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Doing What States Do (Very Well)

December 3, 2007

Arundhati Roy articulated in her interview last night on IBN7, the deep suspicions of the “deep state” that many of us have harboured in our collective anti-national (and now apparently anti-left) bosom. How convenient that the violent anti-Tasleema protests have deflected the anger of the left-secular folks from Nandigram to Islamic fundamentalism. Arundhati responded to a question about whether she was claiming there was a conspiracy, by saying, quite correctly, that there doesn’t need to be anything as crude as that. But we know, people on the street know – there’s something way too convenient in the timing. Or, as she put it elsewhere, quoting a Hindi film song, “yeh public sab jaanti hai.”

Imagine my disappointment as a political theorist to discover that we don’t need to make any intellectual forays into the complex ways in which states “see” and “do”. There was a conspiracy, and it worked out like the the script of a bad street play, in which the villains mutter and grimace and do bad things in the dark of the night, while the good folk get all confused by the sudden transformation of their peaceful locality by dawn. (Life is in fact a bad street play, a realization I came to long ago).

Mohammed Safi Shamsi has a very revealing account of events running up to the violence on the Tasleema issue on the streets of Kolkata, in The Indian Express on Sunday, December 2nd.

Let me summarize his findings.

a) On November 1, the October issue of Path Sanket, a CPM-run Bengali magazine, reaches subscribers. This issue contains an anonymous letter supporting Tasleema’s writings, with some gratuitous and objectionable remarks of its own, about Prophet Mohammed.

b) Nobody in the editorial team of the magazine knows how this letter came to be published. A member of the team, Asim Bala, tells Shamsi that he is shocked and embarrassed, that the letter is against the philosophy of the magazine, and that he is glad the government banned that issue (which it did in a week, on November 8). “We are ashamed of what happened”, Bala says, “this is a historical blunder”.

c) The magazine is run entirely by CPM volunteers – how did the letter suddenly get in? Bala thinks it may have been one of the volunteers who inserted this letter “as a prank” at the last minute at the printing press – the editorial team saw the letter for the first time after the issue was out.

d) Between November 7 and 9, when small demonstrations have taken place in Kolkata, photocopies of the anonymous letter are distributed in Muslim-dominated localities. By whom?

e) On November 21 the All India Minority Forum organizes a road blockade at Park Circus. Later in the day “violence erupts” in different parts of Kolkata. All by itself? Spontaneously? Oh, you mean, like in communal riots. (How many people does it take to start simultaneous acts of violence in several localities? How many “cadre” does it take?)

State power cynically gambling on human lives to wrest back control from mass movements? NO! Surely not?

(You can read Shamsi’s article here.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 14, 2007 6:43 PM

    Guatemalan poet, Otto Rene Castillo, who was killed by government
    forces in the ambush of a guerrilla group in 1954 when President
    Arbenz was overthrown by the US mercenaries, wrote a poem, excerpts of
    which are below.

    One day, the apolitical intellectuals
    of my country will be interrogated
    by the simplest of our people.
    They will be asked what they did,
    when their nation died out,
    slowly,
    like a sweet fire,
    small and alone.

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