Thursday, January 18, 2007
Turn of the wheel
Ten years ago, in the midst of a powerful transformative personal psychological experience, I wrote to my friend Som (whom I like to refer to as "Manjusmriti"): the paradign has shifted.
I remembered that yesterday evening as I realised that an awesome subtle transformation has taken place right now. The wheel has turned for the CPI(M).
After being in power for almost 30 years, and exercising a vice-like grip over life in the state of West Bengal - in a manner unimaginable by anyone not living here - this demon has finally been spat upon. Conquered in the psyche of people. The oppressor has been undone.
What signalled for me this profound subterranean shift was the demonstration by students in Calcutta a week ago, in support of farmers in Nandigram (who revolted against proposed land acquisition), in front of the CPI(M)'s headquarters in Alimuddin Street. Shakespeare wrote that hell hath no greater fury than a woman scorned. If the good Sheikh Pyare had been around in our time he might have written that no scorned woman hath a greater fury than the CPI(M) exposed. Party members - bhadrolok (i.e. "decent" folk), who love to sing ora amader gaan gaite day na (they don't let us sing songs) - ran out to beat up the hapless students.
I spoke yesterday evening to my friends Mrinal Bose and Sumit Chowdhury. Mrinal said this was a profound, pregnant moment, that one could write a novel about this moment. Sumit said a tsunami is coming, that is going to sweep away all those who stand in its way. I also spoke to another close friend, a party member, who told me about a party meeting where a very senior leader had been sent to explain about the Nandigram issue. The meeting room was packed to capacity and the senior member faced terrible flak from grassroots cadres, who attacked him with more fury and venom than the worst anti-CPI(M) baiter; so much so that he had to leave ignominously on the pretext of a pressing engagement.
Well-known leftist intellectuals in New Delhi, all senior academics, had signed a statement expressing their opposition to the path the CPI(M) has embarked upon. Our great intellectually challenged chief minister was asked by his party to write to them explaining his stance, which he did. But the academics have said that this response does not answer their concerns at all.
The CPI(M) has embarked on a propaganda exercise to save face. Street corner meetings are being held. But now large numbers of people are flocking to the meetings and taking the opportunity to question and repudiate; but the face-savers have no answers and have to leave unceremoniously.
Opposition to the CPI(M)'s so-called industrialisation drive is not what will bring anarchy and turbulence to the state. That will simply be the natural consequence of the party's long, long mis-rule, that has devastated the state, and which people silently suffered. But now a mental barrier has been broken - and that's the historic significance of "Singur" - and dissent can no longer be stamped out. No one can do any more harm than what the CPI(M) itself has done. For a long time Bengal is going to be haunted and defined by what the CPI(M) has wrought. It is utterly pointless to talk about "reform" or "caution" now, and expect the party to become "pro-people". Ejection of the CPI(M) is a prerequisite for any real stability.
In 1984, following the assasination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Congress party led by Rajiv Gandhi won an astounding victory in the general elections, getting more than a two-thirds majority in parliament. Less than three years later, the party was in deep trouble, embroiled in scam after scam. And in late 1989, the Congress was booted out in the next elections. Similarly, less than eight months after leading his party and the Left Front to a remarkable election victory, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and the CPI(M) have been laid low. There are no opposition political parties in West Bengal, it is like a single party state. But six months ago, no one could have foreseen what is happening now. So the rapidly unfolding situation is going to bring its own results. The people of West Bengal do not need the Congress or the Trinamul Congress or the BJP. The alternative - has to be imagined, articulated and built, by all those concerned about a positive, humane and just future.
There is a great temptation within the party to give a communal twist to Nandigram (where a significant proportion of the farmers are Muslim, and the Jamaat party has been active in organising them). But thankfully some people know that things would then go entirely out of control and backfire on the party. The CPI(M) is in an unenviable situation indeed.
One thing is clear: like a cornered rat fighting for life, the power lust driven CPI(M) is not going to take things lying down. Violence is going to be unleashed. So, whether against them, or by them - we are in for instability and turbulence.