Saturday, December 15, 2007

Who is the Left?


We salute the magnificent spirit in which secular-democratic and genuinely socialist forces in Bengal express their dissent. Maybe, a Left politics will emerge out of this churning. It cannot possibly come out of the morally bankrupt official Left

Sumit Sarkar/Tanika Sarkar Delhi

Nandigram, the CPM tells us, has been brought back into the Left fold. Once a secure Left base, it had dared to defy the party's handover of its land and livelihood to a dubious foreign corporate group. Worse, it defended its land with peoples' lives. That defiance — lasting, unbelievably, for 11 months, despite massacres, rapes, infliction of disability and trauma — is at last over. Villagers sign undertakings, promising total submission. Surely, we should celebrate the Left victory?

What do those who call themselves Leftist have to say when they condemn party action? Can one be a Leftist and yet be against the party? Let us dare to reverse the question. Must a party, by virtue of calling itself communist, by definition be Leftist? Is socialism a matter of labels, words and signs alone?

The CPM handed over, without information and consent, agricultural land to multinational companies at Singur and Nandigram. Its factsheets on Singur lied about the quality of land and the party's claims of securing agreements from peasants have been contested at the high court. When asked about the nature of the deal — where the government spent huge amounts to practically gift away land to the Tatas — the queries under the Right to Information Act were returned unanswered. Peaceful peasant resistance was met with brutal repression by the police and cadres.

With this precedent before them, Nandigram peasants feared the worst when an official notification informed them that 35 mouzas would be given away to the Salem group on the advice of an American market survey company. When the local party failed to give any concrete information, villagers — all of them CPM supporters — fortified Block 1 of Nandigram to keep the police and the party out, to preserve their land and their lives.

The party replied with shootouts and killings and peasants retaliated with one killing in return. Henceforth, their fear of reprisals became acute, enhancing their determination to resist. The bloody events of March 14 are well known. Cases pending at the Kolkata High Court continued to languish there, the CBI enquiries were folded up after two days, no party leader visited the area and not a scrap of relief or compensation came from the state government to the battered victims. This was not a climate conducive to placing any faith in Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's belated assurance that there would be no chemical hub if peasants do not want it. Villagers were convinced that once the party forced its way into Nandigram, they would make the peasants 'want ' the hub.

We are asked why our criticism is selective, what about CPM loyalists ousted from the villages? This is precisely what the BJP asks secularists; why don't you talk that much about Kashmiri refugees? The answer is the same: while all intimidation is reprehensible, a swollen, huge party machinery and State apparatus exist to care for the latter. For rebellious Nandigram peasants, there was no support, except from civil society groups.

We also believe that there could have been no more unequal combat. There is no terror like State terror, though the use of terror by any one should not be supported. This is a state whose leading party has been continuously in power for 30 years and, at present, the central government depends on it for its survival.

We do not accept that any Left strategy should destroy a viable small peasant economy and environment in the interests of giant corporate companies. We believe that a harsh and ruthless neo-liberal power has been installed only by destroying even bourgeois legal constitutional norms — which is how Nandigram was won back. The peasant movement has been crushed by means that the Kolkata High Court considers illegal; that, in the process, civil and democratic rights of protests have been mauled.

The recent rural upsurges in the poorest districts against the non-availability of rationed foodstuff, and the urban upsurge against the corrupt party-business-police nexus that achieved the death of a Muslim youth who had married a Hindu girl, made it essential for the discredited party to make Nandigram an example of how far its repression can reach. We believe that a combination of Stalinist terror and neo-liberal economics is not a valid form of Leftism. On the contrary, all Leftists are committed to protest and resist injustice, inequality and repression wherever it exists — in Czechoslovakia, at Tiananmen Square, at Kampuchea, in Nandigram.

We challenge the defenders of the parties to identify any communist, socialist or even welfarist elements in West Bengal today — or a modicum of democratic right to dissent. We protest that because some anti-Left newspapers have been unfairly critical of the Left parties' foreign policy, no one else has the right to criticise anything else that the Left does.

We salute the magnificent spirit in which secular-democratic and genuinely socialist forces in Bengal express their dissent. Maybe, a Left politics will emerge out of this churning. It cannot possibly come out of the morally bankrupt official Left.

The writers are eminent historians based in delhi