What It Means to Campaign for the Left in West Bengal
Due east of Kolkata, near the Chandrakona forest is the village of Chandur. In this village, Ajit Bhuiyan is well known for his commitment and affection for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI-M. On March 30, in the evening, a group of fifty members of the ruling Trinamul Congress (TMC) Party attacked Ajit Bhuiyan’s son who works as veterinarian. They then assaulted Ajit Bhuiyan himself. Many CPI-M cadres have been attacked in this region, indeed across West Bengal, with TMC men like these killing one hundred and thirty nine party cadres of the Left Front between May 2011 and January 2014.
The precise reason why these men targeted Ajit Bhuiyan on March 30 is that on the next day, TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was to be at a campaign rally in nearby Keshpur for her party’s candidate for the Lok Sabha (parliament) seat of Ghatal, the film star Dev. At the rally, on March 31, Banerjee arrived four hours late. Her helicopter had malfunctioned. As usual she wanted to milk the episode for political gain, “Many people didn’t wish me to visit Midnapore today,” she said. “We were supposed to come by helicopter. At the last moment, the helicopter developed a snag. We will have to check whether the snag was technical in nature or political.” Banerjee makes it a point to say that the CPI-M wishes to kill her. There is no evidence of any such conspiracy. Nonetheless, this is her standard line. It is what authoritarian populists do – they like a bit of drama, accusing their opponents of attempted murder and then using that emotional upsurge to cover over the lack of a genuine popular political programme. Her candidate for the seat is a film star. “I am a novice as far as politics is concerned,” Dev said. His party leader didn’t care for any discussion on this. “You should vote for Dev,” she said. “He is doing very well in films.”
“The CPI-M should be ashamed to seek votes here,” she thundered. It is a message that her party workers have heard loud and clear. When they visited Ajit Bhuiyan the previous evening they told him that he was no longer to campaign for the communist candidate, Santosh Rana. If he did not come the next day to Banerjee’s rally carrying a TMC flag,
they said, they would return and kill Bhuiyan’s entire family. This is not an idle threat coming from the TMC. They have been known to carry out such threats. This threat, according to his family, broke Ajit Bhuiyan’s heart. He remained in his house, and that night committed suicide. Ajit Bhuiyan could not see himself betraying his political life. He was given a ghastly choice.
The village of Chandur is distraught and angry, despite threats from the TMC not to speak about the incident. Ajit Bhuiyan’s political suicide is a new feature of Indian politics. It is a direct result of the culture of threats and violence unleashed by the TMC to push back against a resurgent Left movement in rural West Bengal.
The attack on Ajit Bhuiyan comes a few days after high theatre took place outside the house of the communist candidate Santosh Rana. In a rare act of bonhomie, Rana invited the TMC candidate Dev to tea, and the latter came to Midnapore to Rana’s home on March 25. When he was leaving the communist Santosh Rana’s house, Dev said, “My aim is to spread love. I am where I am because of the love of the common people. I want to do something for this constituency and the common people here.” The TMC machinery that is working to elect Dev has other ideas about the “common people.” For them, brutality and violence is the coin for the ballot box. They are not interested in love. Dev is either captive of his fantasies (still on the set for his Tollywood films) or he is maliciously aware that his language of love masks the language of extortion that lead to the suicide of Ajit Bhuiyan.
Vijay Prashad is the author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (New Delhi: Leftword, 2013).