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Comprador Intellectuals on the War-Path

March 28, 2007

[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.

The statement of the seventeen intellectuals is a masterpiece in fudging and dissembling. It is slyly drafted and misleading. Purporting to be ‘neutral’, the statement, speaks in the mode of what the Guru of its authors, Lenin, would have called a subterfuge. Witness this:

“The tragedy at Nandigram on March 14 was an entirely unanticipated, unjustified and unfortunate turn of events, whose exact origin and course should be established through a proper enquiry“.

Never mind the fact that, prior to the police-party action, everybody knew what was in the offing and Bengali papers had already foretold it. It is almost as if we must take these venerated souls at their word that nothing, absolutely nothing is really known about the events that took place in Nandigram. Not very different was the case with Modi’s ‘action-reaction’ theory but while we should mistrust him, we must simply trust the CPM, because they say so. It of course, stands to reason that there should be a comprehensive and impartial inquiry into the events and we all wait for that day when things are brought out to light.

In the meanwhile, there have been at least half a dozen independent inquiries and fact-finding reports, including the latest by the APDR (Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights) and the PBKMS (Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity) – not too mention the investigation conducted by respected Left-wing and professedly pro-CPM and pro-LF intellectuals like Profs Sumit and Tanika Sarkar among others. We also have versions by others like Medha Patkar and the NAPM. NOT ONE of these investigations gives any indication that there might be any truth to the CPM’s official line. And yet, if one were to go by the statement signed authored by Messrs Prabhat Patnaik and other JNU economists, all these accounts are suspect. What will ever reveal the truth in that case? A state-sponsored inquiry where people conduct inquiries for their bread and butter and tailor them to the needs of powers-that-be? The learned intellectuals, in making this single statement, are actually calling into question every single independent voice – including those that have been, till Nandigram and Singur, sympathetic to their party.

One scribe who happens to be employed with the party paper, People’s Democracy, has even gone on to suggest, in this very blog, that (and I quote):

“…all the ‘independent’ ‘fact-finding’ groups at Nandigram and Singur started with an anti-Communist, specifically anti-CPI (M), mindset (and here they have had happy meetings of the mind with the right-reactionary Trinamul Congress, the ultra left, and the religious fundamentalists of both persuasions).”

Let us remind ourselves that this gentleman is talking of ALL independent fact-finding groups, including Sumit and Tanika Sarkar. And he clearly wants us to believe that they started with the anti-communist mind-set (which share a happy meeting ground with the reactionary right-wing). He is of course, merely echoing the voice of God. “It is shocking”, says His Master’s Voice, Prakash Karat,

“that many of the intellectuals who claim to be on the Left, have not said a word of condemnation about these cleansing operations which led to the brutal murder of Sankar Samanta, a CPI(M) panchayat member and Sunita Mondal, a school student…”

It is of course, another matter – and Mr Karat knows this well – that those whom he is referring to (‘not a word of condemnation’ etc) are actually pained (a trifle naively, I might add) that the CPM has acted in the way it has. But why bother? Doesn’t this serve the supreme rhetorical purpose of de-legitimizing the critics? Mark the words: intellectuals who claim to be on the Left, a classic style of a totalitarian mind that decrees, as did Stalin, who is and till which point, a Leftist or a Communist and when s/he becomes “an enemy of the state, in the service of German fascists.” Not for a moment is there any doubt in his or his partymen’s minds that would rise the other question: Could there be some truth in thsese reports, since there are people of impeccably Left-wing credentials who are raising them? Have they suddenly gone mad that after a lifetime of Left/communist politics, they should suddenly discover some love for the right wing like Trinamool Congress? Such questions, remember, are prohibited in any theological dispensation. It is, thus, pretty much in this vein that Karat proceeds: “It speaks for the character of the political combine that is spearheading the Nandigram agitation who, after knowing that the government is not going to acquire land in Nandigram, went ahead with instigating or condoning violence against the CPI(M)’s elected representatives in the panchayats, its local leaders, members and families. Certain NGOs with international links and the anti-Communist media have lent full support to this enterprise.”

For those who may not be attentive to the tone, this is a theological claim where the ‘political character’ of the CPM is supposed to be above question, self-evident and bestowed by the grace of God. The political character of everybody else has to be certified by the CPM. Let us ask the holier-than-thou Mr Karat that when he talks of “NGOs with international links”, does he not know (and do Professors Patnaik, Bagchi and Alam, for that matter) that many signatories to the comprador intellectuals’ statement, part of the close inner CPM circle, run an ‘NGO’ with funding from Ford Foundation and ActionAid (what say you Professors Chandrashekhar and Ghosh)? But their political character does not stand in need of such scrutiny; they are a priori radical, Left, revolutionary!

We are living under a democracy and yet, the power of the CPM to tar anybody, including fellow travelers of decades, with the same brush as say Trinamool Congress, remains. Thanks in large part to a certain liberal tolerance of this intrinsically authoritarian politics, often in the name of ‘fighting the Right’.

But today we do not talk about Nandigram. Nor about the West Bengal government. We talk about the political culture on the Left that the statement of the comprador intellectuals seeks to promote. It is after all no accident that the statement was authored almost while the party leadership, scared of its increasing isolation among the intellectuals, decided to go into an offensive. The tone was slightly different from that of the party’s but the substance remained quite the same. It came in as soon as others, lesser beings, started entering blogs and email lists forwarding, as somebody put it, the frozen word of God: the Politburo statement itself! These characters did not really have the guts to make any argument of their own but were executing the writ of higher authorities. They were asked to counter the campaign ‘against the party’ – and so they did; faithfully, unimaginatively and boringly. After a point the defense of naked power can only be boring and unimaginative, as there are really no arguments left.

Meanwhile, the SFI and DYFI ‘activists’ have hit the streets in Kolkata to campaign against and ‘expose’ the intellectuals who have asked for justice in Nandigram and even as we write, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is thundering against them at an SFI-DYFI rally in Netaji Indoor Stadium (watch out for the belligerent reports tomorrow). The language of this campaign is worth registering. Thus spake:

Palash Das, DYFI leader and Editor Jubashakti (the DYFI magazine): “Some of the so-called city intellectuals are behaving irresponsibly and making provocative statements that is clearly bringing out their party bias”… “It appears this section of the society have used Singur and Nandigram to come to the limelight and establish themselves as intellectuals.”

Apurba Chatterjee, state secretary of the SFI, (arguing that “some second-rate writers and artists have joined hands to malign the State government and support the conspirators who don’t want development and industry in Bengal”): “We have boycotted this section of intellectuals. But we are glad that some of the leading intellectuals of the city and country like Sunil Gangopadhyay, Buddhadeb Guha, Soumitra Chattopadhyay, Irfan Habib, Prabhat Pattanaik are with us in this battle against evil forces trying to sabotage industrial development in Bengal.”

Need we say anything more (we shall of course, refrain from saying anything about the intelligence of the persons who have made these amazing statements, hiding behind the Prabhat Patnaiks and Irfan Habibs)? The language and the tone and tenor says it all. It is this political culture of everyday totalitarian terror that the comprador intellectuals have stepped in to support…

13 Comments leave one →
  1. janaki permalink
    March 29, 2007 1:46 AM

    I am so glad i read this post. I have been feeling so disappointed with the statement issued by these left intellectuals, i couldn’t believe they would go to such an extent of covering up. As the post hints, there is so much similarity with the right wing defense strategy and between statements by CPM leaders and those issued by modi and BJP after gujarat in tone and content as well.

  2. Rajesh permalink
    March 30, 2007 2:11 AM

    In January this year, I had attended a talk by Sumit and Tanika Sarkar at CWDS on Singur and the Left. They had taken the trouble of making a day’s trip to Singur to see it for themselves, and found that most of the allegations made of fertile agricultural land being grabbed, of police atrocities and violence by CPM cadres, were true.

    It was quite appalling to see two CWDS faculty (both, as it transpired, CPM sympathisers) going after the Sarkars for making sweeping generalisations after a short trip, being biased, not collecting enough facts, not seeing the larger picture (of stagnant agriculture and the need to industrialise). To Tanika Sarkar, who said that she had spent all her life reading only Prabhat and Utsa Patnaik on economic alternatives, and why was the Left not trying it out now, under the most conducive political circumstances, one of the CPM supporters said, “You should have read People’s Democracy instead”.

    The insecurities of the CPM supporters came out at the end of 2 hours of wrangling- `we are nothing here, at least in Bengal there is a strong organisational base, why are you questioning it?’

    Of course the Sarkars did go a little overboard by saying the CPM had become a party of the upper middle class (on the basis of the hoardings of the `good life’ that have mushroomed in Calcutta!), and by comparing the CPM doublespeak to Vajpayee-Advani. Sumit appeared to pooh-pooh dialectics when someone raised a methodological question about the particular and the universal. Sumit also said something about the CPM being Stalinist. The CPM duo were quick to pick up these statements and accuse the Sarkars of trivialising what should have been a serious inner-party debate.

    One of the worrying points that the Sarkars made was this feeling among the CPM ranks in Kolkata that they alone had a monopoly on the truth. Any counter-observations are met by “Oh, but the TMC/SUCI/Naxalites say that”, meaning if they do, and because they do, it must be untrue.

    I think the door has been opened for a serious re-appraisal of the history of post-Independence West Bengal, a point that the Sarkars surprisingly did not make in that talk. Maybe unsurprising, because they confessed they had read only Left literature, suspected that something was wrong but held their peace in the NDA years. In short, everything was OK till Buddhadeb, which is a very ahistorical position to take.

    Are Singur and Nandigram to the future of Marxism in India, what the collapse of the USSR has been to Marxism in the world? Can ordinary people be blamed if they become very distrustful of any organisation calling itself Marxist? Can one imagine a world of critical thought and action without Marx? With friends like the present CPI(M) leadership and their intellectual accomplices, Marx does not need enemies. They praise Marx in order to bury him.

  3. radha upadhya permalink
    April 15, 2007 9:26 PM

    Well said rajesh

  4. gangamitra baidyanathan permalink
    May 16, 2007 10:09 AM

    I am surprised to find “ALL independent fact-finding groups, including Sumit and Tanika Sarkar”. Prof Sumit Sarkar / Tanika Sarkar never visited Nandigram. How much LIES you would continue to spread Mr. Aditya ?
    And if by any means Pro Sarkar is unable to understand why Singur Auto industry is needed even at the cost of farming – pl. tell him to interact with me thru e-mail. I, although being a simple ordinary citizen, will surely make him realise it. Unfortunately many intellectuals don’t understand their own limits of understanding, which they got to learn from common fellows.

  5. Aditya Nigam permalink
    May 17, 2007 12:00 AM

    Mr ORDINARY CITIZEN BAIDYANATHAN, you truly sound like a VHP goon and NOT an ordinary citizen. And I would not really like to waste my time trying to convince you about anything. Just for the benefit of others who may be reading your fulminations, I must state that you, like the VHP, do not care to check your facts – so long as it serves the rhetorical purpose of the moment. Thus you can lie through your teeth that profs Sumit and Tanika Sarkar have never been to Nandigram. You should understand that this is not a street corner meeting where there is not record of the spoken word. You will appear very silly to those who read this and know that you are lying. Let me just also add, while we are at it, that you might be the last person they would need to interact with. I sincerely pray that you, and others like you should perish for the larger cause of humanity (if somebody must, for ‘Progress’?) – so that the farmers may live in peace. They may want to decide to sell their land and start an industry of their own, but then that will be their decision – not to keep your Vedic villages and swank health Spa-s running in Rajarhat’s New Township going. Do you live there, by any chance, Mr ORDINARY CITIZEN? Is that why people like you want the peasants’ land at throwaway prices – or preferably no prices?

  6. gangamitra baidyanathan permalink
    May 17, 2007 10:22 AM

    Hey Aditya, last time you termed me a CPM stooge, now you are terming me a VHP goon. People will laugh at you only for so much of confusion and contradiction within yourself.
    Even a small child will laugh at your sub-juvenile theory that the peasants should make their own industry on their own farmland. Who will supply them Capital – You? So generous of you. Who will enable them with Technology – You? So ingenuine of you. Who will change them with modern manegerial understanding – you? So bold of you.
    So I suggest please act yourself and show that your model sustains. Evenif it sustains for only one year I shall catch your feet. Otherwise don’t talk RUBBISH.
    For your information the SINGUR farmers got the highest ever compensation ever paid against land acquisition in this country. Please LEARN properly before trying to teach others.

  7. Aditya Nigam permalink
    May 17, 2007 11:09 PM

    Dear Ordinary Citizen, I can see you frothing at the mouth each time you open it. That is why these days, VHP goons and CPM cadres/stooges look and sound so alike. Please acquaint yourself with the history of industry and industrialization the world over before you reveal your utter ignorance. This fairy story that you tell about industrialization is manufactured in places we all know about – from IMF and World Bank offices and by those who want the whole world for their consumption…cheers, AN

  8. gangamitra baidyanathan permalink
    May 18, 2007 11:49 PM

    Dear Aditya,
    I find you are ignorant of basic History even. Strange. Were you not a school-goer? You seem to be ignorant of the fact they never and nowhere in the history of mankind an industry was set up by the people of the soil. The initiatives were always from outside the communities – whether repressive or congenial. Wherever such outside initiatives are not present the technical capabilities of the locals remain limited to the expression of Artisanal Technology only, never gets promoted to an Industry. I didn’t realise before that you are so immature and don’t have these basic understanding about industialisation. I thought you are at last double my age and gathered enough wisdom, but it seems to be a mistake.
    Any way, you have avoided the compensation amount issue. May I know why? Is it because you have to accept a truth, which is sweeter to the concerned farmers but bitter to you?

  9. Aditya Nigam permalink
    May 19, 2007 1:39 AM

    Dear Gangamitra,
    Things have changed – and our knowledge of them too – vastly since you last went to school. Please do read some work on the industrial revolution and some recent more interesting debates for your own benefit…The compensation issue is bullshit – that is why I don’ t respond to it. NOBODY has the right to take my land for whatever compensation. So that is that! But seriously, do you live in New Township, Rajarhat? You did not reply…I wonder why. Even if you don’t, how many jobs has the township generated Mr Baidyanathan, apart from some menial/domestic labour for owners of Aqua apartments with swimming pools and Spa-s?

  10. Gangamitra Baidyanathan permalink
    September 2, 2007 11:23 AM

    Hi Aditya,

    Long time there was no talk with you. I like your statement – Bulls don’t respond to their own shit. Surely why should you respond to the mess of understanding of your own?
    Sorry, I am not from Rajarhat New Township. But I have many students who remained jobless after passing out from high school from that area. Almost all of them are now earning – thanks to the economic activities that has been generated in Rajarhat. They needed this first to save their existence. They had other option – to fall prey of campaign like yours and perish. However they are not foolish like you.
    As I find here the Marxists don’t identify development as the reactionery enemy of people. They are right in saying that the issue lies in how much of the surplus can be returned back to the working class and in what way the. Stopping development only because at present you don’t possess the right mechanism to do it, is a suicidal attempt only.
    Stopping Singur is also a suicide.
    Stopping chemical Hub is also a suicide.
    And Aditya encouraging others to commit suicide is a crime. Don’t do that. If you agree to refrain from this task I would surely stamp your cheeks with red of my lips.

  11. Kunal Chattopadhyay permalink
    November 27, 2007 11:24 AM

    Tanika Sarkar did make trips to nandigram. On one occasion, i met her the day before she went as well as two days after she returned. This is old hat by now. But I thought I should prick the lie.

  12. mohan permalink
    December 6, 2007 11:15 AM

    dear Rajesh,
    i do not from where u got the information that Tanika and Sumit Sarkar have been CPM sympathisers. They have always been critical of CPM.

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  1. Analysis of the statement on Nandigram issued by Prabhat Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, and other CPI(M) intellectuals at Sanhati

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