Violence begets violence, and it is pointless to ask who started the descending spiral. The important thing is for activists of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Trinamool Congress, who are now engaged in attacks and counter-attacks, to immediately put an end to the senseless acts of political violence. Whatever the truth behind the death in police custody of their comrade, Sudipta Gupta, in Kolkata last week, Students Federation of India activists should have confined themselves to peaceful forms of protest. Instead, in New Delhi, SFI members went well beyond the avenues for democratic demonstration by manhandling West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, who along with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had come to the Capital to attend the annual State Plan meeting. The SFI protesters, along with other sympathisers of the CPI(M), far from highlighting police high-handedness in West Bengal, turned public attention to their own unruly ways and undemocratic means. And, in a predictable tit-for-tat, Trinamool Congress workers attacked offices of the CPI(M) in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal, injuring several persons and damaging property. Neither party would have endeared itself to its wider support base, showing as it did scant regard for law and forms of democratic agitation.

Other than as a means of survival, and in self-defence, violence can have no moral or legal justification. Indeed, it is often the weapon of the rich and the powerful against the poor and the meek. If the police under the Mamata Banerjee government pose a threat to freedom and other democratic values, as the CPI(M) and many in West Bengal believe, the proper course would have been to mobilise public opinion against the government through all available modes. People quickly tire of the politics of provocation and violence, whether on the part of the ruling party or the opposition. The confrontation must be on policies and issues, on the streets as well as in the legislature. Demonstrations are as important as debates, but there can be no place for violence. True, the Sudipta Gupta case was only a trigger for the show of outrage against the Trinamool government in West Bengal; public resentment against what was seen as an authoritarian streak in Ms. Banerjee had been building up for some time. The question is not who started the current spell of violence, but what can be done to restore peace and sanity in West Bengal. The sooner the CPI(M) and the Trinamool lock horns over more substantive issues the better it would be for the people of West Bengal.

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