Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Facing up to Nandigram


To anyone who has been following Indian news lately, there are, of course, many, many troubling issues when it comes to the disaster at Nandigram. West Bengal, the stronghold for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for 30-odd years, is in a period of immense turmoil and violent protest, thanks to the CPM’s conduct in Nandigram, the incredible levels of police and political corruption in the Rizwanur Rehman/Todi case, and, sadly, due to the furor over extending Taslima Nasreen’s visa . I was in India for five weeks and the news was dominated by the Tehelka sting in Gujarat for the first bit and then by the CPM-backed murders, rapes and general mayhem in Nandigram for the second. Even the mainstream corporate media seemed truly appalled, and, between endless plugs for Om Shanti Om, managed to cover the escalating violence and insolent CPM response to any and all questioning with a surprising level of critical awareness. They even poked holes in the CPM’s claim that even leftier “Maoists” were behind the violence and that the CPM thugs were only acting in self-defense. The one thing that most media fell short on was examining their own assumptions when describing the CPM. From newspapers, to the evening news, to those now-ubiquitous weekly red-and-white news magazines, the CPM was time and again described as “red”, The Left, Communist etc. For the mainstream media to paint such a simplistic black-and-white or, ahem, red-and-white, picture, is to be expected. But when an open letter from Chomsky and “other intellectuals” was printed in The Hindu also continued to identify the CPM with “The Left” and therefore, somehow, as their ideological partners, things really started to seem hopeless.

Chomsky and other intellectuals on Nandigram
displays the worst tendencies amongst Western, left-leaning academics. The fact that a group including the likes of Vijay Prashad and Tariq Ali – and Noam Chomsky himself – would author/sign on to such a piece of facile gloss on the Nandigram disaster betrays a good deal of arrogance and a certain degree of naiveté amonst these high-profile career intellectuals. “The balance of forces in the world is such that it would be impetuous to split the Left… This is not the time for division when the basis for division no longer appears to exist” says the open letter. Although what exactly this is supposed to mean is unclear, what is obvious is that Chomsky and co. seem convinced that they share with the CPM a larger, “Leftist,” ideology and therefore cannot betray the CPM by definitively condemning the party for its (widely publicized) atrocities in Nandigram. Why continue to employ labels that clearly do not apply, to a group that consistently embarrasses itself every time it attempts to justify its brutality?

This lack of a critical position on the part of these intellectuals is disturbing. Not only are they effectively giving undue and undeserved legitimacy to the CPM and its brand of goonda politics, they are also unwisely clinging to the dangerous belief that the CPM is somehow still representative of “Leftist” ideology. This misguided romanticization of the CPM enables its corrupt practices. The CPM has long-abandoned any socialist pretensions and is depressingly bereft of all ideals of social justice despite, infuriatingly, its insistence on continuing to employ “Leftist” rhetoric. Smug, opportunistic and gleefully and unrepentantly neo-liberal at its core, the waving around of hammers and sickles aside, the party has long ago divorced itself from anything that resembles Marxism other than perhaps a penchant for filling out all forms in triplicate. To be surprised at the CPM’s conduct in Nandigram or to be remained confused at this fellow Lefty’s fascist behaviour is tantamount to wondering how a Communist nation like China can put the interests of its fat cats ahead of those of the people of Darfur.

It seems almost silly to have to point out to such a group of eminent scholars and authors as the signatories of the open letter, but actions speak louder than words. No matter how red the shade of its flags or its tape, there is nothing “red” remaining about the CPM other than the blood it has on its hands. Rather than tiptoeing around this travesty, with phrases such as “we understand that those who had been dispossessed by the violence are now being allowed back to their homes without recrimination” that are clearly and simply untrue, for once, it would be so very refreshing if such powerful groups of academics would take a firm political stand. Their colleagues in Kolkata have decided to stand against the CPM because they understand that no matter what the party’s slogans, murder is, as they say, murder. It does the violated people of Nandigram no good to know that the Western Academy is reluctant to denounce their oppressors because at some point in the past or perhaps the future they all belonged to a ethereal club called The Left. It’s time for these well-funded Western intellectuals to also reconsider past alliances put aside their impotent delusions about “solidarity” with the CPM and “coalition politics” with hired rapists and surf a reputable Indian newspaper or two. That might encourage them to join in on the public shaming of West Bengal’s predatory and shameless government.

Addendum: (keep any and all relevant links coming)
(Credit to go to Vivek) Here’s a response to the Chomksy & co letter from their desi counterparts.

Also, if anyone needs a bit of background on what was going on in Nandigram before this round of retributive violence, here’s an older post by, again, Vivek.

Sanhati is an excellent site for extensive information on the systematic erosion of people’s rights and the brutal neo-liberal agenda espoused by the West Bengal state.

Another piece, this time speaking directly to Chomsky on the hypocrisy of the “Left-leaning intellectuals” who would defend the CPI(M)’s role at Nandigram (Thank you, PropaMcGandhi).

An open letter to Tariq Ali from Jadavpur Professor of History, Kunal Chattopadhyay in response to his defense of state terror in West Bengal.

Professor Rohit Chopra, who interviewed Vijay Prashad for SAJAforum has this to say (entitled Calcutta 1984 and Nandigram 2007: The End of the Left?) on his blog, Anti-History.

Sudhanva Deshpande and Vijay Prashad on forced land acquisition from farmers by the CPM in Singur and Nandigram. Counterpunch, May 23, 2007.