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The Art of Political Murder


The iron has gone deep into the soul of West Bengal’s ruling party, the Trinamul Congress. On the morning of June 9, 2013, as he left his home for his morning walk, the Communist leader Dilip Sarkar, age 65, was shot by four “unidentified miscreants,” as the national news agency (UNI) put it. There is little doubt that the hand of guilt will slowly move toward the ruling party, the Trinamul Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee. The murder took place in Burnpur, an industrial city in Asansol district, which is the home of the IISCO steel plant. Sarkar’s political career began there as he rose amongst the ranks in the trade union to become the head of the Steel Workers’ Union. A member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI-M, Sarkar would represent the interest of workers in West Bengal’s legislature, where he represented the steel workers’ district. His death is a blow to the Left’s resurgence in the area. But it is important to underline that his is the third political murder in the district, after the murder of CPI-M activist and employee at the Lisco steel plant Nirgun Dubey, age 50, in July 2011 in Burnpur, and the murder of CPI-M activist Arpan Mukherjee, age 54, in Burnpur again in May 2012. There is a concerted effort in this belt to wipe out people who have been part of the resurgence of the Left in this area since 2009.

These puncutated killings are not unique, and nor has it been solely a targetted attack on the Left – although these political murders are part of what appears to be a policy to assassinate its ground level leadership. Over the course of the past few years West Bengal has seen the ruling Trinamul Congress Party, feted by the US government, cover up the murder  by its cadre and its police forces a student activist, a police officer, and several opposition political figures (including from the Congress Party) as well as seen its leader threaten college professors, doctors and trade unionists with grave language. When videos show her party leaders and cadre directly involved in the public assassinations these men are hastily disassociated from the party, and in some cases, guileless and likely moderately paid substitutes have taken the fall for them. On the street the word is that the supari or payment for some of the killings of the CPI-M leaders could not be more than Rs. 2 lakhs – about $4,000, a measly sum. Political murder is certainly a weapon used by this brand of West Bengali fascism to exocise the Left. But this is not all that is afoot. There is a concerted effort to undermine the apparatus of the State, to intimidate its officialdom into fealty to the Trinamul. That is a policy that has been substantially enacted.


At the other end of India, in Goa, the official party of Indian fascism, the BJP, has anointed its new leader, the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Modi has few counterparts in the world; analogies do not stick to him. He is a master of the media, having trafficed a vision of himself that has been taken without investigation by corporate journalists. Having risen in the BJP’s spear, the RSS, Modi told hold of the party apparatus in Gujarat where he oversaw the deliverance of the state both to the power of corporations and to the lathery scum of Hindu revanchism. It was the latter that happily went into the forests of Gujarat to torment the Christian tribals of the Dangs belt in the late 1990s and it was they who enjoyed the impunity afforded them to conduct the Gujrat pogrom against Muslims in 2002. Modi has tried to soften his image a little for the general public, appearing as the Avatar of Development and Good Governance. The true believers do not need to hear him frothing about the dangers of Muslims; his
15125371bonafides are clear from 2002. They have allowed him to recast himself as the man who will take India away from corruption and put down the hammer against all manner of anti-national tendencies (the great code for continuing the quiet war in Kashmir, the Indian North-East and in the lucrative mining districts at the geographical heart of India).

At Goa, the BJP finally gave this Gujarati Caesar the crown; he is to lead the party into the national elections of 2014. Jubiliation can be felt amongst the ranks of the BJP, whose pressure finally moved sections of the cautious national leadership to go with Modi. This cautious leadership rightly knew that the BJP cannot win power in Delhi on its own. It requries a coalition, their NDA, many of whose partners are wary of Modi and his hard-hammer fascism. They would prefer the recondite fascism of the older leaders – A. B. Vajpayee and L. K. Advani, both nasty specimens who emerged out of the far right’s cabinet of curiousities, but nonetheless able to cloak their views behind the illusions of chaste Hindi or an upper class pedigre. Modi has none of that. His is the politics of the lathiar, the Man of the Stick.

The ruling Congress alliance has allowed Modi and his Saffron Shirts to sharpen their sticks. During his anointment in Goa, Modi made light of the government’s development campaign whose slogan is Aapka Haq (Your Rights). It is rather Aapka Shaq, he said, your suspicion of the government. This is of course true. The expanding, but demographically minor, middle-class has certainly been inflamed as one corruption allegation after another has weakened the Congress. There is no doubt that the values of neo-liberalism have not only given licence to big business, but they have spread their wings into every cultural nook – including Cricket, where betting and spot-fixing scandals have tarnished the sport. The national consciousness is not, however, framed only by the suspicion of the government because of corruption. Livelihood is a central problem for the vast majority, but it is rarely the case that an election will be fought on the sociology of starvation. It will rather be fought contituency by contituency, with factors of caste and gender, political tradition and political violence as the main vectors.

In West Bengal, for instance, where the political violence has become truly dangerous, the local self-government polls are on hand. The Trinmul Congress’ district committee president from Birbhum Anubrata Mandal told a party meeting on June 2 that since the process of filing nominations was going to start the next day, his party had to be alert. “Both the CPI-M and the Congress are our enemies,” he said in a video clip that aired on television channels. “Do not allow anybody from the CPI-M or the Congress to file nominations for the panchayat elections.” Elections are not won solely by the fealty of a section of the population to this or that political tendency. They are won, in the world’s largest democracy, by money and force, by the forces of rotting fascism.


Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

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