Saturday, December 15, 2007



The organised brutality by the CPM in Nandigram has yet again brought out the best among the people of Bengal and Kolkata. In the days to come, one only hopes that the civil society will continue to move from strength to strength, from dissent to resistance, from despair to hope, writes Rajat Roy, Hardnews in Kolkata

The CPM has recaptured Nandigram. But in the process the party has lost its support base among the urban middle class. A huge silent march was led by Kolkata’s artists, intellectuals, students and ordinary citizens, outside all political affiliations, banners or slogans, in the heart of the city. The march was in protest against the State-endorsed operation of organised brutality unleashed by the CPM cadres and musclemen in Nandigram leading to killings, while thousands of villagers were rendered homeless, with many homes burnt.

The protest march was led by filmmakers Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and Goutam Ghosh, poet Sankho Ghosh, Jay Goswami and Utpal Kumar Basu, writer Mahasweta Devi, stage personalities Saoli Mitra, Bibhas Chakrabarty and playwright Badal Sarkar, painters Jogen Choudhury and Shubhaprasanno and others. The unique feature of the march was that political leaders were asked not to take part in it. Hence, bowing to public pressure, the leaders of Trinamul Congress (TMC), Congress, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) and even Left Front partner Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), though initially keen to join it, kept away from it. Indeed, the space vacated by the political parties was eagerly filled up by the civil society and a spectrum of individuals and icons from across Bengal’s mainstream intelligentsia and cultural scene.

Scientists from the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics and other scientific establishments, social
scientist Partha Chattopadhyay, historian Gautam Bhadra and others from Calcutta's prestigious Centre for Social Science and Research, academicians and students from Calcutta and Jadavpur University, students from various colleges, NGO workers and ordinary citizens came forward in tens of thousands. They recorded their intense anger, disapproval and disgust at the way the ruling party's vigilante cadres, openly flaunting brutality on unarmed men and women, including reported sexual assaults and rape, as they muscled their way into Nandigram while the State administration and political establishment remained a silent and patronising accomplice.

This revolting ‘operation recapture’, which Governor Gopal Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, had only a few days back condemned publicly as "totally unlawful and
unacceptable", has generated similar resonance from across the civil society. Kolkata had not witnessed this kind of mass upsurge against the CPM regime for almost three decades.

It was a silent march. There were no slogans which is otherwise typical of a political procession in the city. People who participated in the march wore black badges, others sang songs, many of them carried placards and caricatures criticising the CPM and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who has acquired an image which triggers mass repulsion. The massive rally began from College Square in front of the old campus of Calcutta University and ended at Esplanade East, where Medha Patkar and others welcomed the marchers. As the people silently walked through the famous College Street, SN Banerjee Road and Rani Rasmoni Road, thousands of people thronged on both sides in solidarity. The solemn expression on the faces of the onlookers indicated the truth: they were witnessing something which they have not seen for years.

Yes, this protest march is unique in many ways. Kolkata has witness several political demonstrations in the last 60 years. But most of that were organised by political parties. Many senior citizens who took part in this historic march could not recall a similar occasion where ordinary people from across the city gathered so spontaneously and in such big numbers to protest against the political establishment.

It is true that the ostensive purpose of the rally was to record the civil society's protest against the ruling party's brazenly undemocratic use of organised violence and brutality backed by the state administration. But by debarring the (ever-willing) opposition parties like the TMC and Congress, the civil society has served its judgment against the entire political stablishment. The political world just cannot afford to ignore this.

Many participants admitted that they happily joined the march because of this abhorrence of mainstream politics and politicians. They have reasons for that. Most people here have inherited a Left legacy. They have always constituted the progressive and traditional support base of the Left in the urban middle class. Many former naxalites were seen in the rally. Young students from elite colleges like St. Xavier's, Presidency, Jadavpur University and Shibpur Engineering College marched hand in hand in the procession with members of pop Bangla bands and singer Usha Uthup.

Ask them, and you would realise that their first baptism in social and political action was done during the case of Rizwanur death. The ‘indifferent’ generation X, considered as totally apolitical, totally sold out on the ‘neo-liberal’ shopping mall and inox culture, actually proved to be deeply sensitive and concerned. It is also an eye-opener for political observers.

Indeed, after seeing the CPM-led Left Front entrenched in power for the last 30 years in the
state, many of us looked at the Bengali society as a bipolar one, divided between the Left and the Right.

It was always held that Bengal's society is highly politicised and there is hardly any space left for
the civil society to assert. The inert and sustained presence of the civil society over the years and until the recent past had also strengthened that observation. But from March 14 to November 14 this year, in just about eight months, the civil society of Bengal has reasserted itself and started claiming back its legitimate space in the socio-political sphere, hitherto completely dominated by the creative stagnation and political muscle power of the CPM, without an iota of dissent.

Off course, the mass rupture and upsurge started with the resistance in Nandigram and the massacre which followed, when on March 14 the police and CPM goons fired upon the villagers in an attempt to evict them from their villages to set up a chemical hub for the notorious Indonesian multinational Salem. Then came the Rizwanur death, when the young and the old fought and forced a completely thick-skinned government to bow to their demands and act against the police top brass, patronised by the chief minister. Now, the organised brutality by the CPM in Nandigram has yet again brought out the best among the people of Bengal and Kolkata. In the days to come, one only hopes that the civil society will continue to move from strength to strength, from dissent to resistance, from despair to hope.