Comprador Intellectuals on the War-Path
[comprador: 1. An intermediary; a go-between. 2. A native-born agent in China and certain other Asian countries formerly employed by a foreign business to serve as a collaborator or intermediary in commercial transactions. Source: American Heritage Dictionary. A word once popularized in the writings of Mao Tsetung, this meant simply a foreign agent. We could more profitably deploy it here to describe those who have abdicated their position as critical intellectuals to the demands of power. ]
A friend who teaches in Kolkata University was once accosted by a group of SFI [acronym of the CPM’s student-wing] activists asking for ‘donations’. You have of course to be familiar with the political culture of West Bengal – first under the Congress regime and then ably carried on under the CPM – in order to understand what ‘donation’ or ‘chaanda’ means. Ordinary mortals tremble when CPM supporters come to ask for chaanda, be it for the Durga Puja or for students’ elections. This brave man happened to tell them that he would not give donations to the SFI or CPM as he disagreed with their politics. As the students were leaving the room, one of them returned to tell him, “Sir, Amaar naam Ratna Sarkar. Kichhu dorkaar hole bolben.” [Sir, my name is Ratna Sarkar (name changed for obvious reasons). Please let me know if you need something]. The very mention of the name was supposed to reveal in a flash to this foolhardy teacher, who at 50 years plus, continues to remain a ‘senior lecturer’, that she was the daughter of one of the most powerful state CPM leaders. A daily occurrence in West Bengal. A silent terror inscribed in daily life.
This friend needs also to be mentioned here today because he has had a fairly compelling thesis for sometime now. Civil society in Bengal, he suggests, has been decimated ever since the CPM/LF came to power. In the pre-Left Front days, he argues, it was the Leftist intelligentsia that constituted the critical voice, interrogating the excesses of power. Not any more. What can such an intelligentsia be called but comprador, who have ‘sold their conscience’ to the party line – to resort to a mild polemical Leninism. But alas, such intellectuals are not merely the Sunil Gangopadhyays in Bengal who have fallen in line not because of party commitment but maybe some other calculations; after all they have to live in CPM ruled West Bengal for quite some more time to come. Such are also the seventeen intellectuals who have issued the statement in defense of the West Bengal government.
The statement of the seventeen intellectuals is a masterpiece in fudging and dissembling. It is slyly drafted and misleading. Purporting to be ‘neutral’, the statement, speaks in the mode of what the Guru of its authors, Lenin, would have called a subterfuge. Witness this:
“The tragedy at Nandigram on March 14 was an entirely unanticipated, unjustified and unfortunate turn of events, whose exact origin and course should be established through a proper enquiry“.
Never mind the fact that, prior to the police-party action, everybody knew what was in the offing and Bengali papers had already foretold it. It is almost as if we must take these venerated souls at their word that nothing, absolutely nothing is really known about the events that took place in Nandigram. Not very different was the case with Modi’s ‘action-reaction’ theory but while we should mistrust him, we must simply trust the CPM, because they say so. It of course, stands to reason that there should be a comprehensive and impartial inquiry into the events and we all wait for that day when things are brought out to light.
In the meanwhile, there have been at least half a dozen independent inquiries and fact-finding reports, including the latest by the APDR (Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights) and the PBKMS (Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity) – not too mention the investigation conducted by respected Left-wing and professedly pro-CPM and pro-LF intellectuals like Profs Sumit and Tanika Sarkar among others. We also have versions by others like Medha Patkar and the NAPM. NOT ONE of these investigations gives any indication that there might be any truth to the CPM’s official line. And yet, if one were to go by the statement signed authored by Messrs Prabhat Patnaik and other JNU economists, all these accounts are suspect. What will ever reveal the truth in that case? A state-sponsored inquiry where people conduct inquiries for their bread and butter and tailor them to the needs of powers-that-be? The learned intellectuals, in making this single statement, are actually calling into question every single independent voice – including those that have been, till Nandigram and Singur, sympathetic to their party.
One scribe who happens to be employed with the party paper, People’s Democracy, has even gone on to suggest, in this very blog, that (and I quote):
“…all the ‘independent’ ‘fact-finding’ groups at Nandigram and Singur started with an anti-Communist, specifically anti-CPI (M), mindset (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).”
Let us remind ourselves that this gentleman is talking of ALL independent fact-finding groups, including Sumit and Tanika Sarkar. And he clearly wants us to believe that they started with the anti-communist mind-set (which share a happy meeting ground with the reactionary right-wing). He is of course, merely echoing the voice of God. “It is shocking”, says His Master’s Voice, Prakash Karat,
“that many of the intellectuals who claim to be on the Left, have not said a word of condemnation about these cleansing operations which led to the brutal murder of Sankar Samanta, a CPI(M) panchayat member and Sunita Mondal, a school student…”
It is of course, another matter – and Mr Karat knows this well – that those whom he is referring to (‘not a word of condemnation’ etc) are actually pained (a trifle naively, I might add) that the CPM has acted in the way it has. But why bother? Doesn’t this serve the supreme rhetorical purpose of de-legitimizing the critics? Mark the words: intellectuals who claim to be on the Left, a classic style of a totalitarian mind that decrees, as did Stalin, who is and till which point, a Leftist or a Communist and when s/he becomes “an enemy of the state, in the service of German fascists.” Not for a moment is there any doubt in his or his partymen’s minds that would rise the other question: Could there be some truth in thsese reports, since there are people of impeccably Left-wing credentials who are raising them? Have they suddenly gone mad that after a lifetime of Left/communist politics, they should suddenly discover some love for the right wing like Trinamool Congress? Such questions, remember, are prohibited in any theological dispensation. It is, thus, pretty much in this vein that Karat proceeds: “It speaks for the character of the political combine that is spearheading the Nandigram agitation who, after knowing that the government is not going to acquire land in Nandigram, went ahead with instigating or condoning violence against the CPI(M)’s elected representatives in the panchayats, its local leaders, members and families. Certain NGOs with international links and the anti-Communist media have lent full support to this enterprise.”
For those who may not be attentive to the tone, this is a theological claim where the ‘political character’ of the CPM is supposed to be above question, self-evident and bestowed by the grace of God. The political character of everybody else has to be certified by the CPM. Let us ask the holier-than-thou Mr Karat that when he talks of “NGOs with international links”, does he not know (and do Professors Patnaik, Bagchi and Alam, for that matter) that many signatories to the comprador intellectuals’ statement, part of the close inner CPM circle, run an ‘NGO’ with funding from Ford Foundation and ActionAid (what say you Professors Chandrashekhar and Ghosh)? But their political character does not stand in need of such scrutiny; they are a priori radical, Left, revolutionary!
We are living under a democracy and yet, the power of the CPM to tar anybody, including fellow travelers of decades, with the same brush as say Trinamool Congress, remains. Thanks in large part to a certain liberal tolerance of this intrinsically authoritarian politics, often in the name of ‘fighting the Right’.
But today we do not talk about Nandigram. Nor about the West Bengal government. We talk about the political culture on the Left that the statement of the comprador intellectuals seeks to promote. It is after all no accident that the statement was authored almost while the party leadership, scared of its increasing isolation among the intellectuals, decided to go into an offensive. The tone was slightly different from that of the party’s but the substance remained quite the same. It came in as soon as others, lesser beings, started entering blogs and email lists forwarding, as somebody put it, the frozen word of God: the Politburo statement itself! These characters did not really have the guts to make any argument of their own but were executing the writ of higher authorities. They were asked to counter the campaign ‘against the party’ – and so they did; faithfully, unimaginatively and boringly. After a point the defense of naked power can only be boring and unimaginative, as there are really no arguments left.
Meanwhile, the SFI and DYFI ‘activists’ have hit the streets in Kolkata to campaign against and ‘expose’ the intellectuals who have asked for justice in Nandigram and even as we write, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is thundering against them at an SFI-DYFI rally in Netaji Indoor Stadium (watch out for the belligerent reports tomorrow). The language of this campaign is worth registering. Thus spake: Palash Das, DYFI leader and Editor Jubashakti (the DYFI magazine):
“Some of the so-called city intellectuals are behaving irresponsibly and making provocative statements that is clearly bringing out their party bias”… “It appears this section of the society have used Singur and Nandigram to come to the limelight and establish themselves as intellectuals.”
Apurba Chatterjee, state secretary of the SFI, (arguing that “some second-rate writers and artists have joined hands to malign the State government and support the conspirators who don’t want development and industry in Bengal”):
“We have boycotted this section of intellectuals. But we are glad that some of the leading intellectuals of the city and country like Sunil Gangopadhyay, Buddhadeb Guha, Soumitra Chattopadhyay, Irfan Habib, Prabhat Pattanaik are with us in this battle against evil forces trying to sabotage industrial development in Bengal.”
Need we say anything more (we shall of course, refrain from saying anything about the intelligence of the persons who have made these amazing statements, hiding behind the Prabhat Patnaiks and Irfan Habibs)? The language and the tone and tenor says it all. It is this political culture of everyday totalitarian terror that the comprador intellectuals have stepped in to support…