Those three days—March 13, 14 and 15—best exposed the brutal mindset of the Left parties in the country and the chicanery of the Indian liberals at different levels. On the first day, we saw the Left MPs in the Lok Sabha attack members of one of their own political allies in the government. The Marxists surged towards Union shipping minister T.R. Baalu of the DMK when he sought to place a bill on creating a maritime university in Chennai. No sense of parliamentary etiquette, not even calls for restraint from a senior partyman who is now the Speaker, stopped them. The papers were yanked out of Baalu's hands and torn, worse, the Communists threatened the minister and hit him. But for the intervention of some members of other parties, there would have been bloodshed in the House.
The next day, the Communists again vented fury, this time it was a massacre in the Left-ruled West Bengal. The cadres surrounded the green fields of Nandigram where the locals were protesting the government's plan to take over their land for setting up a chemicals complex by a foreign business group. The protesters—closely chased by party goons who had even ensured that all the approach roads to the area were cut off—were run through and shot dead. Like cattle.
Women and children, who formed the frontline of the protesters, ended up as the major casualty. Even two days later, none could agree on the exact count of the dead and the injured. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya claimed only five died, while the district magistrate put it at 11. As for eyewitnesses, they said many bodies were rowed across the river and dumped in the marshes. The assault on Nandigram was not to establish the majesty of law, but to reclaim it for the CPI(M). No wonder, the party and the police worked in tandem. The report submitted by a Congress fact-finding team said "it is proved beyond doubt that CPI(M) cadres, along with the police, were involved in the killing of innocent men, women and children". Preliminary inputs sent by a probing CBI team say the injuries to the victims were caused by bullets not used by the police. And most of the villagers were fired at on their chest, shoulders, hips and other parts of the torso. Obviously, the idea was to teach the villagers a lesson for daring to stand up against the CPI(M).
What's more shocking was the systematic way the Marxist cadres kept the media out of the scene. They even manhandled and injured many who were covering the events, snatched their cameras and mobile phones. Some of the scribes and lensmen are still untraceable, the others are nursing a bloodied face. Even more shocking is the conspiracy of silence on the part of self-proclaimed human right activists, rent-a-cause ngos and media organisations. Even those who chose to condemn the violence at Nandigram did so only after blaming the victims in a subtle manner.
The third incident was the bloodbath in the Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh, where Maoist extremists destroyed a police outpost and butchered a host of village self-defence force members and their families. A chunk of the over 55 people confirmed dead are policemen, there's no final figure on the injured. Those killed were hacked to death while they were fleeing the burning Rani Bodli outpost and shelters for Salwa Judum, the village self-defence force. The accounts of the event as narrated by the few survivors is chilling; it only reinforces the barbaric face of the Communists.
Of all the things, the absence of any protest for the kind of treatment the mediapersons got from Communist goons should be surprising. Cut back to 2002, when some demonstrators in Ayodhya manhandled the media. There was a prompt chorus of protests before the BJP office in Delhi. Scurrilous slogans were hurled at the party even though its leaders had regretted the attack and expressed apology. So, why is there a hush-hush now after a similar episode in Nandigram stagemanaged by CPI(M) goons? That the entire media was forcefully prevented from reporting this event from the spot has been splashed across the newspapers. But then, apparently the "progressives" have preferences. Marxists can do no wrong—whether it is on the eastern banks of the Volga in Stalinist Russia, in the cultural cauldron of Mao, the killing fields of Cambodia, or now in Nandigram.
There is little doubt that the mayhem at Nandigram was planned at the highest level of the CPI(M). By deciding to check media entry into the war zone, it was merely keeping in line with the Stalinist tradition. Obviously there was a lot of gory drama to hide. So plans were perfected to shut out any evidence of brutality against the local people by the Marxists and police combined. The Times of India reporting team has given a graphic description of how the CPI(M) cadres stopped them at all entry points to Nandigram, ordering them to go back. It even quotes the cadres telling them that they were only obeying orders from above, and would not hesitate to use physical force if they made any further bid to proceed. Result: those who disobeyed were mauled, their cameras and cellphones destroyed. The Times reporters who tried to contact the CM's office got no response.
Worse was the plight of two TV crew members who managed to get into the area and hide in separate huts. Bengali channel Tara News managed to get a blow-by-blow account from the cellphone of one of them. But not for long. He, as well as his cameraman, were brutally beaten up. The whereabouts of the latter, Guranga Deb Harja, were not known the whole day even as the reporter was admitted to hospital with injuries from beating.
The reply that the Times reporter who later got through to the CM's personal assistant was telling: "Why did you go there today?" There is no need for further proof about the collaboration between party goons and police to teach a lesson to anyone who dares to question the Marxist rule.
Surely, the Times should not have dared to cover the event. Like other newspapers, it should have echoed the tone of surrender, and parrot the official line: "The police acted in self-defence." The party, after all, is supreme. There was no better demonstration of darkness at noon in a Communist land. Now we know how the Marxists managed to win election after election for the last 25 years in West Bengal. Therein lies the danger. In Marxist-ruled countries, the media is supposed to serve the party and thereby the state. In West Bengal too, the Marxist leaders have enforced the silence of the lambs by patronising the "progressive" section of the media, and bludgeoning the others. The largest newspaper in West Bengal, Ananda Bazar Patrika, has been a constant target of Marxist hoodlums. The CMO itself has been witness to incidents of Marxists beating up mediapersons, and the then CM, Jyoti Basu, going on to justify it.
The Marxists are in the habit of deflecting public discourse on the atrocities the Maoists are wreaking—by claiming that the CPI(M) and the CPI stand for parliamentary methods. The Baalu incident is ample example of their dedication to parliamentary methods. As for extremism, it was the Left that had been demanding vociferously—inside and outside Parliament—that the Salwa Judum, not the Maoists, should be held guilty. Earlier, the Marxists did make an attempt to paint these village self-defence forces as BJP-inspired, but the fact soon came to light that it was the local Congress leadership that had organised them to counter the Naxalites.
The Marxists are using their hold on the UPA government to disband the Judum, obviously to give the Maoists wide freedom of operation. That these Maoists have carved out a wide swathe of the country—all the way from eastern Maharashtra through Andhra Pradesh and Orissa to Chhattisgarh and Bihar—and could any day link up with their ideologues in Nepal should be the major concern of the Centre. From Gaya to Jagdalpur, there have been many incidents where Naxals have demonstrated their capacity to run their writ. But the UPA government seems to be closing its eyes to this development.
The level of organised violence the CPI(M) cadres demonstrated in Nandigram is no less virulent than the March 15 Naxal attack. While the Nandigram residents were protesting the deprivation of their land for industrial purposes, the CPI(M) had, with the connivance of the state government, decided to evict the protesters by force. They cordoned off the area in a war-like operation. And then, over 5,000 armed police entered the place and brutally beat up, teargassed and fired upon the locals, entering even their huts and dragging them out, beating them all along. In no uncertain way, the Marxists are implementing what is basic to their ideology—that the party is supreme and there's no freedom to criticise or find fault with it. Nandigram is also a demonstration of the Stalinist streak in Marxism. Remember how the Russian dictator allowed millions to die in his attempts to relocate people from one area to another often as a punishment and as a means to thrust industrialisation down their throat.
Now that the CPI(M) in West Bengal has become the champion of industrialisation—of even MNCs—the Stalinist purges and killing fields are being re-enacted in West Bengal. To succeed in these battles, the Marxists need a mute media and a guaranteed blackout—like the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident in Beijing. And Nandigram is the best example. It stands to the eternal discredit of the "progressives" within the media and outside that they are, through their silence, party to this throttling of the freedom of the press.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)