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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

Dismal Scene in 2008

Sunday 21 December 2008, by Amitava Mukherjee


As the year 2008, a tumultuous one by any standard and also a very sad one so far as India’s polity and economy are concerned, is drawing to a close, one feels tempted to look back at the catastrophic effects that the politicians, belonging to the Congress, BJP, Left and some other regional parties, have brought on this country. Leading this pack of mavericks is no doubt Manmohan Singh whose disastrous economic policy—kowtowing to the forces of globalisation and thus pushing the so long self-reliant India to the edge of a precipice in the wake of the topsy-turviness in the capitalist world—has done incalculable harm to the stability and social texture of this great country.

Equally dismal is the role of the BJP. Without going into the dangerous portents that the Malegaon blast case hold out for India, L.K. Advani, the BJP supremo, is shouting hoarse over the alleged maltreatment meted out to the detainees in the police lock-up. No one can deny the human rights angle in this case. But the BJP’s attitude smacks of myopia.

Throughout the country practices of regimen-tation are placing our democratic fabric to severe stress. In West Bengal, there is a place named Lalgarh, tucked away in a remote corner of the West Midnapore district. For quite some time it has been in the news as the epicentre of a massive tribal uprising against the communist gospel of regimentation, so long practised to the hilt by the successive CPM-led West Bengal governments for nearly thirty years. The larger issue at stake is no doubt the credibility of Left politics which, in the aftermath of Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh, does not look much different from the character and performances of different Hindu fundamen-talist organisations in spite of the fact that religion plays a lesser or almost no role in the worldview of the former. But the similarity lies in the politics of hate that both of them generate.

What was the immediate background of such a widespread revolt by the peace-loving tribals of the State? Several dignitaries, including Ramvilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada, the two Union Ministers, had gone to the tribal inhabited area of the State to grace the inauguration ceremony of an industrial venture. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, was also present there. While returning their convoy was attacked and a mine blast carried out by the Maoists. The worthies were rattled. They are accustomed to the perks and privileges of the parliamentary democratic system and hardly confront the manner in which the Maoists are known to act. So Ramvilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada raised a hue and cry. Paswan even declared that he was the target. Later on it came out that the target was Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

This was exactly the point when mal-administration, which West Bengal has been experiencing since 1977, came to fore. No one tried to understand that everyone among the poor tribals cannot be Maoists or their agents. So, the police let loose torture on many innocent villagers. Even some teenaged schoolchildren were picked up on the suspicion of being Maoists. But the judiciary, still maintaining an independent identity, refused to buy the police’s argument. It set free most of the young boys. The West Bengal Police and its supreme boss, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had eggs all over their faces.

The happenings in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh raise many important questions about the exploitative character of the Indian state. They provide answers too. The first and a very dangerous trait the State has been showing is the increasing amount of cadarisation of the official machinery. In this regard nobody is free from blame with the Congress displaying lesser propensity than the BJP and the Left in matters of politicisation of the officialdom. The worst manifestation of this phenomenon was in Singur and Nandigram. The modus operandi of the Sangh Parivar has a striking similarity to what is often taken recourse to by the Left. The example coming to mind immediately is the thrashing of a professor by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, in Madhya Pradesh.

The problem with the CPM is that, being a Communist Party, it can function best in a totalitarian system and not in any democratic set-up. Here lies the reason behind all kinds of insensitivities and administrative brutalities in Singur and Nandigram. It will not be an over-statement to say that the Left experiment has not only failed in India but it has led to uncouth attempts to subvert the democratic polity from within.

Consider its sustained attempt to denigrate the constitutional office of the Governor. It finds no fault with this institution whenever pliant men like Nurul Hasan and Raghunath Reddy are there. But whenever men of conscience like Dharma Vira and Gopalkrishna Gandhi grace the office, the Left leaders are up in arms against them. If one goes back to the late 1960s one would certainly find that Dharam Vira had cogent reasons to act against the United Front Government. Things were going out of control everywhere due to the maverick handling of the Police Department by Jyoti Basu. There were open brandishing of arms, by mostly CPM cadres, on streets, there was the Sai Bari incident in Burdwan and open heckling of the then Chief Minister, Ajoy Mukherjee. Dharam Vira stood firm and rescued the State by a single stroke.

The office of the Governor was perfectly alright with the Left during the initial years of its third innings in West Bengal when the incumbents showed no inclination to learn about the massacres at Marichjhanpi or burning alive of Anand Marg sanyasins in open daylight. But the institution again became a fall guy when Gopalkrishna Gandhi expressed his anguish over ‘state terrorism’ in Nandigram. People will remember for years the courage and fortitude showed by Gopalkrishna Gandhi and the vulgar, tasteless attack by the CPM leaders on him.

SHORTSIGHTEDNESS has been a hallmark of all the political parties in India and the Left is no exception. CPM leaders are loathe to accept that the ongoing upsurges of a vast number of people of West Bengal are actually due to their own acts of omission and commission. The reason is not far to seek—a corrupt panchayat system, imposition of a totalitarian party structure in every walk of life and the rise of a depraved intelligentsia trying to justify all heinous acts of the administration. No Left leader of the country, be it Prakash Karat or Ardhendu Bardhan, is coming forward to question why the tribals, in spite of being an overwhelming minority of the total population of India, form a large segment of those who are being uprooted from their lands to accommodate projects and ventures which are directly or indirectly connected to international finance capital. Neither Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee nor Biman Bose has any explanation for the fact that so far as the issue of tribal development is concerned, West Bengal is one of those five States which are at the bottom.

Left leaders have difficulties in going into this question as, in that case, they would have to account for the very political culture they have foisted on the State. There are various schemes, mostly funded by the government, which provide money for the upliftment of the poor. But a majority of these funds are either misappropriated or lie unutilised. The panchayat system, which Mahatma Gandhi had once visualised as the fulcrum of village development, has become a tool of corruption in West Bengal mainly due to its election on party lines. Honest panchayat bodies are also there. But they have now become exceptions.

Will West Bengal really break up in the near or distant future? If that really happens the onus will rest with the party based panchayat system introduced by the CPM led West Bengal Government. Still there is no sign that the Trinamul Congress, the principal Opposition party, and some educated middle-class people who have gathered around it, understand the obnoxious import of the State panchayat structure. There is at least one person moving around Mamata Banerjee who was a votary of the Left Front Government’s rural development programmes and panchayat policies in the late 1970s and 1980s. It is these educated middle class people who have done a great disservice to the poor people of the State by dancing to the tune of the Left leaders when party based politics was injected into the concept of the panchayati raj and vitiated it. If West Bengal has to be saved this panchayat structure, an anti-thesis to Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology, must be dismantled.

Today India is terribly short of leaders who can inspire. It has Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister who again lauds Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as the ’best Chief Minister’. Manmohan’s puerile statement is self-explanatory and merits no further observation. The Left in India is treading exactly the same path that Manmohan wants them to pursue. It is a time of utter confusion. The BJP’s social and economic thinking is too well known. The Congress has a progressive block within which it opposes globalisation and any surrender to market forces. Sonia Gandhi kindled hopes recently by saying that nationalisation of banks by Indira Gandhi has saved the Indian financial system even in the midst of such worldwide economic crisis. She lauded the public sector. But immediately thereafter P. Chidambaram, the Finance Minister, said something which runs counter to Sonia’s observations in spirit. Chidam-baram advocated the need for moving further ahead with the neo-liberal economic policies presently pursued by the Manmohan Singh Government. Are two separate power-centres coming up in Delhi? On whose behalf was Chidambaram speaking?

The Left has to clearly state on which side of the fence it is sitting. So far as the experience of the poor goes it is siding with big capital. Nothing can prove it better than Ratan Tata’s call to the people of West Bengal to choose Buddhadeb ahead of Mamata. The Left parties have now become prisoners of their own ideological bankruptcies. Gone are the days of Bhupesh Gupta, Somnath Lahiri or Muzaffar Ahmed. They have now leaders like Benoy Konar who says that he will make a gift of the Trinamul Congress’ torso to Mamata Banerjee.

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