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 organizations also showed that he was speaking as a CPI-M leader rather than as chief minister.
Where Modi has generally been careful in recent times about projecting himself as chief minister of all Gujaratis, Bhattacharya has had no hesitation in flaunting his partisan colors.
The free hand that his administration gave to CPI-M activists to launch their offensive against the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), or committee to stop evictions from land, in Nandigram is no different from what happened in Gujarat.
Little wonder that the Calcutta High Court has said the "rule of law, strictly speaking, is not there". The judiciary also asked, "if they (the Marxist supporters) were ousted from their houses, what had your police done for their restoration? This shows that a constitutional government is no longer there in Bengal".
Though the indictment is not as strong as the Supreme Court's reference to the role of "modern-day Neros" in Gujarat during the 2002 riots, what the judges - and even Left-leaning writers, academics, artistes and film stars - have found it difficult to understand is how the CPI-M cadres could be let loose on the BUPC supporters while police were made so inactive that the superintendent of police in the area acknowledged that the administration had "collapsed".
It was the same in Gujarat where police were silent spectators of the rampages of Hindutva activists against Muslims.
The shocking events in West Bengal now and in Gujarat earlier have again highlighted the bane of the present administrative practices in India where the police and civil servants in general are compelled by politicians to flout the law and virtually side with the anti-social elements associated with the ruling parties.
Given the clout of the political class - the BJP was in power in 2002 both in Gujarat and at the centre just as the CPI(M) is in power in West Bengal while it helps to prop up the Manmohan Singh government at the centre - very few police officers and senior bureaucrats have the courage to stand up to the unquestionably illegal directives given by the politicians.
The result, as noted by the judiciary in Gujarat and in Nandigram, is a breakdown of civil society that has dangerous portents. If ordinary people lose faith in the system and find themselves at the mercy of hoodlums acting in the name of ruling parties, the future of democracy is obviously going to be bleak.
What is noteworthy is that there is no difference in this respect between a Communist government, as in West Bengal, and a fascist one (as the BJP's detractors say) in Gujarat.
In a statement justifying the 'attack' by the CPI-M cadres on Nandigram, a group of Marxist intellectuals, including well known historian Irfan Habib, artist Vivan Sundaram and economist Prabhat Patnaik, have said that "in the absence of intervention by the state machinery and civil society organizations, and of unwillingness for a political dialogue by the opposition Trinamool Congress, is it surprising that the displaced CPI-M sympathizers made their own moves to return to their homes?"
Similarly, it can be argued that in the absence of state and civil society intervention, can the Nazi storm troopers be blamed for their attacks on the Jews in Germany on the night of broken glass or kristallnacht, also, interestingly, on Nov 9-10 in 1938?
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)