We Are Where We Know Not What Befalls Us… in Bengal!
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.
The Brigade of the Gullible
Frankly speaking, even some of the leaders suspected that what they were saying was possibly wishful thinking. The ones really to be deluded, misled, made fools of repeatedly in history are the ‘cadre’. The cadre at the village level in West Bengal, certainly, because people stopped expresssing to them what they were planning to do, quite some time back. But more pathetic is the historical fate of the middle class cadre, the one’s about whom one can only say: ‘Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die” (though these days you cannot even expect them to court the slightest danger for ‘the cause’, let alone death!). It was this cadre that alone was surprised when socialism disappeared from the face of this earth. Nobody else was fooled. Why I say it is their historical destiny to be fooled time and time again, is because, like the followers of a blind religious sect, they have only learnt to train their guns at anyone who dares to differ from them. So, there you go: ‘CIA agents’, ‘paid agents’ ‘disillusioned communist in the service of the enemy’, ‘cut off from the masses’ blah blah blah…
The sheer scale of the LF’s defeat is stunning. At the time of writing this post, all the gatekeepers of the Executive Club of History are trailing: Buddhadeb, Gautam Deb, Nirupam Sen…So far they alone have certified who is ‘rooted in mass movements’ and their gullible faithfuls have parroted it ad nauseam. History seems to have played a cruel trick on them.
I once narrated this lovely story elsewhere but it bears repeating for those who may have missed it, for it tells us of the mindset of this ‘theirs-not-to-reason-why-brigade’:
Sitaram Yechury had just returned from Romania after attending its party congress. The last, it turned out. The swan song of ‘state socialism’. As it happened, in the party congress the entire Ceausescu leadership of the Romanian Communist Party was elected unanimously. An excited and inspired Sitaram wrote a report in the People’s Democracy. By the cruel irony of fate that issue appeared in public in the same week that ‘socialist Romania’ collapsed. Shortly after that there was meeting of the SFI central executive committee and as per tradition, that was also the occasion for holding the student party fraction meeting. (Pardon me for sounding a bit esoteric here, but I request you to bear with me for a minute more!). I had already moved from the ‘student front’ to the trade union front by then so the story that I am about to narrate was narrated to me by an SFI leader who is now a CC member. In that fraction meeting conducted by M Basavapunnaiah (Sitaram was his trainee then), an agitated comrade from Assam charged: Why did comrade Sitaram lie to us, lie to the party? Sitaram was visibly upset as the tirade at being misled continued. Sitaram got up to throw back the question at his tormentor: Are you saying I lied to the party? At that point, Basavapunnaiah apparently caught hold of Sitaram’s sleeve and pulled him back saying the following golden words: No my dear Sitaram, neither you lied to the party, nor the Romanian party lied to you; the people of Romania lied to their party!
One would have thought after this at least people would have learnt their lesson? But no…
So, to illustrate what I mean, just a sample of quotes from some such cadres who have advised us on various things, on Kafila, in the recent past (the extracts are in reverse chronological order):
(i) “We know that (sic) where Adithya Nigam stands in the working class movements in this country (he selectively unaware of massive trade union rally held by left unions and its relevance), and why you are writing this kind of paid essays or unpaid [an afterthought, thank God! AN], it is to satisfy your petty bourgosie thirst for some fashionable academic circus. (A comment from one Abraham on Sankar Ray’s post)
(ii) [T]hose who are arguing to vote-out the Left from Bengal even at the cost of making a reactionary alliance of Trinamool-Congress to power, does not at all introspect that why they have not been able to give a better ‘alternative Left’ than the largest communist party in India?…Either they are a lazy tad, not to work hard for building a real/actual Left or they are simply jealous of the CPI(M) because of its large mass base or they can be simply anti-Left in the garb of some Marxist jargons to hide their masks of ideological opportunism. What an ideological degeneration of these petty bourgeois radicalism? (One Maidul Islam, on Sankar Ray’s post above)
(iii) “I suggest you wait till 13th May when you will realize that withdrawal from mass movements and political activities also leads to isolation from the masses and the way they approach the political realm. ” (A comment from Upal Chakraborty (the advise directed at me) on the same post)
(iv) “What a load of bullshit! What happened at Singur was conducted by outsiders. The local people of Singur did not participate in the ” mass struggle” against the Tata factory. If they had done so, the factory could not be constructed. The construction is going on-and with full support of the local population. Nandigram was a public relations failure of the WB government… The Left Front will remain in power for the next 30 years (Arnab, on my post on the food riots in October 2007)
(v) “Rather than bother you with a reminder that all the ‘independent’ ‘fact-finding’ groups at Nandigram and Singur started with an anti-Communist specifically anti-CPI (M), mindset [NB: these include the one by Prof Sumit and Tanika Sarkar - AN], (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)…” (This comment is by no less a person than a correspondent of People’s Democracy, B Prashant in response to Monobina Gupta’s post on the CPM press conference in Delhi white-washing the massacre in Nandigram).
(vi) And last but not the least, how can we forget to recall the Sage Prabhat Patnaik’s unforgettable words: “The revolt against the CPI(M) is simultaneously a revolt against politics. The combination of anti-communism with a rejection of politics in general gives this revolt that added edge, that special anger. It is the anger of the morality of the “anti-political” against the morality of the “political”, for Communism, notwithstanding its substitution of the “political” for the “moral”, has nonetheless a moral appeal. The venom in the anti-Left intellectuals’ attack on the Left comes from the fact that this struggle, of the “morality of the anti-political” against the “morality of the political”, takes on the character of a desperate last struggle, a final push to destroy the latter, since “our day has come at last!”. (The famous tirade, to which we had responded – both the original and our response available here.)
So, this is world that the ‘theirs-not-to-reason-why-brigade’ lives in – a delusional world where, as Ghalib so aptly puts it, we are oblivious of what befalls us, out of touch with our own selves!
And just to underline once again: Every one who could have given them the news of the impending disaster, every one who tried to, was dubbed anti-Left. So, here I celebrate the death of arrogance!
A Difficult Sentiment: The Non-LF Left
And yet, let it be reiterated once more – for whatever it is worth – that the world, even today in West Bengal is not quite so simple and neatly divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’ (that is, in Patnaik’s definition, all those who are ‘not-us’). A whole range of complex emotions have been visible over the last decade or more where, increasingly, Left supporters moved away from the Left Front (but not the Left ideal). Their numbers have been swelling and there was already a massive erosion of the LF base in the 1999 elections. But most of those whom Patnaik called ‘venomous anti-Left intellectuals’, never managed to bring themselves to vote against the LF – for that would have meant voting for the Trinamool Congress which since 1999 had struck an allaince with the BJP. Indeed, it was the rise of the BJP led-NDA to power at the Centre that prevented further erosion of the LF’s base as many – especially the minorities – trooped back to the LF. The rise of Hindutva gave the CPM and LF a new lease of life. And this was LF’s trump card, its final blackmail to anyone who dared turn away from it: so you are supporting the Trinamool Congress?
Of course, it should also be added right here that not always was the disdain of Mamata Banerjee political: there was always a deep discomfort of the bhadralok intelligentsia with her crude, non-bhadralok manners. And her alliance with the BJP sealed her fate for a long time. Then two thing happened. Her alliance with the BJP broke and Singur/Nandigram erupted. The LF’s and CPMs conduct in that period was the real trigger that led people to cross the Rubicon. That is where the LF gamble failed to pay off this time. And even today, in this very election whose results we are witnessing right now, there are a large number of people who voted the LF out (which is not necessarily the same thing as voting the TMC in) because they believe that that is the last chance of its renewal; that a stint out of power will probably help some rethinking and renewal. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem for way back in the mid-1980s, a powerful section within the West Bengal CPM had argued for the deletion of para 112 from its programme (this being the para that provides for the possibility of forming state governments). This section too thought that the party was becoming glued to power and the only way to prevent its downward slide was to delete para 112 from the Programme. Personally, I do not believe that there is any possibility of renewal of this Left because every step it takes out of the marxist dogma, takes it one more step into neo-liberal capitalism straight, with no further thought. But since there are a large number of people, left sympathizers who do believe that, it is a point that needs to be registered, if only to underline how complex the political terrain is, even now.
A New Kind of Power
It is important to study the entire period of the LF’s rule if we are to understand what went wrong and where. As of now we do not have many thick descriptions of this entire period. However, on the basis of available studies and experience, it is possible to discern two distinct phases (at least) in the LF’s rule. The first, from 1977 to roughly 1987-89 where a lot of important measures were taken in restoring normal life in the state: examinations began being held on schedule; the abysmal power situation improved drastically and West Bengal became a power-surplus state; Operation Barga altered the face of rural Bengal in terms of putting an end to endless routine bloodshed when cultivation and harvesting began; the rural poor stood up with the backs straight as elected panchayats broke the power of the rural jotedars. Rural migration into the city was halted and at least in some parts some bit of rural prosperity was visible.
Over time, a new form of all-pervasive power seems to have taken shape. The combination of the panchayat (where very soon elections started becoming a farce with opponents not being allowed to contest), the local police, the civil administration and the fearful machinery of the party produced something unparalleled anywhere in the world: a virtually totalitarian power blended with and managed through the mechanism of electoral democracy. It was possibly a kind of benevolent totalitarianism for some time but increasingly, the control of the machinery passed on to the hands of land mafias, builders, property dealers etc. Extortion too became, gradually, an everyday phenomenon. Everywhere you had to pay ‘chanda’ to some party front or the other. The form that this took in rural Bengal is much more malign because, unlike urban areas, party surveillance and control can be completely suffocating in villages.
The crucial turning point seems to have come with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was at that point that the CPM leaders decided to make peace with the neo-liberal dispensation. The ground was already there insofar as the early moves in the neo-liberal direction (at the Centre) led to the removal of a whole host of obstacles to Bengal’s industrialization: the ending of the licence-permit raj, the ending of the discriminatory freight equalization policy, and so on. No longer would the chief minister have to go and knock at the Delhi durbar for getting the files cleared. He simply had to sit with whoever was willing to invest. What the collapse of the Soviet Union did was to remove the ideological barrier for those who were pushing in the neo-liberal direction. They could now tell themselves that this was now the only way available – look even China and Vietnam were going in that direction. They were now in a truly post-ideological world. Ideology, henceforth, was only for the gullible cadre.
But this is not all. Somewhere along the line, the CPM and the LF figured out that now all they needed was to get the private sector to come and invest and take over their task – that of governance. That was the new mantra: investment. Your task was over. So public health was a mess and it remained so. Primary education is another mess and no need was ever felt to address it. And higher education institutions became a party fiefdom, controlled through students’ and teachers’ unions and the Senates etc. Intellectual and cultural life in West Bengal reached its lowest ebb in history. After all, the dark period of Congress rule was also the period of a radicalization of intellectual and cultural life, of the rise of the Left and of a critical culture alongside. Those artist/es and intellectuals who managed to do something in those days, could do so only by struggling against all odds. Now party loyalty alone was to be rewarded. Mediocrity ruled.
Now, as the monolith collapses, the question of violence is being posed by the CPM and its allies. Already, in the last couple of weeks this campaign has been building up that there will be post-poll violence by the TMC against the CPM. The problem is misleadingly posed. Violent retribution by those who have been at the receiving end of endless CPM violence, particularly over the last two decades or so (on which the national media has so far maintained stoic silence) cannot be ruled out. But to call it Trinamool’s violence is to ingore the fact that CPM harmad vahinis have amassed weapons and fire-arms in different parts of rural Bengal and have used them often enough to establish their political supremacy – sometimes even against other LF partners. A kind of subtle terror backed by these arms and the harmads has been a feature of rural life in the state for quite sometime now. At this point we can do little more than to refer the reader to the piece we had posted in June 2009 in the wake of large-scale violence in Khejuri and other areas, following the CPM’s defeat in those areas. That was nothing short of popular insurgency against the crumbling power of the despots who ruled over people’s lives for decades.
And to conclude: Ghalib, ends the ghazal above on a self-deprecatory note thus:
Ka’aba kis munh se jaoge ‘Ghalib’
Sharm tumko magar nahin aati
Can we expect these Marxists who have reduced ‘self-criticism’ to a joke to, at least now, begin to reflect?