Massacre at Netai: 

No Lessons Learnt from Nandigram

Kavita Krishnan

The CPI(M) in West Bengal has blood on its hands once again. In a horrific massacre in Netai village, Lalgarh, at least 7 people including 2 women have been shot dead by the CPI(M)’s private armed brigade (harmad vahini) while they were protesting against the harmad vahini’s attempt to force young men from their village to join the armed brigade. 
This is not the first time the CPI(M) and WB Government have attacked and massacred villagers who resist corporate land grab and state repression. The attack by CPI(M) cadres on the people of Singur and the firing by police accompanied by CPI(M) cadres in Nandigram shocked the entire country. Progressive voices and intellectuals across the country were appalled that a Left government could thus assault the poor. The people of West Bengal taught the CPI(M) a severe lesson in severe electoral setbacks in the erstwhile CPI(M) bastion. Far from any introspection or course-correction, the CPI(M) Govt then indulged in severe repression at Lalgarh, sparking off a remarkable people’s resistance there. The region became an arena for Operation Green Hunt sponsored by the Central Government and the West Bengal State Government together. The latest attack by the harmad vahini bears a disturbing resemblance to the Salwa Judum modus operandi in another Green Hunt arena – BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh. 
Salwa Judum brigades have forced thousands of villagers into camps in Chhattisgarh, terrorizing those who refuse to join the camps and chasing them out of their villages. Much like the Salwa Judum, the harmad vahinis justify themselves as ‘people’s resistance’ to ‘Maoist violence.’ Like the Salwa Judum, they demand that villagers join their harmad camps, and if villagers refuse, they are ‘punished’ with massacres. Like the Salwa Judum, the harmad vahinis enjoy the tacit support of the state and ruling party. The harmad vahinis in Lalgarh function in close collusion with the Joint forces which are conducting Operation Green Hunt.   
The CPI(M)’s response to the incident has been ambivalent and less than honest. The PD version claimed that “a team of Maoists along with TMC cadre attacked the houses” of CPI(M) supporters who had returned to Netai” resulting in “clashes” and “exchange of fire.” It claims that “the armed group that started the attack began to fire indiscriminately, killing and injuring many villagers. It is evident that they were instructed to fire randomly. What they wanted was dead bodies, not necessarily of whom.” 
However, at the Politburo meeting, the CPI(M) General Secretary indicated that in fact it was the CPI(M) which indulged in the firing at Netai while Maoists “provoked” it. He is reported to have warned that the public would not “bother to find out that Maoists and the Trinamul Congress had ganged up and mobilised villagers against our homeless men” but will “only talk about the deaths in the firing like they did after Nandigram” resulting in heavy political costs.
So was indiscriminate firing by TMC-led Maoists responsible for the deaths (as indicated by PD) or firing by CPI(M) cadre in response to ‘provocation’ (as implied by Prakash Karat)? Are there in fact armed CPI(M) camps or merely ‘homeless’ CPI(M) cadres? The ambiguity continued when the CPI(M) Politburo called for “an end to all forms of political violence in the state” (‘all’ implying that political violence goes beyond “TMC-Maoist violence”). CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in his visit to the Home Minister admitted that “armed groups” exist in “some areas” of Bengal and promised to disarm “all armed groups.”    
In mutual dialogue and letters, Home Minister P Chidambaram has been raising the issue of harmad vahinis and Buddhadeb has hit back by alleging Mamata’s links with Maoists. The Home Minister’s stance smacks of doublespeak and diversionary tactics. The harmad vahinis in West Bengal, much like the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, are very much part of Green Hunt agenda over which he himself presides, and the harmads carry out their intimidatory agenda complementary to the Joint Forces in the area. If harmad vahinis are ‘unacceptable’ to the UPA Government, why does the Home Ministry and Central Government continue to support the SPOs in Chhattisgarh?
Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, sheds crocodile tears for Lalgarh while remaining a Minister in the Government that is sponsoring Green Hunt. The TMC too has indulged in its share of horrific political violence, including the recent brutal murder of a student in Kolkata. The Maoists’ recent statement offering to support TMC in elections “if it leaves the UPA” is just window-dressing: the mutually opportunist pact between Mamata and the Maoists is already an open secret.                  
For the CPI(M) Government to give only pragmatic reasons like political fallout for averting Nandigrams and Netais and evade taking serious responsibility for such massacres by pointing fingers at ‘Maoist violence’ is shameful. It must be reminded that the Maoists found space in Lalgarh only in the wake of people’s resistance to severe state repression. In any case, how can an elected Government supposedly committed to upholding the Constitution explain away its blatant collusion with unconstitutional and illegal private armed brigades as a ‘reaction’ to insurgent groups? How can it brand all tribals in the area who do not support the CPI(M) as ‘Maoists’?    

The Binayak Sen verdict has galvanised a countrywide outrage against the war on people and crackdown on dissent in the name of combating Maoists. With the widespread recognition that Binayak Sen was targeted for taking on the Salwa Judum, the demand for an end to unconstitutional practices like private armies has grown in determination and strength. Be it Chhattisgarh or Lalgarh, there can be no place for Salwa Judums, SPOs and harmad vahinis.