Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Story of Nandigram

"The story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By blind men who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nation stands
Which is to sacrifice a people for a land............."
-Joan Baez

Nandigram is many stories weaved into one,stories that have transformed over the time,in a mad gold rush to gain political mileage out of a few homeless souls.It all started when the Haldia Development authority slammed a notice in Nandigram, announcing the acquisition of land for a Chemical Hub. No dialogue with the people or
a priori conversation reassuring the people about their fate was deemed necessary. Quite predictably such a quixotic decision caused panic and widespread resentment among the local people.

Facing eviction, in a desperate act of self defense, the local leaders, who have led the famed "voting machinery" of the CPI(M) over the years,their infamous cadres,turned against them. The terrified villagers joined hands to oppose the party for whom they have voted without a word in the last thirty years.In the wake of this opposition, CPI(M) then did the most predictable thing. They adopted strong arm tactics to crush the rebellion, which led to the now infamous, and horrific incidents of March 14th, where 14 people were killed in the most callous act of Police Firing,on unarmed women and children.

While the Government,in view of the widespread protests following the March 14 brutality, had to eat its own words ,and announce a rollback of its plans for land acquisition at Nandigram(in fact the Government conveniently denied that they ever had any such plans), the situation had gone out of control. The villagers,like all other sane individuals, did not have any belief in the Fascist Government, and they continued the resistance.

As Nandigram came to the limelight,everybody hogged for a piece of the cake.Mamata Banerjee, the mercurial Opposition leader,was trying to revive a failed political career,and there could have been no better turf than Nandigram.The Naxalites, whose movement started from Bengal in the seventies, and still enjoys a support among a portion of Bengal's intellectuals, saw in it the perfect opportunity to make inroads into Bengal.With various self interest group fueling what started out as a spontaneous act of rebellion, Nandigram became a virtual "Muktanchol" and remained so for more than eleven months, a blot in the face of democratic India. From the great victory of people against the SEZ movement, Nandigram turned into a bloody battleground for political power and control. The Opposition parties cannot shrug off the responsibility for this utter chaos that went on for more than eleven months. There was never an attempt of reconciliation which seemed to be serious.

Sympathizers of the CPI(M) are quick to pounce on this opportunity and put the whole blame of the Opposition,forgetting their own responsibilities. They dismiss Nandigram simply as a "political Turf War" where the local CPI(M) supporters,rendered homeless, were forced to to hit back because they were was cornered.But this is as far from the truth as it can be. First of all,because,this was not a spontaneous revolt of the people. It was an operation executed in cold blood with the help of outside goons. This is more than clear from the capture of seasoned criminals like Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali from the scene. Secondly, it is highly unbecoming of a party in power to behave in this irresponsible manner,in a democratic set up. The first attempt should have been at a political solution, and in the absence of it, the deployment of Central Forces. While it is the new fashion among CPI(M) leaders to blame the every act of violence on the Maoists, it is not at all clear, how the CPI(M) agenda of the "recapture" of Nandigram is any different from the political theory that believes in power growing out of the barrel of the gun.

Thus the "recapture" of Nandigram isn't simply the fight of the dispossessed CPI(M) supporters, as the party would like to propagandize. It is,first and foremost, the establishment of the rule of the Jungle. This is an well calculated move to inculcate fear in the hearts of the people, so that they will not be able to raise their voice against any such incident in the future. It is a strong political message as to how protests of local people in various parts of the State will be dealt with,if they are in direct contradiction to the Party agenda. Nandigram signifies the complete and unchallenged control of the CPI(M), which will be extremely essential for them in the execution of future projects such as this, completely ignoring the emotions and opinions of the local people. In the immediate future, Nandigram will give back to CPI(M) its lost territory in the villages in the Panchayat elections. It is this very reason that the administration did not take,what was the most logical step: the deployment of Central Forces.The muscle flexing was important, for without it, they do not have the political credibility to establish themselves as a political force.

From a broader perspective,while Nandigram had been heralded as the great victory of the people's movement against the SEZs, the same Nandigram has now brought dangerous implications for politics in Bengal.Nandigram has kicked off a new era in Bengal politics, the era of automatic rifles and AK-47. The prelude was already there in Keshpur a few years ago. But Nandigram has laid bare the extent and the power of this politics. This is a politics we have seen being enacted in the Cow belt for several years now. It is the politics which has produced its heroes in people like Shahabuddin, Pappu Yadav or the recently famous Anant Singh. I fear, the day is not far, when the political landscape of Bengal will be ruled by their likes, or in fact ones that are more superior to them in the art of disciplined and organised violence.

Nandigram,very evidently, is a failure of the Left Front Government. The failure to bring about a political solution to the problem reveals the intellectual bankruptcy in the ranks of the CPI(M) in Bengal today. The recourse to the politics of machine guns is the easiest path a party in power can take, but it does not say much about its political creativity or patience to tread the more winding path of democratic engagement. The consequences of this "shortcut to revolution" can be more far reaching than the leaders in the Politbureau can imagine. As JFK once said " Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside it ". One wonders if this is the beginning of the end of CPI(M)!

The signs of ideological corrosion has caused a lot of heartbreaks among old time supporters and well wishers of the Party. The Party has always been hailed for its progressive politics.It has been the darling of India's intellectuals.It has always been said the bigger constituency for the left is the constituency of the intellectuals.The fact that they have decided to part ways with the Left is very much evident in JNU,that great
bastion of Left politics that has given it some of its finest leaders, and influenced its thought process and its policies over the years.This year's elections saw the complete whitewash of SFI, CPI(M)'s student wing ,at JNU. The waning of the intellectual support base was again evident when a great majority of Calcutta's eminent intellectuals,some of whom were very close to the party until a few days ago, took to the streets, protesting against this act of barbarism.

For the crusaders of democracy, and ,in fact, for the civil societyas a whole, the most overwhelming feeling has been that of helplessness. While the "Katl-e-Aam"(to borrow from the words of Medha Patkar) was being executed in Nandigram, and the whole world was aware of it,there was not a single thing that anybody could do about it. No one(including the media) was allowed to enter the place, as the cadres made a veritable 'Iron Curtain' around Nandigram. A baffled India watched on,as democracy was hijacked by a group of armed goons. A weak Central Govt., depending on the support of the CPI(M),never cared to issue a statement. Another of Bengal's nationally famous leaders, Pranab Mukherjee, was busy elsewhere,trying to pressure the cornered Left to accept the Nuclear Deal.What was a disaster for many,was an opportunity for the seasoned politician.

But while Politicians go about their business, the society only looks on. It sees the other face of Budhhadev Bhattacharya. The cultured Bengali Babu's facade has slipped off, and one can see the Communist dictator within. "They were paid back in the same coin", retorted the veteran leader,answering the queries of the reporters.Comrade,we are, to say the very least,shocked.

Finally,the story of Nandigram,which started off as a victory of the people against the might of big corporations,and the people it infuences,now has entirely different implications in the politics of Bengal. It has degenerated into a struggle for power,and has introduced Bengal to a politics that has been so alien to it in the last thirty years,the politics of violence.
This politics is so very reminiscent of the 70s.For the older generation in Bengal,its Deja Vu all over again..............

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Burning Rajasthan

An erstwhile Maharani and a retired military colonel deciding on the demands of the people in closed door meetings.........
There cannot be any worst advertisement for the world's largest democracy.
And the results were no less disheartening.

Even a dumb kid could tell this whole promise about building committees to "look into the matter" is a total EYEWASH.

It is amazing how the same persons who managed to incite the crowds into burning trains and buses can pacify them with such an idiotic solution to the problem.
I would actually have preferred if the people stopped eating out of the hands of such leaders,even if it meant greater carnage and loss of public life right now.

In the midst of it all,the flying Indian economy was grinded to a halt in the capital on a busy Monday morning by the protestors of backward classes.As an educated middle class races towards 9.25% leaving millions impoverished, such backlashes are bound to occur. As the inequalities start increasing, people's discontent will grow out of proportion,and the empty promises of the Kirori Singh Bhainslas of India may not suffice always.

And Yes,The Meenas. to provide a topping on the cake.Isn't that called being GREEN WITH JEALOUSY, reminding me of an old Onida TV ad which used to come on DD in my childhood. :)

Saturday, June 02, 2007


No film director has explored the conscience of 70's leftist Bengal as well as Mrinal Sen.Although I must admit Sen's brand of old school art house cinema is not quite my favourite(I would prefer somebody like Satyajit Ray any day),Sen's movies are a great way to get into the mind of the 70's Bengali youth.
The 70s, in Bengal,were turbulent times. On one hand, the political and cultural scene was bustling with creative activity.There was a new wave of leftist political thought,sweeping through the political landscape of Bengal. Poetry,theatre and cinema was active as never before. On the other side, there was huge unemployment,poverty,large scale immigration problem accompanying the 71 Bangladesh war. In fact, it was the second, which was driving the first, to an extent.

Sen's "Padatik"(The Guerrilla Fighter) is set in this backdrop. Sumit(Dhritiman Chatterjee), a dedicated Naxalite,takes refuge in the house of a wealthy woman,after fleeing from the police prison van. As he spends his days in isolation, he starts reading voraciously,starts questioning the the means and methods on the revolution that he and so many others in his generation are dreaming of. He also develops an affectionate relationship with the woman,Sheela.

The film can be read and understood ant different levels.

However,what interests me most is the human perception of the political ideology. Sumit's father,a seasoned political activist in his own times,is sympathetic to the ideology.However,he feels distant from the radical smalltalk of today's youth.
Then there is Nikhilda,the dedicated leader,who burns midnight oil,writing leaflets,trying to inspire the common man to join the revolution.While his dedication may be phenomenal,but he is often autocratic and not open to ideas.His political ideology may be a manifestation of his philanthropic ideals,it is quite clear that the new wave of free thought has not clerly fitered through his brain,and his ideas on authority and integrity of organisation is often influenced and guided by the age old traditional beliefs,just as the establishments that he is fighting with.
Then there is Sheela(the beautiful and classy Simi Garewal), the high flying career woman in the advertisement industry on one hand,and a "fellow traveler" of the Naxalites on the other.While Sen tries to sort of portray her as one interested in social change and the feminist perspective,it does not come out quite strongly.On the other hand, a string of interviews talking about the plight of women in the middle of the film is extremely boring, and feels sort of preachy.What does emerge though,is that her attachment to the movement is less because of ideologies,and more emotional,due to her deceased brother,who was a part of the movement. As an aside, ideological positions, are often driven,I have seen, by such emotions,rather than independent thought processes endorsing their validity.
Biman,Sumit's aide, comes out as another interesting personality. While there are some people who are in it for the emotional reason,their are some, who treat the party and movement as a kind of a faith. As Sumit aptly describes him once "mindless cannon fodder".....
While this is the kind that have made up a large class of the so called "party workers" both for the right and the left, and it is often their dedication that builds up a party, their obsequiousness to the authority often means ...........

In view of the sudden resurgence of the ultra left in Bengal, following the protests of farmers in Singur and Nandigram, it was quite an experience looking back at their predecessors 30 years back,at their strength and vulnerabilities,free of the rose tainted glass that the media often wears in its nostalgic rememberance of the heroes if 70s.

P.S. Simi Garewal's "nyaka" non-Bengali Bong is delicious to hear!!!

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Moral Police

Pune seems to have woken up in a jolt from its consumerist trance. As the smoky domains of its dark streets bares itself in the media's limelight, the respected guardians of morality have decided to tackle the situation with an iron hand.
271 teenagers get arrested from a racy late night party, allegedly a "trance party". Police action on drug parties such as this is highly laudible, but the reasons for arresting the whole party without any proper tests, and their entry into the police "black book" for no reason at all(other than attending a sleazy all night party) is highly objectionable.
Also,there are deeper questions to be answered. Instead of catching the dog by its tail, the police ought to go for the bigger fish. As Sagarika Ghosh, in this excellent programme argues, these middle class teenagers are a "soft target" for the police. While the police recieves a pat in the back for the laudable work (both from its bosses, and political gurus), they do not have to worry about high level political connections, and high profile lawyers. It is indeed amusing when the great Godmother of the police force, Kiran Bedi, appreciates the courage of the police,for being able to come done the rich and mighty. Looks like the Kiran Bedis of the world are ignorant of the existence of a certain class of people, known as the "middle class". Dear Ms. Bedi, there is a difference between elite Page 3 socialite parites, and a group of middle class youngsters, with a little money to burn from their new found software jobs, attempting to do "some fun".
Their notions of fun are distorted of course, and for this, the empty consumerism, that is slowly becoming the hallmark of these fast paced cities, like Pune and Bangalore, is also to blame.
Also,many of them were first time offenders, or the curious casual "one puff" guys. To slam police cases against them for such offences is extremely silly. As I watched the program, it occured to me that none of the interviewed, from the conservative Kiran Bedi, to the most liberal, the fashion designer Prasad Vidappa, never questioned the basic premise, which is that the consumption of marijuana as a punishable offense. While all over the world, there is an increasing trend of decriminalising and legalising marijuana, India seems to be vastly unaware of it. Marijuana is supposed to be a reasonably harmless substance in itself , and the only reason of its ban seems to rest on the so called "gateway theory", implying that consumption of marijuana is often the gateway to addiction. The "gateway theory" has been challenged in many quarters, and their are schools of thought, which believe, that legalising marijuana, will contain the vast majority of offenders on the right side of the line, thereby saving them from the real dangers of hallucinating drugs such as LSD.
This would have probably been true for the vast majority of the youngsters of Pune's party, whose only craving was to get a bite (or the puff) of the forbidden fruit. In this society of fast changing moral values, it will be important for the State to remember that weilding a stick is often not the best way to discipline a child.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Blog is alive again!!

With my laptop in hand, as the days of limited internet access is over, the blog shall come into life again!!

That is,if I manage to escape the clutches of procrastination!!