Violence on the Left: Nandigram and the Communists of West Bengal

AFTER A PERIOD of relative impotence, the Hindu-supremacist right in India has rebounded, with the December reelection of Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Narendra Modi as chief minister in Gujarat. Modi’s role in the mass murders of Muslims in that state in February 2002 has long been so well documented that he has been denied a visa to enter the United States. Recently, moreover, extensive corroboration of his role was elicited by a hidden-camera inquiry conducted by the news-magazine Tehelka. Despite overwhelming evidence that he is a mass murderer extraordinaire—or perhaps, because of it—Modi defied media predictions, and even exit polls, to win by a landslide, a victory in which fund-raising and politicking by Indians residing in the United States (40 percent of Indian Americans are Gujarati) played a large role. Because the rival Congress Party, which controls the central government in a coalition, understands well the intense hatred of Muslims that animates many Gujarati Hindus, leading politicians tiptoed around the issue of sectarian violence, hoping to defeat the BJP in Gujarat on its weak economic record. Only Sonia Gandhi, courageously and repeatedly, denounced Modi’s reign of blood. (American Gujaratis responded with an e-mail campaign denouncing Gandhi in abusive language.) Hitler is revered as a hero in school textbooks in Gujarat. In Modi, those who worship at that shrine seem to have found the type of leader they seek. Let’s hope that the nation as a whole does not embrace his charismatic call to hate.

Meanwhile, however, violence has been in the news from a very different part of the Indian political spectrum. People connected to the Communist government of West Bengal have been guilty of some extremely vile actions, including rape and murder, toward dissident peasants, in a struggle over land acquisition, and the government has done nothing to prevent these terrible things. This struggle has split the Indian left, between those who think that people on the left must maintain solidarity in the face of right-wing threats and those who insist on calling murder murder no matter who does it. It’s a conflict from which we can learn a lot, not only about Indian politics but also about what stance a contemporary left movement can reasonably and morally take on rural development issues.

West Bengal’s Communist Regime
Communist parties played a significant role after independence in two Indian states, West Bengal and Kerala, but they rose to power only in the late 1960s. The Communist Party of India split in 1964 over the Sino-Indian War. The party currently dominant in West Bengal, known as the CPI(M) (Communist Party of India, Marxist) backed China and initially opposed democratic nationalism. Nonetheless, despite grumbling about “bourgeois democracy,” the party gradually came to accept a nation-friendly parliamentary role, espousing democracy, if with less than wholehearted enth...



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