Singur, Mediotics and an NGO Called Indian Express
[Note: Television was often referred to as the the idiot-box. For very sound reasons. It produced idiocy on a regular basis. It still does. But in these days, this is no longer the monopoly of the televisual media. Newspapers too are doing pretty much the same. Let us call this specific form of media-generated idiocy, rampant among media persons, mediocy and the phenomenon, mediotics. Those affected by it will then be mediots.]
I know that someone will immediately step in to correct me to say that Indian Express is not an NGO. But if one looks at the completely illiterate use of the term made by the Indian media, then anything that is not ‘governmental’ is ‘non-governmental’ and can, hence, be called an NGO. Except that for the large mass of ignoramuses peopling the media i.e. mediots, this is a safe term to describe an animal that you cannot identify.
A political party or a corporation is identifiable – and let us keep these two animals in mind for these will be continuous reference points in our attempt to understand the mind of the mediot. A civil liberties organization like the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), or a People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), or the specific outfit mentioned in today’s Express report, the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), is as unfathomable to these corporatized, unthinking minds, as is for example the NAPM (the National Alliance of People’s Movements) which has among its key constituents the Narmada Bachao Andolan and its leader, Medha Patkar. They are all NGOs.
Today’s Indian Express runs a report on Singur, following up from yesterday’s. The reporters go and meet ‘all’ participant groups of the struggle – and I shall return to the struggle later – and ask them one single and simple question: who funds you? Where do you get your money from? As if, once it were ‘proved’ that a foreign donor (the report mentions Ford Foundation) funds or at some previous time funded, any of these outfits, it would be ‘proved’ that they are working for some outside agency, are not genuine etc. The burden of the Express song is that “Mamata Banerjee’s” agitation (since when it became Mamata’s is of course, another question) has been taken over by a ragtag combination of Naxals, ex-Naxals, NGOs (presumably funded by Ford), disgruntled ex-CPI-M elements and such others. We shall presently indicate how many lies lie concealed in this short story. But before that, one word of appreciation is called for.
One thing that these mediots do understand – correctly, for once – is that the key difference between an NGO and a non-NGO is that the former is funded by some funding agency. After all, a corporation does not require funding. It is supposed to be the source of all funding. Nor do political parties. For they get their funds, as we know only too well, from corporations. But they form governments and are therefore in a position to repay the corporations, by other means. This much the mediot knows. Thereafter, s/he faces a real knowledge barrier. Corporatized mediotics produces one Truth relentlessly, daily, by the hour: Corporations and capital are the only saviours of humanity that has lost its way, enticed into eating the fruit of the ‘tree of knowledge’ by these Satanic forces of the Left/NGO variety. Mediots thus shun knowledge that Capital, their God, has forbidden; they are duty-bound to do so.
However, for those who might want to know, let us state it clearly. All NGOs have to be registered under the Societies Registration Act and have an FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act) clearance from the Government of India, before they can get any funding. The most important condition for getting such clearance is that the organization concerned must not engage in political activities (political activities being defined here as holding demonstrations and dharnas, picketing, publishing newspapers and such other activity). If they do something like jamming a highway, or picketing the Nano factory gates that all these so-called ‘NGOs’ were clearly doing, their FCRA can be cancelled without further ado. Mediots wouldn’t be mediots if they knew that there are simpler ways of getting your FCRA cancelled!
As it happens, the Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samity (PBKMS), one of the prime targets of that story, is registered under the Trade Unions Act, is affiliated to the IUF (International Union of Food and Farm Workers’ Associations) and to the best of our knowledge, does not get any institutional funding.
Now let us turn to the story, its text and sub-text. First the headline (in the print version, Delhi edition):
“Upstaging Mamata’s Drama: Tata institute graduate, Ford Foundation & JP, The Socialist.”
Question 1: When did Singur become Mamata’s drama? It is as though she has authored it. Suits everybody. Life was going on well. There was a Communist government that had vowed to serve Capital, their God, at all costs. Then suddenly something happened. This motley crowd came along and spoiled the party. What fun we all were having! And look at these jholawals (Express’s preferred term for such people), they just come and destroy everything. NOw once again their knowledge block hits them. Who are these people, who have no presence anywhere in the state but have the power to spoil the party? It must be Mamata Banerjee. Else, their fantasy-world just cannot hold. Suits the CPM – it can now say, it is all orchestrated by the opposition. Suits the mediotic ideologues of capital who can now claim that this whole thing is driven by plain electoral-political interests who are ‘against the interests’ of the ‘people of West Bengal’.
Q2: What relevance does it have for anything or anybody that Anuradha Talwar of PBKMS is a TISS graduate? Is it being suggested that the Tatas should screen all possible futures of all the graduates they produce or will produce and inoculate them against anti-Tata activism? Or, is this a crude carry-over of a CPM-style canard about her being ‘elite’ – educated at LSR and TISS and having once set up an NGO called Gana Samhati Kendra in 1984, that was funded by Ford? Whatever it be, it is interesting, to say the least. It is for Ford to clarify their role in propping up the Singur struggle, of course but most readers would be left spellbound at such digging out of personal histories.
Q3: Where does JP, The Socialist figure? Poor fellow, we knew died decades – if not centuries ago! Is there some despicable attempt to establish patriliny of the participants going on here? As if that would establish that they belong to some bad breed? And what does it mean to say ‘JP’ where you mean an organization that merely claims his inspiration? May we then merely say ‘Goenka’ when we want to say ‘Indian Express’? Or ‘Karl Marx’ when we want to say ‘CPI-M’? As it happens this attempt at establishing genealogies is directed at trying to ‘prove’ two things. First, this is a ‘ragtag’ combination of diverse elements with no common ideological basis. Second, that virtually all components of this combination have ‘virtually no presence in the state’ but are basically backed by ‘other’ considerations – funding, settling scores with the CPI-M, being anti-industry, or being socialist and so on. Many of them do not even have offices, the report tells us, gleefully, as if the mediots have made some new discovery. We might enlighten them that many movement groups or political citizens groups across the country have deliberately not built up ‘offices’ and real estate, because they function on an altogether different logic and do not want to either get NGO-type funding or corporate backing. But according the report, they are NGOs and have no office – and both statements are supposed to be true at the same time and both equally damning indictments.
Now let us take a closer look at the sub-text of the report. Once you remove these layers of strange accusations, allegations and insinuations, what is revealed is the blank surface of the mediot mind. A mind that can gasp and unbelievingly ask the tribals of Kalinganagar (after a dozen people were killed in police firing), ‘are you against industrialization?’ must be a truly innocent and blank one. It has still not registered to these people that the CPI-M was defeated in the Singur and Nandigram panchayat elections and that its effect reverberated in other areas as well. It has also not registered that the municipal elections that followed saw an even more serious setback for the CPM. Presumably there is actually no reason for what has been happening in Singur except that some trouble makers are creating trouble. Malcontents who neither have any presence in the state, not even an office, have simply taken over “Mamata’s drama.”
Are we missing something here? Now, there is no doubt that, electorally, it was Mamata’s Trinamool Congress that trounced the CPI-M. And all these other fellows do not really have any presence anywhere, no mass support. Yet they ‘took over’ “Mamata’s drama”! And Mamata, the real power player who split the Congress, has given the Left Front headaches for years, simply concedes ground to these characters? Why are they so important to Mamata? They can’t mobilize votes and they have no money, but they have hijacked the agitation. A question to ponder over. A Times of India report a few days ago displayed a somewhat better sense of the situation. According to this report, the TMC has had no relationship with rural West Bengal for a long time and they therefore do not understand it. This gap is being filled up, says the report, by Naxals and the Party for Democratic Socialism (the Saifuddin Chowdhury-Samir Putatunda breakaway from the CPI-M). This is indeed important. But there is something else as well that is of critical importance. One of the key social groups moving away from the Left Front today is the Muslims, especially the Muslim peasantry. And there are radical Islamist elements waiting to capitalize on this situation. Mamata, if she seeks to present a real political alternative, has to actually live down her NDA past.
But that is only part of the story. What is completely beyond the comprehension of the mediots is the logic of the thing called politics. Politics to these people is a game of manipulation by crafty people who want power. Everything is read through this lens. However, somebody who has done even an elementary study of politics will tell you that when a spontaneous mass movement occurs, it compels all political forces present in the field to take a position. Inevitably, it means that all kinds of forces will make common cause: Look at the JP movement that the report invokes. From the Naxals, CPI-M, Gandhians and Socialists to the RSS, all hues were part of the movement – some fully, some hesitatingly. Take any movement – say the October revolution in Russia – and the same pattern can be seen to be repeated. The fact that any movement displays the presence of a motley crowd among its supporters is a sure sign of its ‘mass’ nature. But the mediot mind is screened against any kind of depth. It can only see the surface (which does not of course make an imbecile a postmodernist!)
But talking of funding, before we sign off, one point remains.
We know one thing about both corporations and political parties: they are not disinterested players. They have a mission and a goal – in one case profit and in another, power. Most other things that they do are secondary to achieving this fundamental goal.
But what about newspapers and television channels run by corporations or industrial houses, supposedly wedded to ‘uncovering the truth’? Epitomes of a ‘journalism of courage’ (the slogan of course, comes from the Emergency days, no doubt, but is mired in the dirty history of corporate wars of those days between an upcoming Reliance and a Bombay Dyeing)? These media institutions claim to provide ‘objective’ and disinterested information so that citizens may make informed choices. They are the makers of public opinion. Nobody however, asks journalists to declare where there ‘funds’ come from? And here we are not talking simply of their salaries, which at the editors levels can run into a crore or more? We are talking of the money they earn on the side – a bungalow here or a car there or shares in some company or the other?