Tag Archives: West Bengal

Bengal 2021, Fascism and the Left(s)

 

 

‘The specific threat of National Socialism was obscured amid general talk of the perils of “fascists”, a term egregiously applied to Bruning, Social Democrats and all and sundry. Dogmatic catastrophist theorising led the Communists to actively underplay the Nazis: Ernst Thalman warned the KPD [Communist Party of Germany] Central Committee in February 1932 “that nothing would be more disastrous than an opportunistic overestimation of Hitler-fascism.’  – Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich – A New History, p. 136

Ernst Thalman warned his party’s Central Committee against ‘opportunistically overestimating Hitler’, literally months before Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January the following year. What is more, this statement was made at a time when the intentions of the Nazis were hidden to nobody. As Burleigh puts it, they had frequently announced their contempt for the law and ‘by 1932 were vowing to intern Communists and Social Democrat opponents in concentration camps.’ (p. 149) Thalman, we know, was killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp in August 1944, eleven years after being held in captivity. Indeed, Thalman was arrested barely a year after he warned his party not to overestimate ‘Hitler-fascism’.

It is common knowledge that as the clouds of danger encircled Germany and the Depression was leading to cataclysmic shifts, the KPD continued to focus on Social Democrats as the main enemy. A brief entry on Thalman in the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it pithily:

‘The party was almost completely unprepared when, in early 1933, Adolf Hitler ordered the mass arrests of communist functionaries; these arrests practically destroyed the party structure. Thälmann’s arrest came on March 3, 1933. All efforts to obtain his release failed, and he remained imprisoned for more than a decade until he was finally executed at Buchenwald concentration camp.’

‘The Most Dangerously Hidebound Force’

This quote above is not just about Germany. It is about a certain mindset widely prevalent in the Left. This mindset deploys the term ‘fascism’ quite indiscriminately, dissolving the specific threat of fascism into  just another variant of ‘authoritarianism’ and misuse of power.  Usually this happens because of incorrigibly reductionist thinking that sees in every authoritarian tendency a manifestation of ‘capitalism’, thereby reducing all of them to mere variations of the same. But it also happens becuase of what Antonio Gramsci saw as the party’s incapacity to ‘react against the force of habit, against the tendency to become mummified and anachronistic’ – a characteristic he attributed to the ‘most dangerously hidebound and conservative force’ namely, the ‘party bureaucracy’.

It is misleading to think in terms of historical analogies and one should normally avoid thinking of historical replays or re-enactments. Every historical situation is unique and has its own antecedent conditions. But there are  always lessons to be learnt from speicfic historical experiences and one can ignore them only at one’s own peril.

The intentions of the current regime in India are not a secret any more and we have seen its contempt for the rule of law, over and over again. The ongoing farce of the Bhima-Koregaon arrests, or the fantastic conspiracy theories that have been woven around the North East Delhi communal violence earlier this year, are there for everyone to see. Have we forgotten that when Justice Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court insisted that the police see in the  court, the crucial piece of evidence – that of Kapil Mishra’s video-recorded speech openly threatening violence and killing – he was transferred out of Delhi that very night? These aren’t just aberrations: the subversion of the rule of law that began with the isolated case of Judge Loya’s murder is now an everyday affair and the judges know what the costs of going against this regime can be. Of course, there have been many instances of the subversion of the criminal justice system during ‘riots’ and ‘communal violence’ in the past as well, but the overall sanctity of the law was maintained and things could still be challenged in court with some results.

One big difference between Germany in 1933 and India today, (among many other differences), is that even in early 1933, communists and social democrats mattered enough for Hitler to want to arrest them and clear the way for his untramelled exercise of power. In India today, the main opposition to key policy changes has come from ordinary people at large – the Citizenship Amendment Act being the most classic instance. No wonder then, those being arrested here are ordinary people and activists unaffiliated to any political party.

What is worse is that the dominant mainstream Left, has by and large, got caught up in the tendency that Gramsci described – to become mummified and anachronistic; the incapacity to react against the force of habit and formulaic thinking; the inability to recognize what is new in the situation. We have been witnessing a naked display of this tendency in the mainstream Left’s antics in Bengal, which created history in the 2019 parliament elections by mobilizing votes for the BJP.  Now that the state assembly elections are due next year, things are assuming surreal dimensions.

Thus, the CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury argued in a television interview, later prominently displayed on the front page of the party’s Bengali daily Ganashakti, that ‘in order to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Trinamool Congress (TMC) must be defeated‘. This statement actually makes no sense whatsoever when the danger of Hindutva takeover of the state is imminent and elections are just round the corner. Perhaps,  in a slightly longer term, this could have made some sense. The argument that there is great discontent against  the TMC government and the anti-incumbency votes against it must be mopped up by the Left so that the BJP does not benefit, can make sense only when we are thinking of BJP’s growth in the medium term at the very least. But before examining this argument, it might just be worth asking that if that is really the case, how does the Left actually justify mobilizing votes for the BJP? This is not only evident in the ground reports that were coming in from Bengal but was also claimed by the Home Minister Amit Shah just a few days ago. In terms of electoral statistics too, it is clear that the extra votes that the BJP polled in the Lok Sabha elections came almost entirely from the CPI(M).  According to CPI(ML) Liberation leader Kavita Krishnan, even now, among Left supporters in West Bengal, ‘arguments are rife on the ground suggesting “Ram in 2021 and Baam [Left] in 2026″‘. 

But let us still look at the argument that the West Bengal CPI(M) is making. The argument of the CPI(M), to repeat, is this: in order to defeat the BJP  it is necessary to defeat the TMC. Today’s (19 November 2020) Ganashakti has modified the line a bit and it says: In order to defeat the BJP, the TMC must be isolated. The distinction is important but it really does not make any difference to its substance in the immediate context. Why?
We can reduce the argument to three propositions:
1. TMC is in power and faces massive anti-incumbency
2. It is the mass of people moving away from the TMC that the BJP is capturing.
3. If the CPI-M wants to defeat the BJP, it must come out in opposition to (to ‘defeat’ or to ‘isolate’) the ruling party so that it can mop up the anti TMC votes, thus preventing them from going to BJP.
Hence to defeat the latter, you must defeat/ isolate the former.
 
Now here is the tricky part:
1. Ever since its defeat in 2011, CPI-M has only been in relentless opposition to the TMC, treating it an enemy number one.
2. Hence, it should already be mopping up anti-incumbency vote.
But what do the figures say?
First, let us take the anti-incumbency question: TMC got 39% vote and 184 seats in 2011. In 2016, its vote increased to 44.9% and seats to 211. In the 2019 parliament election, it cornered 43.3 % vote (the marginal difference is also because 2019 was a Lok Sabha and not a state election). Actually in the by-elections since, it has recovered even this decline.
Second, the ‘mopping up’ question: CPI-M polled 29.8 vote in 2011, which declined to 19.7 % in 2016 and to 7.5 % in 2019 and zero seats. This is how the CPI-M is apparently mopping up the anti-incumbency, anti-TMC vote!
Third, Contrary to the lies peddled by the CPI-M West Bengal, not only is the party losing votes, it is losing votes almost entirely to the BJP. So 16.72 percent of BJP’s increase of 22.25 percent in the 2019 parliament election was gained by capturing the depleting CPI-M and Left Front vote.
TMC’s vote till now remains not only intact but has even grown marginally. As I had pointed out, in an article the The Telegraph in January this year, in the three by-elections that took place in November 2019, in Kharagpur, Kaliaganj and Karimpur, not only did the TMC win all three seats but significantly, the combined vote of the CPI(M) and Congress fell drastically (ranging from 40, 000 to 90, 000 votes) in comparison to the 2016 Assembly elections. So frankly, as of now there doesn’t seem to be any anti-incumbency in evidence at least from the figures available. On the other hand, evidence is that the CPI(M) is continuously losing ground – the latest to leave is the former Jadavpur area councillor and 2014 Lok Sabha candidate Rinku Naskar. From all available accounts she had a good record of work as councillor but it also seems that she had been among those helping the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
 
It is necessary to challenge the CPI-M’s lies because many well meaning people sympathetic to the Left in generaI, seem to be taken by this specious logic based on  totally incorrect information. It is also necessary because hundreds and thousands of people, especially Muslims, will have to pay with their lives for this criminal cynicism. It is the chronicle of a tragedy foretold.
 
As a Muslim friend from the Metia Buruz area put it, ‘we feel like our lives will be collateral damage’.
 
CPI(ML) Liberation – Signs of Fresh Thinking
 

It was a pleasure therefore to listen to Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of the CPI(ML) Liberation speak of the need to focus on the BJP as the main threat today – to India and to West Bengal. His responses to the various interviewers, even as the results of the Bihar elections were pouring in, were remarkably free of obfuscating jargon and spoke of the threat to democracy, to the rule of law and to civlizational values from the BJP. And that was enough for making the argument that it needed to be challenged in a united manner. No bookish arguments about whether this is fascism and what Dimitrov might have said about ‘united front’ tactics!

Signs of fresh thinking were quite evident in Bhattacharya’s call to  ‘think in these new times, in a new way, in new conditions’, where he had no hesitation in including Ambedkar along with Bhagat Singh among the icons of the movement. As he put it, the slogan was ‘Naye Bharat ke vaaste, Bhagat Singh-Ambedkar ke Raaste’ (see video below). Indeed, the CPI(ML) Liberation has gone further and, as Jignesh Mevani pointed out, it did not field a single upper caste candidate in the Bihar elections, ‘changing the popular notion of the Brahminical, Savarna-dominated Left leadership.’

In the video below, Bhattacharya talks at length about a range of issues during the  Bihar election campaign, to Nakul Singh Sawhney of Chalchitra Abhiyan.

The rethinking in this interview is quite fascinating also because, in order to think the question of caste and Dalit oppression and  foregound the issue of dignity, Bhattacharya even indicates a preliminary theoretical willingness to understand ‘class’ as more than a purely economic category. This is, of course, a very difficult question and when he says class does not simply mean economic exploitation but also dignity, self-respect, culture and social justice – that move itself raises many other questions about specific forms of overdetermination. The multifarious implications of this proposition cannot be dealt with in this brief article but let us at least recognize that it opens up a conceptual space in the practice of the Left that can have far-reaching consequences.

A final point of great interest in this interview is that Bhattacharya here displays a sense of having thought through some of the issues relating to the ’employment question’ that had become the focus of the Mahagathbandhan  (MGB – grand alliance) election  campaign. Recall the way the CPI(M) and  Left Front in West Bengal went about it.  Theirs was primarily the neoliberal way of inviting Capital to invest in the state and let it dictate the terms. Large-scale land acquisition and the unfortunate developments of Singur and Nandigram were consquences of that model.

What Bhattacharya says here clearly is that the technology-intensive high-end industries are not going to be able to address Bihar’s problems and that the focus will need to be  on more labour-oriented, medium and small enterprises which can provide far more employment than high-tech industries with least dislocation. But simultaenously, should the MGB win (the interview was conducted before the results were out), Bihar would also focus in developing itself as an IT hub – the vision is clearly not that of small industry based employment generation alone but has to go hand in hand with, rather than be obliterated by, big industry.

Of course these are critical issues and while one would have liked to hear a bit also about climate change and ‘green jobs’, in my view the beginning is itself quite significant and needs to be backed by the wider Left public. It is also important because, to my mind, the reason why the mainstream Left and the CPI(M) in particular have no appeal left in Bengal has a lot to do with their intransigence and refusal to rethink the neoliberal Singur-Nandigram model.

The struggle against Hindutva, it is clear today, cannot be fought on its turf of the secular-communal issue but must be taken to another terrain. A comprehensive rethink on a number of issues is necessary. One hopes that this stance of the CPI(ML) Liberation will be the beginning of a new chapter in the Left movement in this country.

Hari Vasudevan, the Soviet Archives and the Left Establishment: Sobhanlal Datta Gupta

This tribute to Prof HARI VASUDEVAN by Prof SOBHANLAL DATTA GUPTA, who passed away in Kolkata recently, is being reproduced here, courtesy Mainstream Weekly.

Thereafter, as we proceeded in our work on the publication of the texts of the documents, we began to face insurmountable resistance, quite surprisingly, from a section of the Left establishment in West Bengal. We were threatened, maligned and discouraged not to proceed with this work any further and ridiculed for our research on documents which were described as “fake” and “doctored”.

It was May, 1995, exactly 25 years ago. Hari Vasudevan (Calcutta University), Purabi Roy (Jadavpur University) and I myself (Calcutta University) were in Moscow for two months, working as a team sent by The Asiatic Society, Calcutta in connection with a project of collection of documents from the newly opened Soviet archives on Indo-Russian Relations : 1917-1947. This project was the result of a Protocol signed between The Asiatic Society, Calcutta and Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies. With extremely limited funding we were expected to prepare catalogues of as many documents as possible and bring home photocopies/microfilms of those documents which we considered most important, depending, of course, upon their accessibility. It was a Herculean job, since we had no idea of the materials we had to handle. Working on hundreds and hundreds of documents, catalouging and copying them (in many cases because of paucity of funds and since we had no laptop, quite often we had to take down a document by hand) demanded a division of labour. While Purabidi worked in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF), Archives of the Ministry of External Affairs (MID), Russian State Military Historical Archive (RGVIA), Hari and I worked in the former Central Party Archives, Institute of Marxism-Leninism (now known as Russian State Archive for Social and Political History or RGASPI ). Continue reading Hari Vasudevan, the Soviet Archives and the Left Establishment: Sobhanlal Datta Gupta

The ‘Congress Question’ in the CPI(M) and the Problem of Historical Relevance

The CPI(M) is currently being rocked by an internal ‘debate’ over what has emerged, to put it in somewhat old-style communist speak, the ‘Congress Question’. I put the word ‘debate’ in quotation marks because, there is a touch of innocence to the way positions in support of a possible alliance with the Congress are being expounded by respected, senior intellectuals like Irfan and Sayera Habib in their letter to the party politbureau or Badri Raina in his article in a leading newspaper. These statements follow the dramatic exit of another widely respected Central Committee (CC) member, Jagmati Sangwan, from the party for precisely the opposite reason – of the CC going soft on the Bengal CPM for having gone against the commonly arrived at understanding in allying with the Congress. There is undoubtedly a potential debate here but since the common reference point in both – the Habibs’ letter as well as in Raina’s article – happens to be the recent election in West Bengal, one cannot help feeling that it is either a  ‘debate’ over a non-problem or is, at best, a question badly posed.

I say this for two reasons. First, the West Bengal CPI(M) [henceforth CPM-WB] is not really fighting any principled battle – all its exertions in West Bengal, contra Irfan and Sayera Habib, are directed, not against the proto-fascist Modi regime but against the Trinamool Congress whose local party apparatus is substantially what it has inherited from the CPM-WB itself. In the present context of West Bengal, what is urgently required is a different Left platform (with different faces that speak a different language) that can take the place vacated by the CPM-WB. In the absence of any such alternative, nothing can prevent the BJP from emerging as the main opposition party – and if that happens, that will be the end of any kind of Left politics for a very long time to come. A ramshackle CPM-Congress alliance as the opposition to the TMC is the surest way of making the Left (even in name) irrelevant in the state’s politics. The CPM-WB’s desire for an alliance with the Congress is motivated not by the need to defeat the Modi regime’s incursions but rather to return to power any which way. This seemed such a distant dream before the elections that the latter was prepared to go into an alliance with the Congress and entertain the possibility of a joint Congress-CPM-WB ministry, even as junior partner, were electoral fortunes to be reversed by the coming into being of the alliance. Thankfully, this possibility seems ever so remote now, following the election results, despite the alliance that we need not worry about it anymore. Continue reading The ‘Congress Question’ in the CPI(M) and the Problem of Historical Relevance

CPI(M)’s 21st Congress – A Schizophrenic Outcome: Prasenjit Bose

Guest post by PRASENJIT BOSE

Lost on the high seas?,
Lost on the high seas? Image courtesy CPI(M) 21st Congress site

Far from transparently and decisively resolving the issues which plague the Party and the Left movement in India, the twenty first Congress of the CPI(M) has yielded a schizophrenic outcome. The purported ‘political line’ adopted by the Party Congress and the ‘unanimous’ choice of the new general secretary are quite contradictory, which will only perpetuate the ideological-political incoherence that has gripped the CPI(M) and may further contribute to its organizational disarray.

When the central committee of the CPI(M) met in October 2014 to discuss a medium term ‘review of the political tactical line’ (PTL) in the light of the electoral reverses suffered by the Party, a politbureau (PB) member had moved a dissent note on the document presented by the PB. That note had argued against the very need to review the PTL and had instead held faulty implementation of the political line driven by ‘subjectivism’ of the leadership mainly responsible for the setbacks suffered by the CPI(M), alongside persistent organizational deficiencies. The elevation of the dissident voice within the outgoing politbureau as the new general secretary of the party raises the question whether the ‘review of the political tactical line’ and ‘political resolution’ adopted in the Congress have the support of the majority within the party? Or will the ‘political line’ adopted in the Party Congress give way over time to political opportunism in the name of ‘flexible tactics’, with the CPI(M) joining hands with the discredited, anti-people Congress in the name of fighting the communal, big corporate-backed, reactionary Modi regime? Continue reading CPI(M)’s 21st Congress – A Schizophrenic Outcome: Prasenjit Bose

Last Opportunity for CPI(M): Prasenjit Bose

Guest post by PRASENJIT BOSE

The CPI(M) is going to have its party congress next year in the backdrop of its worst ever electoral performance in the general elections. A four day meeting of its central committee held recently to discuss the review report and political resolution for the party congress, however, ended without adopting any worthwhile political decision. The only decision was to have another central committee meeting in January next year. When meetings of the topmost committee of a national political party end only with fixing the next meeting, something must be going wrong somewhere. It reflects lack of political direction and disarray at the top.

At the heart of the dilemma faced by the CPI(M) today is the political-tactical line to be adopted in the backdrop of BJP’s ascendancy across the country and the rightwing offensive unleashed by the Modi regime at the centre alongside the threat of political marginalization faced by the CPI(M) in what was once its citadel, West Bengal. The options apparently being debated within the CPI(M) – either align with the Congress against BJP or maintain the status quo – are both inadequate for its own revival or to take on the resurgent rightwing in India. Unless the Left mobilizes forces from below and seeks to build alliances based on struggles with like-minded progressive and democratic forces, the “political line” debate will be fruitless, abstract and of no yield. Continue reading Last Opportunity for CPI(M): Prasenjit Bose

Notes from Jadavpur: Ahona Panda

Guest Post by Ahona Panda

About eight years ago, while lounging about doing nothing much in the campus of Jadavpur University where I was a student of the English department, I came across some callously etched graffiti:

Jodi prem na dile praane
Tobe Jadavpure pathanor ki mane?
(If you haven’t given this life some love–
What is the point of sending one to Jadavpur?)

Eight years on I cannot imagine the luxury of lounging about doing nothing much. One moves on in life after graduating from Jadavpur University. Meanwhile, in home and the world, the complete freedom (some will persist in calling this anarchy) of the JU campus has made it a legend somewhat like Dirty Harry: either worship and put it in on a pedestal, or condemn it thoroughly. The reputation of JU since the infamous 1970s has been as a hub of constantly bubbling anarchism, where Naxalites are hatching their next program of action, where ignorant armies like SFI and other anti-SFI groups clash by night.

Continue reading Notes from Jadavpur: Ahona Panda

Barasat Rape, Murder and the Culture of Rape in West Bengal: Soma Marik

Guest post by SOMA MARIK. [We are publishing below two articles by Soma Marik, Visiting Professor, School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University. The first deals with the recent case of the rape and murder of a young girl in North 24 Parganas while the second one below was written in 2003 when the Left Front was in power and documents the widespread culture of rape in the state. Between them, the two pieces alert us to the way we tend to respond selectively to such matters. This is particularly so in the case of political parties in power.]

The Barasat Rape and Murder: Some Reflections

On 8th June, a young woman, a second year college student, was returning home, Kamduni, a remote village of Barasat in the district of North 24 Parganas. She was waylaid by some criminals, who took her to a godown, where they gang raped and then proceeded to murder her. Six hours after she was seen alighting from a bus, her body was found by her brothers and other villagers. The police were forced into some action, after the family and people of the locality refused to even let them shift her body without action first. They accused a number of people, including some connected to the ruling Trinamul Congress, of being rapists. The young woman was well known, as she used to help many children of the locality in their study.

The first response from the police was to play it down, till local anger made that an impossible proposition. The first response from the government was to declare it a stray incident, and also to offer jobs and cash compensation to the family. This was angrily turned down, with the family members turning up in Kolkata, meeting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and demanding the death penalty for the rapists and murderers. Continue reading Barasat Rape, Murder and the Culture of Rape in West Bengal: Soma Marik

Chit-funded media

With the Sarandha chit fun scam in West Bengal, a side-effect has been the going bust of its media investments. Seema Guha, Delhi bureau chief of the recently shut down Bengal Post writes in The Hoot:

The executive editor Ranabir Roychowdhury and several of the core journalist team were known to us, but none of us had ever heard the name of Sudipta Sen, the owner. We in Delhi were far away, but our colleagues in Kolkata too did not know anything about him, except that he was a real estate tycoon with a land bank of 100 acres or more. He was also into chit funds. It was much later that we came to know that this was his main business, our money was basically derived from the collections Saradha made from the poorest people in Bengal and other eastern states. He had business in the north east as well as in Odisha. [Read the full article]

Because Presidency is an Idea – All You Need to Know About What Happened at Presidency University: Waled Aadnan

Image

Guest post by WALED AADNAN: On 10th April, 2013, an unprecedented incident happened at Presidency University (erstwhile Presidency College), Kolkata. Now, unprecedented is a strong term when it relates to Presidency College, because it has, over its 196- year- long history,  seen much. It has been broken in by rioting mobs in 1926; in the 1960s and 70s, it was the so-called headquarters of the Naxal movement in Bengal; it has nurtured Indian Nobel Prize and Oscar winners and consistently over its history. It has been one of India’s elite colleges and a hotbed of left-wing politics.

Continue reading Because Presidency is an Idea – All You Need to Know About What Happened at Presidency University: Waled Aadnan

Eviction of Slum Dwellers and Repression of Anti-Eviction Demonstrators in West Bengal

[We are publishing below the following report based on materials received courtesy Sanhati, whose members were also arrested in the course of the struggle]

“If Didi could rush to the scene for one Tapashi Mallik, then she could surely hear the voices of 800 poor people and come here to see us” –Residents of Nonadanga slum in Kolkata

It is the same story once again. Cleaning up and beautification of cities in the clamour for urban space for consumption and the luxury of the rich. And as we have seen, it makes little difference whether the government/s are Leftist or Rightist, whether they claim to represent the oppressed poor or not. Thus, on 30th March, 2012 the TMC government forcefully evicted around 300 poor families from the Nonadanga slum area in South 24-Parganas, in the name of ‘development’ and ‘beautification’ of Kolkata. Their shanties were razed to ground by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority. The homeless slum-dwellers have been staying in an open field and are facing constant police harassment. Despite these harsh conditions, they have refused to depart and are presently on hunger strike. Their demand has to date failed to draw any favourable attention from the government. This neglect comes on the heels of the Planning Commission agreeing to annual Bengal plan around 16 per cent more than last year’s.

Continue reading Eviction of Slum Dwellers and Repression of Anti-Eviction Demonstrators in West Bengal

Mamata’s order that stoked the media war: Independent Observer

[This is a guest post by an independent journalist journalist and in Kolkata]

How difficult is to make a choice between the Caligula and the powerful senators who plotted against him, purportedly to save Rome from the populist-turned paranoid emperor?
The question comes to one’s mind in view of the ongoing public spat between Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and a powerful section of Bengal media which has virtually likened her to a female (a non-libidinous also) version of Caligula. The row, that now involves pro and anti-Mamata media blocs also, has been triggered by a recent government order asking 2500 plus state-run and aided libraries to subscribe, initially, to eight pro-government newspapers —five Bengali, two Urdu and one Hindi— barring the market leaders in these segments. The circular of the state libraries and mass education department cited the ‘promotion of free-thinking’ as the reason behind favouring the chosen newspapers.

However, the issues involved are neither limited to Mamata’s increasing attempts to browbeat critical media as the aggrieved houses are complaining about nor her well-meaning effort to support ‘small’, resource-starved newspapers against their big brothers as she herself and beneficiaries of her patronage are claiming. A closer scrutiny reveals that there are more to it beyond the binary of Oraamra (them and us), now part of Bengal’s political and media lexicon after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s infamous bragging over his government’s brute majority in the state assembly in order to rubbish all opposition to his policies. Continue reading Mamata’s order that stoked the media war: Independent Observer

Stop the Cycle of Revenge and Violence in West Bengal

This public statement is for immediate release. Please see the names of the signatories at the end. 

The news of continuous violence on a daily basis coming from West Bengal is deeply disturbing. Journalists have been attacked by the members of the ruling party, school teachers are being asked to prove their loyalty to the new ruling dispensation failing which they are being barred from doing their duty and are made target of systematic physical violence.

People suspected of affiliation with the CPM  are facing extortion threats and cases have been reported where they have been denied access to the means of their livelihood. Legitimate oppositional politics is not tolerated. Not only are ordinary members of the CPM  being attacked, even senior leaders are not spared . Recently an ex-MLA of the CPM along with another leader was killed in a mob-violence led by the members of the ruling  Trinamul Congress. Processions are not allowed. There have been incidents of intimidation by the ruling party to the supporters of the recent bandh call given by different trade unions. Continue reading Stop the Cycle of Revenge and Violence in West Bengal

Nutritional Neglect: Starving Our Future: Priyanka Nandi

Guest post by PRIYANKA NANDI

Urja aehi, swadha aehi, sunrita chirawatyehiti
[Come nutrition, come food, come truth, come security]
– Atharvasamhita 8.10.4

“Come nutrition, come food, come truth, come security”, invites the Atharvasamhita. Clearly, this is not the expensive military view of security we are encouraged to take these days. What, then, is this security?

This is the security that comes from having access to regular and adequate nutrition. From not having to starve, or suffer chronic hunger. There is no violence in this idea of security, except the quiet, steady violence done to generations of ‘common’ people by making something as basic as daily nutrition unavailable to them. Continue reading Nutritional Neglect: Starving Our Future: Priyanka Nandi

CPI(M)’s Rectification Campaign and a Bit of History: Sankar Ray

Guest post by SANKAR RAY

The Rectification campaign (RC) in CPI(M) is in practice a PR exercise, vying with top corporate communicators. Take the judgment of killings on 27 July 2000 at Suchpur under Nanoor PS of Birbhum district of West Bengal. Forty-four members and sympathisers, including district committee member Ramprasad Ghosh and zonal committee members Nityanarayan Chattopadhyay, Golam Saror, Golam Mustafa and Badiujjaman were convicted for involvement in the ghastly killings of 11 landless agricultural labourers. None of them has even been suspended, let alone expelling them from the party. Party biggies from the general secretary Prakash Karat to the WB state secretary and polit bureau member Biman Bose often say they have reverence towards the judiciary, although their perception that in a class-divided society, justice is to be ‘class justice’ is judicious. But why should proven criminals be on the party roll, when the mandarins of A K Gopalan Bhavan, party’s national headquarters, boastfully talk of a continuous RC. WB party leaders assured months before the last Assembly polls in WB that hundreds of ‘corrupt’ members be thrown out out of the party. All this is remains on paper.

Continue reading CPI(M)’s Rectification Campaign and a Bit of History: Sankar Ray

New Phase in Struggle for Release of Political Prisoners in West Bengal: Biswajit Roy

Guest post by BISWAJIT ROY

Civil society, including human rights groups, in Bengal are now divided on Mamata Banerjee government’s ‘open and hidden’ conditions regarding the release of political prisoners who have been jailed during the Left front rule as well as talks with Maoists and Maoist-backed Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities in Bengal’s tribal hinterland, known as Junglemahal.

Mamata and her ministers have rejected the demands for unconditional release of all political prisoners, immediate withdrawal of joint forces from Junglemahal and public announcement on non-enforcement of the draconian central law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Maoists and PCPA have accused Mamata of eating up her pre-poll words on those demands. A large section in the human rights movement including the intellectuals and activists who actively joined the Mamata-led campaign for regime-change now supported these demands. But some of their fellow travellers have differed on political and legal grounds.

The differences revealed contradictions between the pre-poll and post-poll positions of Mamata as well as chinks in the armour of human rights groups on the attitude to the new government, Maoists and PCPA. Tension among all the stakeholders in the process— Mamata, Maoists, human rights groups and individuals— was well-known within the concerned circles for quite some time. But none of the stakeholders dwelt on it in public before the assembly polls when they had made common cause against the CPM, particularly, the atrocities by CPM-joint forces combine.

I would like to dwell on post-poll dilemmas and fissures in the pro-Paribartan civil society in Bengal later. But this piece is primarily aimed at reporting the increasing manifestations of the hitherto latent tension.

Continue reading New Phase in Struggle for Release of Political Prisoners in West Bengal: Biswajit Roy

Beyond the Bluster-Equity and Justice in West Bengal: Abusaleh Shariff and Tanweer Fazal

Guest post by ABUSALEH SHARIFF AND TANWEER FAZAL

One of the key issues being keenly watched in the recently concluded assembly elections in West Bengal was the direction in which the Muslim vote was going. Muslims constitute 25 per cent of West Bengal’s population. Despite such high concentration, the near absence of Muslims from public arena—art, culture, literature, public service, education—is alarming and should cause consternation in any polity, especially one that claims its legitimacy in the name of the poor and the marginalized. However, any suggestion that the long Left Front rule had rendered Muslims of West Bengal poorer and deprived than other social groups was taken as an affront to the so-called ‘exceptional’ record of the Left Front. Figures were trotted out, statistics read out in support of this track record. However, there is a difference between sops, assurances and promises made in an election year and the actual performance of a regime that has ruled a state for more than 30 years.

Continue reading Beyond the Bluster-Equity and Justice in West Bengal: Abusaleh Shariff and Tanweer Fazal

We Are Where We Know Not What Befalls Us… in Bengal!

Kahan le Chale ho... (image courtesy Small Strokes)
Kahan le Chale ho... (image courtesy Small Strokes)

Ham wahaan hain jahaan se hamko bhee
kuchch hamaaree khabar naheen aatee

Roughly translated literally, this famous couplet of Ghalib’s would mean: “We are at that place from where we do not get any news about ourselves”. A somewhat surreal place to be in! It is not just that you are holed in, a place where you are cut off from the world and no longer get any news of the outside – say Plato’s Cave. This descent is into a Cave from where you get no news about yourself! You are in a state of incommunicability with your own self. Clearly, a Self that is deeply at odds with itself.

This is clearly the place where the Bengal communists have descended. Else, who could not have seen the avalanche coming? Even when they lost the 2009 parliamentary elections, they thought that they lost because those sitting in Delhi’s AK Gopalan Bhawan chased the chimera of the Third Front (and they have been repeating this till yesterday, everyone from Buddhadeb to Gautam Deb)! Of course that was a chimera but to delude yourselves that your defeat had nothing to do with your own doings, that ‘the people’ oh love you soo – that is only possible when you have descended into that surreal space.  The interesting thing is that apart from the self deluding communists of the CPM brand, even the ordinary person on the street knew what was coming. Continue reading We Are Where We Know Not What Befalls Us… in Bengal!

A Few Lessons on Marxism and Politics

“At a certain point in their historical lives, social classes become detached from their traditional parties. In other words, the traditional parties in that particular organizational form, with the particular men who constitute, represent and lead them, are no longer recognized by their class (or fraction of a class) as its expression” – Antonio Gramsci, Prison Noteboooks, International Publishers, New York, 1971, p. 210. Emphasis added)

This is how Gramsci, sitting inside Mussolini’s fascist prison, began his now celebrated discussion of the ‘crisis of hegemony’. I cite this here apropos of the discussion that has gone on some of the previous posts by Monobina Gupta, Sankar Ray and myself on the CPM/Left in West Bengal, in the course of which, I have been accused of ‘coming out’ as a supporter of the Trinamool Congress, which some have also termed as a fascist or even ‘super-fascist’ organization! Clearly, these gentlemen neither know the history of fascism nor indeed of Marxism. Fed on pamphlets of a certain marxist catechism, they have learnt only one thing: the division of the world into two camps where ostensibly, battle lines are permanently drawn between parties that apparently have a ‘mandate from heaven’ of bearing a particular class character, either bourgeois or working class. I hope none of those who have learnt their ‘dialectics’ or their ‘historical materialism’ from marxism-made-easy pamphlets of Emile Burns, Maurice Cornforth and Stalin will jump to pronounce Gramsci a postmodernist who denies this supposed ‘class essence’ of parties . (I am told though that these too are passe now; ‘cadres’ these days are not meant to read beyond party resolutions and ‘theoretical’ essays of Prabhat Patnaik, whose own world has stopped with Michal Kalecki).

Continue reading A Few Lessons on Marxism and Politics

Did You Say ‘US Imperialism’, Prakash Karat? Sankar Ray

Guest post by SANKAR RAY

The CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat and the Left Front chairman Biman Bose deserve thanks for referring to the WikiLeaks revelation about the US enthusiasm in seeing a change of guard at the Writers’ Buildings, the seat of the Government of West Bengal.

Prakash Karat, CPM general secretary
Prakash Karat, CPM general secretary, courtesy rediff.com

Quoting the cable no 230353 10/20/2009, Mr Karat conveyed the gist of it as follows: “Since the May 2009 parliamentary elections elevated West Bengal’s regional party, All India Trinamool Congress, from obscurity to the second largest constituent party in the United Progressive Alliance, its leader, Mamata Banerjee, has conscientiously sought to re-brand herself as West Bengal’s Chief Minister-in-Waiting. She is using the considerable administrative resources at her disposal as Railway’s Minister, political resources as leader of the state opposition party, and personal resources to initiate this transformation. Supporters and critics acknowledge the new image, but question whether it is indeed a new product, or simply new packaging. Backed by a large parliamentary constituency and allied with the ruling Congress party, Banerjee’s Trinamool is well placed to win the 2011 state assembly elections if she can continue along her current path of self-restraint and avoid making any mistakes along the way.” For details, the reader has to visit http://pragoti.org, even though it’s unabashedly pro-CPI(M).

The CPI(M) supremo observed that the AITC brass “is very much within private outreach. I’m in no position unfortunately to investigate and tell you what they are doing to fulfill this general direction they’ve given in the cable”.

Continue reading Did You Say ‘US Imperialism’, Prakash Karat? Sankar Ray

The ‘Whore of Babylon’ – Or, Misogyny, Sexism, CPM Style

It has to be seen and heard to be believed! Former Arambagh CPM(M) MP Anil Basu , addressing an election rally in his home turf likened Mamata Banerjee to a ‘whore of Sonagachi’, who is now getting rich clients from the US to give money for her election campaign! I draw attention to this with the greatest of respect for the women  he is referring to, sex workers who work hard to make a living. When Basu refers to them, however, it nothing but a statement of  misogynist contempt for women in public and reveals, once again the mindset of the Left leadership that rules West Bengal.

Some extracts from today’s Indian Express report:

 “Addressing a rally yesterday, Basu made references to Sonagachi — Kolkata’s red-light area. “Where is she getting the money from?” he asked. “From which bhatar (Bengali derogatory slang for a woman’s “illicit male partner”) did she get Rs 24 crore to fund the Trinamool Congress’s poll expenses?”

Saying that prostitutes in Sonagachi “do not even look at smaller clients” when they get a “big client”, Basu said now that the Trinamool has got a “big client” — the USA — to fund its poll expenses, it is not interested in the “smaller clients” from Chennai, Andhra Pradesh and other places in the country.”

Continue reading The ‘Whore of Babylon’ – Or, Misogyny, Sexism, CPM Style

The Paradoxical Figure of Mamata: Monobina Gupta

Guest post by MONOBINA GUPTA

With the coming assembly elections, West Bengal seems to be poised on the edge of a historic upheaval that will, in all probability, enter the collective memory of its people, much like the momentous 1977 elections. The most palpable moment of this churning will manifest in what looks like an unbelievable denouement – that of the thirty-four year old monolithic rule of the Left Front. Equally stunning might be the image of Mamata Banerjee, bringing the red fortress down – a politician, almost bludgeoned to death by CPI-M cadres on 16th August 1990, now transformed into the emblematic face of this extraordinary hour. The 2011 polls may be billed as the great unraveling of West Bengal, its politics and culture – but also, I think, of gender relations. Banerjee is on the verge of acquiring a unique status, becoming the first woman head of a state well known for its misogynist culture, notwithstanding many claims to the contrary.

mamata banerjee
Mamata Banerjee. Courtesy The Hindu, Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

An important aspect of Banerjee’s ascendancy may be lost if we fail to locate her persona within this grid of power and gender relations; if we do not contextualize her in Bengal’s thriving culture of male chauvinism. The association of West Bengal and its ruling Marxists with the autonomy and radicalization of women – who are supposedly respected in Bengal unlike in other parts of the country – is a well preserved myth. Bengal respects its women, but only if they belong to the hallowed league of ‘Mothers and Sisters’. Like elsewhere, ‘deviant’ women have little place in the land of the Renaissance.

Continue reading The Paradoxical Figure of Mamata: Monobina Gupta