Thursday, June 18, 2009

Violence in West Bengal

The situation in parts of West Bengal now is reminiscent of that in Kerala sometimes in 1959. Those familiar with the saga of the dismissal of the EMS Namboodiripad Government in Kerala in 1959 will recall that the issue then was a dilemma in the minds of those in the CPI then (the party had not split then) over the use of the police against the agitators.

Well. Let me hasten to add before I am held guilty of misrepresenting facts. The CPI(M) is under no such dilemma now insofar as using the police against the agitators. The party, as it proved in the case of Nandigram, where 14 peasants were killed due to indiscriminate firing by the police in March 2007, has no such dilemma as its leaders had in Kerala in 1959. Just like the various other State Governments run by the various other parties, the CPI(M) too is happy using the police against the people.

And where the people are led by the Maoists, as it is the case with the latest spell of violence in the Lalgarh region of West Midnapore district in West Bengal, the CPI(M)’s line is certainly not different from that of the BJP in Chattisgarh, the Congress in Andhra Pradesh and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. The Union Government, led by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, too is clear on this count. The Maoists, according to all the political parties, are a threat to everything that the nation and its rulers represent and hence deserve to be dealt with in a manner where even shooting them down like clay birds is justified.

Recall the fact that the political establishment as a whole, cutting across the Left to the Right (to use a cliché) was not seen moving even their little finger against the detention of Dr. Binayak Sen for a few days more than two years. Even while a section of the supporters of the CPI(M) and some other parties were seen participating in the protests demanding Sen’s release, it was difficult to have glossed over the fact that Sen’s detention, without any specific charge, in the Raipur jail was not raised, even once in Parliament. And the battle, both on the streets and in the various courts, for ensuring bail to Sen was left to be fought by spirited men and women who cared for democracy and the Constitution more than those who had sworn on oath to preserve the rule of law!

This indeed is the core issue behind the recent developments in Lalgarh and is bound to spread into other parts of West Bengal too. This is not to say that the violence, now unleashed against leaders of the CPI(M) in the locality, is justified. Such violence, let me stress, has nothing to do with the cause of revolution. It is, in fact, an expression of lumpenism. It is also important to stress, at this stage, that the violent mobs have the sanction from the Trinamool Congress, an important ally of the ruling UPA in Delhi.

That Mamta Banerjee is behind the orchestrated violence in West Midnapore is evident from the manner in which the Union Home Minister, P.Chidambaram has reacted to the situation. The Home Minister, as if speaking from under the banyan tree has stated that it is for the State Government to handle the situation and the Centre can only dispatch its forces. Well. This is what the Constitution ordains and Chidambaram cannot think and act otherwise.

And that is where the Left has landed in a crisis. Any use of force in Lalgarh will spell the beginning of the end of the CPI(M)’s stint in the Writers Building. Indications to this were already there in the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls last month. But then, the Left has an opportunity to attempt for a change of course between now and May 2011 when elections are due to the assembly in the normal course. The starting point for this course correction can be found in the developments in Lalgarh and elsewhere across West Bengal where the people are rallying behind the Maoists against the Government.

The process of course correction, to begin, will have to assume, apriori, that the people have a set of grievances that are genuine. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his comrades will also have to agree with the statement that these people have found something wrong with the CPI(M) only in recent times and that they were the bulwark of the party’s support for several decades. The CPI(M) will also have to concede that its shift, in the few years that went by, away from the ideological project that its leaders set out in 1924 (when the communist party was founded in India) had led the adivasis, the landless and the marginal peasant away from the party even while it managed to enlist support of the urban middle classes in the same period.

The party, then, will have to settle down to a strategy that will make it necessary for its local leaders and party bosses to walk on the ground and go back to the people to find out what went wrong. That could mean a lot of physical strain and also shedding their ego: The leaders, in fact, have grown o a staple of material comforts and a bloated ego that they know better than the ordinary people as to what the country wanted and what was best to them. There was no way that they would have done what they did in Nandigram and Singur otherwise.

This could also mean a short spell of intense violence and the death of more leaders of the local party organization. But then, it is possible that the party re-invents itself in the process. The other option is to swim with the tide, lead the central para-military forces into Lalgarh and ensure the killing of a large number of the people, unmindful of the fact that they were the bulwark of the party until a couple of years ago, and face another defeat when elections are held to the State assembly. The party has to decide on what it wants.


Blogger dipanjan said...

Sir,the incident and posssible reactions of the state could not be explained better.The party in power can never go back to the base it evolved from to seek solutions (goliaths demise was caused largely due to his size).But picturising the spotless dhoti clad leader living days together in lalgarh would have been a sight to behold.(after all Lalgarh does not have a good film fest)

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir, I wish to make a point here regarding the course of action the left parties in India have to adopt in order to overcome the crisis that is fast becoming a reality. Here I wish to draw the historical experience of Soviet Union under Stalin. I'm sure you and many others will disagree anything to do with Stalin. As historian Eric Hobsbawm rightly observed that the Cold war was more of an operation of secret intelligence agencies for hegemony than open confrontation between two powers. Stalin realized that in order to preserve communism in Soviet Union it is necessary to wage a ideological struggle at those places/regions where US domination is apparent. Hence tons and tons of Marxist literature is shipped apart from Soviet intelligence agency working against CIA activities.
Now the left in India is facing a crisis in West Bengal and Kerala, the traditional strongholds. In order for the left domination to remain in these regions, it is imperative that left parties launch a new tactic of struggle against ruling Congress party in those regions where Congress is strong. It has to invent a politics that would threaten the Congress party and regional parties in those regions where these forces are hegemonic. It is a historical experience we need to learn. I'm sure you will have disagreement on this issue.

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more point: The more the left parties wage a struggle against Congress and regional parties in those regions where these forces are strong, the more it is good for the left to retain West Bengal and Kerala.

9:05 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Dear Anonymous,
I agree with you, b and large. Except that I think Stalin's approach was meant for another context and most important than that: Stalin reduced communism into a state doctrine and the extent to which political democracy was stifled is something that did harm to the cause than the good.

The left in India will have to learn from history and internalise democracy and human rights more than anything into their political line.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir, it appears to me that in name of opposing Stalin you seem to oppose anything to do with Soviet Union. Your argument sound like 'Legal Marxists' of Russia whom Lenin opposed to the core. The bourgeois society guarantee 'democracy' and 'human rights' and you want left to not cross this line. Don't you think working class revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat are the corner stone of radical left politics? If you abandon revolution then don't you think it is necessary for you to drop the title 'revolution' from your blog?

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Shyam said...

looking beyond the cornerstone of radical left politics, the roots of politics lies with the need of a few to concentrate power in the hands of a few.

this is my perception of lalgarh and all other areas of physical strife.

the performance and evolution of the left across the country, across time, reflects the complete absence of permanent revolution (as in 'state of mind' rather than 'actual violence').

revolutions start with questions. if you don't ask questions, there is no revolution.

it is because of a refusal to ask questions of each other that the left in india will die a slopw death. and lalgarh is among the examples of that impending demise.

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shyam: What do you mean by permanent revolution? Just keep asking questions anything to do with left politics within liberal bourgeois order and thus pulling the legs of left? I think that is what Krishna Ananth is involved in the name of 'permanent revolution'! As Lenin once said the communist can be identified only by his action, by his work and how quickly and effectively he does the work! But our pundits are banking on mere words - 'democracy', 'human rights' and nothing beyond that! Postponing/preventing the radical politics in the name asking questions, 'permanent revolution', 'power in the hands of few' is nothing but an utter betrayal of Marxism, a complete desertion to the side of Indian bourgeoisie.

11:47 PM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Let me clarify on Shyam’s point about Permanent Revolution first. I do not subscribe to the idea of simply raising questions and more so with his idea of that being permanent revolution. And I do not, in any case, foresee or wish the death of the Left in India. The Left, to me, is a historical necessity and an integral course of the historical process as well and I am of the view that Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh now are expressions of that legacy that the communists have built in India. Nothing else will vouch for this than the fact that such resistance is not building in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. I should leave it at that as far as Shyam is concerned.

Now, coming to anonymous, let me clarify on your point about my views on Stalin and by extension on the Soviet Union. I do not deride the Soviet Union. Nor do I deride Stalin as such. My concerns on both these points is that the socialist experiment, built on the glorious tradition of the 1917 revolution had its chinks in the Stalinist perception of the philosophy as from a positivist position and hence leading to the scuttling of dissent both within the party and outside. This, in turn, helped the capitalist west to present its own notions of choice and democracy as the ideal and this campaign, particularly in the era of satellite communication, paved the way for the decimation of the Soviet Union.

In my view, the most important lesson to be learnt from the Soviet experience is that communism and the idea of a socialist alternative will have to express itself in a form that internalizes political democracy and guarantee the human being a life that is democratic in both the political and the economic sense. The premise of dictator of the proletariat, in my view, was inherently flawed because in actual practice it was nothing but a system where the party chief became the absolute. The fact that the CPSU (or any of the communist parties across Eastern Europe) were corrupt and its leaders ended up amasing wealth is now known to any one of us. This, in a sense, seemed to have happened in West Bengal and Kerala too.

My understanding of Permanent Revolution, incidentally, is derived or rather picked up from Leon Trotsky and in the specific sense of the Stalinist era of the CPSU and the international communist movement.

Meanwhile, let me also clarify that my activities on the blog are just one of what I do. I am, in my own way, engaged in the battle for democracy where it matters. Let me make it clear that I do not subscribe to the idea of raising questions and letting things be what they are and where they are. Having said this, I do not see the Left in India merely in the CPI(M) or the CPI. Nor do I celebrate the Maoists. It’s just that I do not condemn them.

8:55 AM  
Blogger dipanjan said...

Sir, referring to the last comment you made; does the country now not face a vacuum of the vanguard. As for me I find the Maoists as the best alternative but fear the regimentation they still have,though much relaxed from the earlier decades. Do you think the Maoists would be able to accomodate the alternative thinkers of toaday in to their political plan? The complexity of the issue here (I think) is not so much the rigidity of the Maoists but the state repression which makes the choice for sympathisers difficult. Though I do not over look the Maoist cynicism to civil society groups,I don't think coming into mainstream would do much good either.

4:26 AM  

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