State of battle

Both Left and Trinamool Congress have much to answer for in the latest eruption of hostilities

The heckling of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and state Finance Minister Amit Mitra by activists of the Students' Federation of India (SFI), the CPM's student wing, at New Delhi's Yojana Bhawan was offensive. The unseemly conduct of the activists has had the effect of putting the Left leadership on the defensive at an awkward moment. By all accounts, Left parties had been planning to make SFI activist Sudipto Gupta's death in Kolkata, allegedly in police custody, an issue in their campaign for the upcoming panchayat polls in West Bengal. The CPM leadership, in Delhi and Kolkata, now finds itself on the backfoot. Former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was quick to condemn the SFI aggression in Delhi, saying "this is wrong politics". West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan underlined that the "shocking premeditated assault" was "a blot on India's cherished democratic values''.

While the Left has deservedly been called to account for the episode in Delhi, the near-instant retaliatory violence unleashed by the TMC against the CPM in Bengal is an outrage the ruling party and the state government must answer for. What does it say about the rule of law when the ruling party's cadres feel free to take the law into their own hands, attack two former ministers and ransack and torch over a hundred offices of the political adversary? Banerjee did call for restraint, and the situation appeared to have been brought under control by late Tuesday evening. But as Wednesday's violence at Kolkata's Presidency University brought home, calm has still not been fully restored in the state.

The culture of political violence is entrenched in West Bengal. And it is increasingly becoming clear that the enormous political upheaval represented by the TMC routing the Left from power has not brought "poriborton" where it was needed most. Instead, the structures of violence routinised and normalised during Left rule the utilisation of the machinery of district and zonal party offices and armed cadres for political violence have only changed hands. The eruption in Delhi and the after-shocks in Bengal belie the CPM's promise in the wake of its 2011 debacle, to introspect and reform. They also give the lie to Banerjee's pledge of a peaceful state, devoid of violent political reprisals. Although that commitment was largely honoured during Banerjee's initial months in office, her growing intolerance of dissent arguably provided the cue for her party's rampaging cadres on Tuesday.

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