Guest post by DIPANKAR BHATTACHARYA
This piece was originally published in Bangla in the Ananda Bazar Patrika and has been translated into English by Arundhati Ghosh
“Freedom – you are a room in the garden, the song of the koel, the sun drenched leaves of the old banyan tree, the page of my book of poetry where I can write as I wish.” Poet Shamsur Rahman wrote this immortal poem Freedom You during the war of the independence of Bangladesh. It could be said that this poem that arose from deep within Bangladesh’s struggle for liberation is a universal manifesto of freedom. Bangladesh has crossed its 50th year of independence. And in India we are standing at the threshold of our 75th. But where is that song of the koel, that book of poetry where one can write anything one wants? The rally of death that we are witnessing during this Covid-19 era has left the koel woeful, the leaves of the banyan devoid of its sparkle and the pages of our book of poems imprisoned under the UAPA or sedition laws or subjected to the surveillance of the snooping Pegasus vision of conspirators passing for ministers.
The meaning of independence begins with understanding the history of the struggle for independence. That history consists of many big and small, known and unknown stories of glory and great sacrifices of countless people. Though what we see and experience as India today is built on the foundation of this history, much of these stories still remain unsung, unseen. The geographical unity and national consciousness that we understand today are born out of this history. The immortal annals of various Adivasi revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, the first war of Indian Independence of 1857, the Quit India movement of 1942 that produced several local governments and resistances of thousands of people who martyred themselves – these magnificent, polyphonic universes of history will continue to come up in the work of the researchers in the future.
We generally understand the independence movement as the history of freedom from the British coloniser’s oppressive governance. But behind this protracted rule of the British powers lay the social and economic foundations within the country that enabled colonisation. Therefore, inevitably these local allies and collaborators of colonialism have also become the targets of the struggle for freedom. The Adivasi and peasant movements have challenged the feudal rule of the landlords and the loan-sharks, while within the princely states the freedom movements have been fought against the rule of the local king. After independence, by law landlords, loan-sharks and the rule of kings have been abolished, but what vestiges have survived. And what we see now is the overwhelming rise of the new landlord, the new loan-shark and the new king – the domination of the corporate overlords or the new Company Raj.
During the Independence movement and the advancement of a national consciousness, questions about economic development and just economic distribution came up as important markers of the struggle. The country started moving towards abolishing the feudal landlord system, land reforms, nationalisation of critical natural and economic resources, and partial control over monopolistic capitalism. By the seventies the nationalisation of coal and other mineral wealth of the country, and bank and insurances was completed. However, the current of events totally changed course since the nineties. And that change is responsible for what we see today – the handing over of this country’s economy to a handful of big business houses. It has not just reversed nationalisation, but accomplished what we could not have ever imagined earlier – sectors as fundamental as the railways, health and education are slowly and steadily being relinquished to private players. While the political rhetoric is drumming up nationalism, on the economic front there is the growing universal Company Raj.
And to accomplish this, the country’s rulers are going back to the practices of those foreign colonisers. To establish the control of the Company Raj over natural resources, there is an expedition launched to displace the people closest to nature from their natural habitats. And when they protest against those bulldozers, the Adivasis are shot at and trapped in fake cases of monstrous laws. We see the same story repeating itself across the Adivasi regions spread across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand. Raising questions about the rightful demands and justice of the Adivasi people puts Sudha Bharadwaj in jail in the Bhima Koregaon court case, while aged, frail and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Father Stan Swamy loses his life in prison.
During the British era the regime would control the country and its people through the Rowlatt Act, and the Sedition Law. If one spoke against the government one would face prison without a trial, a litany of conspiracy cases, even massacres like the one at Jallianwala Bagh. The UAPA today is the legacy of the same Rowlatt Act, and the Sedition Law of course remains exactly as before. The Delhi High Court has reminded the government that they cannot use the UAPA against the right to dissent. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has questioned the government the need for the Sedition Law against its own people, in a country that has been independent now for over seven decades. The government, needless to say, is shameless and silent.
If one is to be honest, the government today is way ahead in its oppressive domination than those of the British era. They have digital weapons of subjugation in addition to means of physical domination. With Pegasus the state can now snoop into any citizen’s phone. The Election Commissioner, the Director of CBI, the leaders of the opposition parties, journalists searching for the truth – no one is spared. This Israeli company says that they do not sell their snoop technology to anyone other than governments or government agencies. Who then bought this technological weapon in India? The government is shameless about this question too, and silent as well. The Union Ministers of the Foreign and Cultural departments ask why they should reveal the technologies they are using against their enemies, the leftists!
When the country won its independence we had adopted our constitution. At the very beginning of that constitution it clearly states that the citizens of a free nation are free too. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, faith, ideology and the freedom of worship. There will be the guarantee of justice – social, economic, and political. Today that free citizen of the free nation finds themselves a subjugated subject. The king will say that he is giving free food, vaccine and thus no one can ask him how many have been served – the subjects will have to say ‘thank you my lord’. But this job of showing gratitude too is being accomplished by the government with a blitzkrieg of huge advertising billboards across the country. Redundant to say, these expenses, much as the expenses of rice-wheat-vaccine, come from the same source – the taxes that the subjects pay.
The government says that after seven decades of independence we have to be ‘atmanirbhar’, self-reliant. The meaning of this self-reliance is that every subject must stand on their own feet – they cannot depend on the government. That’s why we saw during the lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic millions of these self-reliant subjects walking for hundreds of miles to reach home. Self-reliant India is building its new parliament – in place of the British era one – a new and self-reliant royal court. The head of the Juna Akhara, Yatindra Nath Giri has suggested that since there is going to be a new parliament why not also have a new constitution. Let the housewarming of this new parliament happen with the new constitution in hand.
The Chairperson of the Constitution Drafting Committee Bhimrao Ambedkar had spoken about the various internal conflicts of the constitution. He had mentioned the possible collision between political equality and social and economic inequalities. He had talked about the lethal outcomes of the dangerous propensity of individual hero worship in the political realm. And he had also warned of the Hindu Rashtra that would be the ultimate disaster for India on its path towards freedom, equality and justice. Today we stand face to face, confronting that disaster at the threshold of our 75th year of independence. Today the unity of India, which was built through anti-imperialist struggles for national freedom, is fraught with multiple cracks and multidimensional disintegration. Even the contention between two states about its borders, in Assam and Mizoram, is taking the shape of armed clashes among their police.
During this unprecedented predicament of independent India, we must once again clearly seek solutions to some key questions. A free country means free citizens with rights – not subjugated subjects – we will have to announce this vociferously. India’s unity is in its diversity – that diversity and plurality must receive full respect. In no way can the narrow self-interests of the majority religious community and a handful of profitmaking capitalists imprison that diversity. The republic in India will function as per its constitution and law, it cannot be transformed into an elected autocracy by unlawful violence and conspiracies of the government machinery. The answer to this fundamental question cannot be sought through any middle path. It can only be found in the protests against fascist aggression, in the upholding of the secular, democratic and socialist direction declared right in the preamble to the Constitution.
Dipankar Bhattacharya is the General Secretary of the CPI(ML) Liberation