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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 17, New Delhi, April 10, 2021

The Nandigram Discourse: A Steep road towards ‘Actual Freedom’ | Biplove Kumar

Saturday 10 April 2021

by Biplove Kumar*

“These freedoms (economic, social and moral) are harder than the political, if only because they are constructive, less exciting and not spectacular” – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

The electoral season of West Bengal’s Nandigram has witnessed everything, which defines the contemporary traits of Indian political discourse. From Begum to Mir Jafar, from Bangladesh to Pakistan, from Chandi Path to Lord Rama, and last but not the least - the highly provocative statements related to the demographic ratios of Hindus and Muslims and how it can be/ being utilised by political mandarins. The whole phenomenon remains in continuity with all other elections, which we as a nation are witnessing since last five to six years. Every electoral party has thrown themselves to create a narrative around the topics that either revolves around extreme nationalism or religious divisiveness. The narrative of extreme nationalism gyrates around the certification of hatred levels crossed against Pakistan or Bangladesh (for eastern and northeastern regions) and the later one revolves around the certification of toxicity levels crossed against another religion. A psychological race to establish oneself as ‘saccha dharmik or saccha rashtravadi’ [’real believer’ or ’real nationalist’] has engulfed our political parties and their cadres. And Right from physical world to digital world of social media – the similar phenomenon tries to overwhelm every one of us.

Indian Democracy has duly followed up the ultra – populist trajectory in recent years. Elections have been reduced to iconistaion of leaders as heroes or gods and whataboutery dominates the rationality in politics. The battle of Nandigram represents such ultra-populist phenomenon. ‘End matters’ and end is to attain power. And the ‘means’ to achieve that end - can crush all morality, humanity, respect and democratic ethos. It is not about employment, hunger, education, development, economic stability, religious harmony or brotherhood or any valid arguments as to why people should vote; it is all have been reduced to Suvendu Adhikari versus Mamata Banerjee and all divisive or hegemonic populist agendas around them. But then, it is a VVIP battle of Indian politics.

Indian media houses (electronic and print) have defined Nadigram’s election as ‘mother of all electoral/political battles’. They, with the announcement Mamata Banerjee to fight against her own ex – party colleague Suvendu Adhikari in Nadigram; too announced it to be their epicentre for TRP’s and propaganda. A well - crafted discourse to create ripples in entire country was/ is being created since then. Somehow the battle of Nandigram, in similitude with recent Delhi and Bihar’s election has become a concern for ‘national security’. And they have duly succeeded. They have (some of who works under their invisible chiefs, sometimes visible as political mandarins/business personalities) captured the political debates, analogies, communal hatred (sometimes manufactured), hate speeches, sermons on ultra-nationalism and how some of the religion is ‘endangered’ if so and so comes to power et. al. with utmost honesty. Some among them literally are in the race to outdo the legacy of Paul Joseph Goebbels. Amidst such a toxic and polarising environment, the citizens of Nandigram voted on 1st of April 2021 and recorded 80.79 percentage of voting. But the epicentre will be in the focus till 2nd of May, when Bengal/Nandigram’s fate along with other election going states will be announced.

Notwithstanding the results, Nandigram will be erased soon from the memories, as the leaders and media personnel will carve out a new epicentre. And the remnants of epic battle will become a part of political history somewhere lost in pages. But the people will continue to live and the socio-cultural impact will not affect any prestigious office of a party or prime time windows; but will haunt the people of Nandigram. Let us take the one factual statement in support of my argument. The fact is taken from an independent news media company ‘Newslaundry’. The idea of choosing this platform remains the credibility which it upholds and to remind the readers - only few of them exists. Newslaundry premiered an interview (3rd April 2021, YouTube) of a school going kid Mehak Shah, who is a student of class VIII. In her interview, the student describes her various genuine problems which she faces, but the most daunting part of the interview was when she opined that, some of her fellow students say - ‘ Arey ye Muslim hai issey baat mat kro, iska khana mat khao’ (oh that fellow is Muslim, do not eat his/her food).

So, a school is also being engulfed by such kind of communal/divisive and ultra–populist discourse. Elections will come and go and so does the leaders and hypermedia houses, but school will stay and students do represent our future. Both factual and counterfactual data of contemporary India culminates into the fact that - India as a nation is being polarised every single day. Subjectivity can be debated, but objective facts remain the mirror to the same. Nobody wants to discuss the long term effects of toxic and polarised elections and the reason remains their sole end. And as mentioned above, the ‘end’ of Indian democracy has been reduced to just winning an election. Nobody cares about the means. Without any shadow of doubt - this divisive, toxic and communal means is reshaping the fabric of our socio-cultural patterns. The behavioural pattern and psychology of this nation is changing and Nandigram remains the most recent example of it.

Words and thoughts are transformed into praxis. A word when injected from public discourse becomes the part of personal and family discourse at minute levels and it duly transforms the society. The vocabularies of Indian politics have changed and it remains inversely proportional to our constitutional ethos. Now, majority will say - this view has been propagated elections after elections by a minority of ‘liberals’, and has been firmly thrown into garbage by ultra-nationalists, who stand firm on their toxic vocabularies. But, majority does not decide what is right or wrong; our consciousness does. And as George Orwell have said, ‘in the time of deceit, telling truth is a revolutionary act’.

The mere attainment and promulgation political democracy was not the ‘end’ for the founding fathers and mothers of this great nation. It was a ‘means’ to attain social and economic democracies. But the continual discourse of every elections, itself negate the idea of socio-economic contours of our cherished democracy.

Nandigram is not the end, the impact toxic political vocabulary and whataboutery of politicians is here to stay. The road to actual freedom is steep, but we have to tread continuously to attain socio-economic justice and equality. And for this, we as a citizen have to contain this old divisive vocabulary which has re-emerged under the garb of so called development. Nothing is spontaneous in history and it has been noted that genocides/ holocausts starts with toxic words and speech. To conclude, I would like to share statement of Adama Dieng, who works for the United Nations’ ‘Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect’. Speaking ahead of the Genocide Prevention Day (9th December) on 8th December 2019, he said:

“We have to remember that hate crimes are preceded by hate speech…..The Holocaust did not start with gas chambers; it started long before with hate speech….. We have to bear in mind that words kill. Words kill as bullets. And that is why we need to make every effort to invest in education, invest in youth. So that, the next generation will understand the importance of living peacefully together”.

Nandigram(s) across nation needs investment in youth and education, which is certainly a “means towards actual freedom”. Perhaps, the idea is less exciting and spectacular in the age of populism; but it is the same idea of freedom – which the founding fathers and mothers of this nation vouched for. And leaders and political parties across party lines should reinvent their political vocabularies for the ‘idea of India’.

(Author: Dr Biplove Kumar is Assistant Professor, History, Department of History, Vivekananda Satavarshiki Mahavidalya (NAAC Accredited) , Vidyasagar University, Manikpara, District - Jhargram, 721513 - West Bengal India)

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