Garbeta and After: The Plot Continues to Thicken

What exactly happened at the obscure Chhota Aangaria village of Garbeta block in Medinipur district of West Bengal on 4 January 2001? How many people were killed and how? What happened to the corpses? What prevents the state government from announcing a judicial enquiry in spite of such tremendous uproar in the state and beyond? Nearly three weeks after the incident, Garbeta stories show no sign of disappearing from the front pages of Kolkata newspapers.

The facts emerging from Garbeta are quite intriguing. True to her style, Mamata Bannerjee had lost little time in furnishing the ‘details’ of the Garbeta carnage including the number and names of the victims, claiming, of course, their allegiance to her party. She even backed up her ‘claims’ with all kinds of sample exhibits -- skulls, bones, bloodstained clothes and what not! But for once, she had to beat a quick retreat. It was soon revealed that the victims were associated with the People’s War Group and the number of people killed was possibly less than what she had claimed. Even the members of the NDA fact-finding team acknowledged that Mamata had erred and that she should have confined herself to demanding a probe.

No less revealing has been the response of the Left Front government. The government first tried to dismiss the entire incident as a figment of political imagination of the opposition. But faced with growing public pressure, the Chief Minister soon had to announce a CID inquiry, thereby rejecting the initial position of his own government. Report now indicate that the state government has decided to transfer the controversial and blatantly pro-CPI(M) police superintendent of the district, who had once been removed earlier from his position as SP of Bardhaman district following a National Human Rights Commission recommendation concerning the killing of a truck driver. The State Human Rights Commission has however chosen to take stong exception of the intervention of the NHRC in the Garbeta episode without bothering to explain its own inaction.

The most intriguing twist to the incident has come from the involvement of the PWG and the CPI(M) response to this aspect. Reports of a certain PWG presence in the Garbeta region bordering the three neighbouring districts of Medinipur, Bankura and Hooghly have now and then been appearing in the press ever since Medinipur started hogging the media limelight, thanks to the Keshpur incidents and Panskura by-poll. It is now widely reported that initially the PWG had struck a deal of sorts with the CPI(M), a fact corroborated by none other than Sushanta Ghosh, the CPI(M) minister from the district who is credited to be the brain behind the party’s post-Bankura recovery campaign. The mission accomplished and the deal having run into difficulties, the CPI(M) probably wanted to rid itself of the PWG problem and the carnage at Garbeta could well reflect the beginning of a politico-military realignment of forces.

As far as the PWG is concerned, Garbeta is perhaps part of its unfortunate anarchist destiny. Devoid of its own independent politics, it is always liable to be trapped in a game of political football between CPI(M) and the TMC-BJP combine. One does not know if the PWG will ever be able to learn any political lesson from Garbeta, but what really merits the critical attention of every Left activist and campaigner for democratic rights is the attitude of the CPI(M) leadership.

Reacting to the PWG angle of Garbeta incident, CPI(M) leader and editor of the party’s weekly organ People’s Democracy, Sitaram Yechuri had rushed to portray the incident as part of a larger challenge to national security (and of course, international conspiracy), advising Advani to ponder and probe. Comrades Surjeet and Karat were of course quick to reject this suggestion of a central probe. Instead, CPI(M) publicists have now chosen to expose the ‘double standards’ of the BJP and the NDA government on the issue of combating Naxalism. We are reminded that on 23 December, 1999, in reply to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam (a member of the NDA’s fact-finding mission to Garbeta) on the growing ‘threat’ of leftwing extremism in the country, Home Minister Advani had lauded the CPI(M)’s role in tackling the threat. By questioning the NDA government’s ‘politically motivated’ concern for human rights of Garbeta Naxalite victims, the CPI(M) would like to ‘expose’ Advani’s insincerity on the question of combating Naxalism! To be sure, invoking the bogey of leftwing extremism is the easiest way of tackling the embarrassing question of human rights!

These are dangerous signs of history repeating itself in West Bengal. Thirty years ago, the CPI(M) in West Bengal had collaborated with the Congress to crush naxalism only to invite the white terror, which culminated in the Emergency and brutal state repression on thousands of activists of the CPI(ML) and CPI(M) alike. If the TMC is able to expand in West Bengal, the reason has to be located primarily in the growing resentment of the people. By refusing to institute a judicial enquiry into Garbeta, the CPI(M) is only tarnishing the image of the Left and giving a handle to anti-Left propaganda. And far from pushing the BJP on a defensive, any invoking of the theme song of ‘Naxalism and national security’ to make common cause with the ruling classes will only disarm the Left and democratic forces and play into the hands of saffron reaction in West Bengal and beyond.

Democratic forces therefore demand a judicial inquiry into the Garbeta incident. let the truth, the whole truth, come out. Truth alone can form the foundation of a real recovery of the Left in West Bengal.