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.


Anonymous Rajesh said...

I am wondering how un-Marxian it is to see the popular mobilization against TATA project in Singur as a result of a long legacy. Definitely I feel, that by thinking so, we are homogenizing the popular movements. If popular movements can be understood as heterogeneous then the recent developments need not be seen as irony. One need not have to link the victories of Communists in West Bengal in the past to the victory by farmers against state government and Tatas of the present. The fact that the victory of farmers against State government and Tatas, which as you mentioned as a unique one, can also be understood in a different sense exactly opposite to what you have concluded. One need not have to blame the Left for the entry of Mamta Banerjee to lead the struggle. The following statement of yours "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" I consider totally un-Marxian and undialectical. In a democracy like India we still don't have any idea about how political parties mobilize money for their activities. There is no transparency and accountability as far as financial base of political parties of India are concerned. In such a scenario one must watch closely the stand taken by political parties for each important issue keeping in mind of 'fund' it receives from their patrons. By patrons I mean they range from indegenous bourgeoisie, upstarters, petty bourgeoisie or foreign capitalists. The stand of political parties, if followed very closely, reflect the stand of the patrons. Without taking these complexities into consideration you are trying to simplify the event in your urge to critique CPI(M). One can still critique CPI(M) without one taking the course of interpretation you have taken. To sum up, I feel the fundamental starting point of your critique of CPI(M) is faulty. Your understanding of popular movements is very simplistic and reductionist in nature and hence undialectical. This is not for first time I have come across such reading of popular movement in your blog. It runs through as a thread in your essays pertaining to naxalism in India as well. The most dangerous interpretation is that you are trying to celebrate the popular movements irrespective of party base/leadership just on reading the content that they are movements against corporate land grabbing. This is absolutely ridiculous and un-dialectical. As a Marxist, we will be forced to read very closely who is sponsoring your interpretation or in other words the political economy of your intellectual exercise needs to be mapped very closely. Definitely one cannot critique CPI(M) in such a simplistic fashion although CPI(M) merits criticism from a more rigorous Marxian method.

Thank you for this post though.

5:56 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Dear Rajesh,
I do not see what you mean by Marxian dialectics... because you seem to dismiss content and only look for form... the marxist dialectics i know of is that it seeks both form and content and the thrust is on content.

and as for your urge to search for motives and inquire into whether i receive funds from somewhere to do what i am doing... i cannot but sympathise with you and your kind of people.... but since i think the law of changes is an absolute statement and a concept, i do believe that you will see reason at some point.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

It is my contention that you are directing the criticism where it should be directed but dwelling in the margins. This definitely cannot be an innocent exercise. I have pointed to the deficiency on the content of your essay as well. It appears to me that your reading of popular movements is extremely simplistic and uncritical that merits to be called un-Marxian. Only one thing comes out clearly in your essays - your urge to critique CPI(M) - which is legitimate but only warrants more rigorous Marxian approach which is missing in your essays.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

"You are NOT directing the criticism where it should be directed but at the margins"

Sorry! There is a typing error in my above comment on the first line.

8:04 PM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Dear Rajesh,
You remind me of EMS ... he had a question-answer column in the party's paper and his answer to every critical question would beging with ``the question was not asked properly...''' I hope you read more on Marx and Engels first...

And in any case, what is the compulsion that Marxian is flawless... rather, is Marxism a gospel truth... that's what the CPI(M) thinks it is!!!!!!!!!!

1:55 AM  

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