The TMC regime came to power in West Bengal with a promise of ‘Poriborton’ (change) from the policies of state repression and eviction of the poor pursued by the erstwhile CPIM-LF Government. But the promise of change is unraveling fast, and all sections of the people in West Bengal are witnessing all-out fascist assaults on democratic rights.
Land grab and brutal eviction of peasants at Singur and Nandigram had unleashed widespread resentment and protest, resulting in the unseating of CPIM’s Government and helping Mamata Banerjee’s TMC win power with her slogan of ‘Ma-Mati-Manush’ (Mother-Land-Humanity). Recent developments in TMC-ruled W Bengal, however, appear a cruel mockery of that slogan.
Slum-dwellers at Kolkata’s Nonadanga (mostly refugees rendered homeless by the Aila hurricane) were forcibly evicted by the State Government, and when they protested, a ruthless lathicharge followed, injuring many including a pregnant woman and an infant. When concerned citizens protested against the eviction and the police repression, 68 protestors were arrested. Seven of the protestors were jailed, and shamelessly, the TMC regime has re-opened cases against some of them, relating to the protests against land grab at Nandigram! For Mamata Banerjee, it seems, the show of sympathy for the protests at Singur and Nandigram was only a ploy to secure power.
In yet another incident, a protest organized by the auto-drivers’ union (incidentally one that was supportive of the TMC) was subjected to an assault by TMC goons. TMC goons also beat up people marching in a procession organized by a civil liberties’ group against the Nonadanga eviction.
A spate of rapes in the State was blatantly denied by the Chief Minister, who accused the complainants of lying to malign her Government. In a recent incident in South 24 Parganas, a retired scientist and his daughter were beaten up and the latter stripped naked: reportedly by their landlord and members of a local ‘club’, to pressurize them to vacate their rented flat. Significantly, the assailants reportedly included both TMC and CPM supporters.
The West Bengal Government’s offensives are ominous – with a touch of the ludicrous and farcical. A Jadavpur University professor was beaten up by TMC goons and arrested past midnight – for the ‘crime’ of circulating a light-hearted and witty cartoon lampooning the Chief Minister. Earlier, the Chief Minister banned a range of leading newspapers from public libraries. A TMC Minister has asked people not to marry ‘CPIM workers.’ The State’s CID is policing social networking sites, seeking to remove any cartoons that are ‘derogatory’ to the Chief Minister. Mamata Banerjee has asked the Centre for measures against ‘cyber crimes’: apparently referring to cartoons and comments critical of her on the internet!
It must be noted that in Mamata-ruled West Bengal ‘CPIM worker’ and ‘Maoist’ are shorthand for any form of dissent or criticism of the Government, and for every form of Left activism. Everything from cartoons to rapes to deaths of babies in hospitals are blamed on ‘CPIM conspiracy’, while all forms of agitations and protests are branded as ‘Maoist,’ as a pretext for cracking down on them. What West Bengal is witnessing today is a virtual anti-communist witch-hunt, with every shade of democratic dissent being intimidated, gagged, and punished.
In TMC-ruled West Bengal, as in CPIM-ruled West Bengal, you can expect eviction from your land and slums if you are poor, and you can expect attacks by police and cadres, as well as jail if you protest such eviction. But there is an added fascist dimension in today’s Bengal: your gatherings at Coffee House will be policed, the Government will decide what you are allowed to read, and laughing at the Chief Minister can land you in jail.
But the ray of hope in West Bengal lies in the sustained protests against the assaults on democracy – protests that continue undeterred by the Government’s campaign of crackdown and intimidation.