Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I feel this way after reading about the recent developments in Singur

The developments in Singur involving the NANO car project are clearly a manifestation of the long legacy of popular mobilization in West Bengal. There is, indeed, an irony in the developments in the sense that the people and their struggle, at this point of time, is against the Government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The irony can be explained in the following manner.

In earlier times in West Bengal the CPI(M) occupied the space that is now taken by the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamta Banerjee. And even in the present times, this space is occupied by the CPI(M) in some other parts of the country such as in Andhra Pradesh and in some parts of Tamil Nadu; in these places, the CPI(M)’s local leaders are part of the struggle against farm lands being reduced to industrial backyards. Take the case of the struggle against the exploitation of the Tamaraparni river waters in Tirunelveli by a soft drinks MNC and the fact that the local leaders of the CPI(M) have been facing the mite of the state leading the people.

In the past, in West Bengal, the CPI(M) was in the front, leading strikes, gheraos and conducting bandhs, taking up the cause of the poor people and it is a fact of history that many leaders of the party laid down their lives, bore lathi blows and even ended up spending several months in jail for having led such agitations. A number of young men, educated in some of the best schools and colleges, gave up a promising career to lend themselves to the task of taking up the people’s cause.

It was this legacy that made the CPI(M) a powerful force in West Bengal and the history of these struggles and the sacrifices they made is indeed behind the party’s growth in the State into a powerful force. That the CPI(M) in West Bengal lost hundreds of its cadre during the years between 1972 and 1977, when Siddhartha Sankar Ray was the Chief Minister, only because they led struggles and participated in gheraos and implemented bandhs, is a fact that none with even a little bit of familiarity with the State’s history will deny.

And now we hear Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who owes his Chief Minister’s job and his existence as a political personality to this long legacy of struggles, making a statement that he has contempt for bandhs and gheraos. Well. Buddahadeb may not have participated in any such activities because he does not belong to the oppressed classes in society; nor does he belong to the section of the intelligentsia who gave up their careers and even the comfortable life they were assured of thanks to their belonging to the upper middle classes and hence their access to higher education. Buddhadeb was only a beneficiary of the sacrifices of those people who made the CPI(M) into what it is today.

But then, there are others in the CPI(M)’s leadership in West Bengal, including Biman Bose, who runs the party organization, to whom conducting bandhs and gheraos were a part of their life in the days when West Bengal was ruled by Sidharth Sankar Ray. And it is also a fact that the CPI(M)’s general secretary, Prakash Karat, was involved in similar activities as a student in Jawaharlal Nehru University and later on as a trade union organizer in Delhi and the neighbourhood.

There are many others in the CPI(M) Politburo to whom gheraos and bandhs were a normal part of their political activity. And all of us who know of the CPI(M)’s activities in our own localities are also familiar that they show a lot of conviction in organizing agitations. It is, hence, a comment on the changing face of the party that Buddhadeb made such remarks and is allowed to stay on as Chief Minister and a member of the party’s Politburo even after that. Recall that Somnath Chatterjee was expelled from the party for what we may think as a lesser crime. Well. Somnath deserved the punishment. The point here is that Budhadeb deserves a similar treatment for he too has spoken against the party and its legacy!

Be that as it may. It is important at this stage and in the context of the developments in Singur to make another point. And that is that the legacy of the communists is still relevant and radicalism is still the dominant culture of West Bengal. The most important pointer to this is the victory scored by the farmers against the combined might of the State Government and the Tatas and the distinct possibility of the NANO project being dumped.

Nowhere in India have we come across a situation where the people, through their struggle, have been able to defeat and chase away a corporate land grabber who also had the support of the State Government. All other similar movements have not been able to achieve what the people of Singur have achieved. And if Mamta Banerjee had arrived there to lead that struggle, the fault lies entirely with the Left.

That the communist legacy is not dead and that the people, united, will always be victorious, is a lesson that the Singur developments teach us. This is a source of inspiration for all such movements , across the country, against the corporate-government nexus against the people, their land, their water and their rights. It does not matter which party or leader commands those struggles and which leader gains from it. The ultimate victor in Singur is the idea that the oppressed people cannot be stripped off their rights just because the corporates and the state wield power at any given point of time.

This is what made the CPI(M) a force in West Bengal; and a distortion of that or a dilution of that spirit will lead to their marginalization in the same way as the Congress got marginalized when it gave up on the principles of freedom and justice to turn into a party of the corporates and the bent and the beautiful.