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10 Jan 2011

A spate of political killings in West Bengal, which in few months from now will hold state assembly elections, is a matter of deep concern for PUDR.

Hitherto the media and the authorities had confined themselves to condemning killings by the CPI (Maoists) in the Jangalmahal area, in which officially it was claimed that 79 persons lost their lives. But the killing by CPM cadres on January 7th, who fired around 300 rounds on a 250 strong crowd, primarily women, protesting the local CPM diktat that each family to send one person for arms training, thus killing 8 persons and injuring 20 with most bullets fired on the back, show how it is becoming a free-for-all between political parties. While we remain unequivocally opposed to killings by the Maoists, whatever be the pretext, we have been cautioning, drawing attention of the public, not to ignore crimes committed by political parties and official agencies. Figures released by the Union Home Minister in a letter he wrote to the Chief Minister of West Bengal on 24 December 2010, as well as the figures shared by the Chief Minister with the Legislative Assembly on 23 December 2010, shows how grave the situation has become with more than 200 persons killed and a couple of thousand injured between May 2009 and 15 December 2010, in inter-party clashes.

It is true that other parties such as Forward Bloc too suffered murderous attacks at the hands of Maoists in which seven of their cadres lost their lives. But most of the 200 killed died in clashes between the Trinamool Congress and the CPM. Of these Trinamool Congress lost 96 members and 1237 of its activists suffered injuries as against 65 deaths suffered by ruling party CPM and injuries to 773 of its members and the Congress lost 15 members and 221 got injured. The figures are a salutary reminder to us all that the exaggerated claims of Trinamool (which claimed 2000 deaths) and the CPM (which alleged that 337 deaths), notwithstanding, political violence is a widespread phenomenon in West Bengal in which niceties of constitutional norms and upholding established laws, play little role.

Political parties such as CPM, Trinamool Congress, BJP, Congress may have the self-image of upholding the law and of championing peaceful political processes, but in actual fact, as the death toll in West Bengal illustrates, crimes of these parties are far worse because it takes place in the guise of believing in parliamentary democracy, and these parties use security forces available to them to witch-hunt political dissidents. If these political killings are read together with crackdown on dissent, proscription of political ideologies, curbing expression by invoking sedition, kid glove treatment of Hindutva terror, then a far greater threat to India’s constitutional democracy looms large. This in fact reinforces our conviction that open politics with its emphasis on peaceful process, rule of law and respect for political dissent is giving way to manipulative and increasingly lethal engagement. Money power, muscle power and use of security forces and agencies for partisan end, therefore, pose a grave threat to us all. It is therefore high time to shift focus away from the myopic view of Maoist violence to the use of violence and violent means by parliamentary political parties and agencies of State.

Harish Dhawan & Paramjeet Singh

Secretaries PUDR

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