Monday, October 15, 2007

Two truths & Bengal: A Rhetorical Question Before The People


By Sunanda Sanyal

“As a young man of twenty-five, KR Narayanan met Gandhiji. Shri Narayanan told Gandhiji,” recalled Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Governor of West Bengal, in his Republic day speech, “it’s easy to distinguish between a truth and an untruth. It is also easy to distinguish between violence and non-violence. But when you have to take your pick from two truths, their relative importance becomes difficult to assess, doesn’t it?” (translated from the Bengali). What are the two truths that West Bengal is faced with today according to Mr Gandhi? They are the competing needs of industry and agriculture. Must we go in for the one at the cost of the other?
That’s a rhetorical question. The Governor takes no sides. But Professor Amartya Sen does. He sides with the state government in its land acquisition policy. However, many in the Opposition would agree with Sen that West Bengal needs industry all the more because in the last 30 years it has been progressively in ruins. What Professor Sen doesn’t seem to realise, though, is that the CPI-M continues to ruin industry by alienating the people. For the vast majority today, industrialisation means land grab and joblessness, while development is state terrorism ~ destruction of hearth and home, murder, arson and rape.

Horrific death

Yet, the horrific death of Rajkumar Bhul and of Tapasi Malik of Singur and subsequently the genocide at Nandigram are not the first of its kind. The CPI-M has made it a rule since 1969, when Jyoti Basu was deputy chief minister of the United Front government. The big difference, however, is that the previous Governors ignored the equally horrific acts committed at Marichjhanpi, Bantala, Dhantala, Chhoto Angaria, Nanoor and so on: the present one dashed for Nandigram ~ and ruined his own case for the vice-presidency of India. Professor Sen may not know all that.
The other thing that Professor Sen may not know is that the CPI-M continues in power by spinning lies. It insists that the CBI is biased against it in the Tapasi Malik rape-and-murder case, at Nandigram it is more sinned against than sinning, the Opposition parties can function because of the “prevailing democratic conditions here”, police have to march into Nandigram to restore the “rule of law”, and so on. Indeed one who is taken care of by the state finance minister as soon as one lands at Netaji Subhas airport may not know what it feels like to be a second class citizen in one’s homeland.
The people’s Governor who weeps with the starving people of the tea gardens does, so he dashed for Tamluk Hospital on the evening of March 14, where the victims of the CPI-M’s police-and-cadre action were being treated. His convoy, like that of Mamata Banerjee, was stopped. With the cadres shouting “Go back”, Mr Gandhi got off the car and threatened to walk down.
When eventually he looked at the victims, “cold horror” ran down his spine. In words that future historians of Bengal will quote, Gandhi said: “Was this spilling of human blood not avoidable? What I advised the government over the last two days, as I received inputs of rising tension in Nandigram, the government knows. It is not my intention to enter into blame-fixing. But I cannot be so casual to the oath I have taken as to restrict my reaction to a pious expression of anguish and outrage. But I also expect the government to do what it thinks is necessary to mitigate the effects of this bitter 14 March,” (The Statesman, 15 March, 2007).
Subhas Chakraborty, transport minister, and Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim went berserk. Ranted the minister in the assembly: “Who the hell is the CBI? The state government’s powers are curtailed from all sides. Sometimes it is the Governor, sometimes it is the courts, sometimes it is the Centre. This cannot go on.” Subhas said the Governor should have held his tongue and trusted the chief minister’s report. The Speaker ruled that the governor had transgressed his constitutional limits. And when the Prime Minister expressed shock and anguish, as Mamata Banerjee paraded before him a number of victims from Nandigram and Singur, Jyoti Basu, buttressed by Binoy Konar, thundered: “The Prime Minister should be more restrained in making remarks. Does he know that our own evictees exceed 1000? And we’re running the government! Isn’t it a shame?”
That is, Basu does not, any more than Subhas, Halim and Konar, consider those whom the CPI-M cadres have thrown out as “our own” evictees. Binoy Konar adds, “We are certainly not sorry for what the police did at Nandigram on March 14.” That he is echoing the party line is clear.
The party’s top brass, including Basu, insists that while the movement at Khammam is democratic, that at Nandigram is not. “The villagers of Nandigram have challenged the authority of the State,” says Konar, ”Police will either enter Nandigram and enforce the rule of law or they will get away, and there will be street fight.”
Surprisingly, Professor Sen does not consider the use of such language to be an invitation to violence, although he is sure the “free regions” created by the Opposition parties testifies to violence. The fact is, the villagers, being mostly former CPI-M cadres, know from experience that the CPI-M government is sending its police force to carry out Konar’s threat of knocking hell out of the villagers’ lives (life hell kore debo).
Konar justifies himself by saying, “After all, you have to trap a tiger before you can make it graze like a cow?” Konar, of the Sainbari notoriety, in which a young man was murdered and his mother was sprayed with his blood, has said, “We do not believe in the politics of murder… Indeed, why should the CPI-M murder Tapasi Malik? Actually, by blaming Tapasi’s murder on the CPI-M, the Opposition parties are trying to prove that the CPI-M is filled with a bunch of bad people (kharap lok)…” No, I, for one, don’t think so. The likes of Binoy Konar have not quite succeeded in crowding out all the good men that used to be there in the CPI-M ~ those, for example, who wouldn’t hanker after an annual visit to America (as Comrade Biman Bose does), or after diwali gifts of whisky and champagne from industrialists like Vijay Malia, Mukesh Ambani et al (as Comrades Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury do).

Party members

Take for example the “group of party members, sympathisers and well-wishers” who addressed this letter (as reported in a section of the press) to the members of the central committee of the CPI-M. Characterising the party’s decision to promote a non-entity for the position of President of India as a “disturbing development”, it accuses the party of imposing, in league with the Congress, on the “nation a controversial presidential candidate, whose credentials appear to be ordinary if not suspect.” The note adds: “It is really unfortunate that the party has not been able to explain Nandigram to its members, leave alone to the public at large. Was this not a shame on the party?” The letter is unsigned, which proves how helpless the honest believers in Marxist principles are in the face of the kharap lok’s machinations.
The good people include much-respected leftists like Sumit Chakraborty, Editor of Mainstream, Professors Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar et al - and several leaders of the LF like RSP, Forward Block and CPI who seem to realise, if Marxism is basically humanism, then the CPI-M is irretrievably lost, or else its ministers and Speaker would have recognised the only human face in the state government - that of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who, aware as he is of the influence that Messrs Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri have with Sonia Gandhi, refused to run for the Vice-Presidency of India. In these worst of times, it is reassuring to see at least one powerful man unwilling to rub shoulders with the kharap lok. It would have been just as nice to see a Nobel laureate to keep clear of them.

The author is former member, West Bengal Education Commission.