Some observations and takeaways from State Assembly elections in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam in May 2021 – from an original Facebook post. The observations are in the form of informal reflections but they point towards certain developments that might open up new, anticipated spaces for the struggle for a democratic India.
Federalism: The Election verdicts of May 2, 2021, from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Kerala scream ‘federalism’. The election results are so vastly different in the State Assemblies and Lok Sabha. The election outcomes of Delhi, Maharashtra, Haryana, West Bengal, Kerala are important examples of this phenomenon.
India is a country that naturally lends itself to federalism and greater state autonomy. While the Congress, by and large, didn’t allow for it, the BJP is hell-bent on a deeply centralized structure and crushing any aspiration for regional autonomy. If progressive forces don’t take up the question of federalism and state autonomy, then it runs the risk of slipping into the hands of crude chauvinists and xenophobes like Shiv Sena of yesteryears or secessionists like Khalistanis.
‘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’.
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 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→
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→
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→
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.
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→
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]
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.
[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.
[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 Ora–amra (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→
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→
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→
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.
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.
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.
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!→
“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).
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.
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”.
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.
“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.”