time and resources for either group. The state forces need time to re-group, re-vitalize and wait for the opportunity after the monsoons are completely over. The best thing for the state government would be to erect a ‘façade’ of ‘talks’ and utilise the time for ‘targeted’ killings and imprisonment, as the case may be, of the Maoist top brass.

Many had the notion of pre-poll camaraderie between TC and the Maoists. That gave some activists-turned interlocutors optimism for a negotiated settlement. Extrapolations were projected keeping in view of the marriage of TC and the Maoist cadres. However, let us not forget a simple thing. A holy marriage was never on the cards between Mamata-di’s TC and the Maoists. Rather, it was a relationship of ‘living together’ till both could maximally utilise the other to the fullest extreme. There is no question of ‘honeymoon being over’ between Mamata and the Maoists since it was an impossible marriage right at the outset.

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