The CPI-M’s image of being a humanist party is in ruins after its workers run amok in Nandigram, West Bengal, and allegedly attacked and murdered opponents. How does the party defend itself? Brinda Karat was asked on Devil's Advocate
Karan Thapar: How embarrassed are you by the behaviour of your party cadres in Nandigram?
Brinda Karat: It is a matter of concern that the way Nandigram has been reported, an image has been created about the CPM cadre. The fact of the matter is that we have lost 28 of our cadres. So it’s really not the question of embarrassment. It is a question of deep concern.
Karan Thapar: You are expressing concern at the way it is reported. Let me instead quote to you the Governor. He calls the behaviour of your cadre “totally unlawful and unacceptable”. Ministers in your own government have said that it is now difficult to show our face to the public. Your own allies say that the CPM alone is responsible. And instead you are not embarrassed, but you are blaming the Press for the way it is reported.
Brinda Karat: I would say that there has been a one-sided reporting on Nandigram. And it is really for that reason that I have said I am extremely concerned.
Karan Thapar: But aren’t you now concerned about your cadre as well reporting apart?
Brinda Karat: If you can give me specific instances of what you are referring to, then I could certainly respond to it. But my cadre has been at the receiving end of it for 11 months.
Karan Thapar: Telegraph newspaper, November 7: “Nearly 10,000 villagers fled as CPM cadres started setting one house after another on fire.”
“A large number of armed person form outside the district have forced themselves upon the people of Nandigram,” said the Governor.
Brinda Karat: The Governor is quite right in saying that a large number of people from outside have come. And now there is ample evidence to show who those outside people are. Today it is simply astounding that on one hand you have forces who say they are so concerned about Maoists infiltration in this country, on the other hand in Nandigram, where huge caches of arms, landmines, 75 detonators have been found, nobody wants to talk about that.
Karan Thapar: CPM cadres have raped women. The Indian Express is carrying front-page stories for the last three days, houses have been burnt, hundreds have been made homeless and you are not embarrassed by this behaviour?
Brinda Karat: If it is true and it is being verified; and it is not a question of CPM cadres. If any woman in Nandigram has been raped in the last five days, then let me assure that this is a government that will ensure the strictest, most stringent punishment.
Karan Thapar: But at the moment, I am sitting in front of a Politburo member who not even prepared to accept embarrassment at the behaviour of your cadres. How can we believe that your government will react when you won’t express embarrassment?
Brinda Karat: Embarrassment about what? You have to be specific.
Karan Thapar: Of your cadres.
Brinda Karat: If there is any verifiable report…
Karan Thapar: Looting homes, burning homes, raping women, rendering thousands homeless…
Brinda Karat: For goodness sake Karan, let us get things in perspective. The fact of the matter is that there have been houses looted, there have been houses plundered. For the last 11 months, 3,500 people have not been allowed in Nandigram. Why is that? Would you like to ask me that question?
Karan Thapar: That question points to the same issues that I am raising: a government that did not carry out its duties and functions to assure law and order and ensure the safety of people. Let me tell you Sumit Sarkar, a lifelong supporter of the Left, has likened Nandigram to Gujarat. He says, “It has to be condemned in the strongest possible words.”
Your closest supporter says this, and you are not one bit embarrassed.
Brinda Karat: I have a great deal of respect for Sumit as a historian. But he has never been a supporter of the CPI (M). So lets be clear on that. I don’t want to go into individuals.
Karan Thapar: Leave Sumit out of this. Let me then point towards all the other Left supporters: Mrinal Sen, Gautam Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Jogen Chaudhury. Sixty thousand people marched in silence through the streets of Kolkata pointing the finger of blame at the CPM and you are not even a little embarrassed?
Brinda Karat: I am not embarrassed. I am deeply concerned that this should have happened.
Karan Thapar: It happened because they are losing faith in your party.
Brinda Karat: As a member of the CPI (M), I am deeply concerned about the fact that there should be such a gap between what is reality and how it is perceived. I would like to stress this that I don’t believe in their poor and our poor. I believe that the people of Nandigram regardless of their political affiliation have every right to live in their houses, to be assured of security and be protected so that they can continue their life in a normal way.
Karan Thapar: Pause for a moment and think what you just said. You said you are concerned about the gap between reality and how it is perceived. Today most people say that in Bengal there is a rift between the CPM on one hand, and the rest of the state on the other. What in effect you are saying is that the CPM is right, everyone else in Bengal in wrong.
Brinda Karat: I am not saying that at all. I respect the work of many of these artists and intellectuals. But I am a bit puzzled. For 11 months when 3,500 poor, schedules caste and agricultural workers were out in the camps, did they accept what Mamata Banerjee said then that this is just drama? Where were they? I want to know that.
Karan Thapar: Even if you are right at pointing towards what I think you are suggesting - the double standards on part of these protestors, does it in anyway justify violence that was unleashed, looting, killing, burning of houses and raping.
Brinda Karat: If there is a single case of rape proved, my party, my government will take the most stringent action unlike those in the BUPC (Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee) who prevented the Women’s Commission from enquiring into the rape of a young girl of 14 and the rape of another woman.
Karan Thapar: I’ll let you mention these rapes in detail. I could counter you be mentioning the details of rapes in The Indian Express.
Brinda Karat: Please Karan, I am the last person to have a debate on rape like this. Unlike what the BUPC and the leaders of the so called Land Defence Committee did when women were raped, we are going to do it.
Karan Thapar: At the moment you are no different because you are not acknowledging the rapes either, you are not acknowledging the complicity of your cadres in them.
Brinda Karat: Please Karan, let me make it absolutely clear. The rape case has been filed by the police, investigation is on, names have been mentioned by the victim and it is being verified. The strongest action is going to be taken.
Karan Thapar: Forgive me, but how is your attitude morally better than the people you are criticising when you own Chief Minister has gone on record to say - “The violence and the killing mean that the BUPC have been paid back in the same coin.” How can your attitude be better when The Indian Express claims that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has said that what happened in Nandigram is morally and legally justifiable.
Brinda Karat: Don’t keep quoting The Indian Express.
Karan Thapar: That’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. He hasn’t denied it. He defended it.
Brinda Karat: What the Chief Minister said, I am not going to be able to comment on that.
Karan Thapar: Why not?
Brinda Karat: I’ll tell you. But what I can comment on is the entire interview. Not just one sentence. And in the interview what the CM has raised three points. One - the violence of 11 months where 3,500 were not allowed to go home.
Karan Thapar: And his conclusion that therefore the BUPC have been paid back in the same point. That means he is justifying the violence in terms of previous violence.
Brinda Karat: Never. I want to make it absolutely clear
Karan Thapar: Are you then embarrassed by the CM’s language? Are you standing by it?
Brinda Karat: I don’t want to say yes or no. I put the sentence in the context of what he said that this is not the way it is being reported. There were 3,500 who were driven to desperation.
Karan Thapar: And now 10,500 driven to desperation in return. So does that make it balanced and acceptable?
Brinda Karat: Those figures are entirely wrong.
Karan Thapar: Your figures are correct, other peoples figures are wrong.
Brinda Karat: No. These are figures which have been verified there by the police.
Karan Thapar: The CPM used to have moral authority on its side. When you took on the BJP in Gujarat, you did so with the morality of the situation in your favour. Today, your CM sounds reminiscent of Narendra Modi when Modi was alleged to have said every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That’s the extent to which the CPM has damaged itself.
Brinda Karat: Well you may think so. You have every right to have that opinion. But what I would like to say is that this (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) is the only CM in the country who committed himself to a political process to bring the Opposition round at a time when he made it clear that he is not going to take over land.
Karan Thapar: This CM took nine months to pay compensation to the people killed and injured on March 14. In the running months, he only woke up to it on November 8. You know what the High Court in Kolkata said - what he is offering is derisory. They have demanded that he increase the sums by over a 150 per cent. His actions are perhaps worse than his rhetoric.
Brinda Karat: I don’t agree with that at all because as far as compensation is concerned, the CM made it very clear on the first day itself that the government was committed to giving compensation.
Karan Thapar: Now you are committed to appealing against the HC telling you to pay more.
Brinda Karat: Let my clarify that and I think you would also agree with me. A state in a country where in a particular country where it is declared that the administration is not going to be allowed in, roads are dug up, bridges are broken, when the police go in, they are lynched. And then if the government sends its police forces, the HC says ‘withdraw your police’.
Karan Thapar: What the HC is saying that the shooting of 14 people and the inuring of as many as 16 is totally unconstitutional. The HC is saying that the government must make reparations and increase what you are offering. And what you are saying in response is that you are considering appealing against it. And what happened to taking action against the killers? That hasn’t even happened.
Brinda Karat: It’s confusing when you ask so many questions. What exactly does that HC mean when it says unconstitutional.
Karan Thapar: Against the Constitutional.
Brinda Karat: Exactly. So is it within the Constitution to cut off an entire area in a state from the administration.
Karan Thapar: But the HC wasn’t looking at that picture. The HC was looking at the picture of reparations. They were responding to a specific petition to do with the failure of the government to give compensation. You are raising extraneous issues.
Brinda Karat: I’m not.
Karan Thapar: And you know why you are? Because confusing the matter help defend the CM.
Brinda Karat: You asked the question Constitutional. I am asking a counter question.
Karan Thapar: But killing is unconstitutional.
Brinda Karat: I want to talk about the HC saying it’s unconstitutional.
Karan Thapar: Nine months have passed and no action has been taken against the killers of the 14 people. The Governor complains in the strongest terms, the HC yesterday upbraided the government and has asked the CBI to step in. and you are still not embarrassed.
Brinda Karat: My dear Karan, let me again remind you that without even asking the state government, the HC ordered a CBI enquiry.
Karan Thapar: That’s because the government wasn’t acting.
Brinda Karat: And within 12 hours, the state government acted immediately.
Karan Thapar: But nothing had happened in nine months.
Brinda Karat: Because the CBI is inquiring into it. The government just has to wait for the CBI enquiry.
Karan Thapar: You have made the CBI an excuse for your inaction.
Brinda Karat: Now look at that. Isn’t that absurd.
Karan Thapar: Let’s turn to the predicament of your Chief Minister. I put it to you today, he’s the biggest loser. His reputation is damaged as a Chief Minister, his credibility is damaged as a moral authority and his image in the country is damaged.
Brinda Karat: I don’t agree with that at all.
Karan Thapar: Is that the only defence you are going to put up?
Brinda Karat: I don’t agree with those assertions. This is the only Chief Minister in the country who has tried very hard for a political process with opponents who answer with arms. He is the only CM in the country who has said there will be no land acquisition if the people don’t want it.
Karan Thapar: But people don’t believe him.
Brinda Karat: I don’t believe that. It’s a very motivated political alliance that is doing this. Think about it. From the Maoists, to the BJP to the Congress.
Karan Thapar: People of Nandigram have lost faith in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee which is why they are willing to be swayed by your opponents.
Brinda Karat: I don’t think so. I think there has been a very strong armed presence in that area which terrorised people and as the days go by you will find more evidence of the truth of what I’m saying.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it this way: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was considered, until very recently, a sensitive visionary. Today, he is looked upon as cold and calculating. That’s the extent of his fall.
Brinda Karat: I don’t know these descriptions because you so good at this wonderful, colourful language. As far as we are concerned, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is the leader of this party. He led the party in the elections and he won 3/4 majority. He has the support of the people of Bengal but the government is under attack because it is following alternative policies which are not liked by certain sections.
Karan Thapar: The government is under attack but RSP, CPI and the Forward Bloc say it’s under attack from the CPM. They say and I quote, ‘The CPM alone is responsible.’ You party is the problem. Your CM ambling is the problem.
Brinda Karat: Let me put it this way. As the largest party in the alliance, we are singularly responsible for keeping the party going and even now we are responsible to keep the alliance going and address the issues.
Karan Thapar: The reason for the responsibility is because you are responsible for damaging the alliance. That’s why you have to accept responsibility.
Brinda Karat: There are ups and downs in alliances, Karan. I am confident because we believe in a certain trajectory of development and I believe that the Left Front in West Bengal will continue even though its opponents are really waiting for the day when it will break down.
Karan Thapar: No doubt that the Left Front in West Bengal will continue. Governments limp along till the last dying day because no politician wants to relinquish office. The problem is, for 30 years the CPM was considered invincible. Now you have inflicted upon yourself moral defeat of unimaginable proportions and if you won’t even accept the enormity of what you have done, the situation is a lot worse than it seems.
Brinda Karat: We are the one party that has the internal process of analysing, criticizing and pin pointing where our weaknesses have been.
Karan Thapar: To recover now, you have to believe in resurrection.
Brinda Karat: I don’t know about these analogies. Resurrection means if you are dead and buried.
Karan Thapar: You are pretty close to that pitiable state, that’s what I am saying.
Brinda Karat: I am sorry, Karan, let me tell you, that even every recently, in the by-elections that were held, including in the neighbouring area, we won a very convincing majority in spite of the fact that there was a big ganging up against us.
Karan Thapar: The situation has changed in the last two weeks. You know that.
Brinda Karat: I’m sorry, Karan, because you are highly mistaken. In the last few weeks more and more people are understanding the tinder box that Nandigram has become.
Karan Thapar: People are now comparing Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to Narendra Modi. Don’t you regret the fact that the moral authority, which was the CPM’s strongest point, is damaged?
Brinda Karat: West Bengal is the one state where minorities can live in security.
Karan Thapar: Oh, ask that of the people of Nandigram and see what answer you get.
Brinda Karat: Yes, we will get that answer.
Karan Thapar: You’ve got Muslims barricading the streets of Kolkata in defiance of the government because they believe that minorities have suffered.
Brinda Karat: Please remember that among the 3,500 people there were a large number of poor Muslims.
Karan Thapar: Exactly, so no matter who did it, Muslims have suffered.
Brinda Karat: As a West Bengal government, committed to its secular position, we will ensure the protection of the poor, minorities and all those who have been affected by developments in Nandigram since January. The government is going to take responsibility and I can assure you of that.
Karan Thapar: I hope the people of Nandigram not just listening but want to believe you. Mrs Karat, it was a pleasure speaking to you.