Slavoj Zizek mentions in one of his essays that the precise moment at which the Revolution in Iran against the Shah’s brutal regime began, can be traced back to one incident: The refusal of a lone pedestrian to obey the command of the policeman on a busy street. The moment at which this pedestrian refused to obey the command, the symbolic chain of impenetrability of the order was broken, and it suddenly became clear that commands could be disobeyed. More and more people joined in disobeying the command. Increasingly greater numbers joined in protests against the order. In another context, Louis Althusser would call such a situation ‘overdetermined’ – a situation where a whole range of different conflicts and discontents ‘merge’ or ‘fuse’ into an explosive situation. That is what determines, according to Althusser, a revolutionary or insurrectionary situation.
Something of this kind happened in West Bengal, sometime towards the end of 2006 when Singur erupted into a mass struggle. But the crucial turning point, of course, came with Nandigram. The ‘Nandigram effect’, which could not have been possible without Singur but which took the logic of Singur to an insurrectionary level, made one thing clear: The CPM-police-government-vested interest nexus could be broken; that it was not invincible. Almost within a few weeks of Nandigram, as Vaskar Nandy explained in a talk in Delhi University last April, the Nandigram effect had pervaded the tea gardens ruled by a powerful nexus of vested interests of the CITU, police and the industrialists. The virtually invisible local revolts against this cadre-raj drove away the self-appointed leaders breaking these nexuses irreparably.
It was also a sign of the unprecedented nature of the situation that for the fist time in the last thirty years of CPM rule, middle class students, intellectuals and cultural activists responded spontaneously to the call of Nandigram. It was a replay of what the state had once witnessed in the period of the rise of the Left as a radical force: spontaneous activity that found new channels of communication not available till then. Films on Nandigram made by students were circulated in CDs and screened in a molecular fashion through the universities and colleges of the state, with intense discussions following. As Moinak Biswas, a cultural theorist based in Jadavpur University put it, Nandigram changed the scenario to such an extent that even the body language of the top CPM leadership could no longer remain the same. The arrogance that they carried in every movement of theirs, stood shattered.
What is happening in West Bengal today – with food riots spreading from Birbhum and Bankura to Burdwan and Murshidabad – is an extended manifestation of the ‘Nandigram effect’. Not surprisingly, popular ire is no longer directed only against the police but has now turned against the CPM machinery itself. All the signs of a popular uprising are evident in the current happenings in the state, even though brain dead apparatchiks like Biman Basu and Benoy Konar and the cadre-beneficiaries of the regime will continue to label these ‘disturbances’ a conspiracy to ‘destabilize the government’ (so what’s wrong with that, one might ask?) It should be borne in mind, however, that there is another feature of an insurrectionary constellation present in this current situation – the machinery itself is breaking and party members are ‘voting with their feet’ (as Lenin said in a very different context.) One lot has and is openly deserting the party while another continues to remain within but is in constant touch with the movement, biding the time as it were. So when the CPM claimed, for instance, that many of those killed in the Nandigram violence were in fact its members (thus ‘proving’ that they were the targets rather than the perpetrators), they were not exactly lying. Just till the other day, they were CPM members and even though they deserted the party and joined the struggle against land acquisition, they alas! died while still on the rolls.
However, as we know too well, not every insurrectionary situation leads to a regime change and between these two lie a whole range of other possibilities which are dependent on a number of other conditions. At any rate, not every insurrection even aspires to a regime change. It nevertheless changes many things in less visible, unintended, unforeseen ways.