West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's proud boast that those who had earlier evicted his party's supporters from Nandigram had been paid back in their own coin recalls Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's recourse to Newtonian law - every action has an equal and opposite reaction - to explain the anti-Muslim pogrom in the state in 2002, which followed the burning of a train coach in which his party's kar sevaks were returning from Ayodhya.

Nor are these two observations any different in their callousness from Rajiv Gandhi's comment - the ground shakes when a big tree falls - in the aftermath of the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984.

What is immediately evident about remarks of this nature is the lack of remorse on the part of the speakers - chief ministers in two cases and a prime minister in one. To them, the deaths of individuals, many of them innocent women and children, as a result of the violence unleashed by their parties against specific targets are not to be greatly regretted because the assailants were merely retaliating against earlier acts of violence by certain groups.

However, when leaders in high positions articulate this medieval 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth' outlook, it provides post-facto justification for the crimes committed by their supporters.

That Bhattacharya is unrepentant about his virtual endorsement of the attacks carried out by armed Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) cadres against their political opponents in Nandigram is clear from his thrice repeated 'I stick by it' comment on his earlier 'paid in their own coin' statement during a press conference.

The distinction he has drawn between 'our supporters', who had been driven out from Nandigram several months ago, and their adversaries belonging mainly to the Trinamool Congress, the Socialist Unity Centre of India, the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind and Naxalite organisations also showed that he was speaking as a CPI-M leader rather than as chief minister.



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