[comprador: 1. An intermediary; a go-between. 2. A native-born agent in China and certain other Asian countries formerly employed by a foreign business to serve as a collaborator or intermediary in commercial transactions. Source: American Heritage Dictionary. A word once popularized in the writings of Mao Tsetung, this meant simply a foreign agent. We could more profitably deploy it here to describe those who have abdicated their position as critical intellectuals to the demands of power. ]
A friend who teaches in Kolkata University was once accosted by a group of SFI [acronym of the CPM’s student-wing] activists asking for ‘donations’. You have of course to be familiar with the political culture of West Bengal – first under the Congress regime and then ably carried on under the CPM – in order to understand what ‘donation’ or ‘chaanda’ means. Ordinary mortals tremble when CPM supporters come to ask for chaanda, be it for the Durga Puja or for students’ elections. This brave man happened to tell them that he would not give donations to the SFI or CPM as he disagreed with their politics. As the students were leaving the room, one of them returned to tell him, “Sir, Amaar naam Ratna Sarkar. Kichhu dorkaar hole bolben.” [Sir, my name is Ratna Sarkar (name changed for obvious reasons). Please let me know if you need something]. The very mention of the name was supposed to reveal in a flash to this foolhardy teacher, who at 50 years plus, continues to remain a ‘senior lecturer’, that she was the daughter of one of the most powerful state CPM leaders. A daily occurrence in West Bengal. A silent terror inscribed in daily life.
This friend needs also to be mentioned here today because he has had a fairly compelling thesis for sometime now. Civil society in Bengal, he suggests, has been decimated ever since the CPM/LF came to power. In the pre-Left Front days, he argues, it was the Leftist intelligentsia that constituted the critical voice, interrogating the excesses of power. Not any more. What can such an intelligentsia be called but comprador, who have ‘sold their conscience’ to the party line – to resort to a mild polemical Leninism. But alas, such intellectuals are not merely the Sunil Gangopadhyays in Bengal who have fallen in line not because of party commitment but maybe some other calculations; after all they have to live in CPM ruled West Bengal for quite some more time to come. Such are also the seventeen intellectuals who have issued the statement in defense of the West Bengal government.
Continue reading Comprador Intellectuals on the War-Path
As the 14th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit draws nearer, and the host, the Indian Government, begins to step up its preparations, it seems a good time to raise certain issues and questions, designed to draw lessons for the next stage of regional institution building. Where are we? What issues, practices and policy changes can be proposed to improve the quality of regional policy making and implementation? What can civil society organisations and citizens do to contribute effectively to this process? How can SAARC be made more open and transparent to South Asian citizens? What are some of the best practices that have contributed to an effective intra-state coordination, consultation with non-state actors and public accountability? The vision of SAARC today should be that of a South Asia that is integrated, prosperous and peaceful; a South Asia driven by its own citizens; an anti-colonial, democratic and dynamic force in the global arena; and human and peoples’ rights the cornerstone of its political programmes.
Wars and killings in the name of nations; violence, often on a massive scale; boundaries and borders creating major elements of conflicts between the nation states; trans-border crime, narco-terrorism, illegal and informal transactions; illegal migration and large-scale refugee infiltration; trade and transit barriers and trade imbalances — we can find all this and much more in serious proportions in these times of SAARC. However, they are not the core of our assessment, as nobody had believed that these issues could be resolved in two decades or so. The core is that even though some significant spaces have been opened up for greater and more sustained regional cooperation and some beginning has been made, the overall mood is not optimistic, and the prospects of a people-driven SAARC remain largely unfulfilled. Lack of vision, initiative and will, inadequate institutional capacity, and inappropriate policies and procedures have totally negated any thought and practice that SAARC should build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society, to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our people in South Asia. There is hardly any civil society participation in its policy development processes, and it is taken as a closed, non-transparent, non-serious affair in the region.
Continue reading SAARC: Need for a Paradigm Shift
[As reports started coming in on Wednesday of wanton killings of the local population by a combination of the state’s police forces and that dreaded being called ‘cadre’ in today’s West Bengal, the CPM lie-machine in New Delhi swung into action. Monobina Gupta, a senior journalist who has been covering the Left for almost two decades now, reports on both the press conference and the incidents that brought it forth. Our further information is that two days ago the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had called a meeting in Writers’ Building to plan out the offensive. As the report below shows, the Bengali daily, Bartaman had already predicted today’s action almost to the detail – obviously based on information that the CPM finds uncomfortable. We have also been informed that the call went out from the state CPM leadership of “Occupy and Liberate” Nandigram shortly before the cadres swung into action along with the police force. Thirty years of unbroken rule has made the state leadership belief that they can get away with anything. This time they may have miscalculated. It is also worth bearing in mind that faced with feisty women leaders like Medha Patkar and Mamata Banerjee the most disgusting colours of the CPM leadership are coming out. So if Biman Basu had gone on record saying that Mamata is behaving like a spoilt little girl (in Singur), then his comrade-in-arms Benoy Konar had done far better. He announced that women from his party’s women’s wing would “display their buttocks if Medha visited Nandigram”. We will soon be publishing Medha’s recent report after her return from Nandigram where she was actually greeted by a demonstration of buttocks – of about a hundred and fifty little Benoy Konars. Only, the women – even from his party seem to have politely refused. Some hope here – even though the top leadership of the Mahila Samity has been completely silent. Is comrade Brinda Karat listening? – AN]
For the CPM central leadership in Delhi defending police actions in Singur and Nandigram has now become a routine matter. It is left usually to Sitaram Yechury – second in command in the CPM politburo (and Rajya Sabha member) to address the media in Parliament and whitewash the whole incident.
Today was just one more of such press conferences. The CPM politburo member condemned the killings at the same time made it clear that the police had no choice other than to do what they did. “The kiilings are unfortunate. But we condemn such activities that took place even after
the West Bengal state government assured that no land will be acquired without the consent of the people.”
Continue reading Monobina Gupta on Nandigram and the CPM Whitewash
By a coincidence that is entirely explainable, the Arabic word Baqar, meaning cow or ox, gets fudged into the word Bakra, originating from the Sanskrit varkar.
Thus in India, Baqr Id, the festival commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice, quite often becomes Bakr Id. As I noticed this time round, even as Bakri Id, it makes absolute sense of course, since it is goats that are the primary object of sacrificial affection, and mutton is the prized meat anyway.
Through another onomatopoeic twist, in the purabiya region Baqr Id is also known as Barki Id — the big Id. People would sometimes enquire whether this is the big Id or the small Id or whether it is the sewain Id or the meat Id. For youngsters, though the fixating charm of watching animal slaughter is leavened by the disappointing fact that as far as Idee (or tyohari) — the money gift that is customarily doled out to them by seniors — is concerned, they come off much the worse on Baqr Id. Continue reading Humane slaughter?
Textbooks are back in news. This time it is the turn of the Social Sciences book for Class x students prepared by the Rajasthan Madhyamik Shiksha Board, Ajmer. One needs to remember that this book results from the decision of the Rajasthan government to reject the new National Curriculum Framework for School Education 2005 evolved by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). All BJP-ruled states had declared that they would prepare their own textbooks as the books prepared by the NCERT were biased according to them. It would be interesting to see, therefore as to how they fight out the bias of the NCERT books in the books prepared by their own objective teams.
This is how the Rajasthan social sciences experts do it. The first chapter of the book seeks to introduce the students to the basics of the Indian Culture: Our culture is known as Arya sanskriti, Bharatiya sanskriti and Hindu sanskriti. Lest there be any confusion in the minds of the readers, the book explains it further: in fact these three nomenclatures are synonyms.
Continue reading Textbook Fascism of the Hindu Kind?
Even as the CPM general secretary Prakash Karat made his astonishing statement regarding the need for a ‘scientific’ land grab policy, his party’s totalitarian lie machine has moved into action to suppress the fact that it might be facing its Waterloo – or may we say, its Stalingrad? The lie manufacturing machine is working overtime to make it appear as though the struggle in Nandigram over the imminent acquisition of 14, 500 acres of land for a new SEZ is the outcome of mere ‘rumour mongering’ by ‘outsiders’ (The Hindu 9 January 2007). It is as though there were really no plans to that effect (though none of the leaders has yet denied this so far).
One of the sinister players here is the shadowy West Bengal CPM secretary and Left Front Chairman (sic), Biman Basu. Basu went on record saying that (a) a large number of ‘outsiders’ have been entering Nandigram [and this presumably is by itself a crime, in Basu’s language] and that the police should thus ‘investigate’ it. (b) these outsiders were “responsible for stoking fears among local villagers that they were on the verge of losing their land.” To give it a more sinister ring, Basu said: “ These people are still moving about in the Nandigram area [as though they are criminals who should have been put behind bars] and held periodic meetings at a four-storied building where social activist Medha Patkar addressed a meeting on December 3.”
Continue reading ‘Scientific’ Land Grab and the Lie-Machine
“Sensation prevailed after four persons of a family were murdered over illicit relations at Khairlanji village…” read the blatantly false lead of the article of a Nagpur based paper a few days after the Khairlanji atrocity. “School, colleges and shops shut down in Nagpur on Friday during a day-long bandh,” read another. As the national media slowly took cognizance of the Khairlanji atrocity, weeks after an entire family was humiliated, raped and killed, the tenor and limits of media discourse on Dalits became apparent once more.
While expressing shock and disbelief at the sheer brutality of the incident, media pundits bemoaned the damage to public property (in this case, the Deccan Queen), the losses to the exchequer, and the savagery of the Dalit “other”. “Citizen activism takes on the textures and shades of citizens, after all,” noted a well-meaning reporter in leading weekly, before concluding that “Upper middle class India lit candles, whether at India Gate or on news websites; young Dalit India torched trains.” The simplistic and stereotypical media coverage of the month-long Dalit protests has re-ignited a debate that first gained prominence in 1996. Continue reading In search of the Dalit journalist redux
[A few days ago, CPM leader Brinda Karat wrote a piece entitled “The Truth of Singur” – a somewhat sanitized version of which was published in The Hindu. In the uncensored version circulating on email, she claimed quite unabashedly, that while her party stood with the peasants, workers and sharecroppers of Singur, Ms Roy (the reference here to the demonstration at the CPM office should not be missed) “is in the companyof Ms Mamata Banerjee, George Fernandes and Rajnath Singh and a 19-party alliance led by them (Krishi Jami Raksha Committee – KJRC) and has supported their campaign of anti-communist calumny.” The problem of course is that “anti-communist calumny” here is only a displaced effect of the struggle against the Tatas and in other contexts, Reliance and others – in short, corporate robbery of peasants’ land. If the communists have decided to stand with the corporations in West Bengal then it should be the CPM’s problem – not Ms Roy’s or Ms Patkar’s (about whose “political acumen” too, Brinda K is contemptuous). Parenthetically, we might refer to the extremely sexist, patriarchal and patronizing statement of her politburo colleague Biman Bose who reportedly said that “Mamata is behaving like an adamant little girl”. And presumably criticizing that would be indulging in “anti-communist calumny” as well, Ms Karat? Meanwhile, why forget that Buddhadeb Bhattacharya also made “communist” statements like saying that Medha Patkar is an outsider who just keeps going to different places creating trouble. Would you have been able to form a single union anywhere in a single place without “outsiders” ? This is the language used by the real anti-communists – to attack political activists by calling them “outsiders” is precisely anti-communist calumny. It just happens to be used by communists in this case! Apart from the matter of Singur, the fact is that Ms Brinda K’s piece confines itself to the issue of compensation – a whole host of other issues that arise here are left unanswered. How can she or Biman babu for that matter, answer them? Medha’s response to the West Bengal government’s report raises, once again, all the issues that we need to keep in mind. – AN]
SINGUR: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Today when the world celebrates the 58th anniversary of the UN Charter of Human Rights as the International Human Rights Day, the people of Singur or Narmada or Raigad (Maharashtra), Dadri-Bajada (UP) cannot. They cannot be out of struggle for survival, for dignity, for life even for a moment to be able to breathe freedom and enjoy rights not just as citizens but as human beings.
The struggle of people of Singur continues at various fronts, ranging from the fasting group of women and men in Singur area itself to the one in Kolkata, from the everyday small and large actions by the representatives of various people’s organisations to the solidarity fora of the academics. It has gone beyond the heated Metropolis to the various districts of North & South Bengal since the voice raised from Singur is echoed in other places, why battlegrounds, and has
also effected other mass movements against similar onslaught of the corporatised State as in Midnapur district (against 2 SEZs & 1 Nuclear power plant). The prolonged violation of human rights and postponement of free, fair and informed dialogue on Singur is startling. A dialogue with a large alliance and network of people’s organisations, beyond electoral political allies or opponents of the West Bengal Government, could have been possible by now but for the over confident attitude and arrogance expressed by the West Bengal Government. The lack of initiative coming from anyone of the Left Front allies towards taking a serious cognizance and an urgent resolution through a decisive dialogue is certainly shocking.
Continue reading Medha Patkar on Singur and the Subversion of Truth
What is common between golfer Jyoti Randhawa and actress Khushboo ? In fact, looking at their distinct fields, it would certainly be difficult to discern any thread of commonality. But if one would have come across the latest survey published in a leading newspaper one would already have got an answer. According to this survey, both of them do not believe in ‘any higher power’. For Jyoti ‘the only power I believe in is willpower- the power within you’, for Khushboo ‘my power is within me. I live for people whom I love and who love me’.
Interestingly people like Jyoti or Khushboo cannot be considered as lone rangers in this society which is becoming rather more religious with time. (A trend which is definitely at variance with what is happening in the West) Sixty six respondents out of a group of thousand plus clearly stated that they are non-believers.
Of course, the commonality shared by these two stalwarts of their own fields vis-a-vis their understanding about ‘higher power’ , is not the only interesting fact which readily emerges from the survey done by the Times of India people with TNS, a leading market research agency to know ‘how Indians view God and their faith’.(10 city TOI-TNS poll ( TOI, 26 th Nov 2006) )
To be very frank , the recent survey done across ten cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Patna, Lucknow and Nagpur- with 1,007 respondents, which was restricted to people falling in socio-economic categories A,B and C, present a mixed set of conclusions. Continue reading God and Faith In The Life of Indians
Published earlier in Social Action, Vol 54, April-June 2004
Shortly after the World Social Forum (Mumbai 2004) I came across an article by Cecilie Surasky, an American Jew, posted on a discussion list by a friend from Amsterdam. The article was startlingly entitled “Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?” and naturally invited one to read it immediately. It transpired that the author was the Communications Director of an organization called “Jewish Voice for Peace” that works for a peaceful and democratic resolution of the Palestinian problem and is therefore, also anti-Zionist. She was writing from within the specific context of a well-known but disturbing trend in Jewish politics, particularly in the US. A glimpse of this troubling context is provided by the fact that important voices among Jews, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in particular (which has been known for its important work in hunting down Nazi criminals worldwide), has been portraying the World Social Forum (WSF) “as one of the centers of the ‘new anti-Semitism'”.
Surasky further reports that “these charges have been picked up by various journalists as evidence of a dangerous new trend on the left.” The SWC had described the atmosphere at the third WSF in Brazil the previous year as “anti-Jewish”, according to her. She therefore landed up at Mumbai to check out first hand: “I have come to the WSF to be loudly and visibly Jewish…and to see for myself this purported new tidal wave of hatred of Jews from the rest of the global left.” The actual event of course, turned out to be something entirely different and if anything, Surasky ended up making some of the most moving friendships with many Arabs. Her account of these friendships in the article is quite touching in itself. What was most amazing for her, however, was that on return she found that the SWC had published an article on the WSF in the Jerusalem Post, entitled “Networking to Destroy Israel”. It further claimed that the WSF Mumbai event had been hijacked by “anti-American, anti-Israel forces”. As Surasky puts it, it became clear that many of these propagandist accounts made practically no distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism or in fact, any criticism of Israel.
The important thing about the WSF however, was that it provided a space to some one like Cecilie Surasky, a “come out” Jew, as she puts it, to meet, exchange notes and make friends with people from the Arab world. So did it to the innumerable others who have so far only known about the ‘Other’ through representations by propaganda machines like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and their Arab counterparts – or through the US media. This is of course, one small episode in the big event called the WSF. But the WSF is actually made up of literally thousands of such episodes. It was an occasion where the displaced Tibetans – supporters of the Dalai Lama – could move about prominently, distributing their literature, making friends and allies from different parts of the world. It was an occasion where the Dalit groups of India could make their voice heard before a vast gathering of people who were all fighting for their own liberation from oppressions of different kinds.
Continue reading Beyond the Tyranny of Blueprints: WSF as Experimental Form