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The million mutinee question – Anant Maringanti

September 1, 2008

Guest post by ANANT MARINGANTI

How far is Nandigram from Chengara ? If we take media coverage and internet buzz as indicators, they are on two different planets.  The heat generated by Singur and Nandigram was enough to run a chain of mini power plants. All that the families in the Chengara holdout have managed to evoke is a few approving nods from here and there.  Here is a partial inventory of reasons why this might be so.

1) Singur and Nandigram are protests against disposession. The bad guys in the two instances are high profile harbingers of neoliberal globalization. No less. Chengara is about staking a claim to a welfare provision that nobody takes seriously anymore. There are no easily identifiable bad guys here.

2) Caste identities did not figure at all in Bengal. May be an occasional reference to minority status. (I wonder if anyone can identify a particular turn of events in Bengal’s history when caste was decisively pushed out of public discourse.) In Chengara, caste is in your face. And hence the ambivalence among potential supporters.

3) Kolkata’s College Street is thoroughly articulated into global networks of communication. Three decades of accumulated frustrations and anger of liberal progressives, communist romantics and dissident communists were channeled into these new networks, found a variety of new connections and produced a powerful effect. If there are comparable shared articulations of experience in Kerala they simply have not logged into their internet accounts yet.

One can go on. But none of these is sufficient to answer the question How far is Nandigram from Chengara. This question is not as simple as it appears. I ask that because it strikes me that the real issue is not so much that Nandigram became a slogan – Amar Naam tomar Naam nandigram Nandigram for a short while and Chengara has not.  It is that we all seem to understand these two places as points on a map.  There are no real connections between the two. We can track their trajectories through time. We can speak of how people hold on to ideals, norms and claims and pursue their aspirations through time. We can speak of what they are battling for or against at the moment. Yet when it comes to their simultaneity with each other, with other processes and events at all times, we are clueless.

It is a simultaneity that cannot be apprehended except through talking about spatial connectivities,  circulations, travel of ideas, people, money, symbols and the technologies that make them possible. Even in Chengara, as one trajectory of struggles for citizenship on an equal basis lands thousands of poor families predominantly Dalit/adivasi  at the Harrison plantation, another conditions people that are experiencing a different crisis to see their own futures as firmly linked to that same plantation. Can we make any claims to principles of justice, organization, struggle without uncovering how this struggle is unfolding ?  Can we do this if we keep our eyes focused on elite real politik?

Raymond Williams coined a beautiful expression – “militant particularisms” while describing struggles in the industrial areas of South Wales. The point he was driving at was that particularist struggles in places – what may seem bounded localities – are crucial to the development of socialist principles that can transcend localities. One could quarrel about how exactly such principles get expressed, who articulates them and how they travel and with what consequences. In fact, I would say if there is anything worth quarreling about, it is about how exactly that transcendance, boudary crossing, interscalar movement – in short how the journey from Nandigram to Chengara is to be effected. But if we stay tuned into only to explanations, rationalizations and condemnations of the particular demands, then we miss the connections, flows, movements. Nandigram and Chengara will continue to appear to be on two different planets each with its own completely independent trajectory. Why even in Chengara, the Dalit/Adivasi struggle would appear to be happening in a vacuum. Different, disparate, bounded places and communities inspiring parochial affiliations that are easy to mistake for solidarity.

It has been bothering me for the last two years as the number of requests for signing online petitions passing through my inbox kept increasing. A million mutinees breaking out here, there and everywhere. Each appears to be so different and yet so identical to the other. They are all red dots on the washed out map moving only in time. Protests by ‘local’ people against the onslaught of ‘neoliberal globalizers’ – those alien hoards that are coming at them from another planet.

Cant we do slightly better ? Display a little more global ambition ? Start talking about how  how exactly to transcend the militant particularisms of our million mutinees ?

[Anant Maringanti is Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Geography, National University of Singapore]

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