Thursday, March 22, 2007

For Nandigram

Nandigram is a symbol of humble people’s defiance, protest, militant resistance and sacrifice against the globalising local state. It has broken the stupor, apathy, cynicism and mute, opportunistic acceptance defining the intelligentsia and middle classes in Calcutta and West Bengal.

Singur began the process, which Nandigram ignited. And Nandigram tolls the bell for the CPI(M) and the traditional left who have been in power for 30 years.

The region is a border area, between plains and hills and between Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. That Nandigram is in the soil of Mednipur, where the earth has for long been irrigated by the blood of people’s resistance – makes it revered and sacred.

I was reminded by anthropologist Madhusree Mukherjee that during British times, prolonged rebellions rent the area, beginning with the Sanyasi-Fakir rebellion (1770 to around 1800), the Chuar rebellion (early 1800s, until about 1830), the Sepoy Mutiny or First War of Independence (1857) and the Quit India movement (1942-44). There was also a Santhal rebellion.

During the Quit India movement, which tragically merged in this area with the Bengal famine, the region's leaders ran a parallel government quite independently of the British government. Its courts were very popular with the people. The parallel government was disbanded at Gandhi's orders, after he was let out of jail, and it is said that many cried in disappointment.

One of the leaders during the Quit India movement, Sushil Dhara, is now an invalid and spends much of his time in a coma resulting from some illness. He reportedly expressed a wish to go to Mednipur and see the new freedom movement for himself.

Once again, the villagers had created a Muktanchal, or "Free Zone."

The people of Bengal and India owe the people of Nandigram their hearts, hands and heads. So many things need to be done:

- Being with and standing beside the people
- Relief and rehabilitation
- Medical and psychiatric care
- Obtaining compensation

- People’s investigations, Tribunal and Hearings
- Music concerts and CDs
- Art works, installations and exhibitions
- Poems, poetry readings and books
- Film screenings and festivals

- A memorial / people’s monument in Nandigram, that would express the sacredness of the soil.

And ultimately an independent political front has to emerge, which can put up candidates for elections from every constituency. I do not see this guilty govt lasting out its tenure (till 2011). We need an alternative to the CPI(M) and to all the other parties at play in Bengal. A people’s coalition, which takes up on behalf of the people the duty of restoring the tattered fabric of the state. With a mission to realise through office a basic minimum programme. Such a front should be in power for at least 10 years. This would also be a period during which the whole political culture of democracy could be rewritten, and new parties emerge, by formation or reform.

West Bengal today offers this opportunity. Once again Bengal shows the way to the rest of India, and today, in the context of globalisation, to the whole world. Not the elite or intelligentsia of Bengal, but the poor rural folk.

You cannot put a good thing down. After four decades of merciless assault by history, the people of Bengal have again stood up, and the fragrance of this sacred soil again gives us the whiff of freedom, that substantial freedom that Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi dreamt of, not mere political freedom, but social and economic emancipation.

The giant, slow-growing Saguaro cactus in the Sonoran desert in America draws water from the earth and grows over decades until, bloated, it collapses; and this event then nourishes an array of life forms whose very continued existence depends on these rare events. The people of Nandigram have made us aware of us what we are.

If I am proud to be Bengali, its Nandigram I am proud of. The soil of my childhood, which filled me with all its reverential essences, long-parched under a cruel sun, has awakened and called me and I hear its call and hearken.

Tomaar naam, aamaar naam, Nandigram Nandigram!

(Your name, my name, is Nandigram, Nandigram!)


Anirban Pal said...

Dear Rama,
I like your thoughts on the need for an independent political front in the state. Although I can see the opportunity for a new political culture post-Nandigram, I wonder where the new leadership will come from.

rama said...

Hullo Anirban. Leadership, as well as participation - are the two vital questions. And more important than leadership is participation. Some (class of) people are automatically thought of for leadership. But I'd like to question that. Howsoever doubtful or doomed this might be, its something I'd like to see happening.

Whether or not such a political front emerges, more fundamental is an ongoing programme of grassroots engagement and political - or civic - education. This would keep any govt in power accountable.

If you were here, you would have sensed the invisible change. A friend spoke to me yesterday about a "tectonic shift". He said the Calcutta of yore seems to have re-awakened!



Hasnain said...

Adab Swamiji,

'And ultimately an independent political front has to emerge'- I sincerely wish this happens sooner than later and the testing time is during the panchayat polls next year. There may not be any need to contest everywhere. A number of nandigrams have to be produced through the verdict of the polls.

My only apprehensions remain that elections have to be fought within the rules that necessrily favours the group with financial resources. The existing political parties score on that. Any sincere effort to mobilise resources for this front also throw the danger of blunting its revolutionary spirit.

But this experiment should and must happen.


Anirban said...

Thank you Rama. I sense a lot of optimism from your side that cheers me up a bit. And also thanks for your timely reminder of Gandhi's peaceful resistance within the present climate of fear in Nandigram and Singur.

Holden Caulfield said...


Really good post. Land is not the government's property. It belongs to the people.

Emotional contagion is a phenomenon - much like the standing ovation problem - and in the past Bengal has experienced both positive and negative emotional contagion.

But, that inspiration, in my opinion, should also be directed to what we can do, rather than how we can stop others from doing. The latter is never long-lasting.