Mamata Banerjee encourages vigilantism in the name of Vivekananda

17 Jan

By Partho Sarathi Ray. Jan 12, 2012

On 12th January, 2011, the West Bengal government started the yearlong celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda with great fanfare. This is in line with the Trinamool Congress (TMC)- led state government’s policy (critics say the only policy in view so far) to impress the middle classes in Bengal by eulogizing their favourite icons. As a part of the celebrations, the chief minister Mamata Banerjee travelled to Jhargram to preside over the last day of the ongoing Jangalmahal utsav (festival). This has been organized to ostensibly show that peace has returned to Jangalmahal after the killing of Kishenji and area domination by the joint forces. Together with usual gimmicks such as the staged surrender of four so-called “Maoist sqaud members” and calling the chief bureaucrats of the state and district administration on the stage to support her claims on the various development schemes in Jangalmahal (this was purportedly to silence critics who have called into question the success, or even the intentions, of these schemes, with the understanding that the audience would be more inclined to believe the bureaucrats than a politician),she initiated a far more nefarious scheme. She gave an award of Rs 500,000, named Vivek Puraskar after Swami Vivekananda, to seven villages in Jangalmahal which according to her have “showed courage to resist the Maoists and help the government bring back peace”. She added that “I want peace to stay here and those who will help in bringing peace will be rewarded”. This is a direct attempt by the West Bengal government to encourage vigilantism of the Salwa Judum variety as these seven villages are the places where the Jana Jagaram Mancha (locally called the Bhairab bahini) organized by the TMC have established their strongest foothold. This organization that regularly terrorizes villagers by beatings, threats of false arrests and holding off access to developmental schemes, and forces them to act as informers for the security forces, has established itself in Jangalmahal with state patronage over the last eight months. Yesterday Mamata awarded the “high achievers” of this organization in the name of Swami Vivekananda. Interestingly, one of the villages in this list is Radhanagar, where the vigilante force was originally the CPI(M)’s harmad bahini, organized by the local CPI(M) leader Prasanta Das, who is one of the main accused in the Sonamukhi rapes. He is currently absconding. There have been protests from even the local TMC in Jhargram against awarding the CPI(M) harmads of this village. Remarkably, another village on the same list is Netai, where nine villagers were killed by firing from another set of the same harmads. It suggests that the TMC government has no problem in awarding both the harmads and the victims of the harmads, as long as it dovetails with the states objective of bringing back “peace” to Jangalmahal. And Mamata has declared that there will be more such awards. We should remind ourselves that Salwa Judum also meant “peace hunt”. ************ Mamata’s “tide of development” gives rise to new waves of corruption in Jangalmahal by Partho Sarathi Ray. Nov 11, 2011 The West Bengal government has openly adopted a carrot-and-stick policy to combat the struggle of the people of Jangalmahal against state repression and exploitation. On one hand, the operations of the joint forces are continuing, resulting in raids on villages, arrests of people, especially youngsters, and brutal beatings being meted out to villagers. Just last week, twelve students, belonging to the student organizations Jharkhand Student Federation (JSF), Chatrasamaj and USDF, who had been campaigning in the villages regarding a convention which they were holding in Kolkata, were picked up by the joint forces from a house where they were staying near Jhargram, and brutally beaten up. The SDPO of Jhargram himself kicked a couple of students in their abdomen. They were released only in the afternoon, once the news of their detention became public in Kolkata and protests were held. Three days back, Raju Hansda, a student belonging to the JSF from Ramgarh in Lalgarh area, was picked up from his home and charged with eighteen different murder cases. As this juggernaut of state repression rolls on, the mainstream media is rife with speculation about when the “actual” operations against the Maoists are going to begin, as if this was not enough to bring misery to the life of people in Jangalmahal. As this repression continues on one hand, on the other the government is trying to present a “human” face to win the hearts and minds of the people, with the chief minister Mamata Banerjee unleashing a “tide of development” in her words in Jangalmahal. She has declared a slew of measures in her recent meeting in Jhargram, which are aimed at bringing “development” to Jangalmahal and weaning the people away from the resistance. Although some of these measures, such as the recruitment of ten thousand youth for the post of special police constables on a no work-no pay basis, sound ominously like the formation of a Salwa Judum type of force, others such as providing fifteen kg rice at Rs 2 per kg per week to every below poverty line (BPL) family sounds quite innocuous and designed to win popular support. However, even these measures are proving to be something quite different on the ground. Reports from Jangalmahal indicate that these “development” measures are giving rise to a new wave of corrupt practices, and entrenching a new set of intermediaries in the villages, affiliated this time to the Trinamool Congress. There is indeed a great demand for the rice at Rs 2 per kg, especially as the last two years have witnessed both successive droughts and disruption in agricultural work due to the occupation by the joint forces. However, the ground reality is that numerous families in the ninety-nine village panchayat areas in West Midnapur do not have the wherewithal even to afford Rs 30 per week to lift these fifteen kilograms of rice. Many families in the dirt poor Belpahari, Pukhuria or Jamboni areas might never even have seen thirty rupees together in their lives. Under these circumstances, a new breed of intermediaries has shown up in the villages. These people, borne on motorbikes, are visiting the villages and giving the thirty rupees to the villagers who cannot afford that money. The villagers are going to the public distribution system (PDS) shops and getting the fifteen kg of rice. However, they are keeping about 5-6 kg of the rice for themselves and are handing over the rest to the people who had initially given them the thirty rupees. In this way, this subsidized rice is finding its way into the black market, and a new “rice mafia” is entrenching itself in the villages. Significantly, this system seems to be working the best in the areas where the ruling Trinamool Congress has established its power, and this mafia is working under the patronage of local Trinamool Congress leaders. No one dares to lodge a complaint with the BDOs, although Mamata has given extraordinary powers to the BDOs in a recent meeting of BDOs and SDOs in Kolkata to control corruption in the panchayats. Interestingly, the picture is quite different in the 40-odd village panchayat areas where the Maoists hold sway. Here also the poverty is stark, and the need for the rice is intense due to the failure of the crops over the last two years. The Maoists have not called for a boycott of these development measures; rather it is the Maoist squads, or various peoples’ organizations in these areas such as the PCPA or the Nari Ijjat Bachao Committee, who have taken up the task to collect the money to get the rice four times a month. The organized presence of these forces is ensuring that the rice reaches the needy, and the state seems to be inadvertently strengthening the hands of these organizations in these areas. The other source of corruption and patronization seems to be the process of enlistment of BPL people. In many gram panchayats, the poorest people are not even aware that the enlisting process is taking place and that photographs are being taken in the panchayat office for the BPL cards. Apparently, the panchayat authorities are making the announcement of the photography sessions from mobile vans late in the mornings, when most of the daily labourer families have left for the fields. Reports suggest that it is mostly the affluent who are getting photographed to get the BPL cards and there are widespread grievances about this. The general understanding is that in order to get enrolled in the BPL list, it is necessary to go to the local Trinamool office and request the party leaders. It is therefore quite apparent what a flood of corruption Mamata’s “tide of development” is bringing to Jangalmahal. Corruption in the CPI(M)-led panchayats had become one of the major issues in the Lalgarh uprising, and the people used to point out with anger how CPI(M) bosses had fattened with money from schemes such as Indira Abas Yojana or NREGA. The Trinamool Congress, which is walking the same way, is going to make itself an object of public wrath in a similar manner.

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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


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