Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fall of the Left and Buddhadeb

During a press briefing in May 2006, CPI(M) state secretary Biman Bose made a prophetic comment. While speaking on the role of media which was then projecting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as the poster boy of reforms, Bose remarked bluntly: “The media has taken the Brand Buddha line. But it can spell trouble for him.” (Source) The outspoken CPI(M) state secretary was expressing his worry that the same media which is making a superhero out of him, was equally capable of abruptly changing color, chameleon-like, and start smearing the chief minister’s image. Biman Bose’s comment came at a time when the political influence and reputation of Buddhadeb was at its peak. He had just won the 2006 state assembly elections with a colossal majority and was hailed as a new-age leader, a “capitalist communist” who was expected to steer Bengal to glory. The industrial lobby, the neo-liberal media and large sections of the urban middle class was praising him animatedly for his single-point industrialization agenda. He was been credited for bringing back hope to a state marred by “despair”. Neo-liberalism advocate The Economist went gaga to extol him for his “reputation for probity,” for being “modest and engaging” on topics from agri-business to consumerism and Indian poetry. From Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Azim Premji of Wipro, many big-shots were lauding him as India’s best chief minister. Unfortunately for him, it took just a year after the famous victory for the Brand Buddha bubble to burst. Within a couple of years the monolithic edifice of the CPI(M) came tumbling down when the people of Bengal delivered a real kick in the teeth to sweep out the Left Front from thirty-four long years of uninterrupted power.

Buddhadeb’s rise within the party was straight and trouble-free. Active in politics from his Presidency College days, he joined the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) as a primary member in 1966. Always a disciplined partyman, he was spotted early by the party state secretary Pramod Dasgupta as a future leader and was soon elected as state secretary of the Democratic Youth Federation (DYF) – the party’s youth wing. The party groomed young Buddhadeb and subsequently co-opted him for parliamentary politics. He became the information and culture minister of the first Left Front government in 1977. Except between 1982-87 when he lost the assembly polls and in 1993 when he resigned from the Cabinet after being scolded by his leader Jyoti Basu for being rude with a bureaucrat, Buddhadeb continued as a minister for a large part of the Left’s rule. In 2000, he emerged from the shadows of his predecessor, who retired for health reasons and took the charge of Bengal as chief minister.

In the eyes of the middle class party circles of the powerful Kolkata District Committee, Buddhadeb was always special for his intellectual sophistication which he had earned by his access to high culture. His opinions regarding art and culture, especially on what existed outside the Left cultural cliché was considered to be the last word for the top CPI(M) leadership in Bengal. Though he was in some way the party’s real commissar of culture, surprisingly enough, he was never found to be directly dictating terms to the Cultural Front of his party; possibly considering it much lower to his taste and dignity. Cultural front leaders were known to be critical in private about Buddhadeb’s snobbish views that had distinguished him from his comrades. They were particularly uneasy about his reproachful attitude towards the agit-prop programs undertaken by them. Buddhadeb, for them, was too much of an egoist, someone who felt immense pleasure about his elitism. However, as workers of a regimented party, they would obey and acclaim him in public as a leader of high cultural and moral ideals and values.

***

The media manufactured “cultured” image of Buddhadeb, his honesty and austere dwelling had initially enthralled the middle class Bengalis. Is he not a politician quite unique among the stereotype Indian counterparts – they used to argue. But this artificial image did not last for long or brought him any help when he needed it most. Steps taken by the Marxist turned reformist chief minister was ringing like alarm bells in the ears of the Leftist old guards. He had never worked closely among the peasant and workers, did not come to the party through peasant and labor movements and therefore never really understood them. From an urban middle class understanding and outlook he arrogantly went on rubbishing the concerns and cautions sounded from the grassroots.

Stuck with the appearance, he tried to authorize the media created “capitalist communist” image expressing his dislike for bandhs (general strike) – a customary form of protest used by the Leftists. “Unfortunately, I belong to a political party that calls for bandhs. I have kept quiet. But, from now on, I’ll not keep quiet,” he had bravely said to a gathering of industrialists. It was indeed shocking to see him getting carried away by the sly media strategy that had credited him entirely for the Left Front’s huge electoral victory. Who knew better than Buddhadeb that the achievement, though steered by him, would have remained unfeasible without the assiduous work done at the local level by numerous dedicated party functionaries. Sadly enough, instead of brushing aside this phony hero worship, Buddhadeb started to believe in the brand himself.

His basic ideas on development were apparently faultless. There was nothing wrong to focus on industrialization as the key to economic growth. After the massive election victory, it was also not in the wrong to launch a rapid industrialization drive. The newly elected government under Buddhadeb’s stewardship envisioned that if they have not gone on that particular path by taking advantage of the current neo-liberal economic milieu of the country, it would have been like betraying the people who had voted them back to power.

We must not forget that it was during the Left regime when Bengal had achieved a considerable success in agricultural production. The land redistribution program that had empowered sharecroppers throughout Bengal along with the three-tier Panchayat System that had decentralized power at the grass root level through the democratic institutions of local self-governments has remained the Left’s prime area of success which in return has ensured their uninterrupted stint in power. It is incredible to think that Buddhadeb and the CPI(M) did not take this background into consideration while launching the massive industrial program.

The sequence of events unfolded over time clearly shows that the aggressive industrialization drive had proceeded with too much of unnecessary haste which could have been done with more time, patience and care. Instead of involving the stakeholders in the process, the government preferred to keep them in dark. Due to some strange reason, Buddhadeb and his team used a pliant administration to apply force on the people to give their dear land. Many of them were poor peasants, those who had formed the backbone of his party. Critical policy decisions concerning people’s life and livelihood were taken at the top, coldly dictated and mindlessly implemented without thinking deeply that if the outcome of their decisions went against them what would be the alternative policy to check it. Buddhadeb also ignored the fact that he is not a mass leader with a stature of Jyoti Basu but a leader appointed by the party and substantiated by the corporate media. Quite surprisingly he could not even recognize that those who are making a hero out of him are actually not his friends.

Another graver mistake was to take the tenacious Mamata Banerjee too lightly. In the initial days after the 2006 landslide win Buddhadeb became a ridiculously haughty man. He forgot that in a democracy one cannot underestimate the opponents – even if they apparently look toothless and stale. Under a favorable environment, the puny opposition will grow leafy in no time. And when it starts happening, the sprouting cannot be resisted by simply calling the phenomenon a nuisance. However, we cannot blame Buddhadeb alone for this blunder. His party, the CPI(M) is equally responsible for it. What was the CPI(M) leadership doing when the opposition was gaining strength after strength from Buddhadeb and his government’s reckless experiments? Nothing much, because the 2006 landslide wins had silenced them all. The leadership had no other option but to allow the too expensive experiments to continue on a grand scale even after Mamata Banerjee started targeting their core constituency and successfully incited the people against them. 

***

The success of the Left Front government’s industrial policy depended primarily on an extremely sensitive factor – land acquisition. To ensure its success, the primary task of the government was to insightfully pay attention to the expectations of the people who were deeply attached with their land. The events of Singur has clearly pointed out that the major failure of the government was its inability to gain trust from the poor and marginal farmers, whose livelihood depended directly on the land the government had decided to acquire. Instead of going to the villages and discussing the matter of setting up industry with the people, the government relied more on highhanded bureaucratic methods. Buddhadeb, who had once proudly claimed not to operate out of the state secretariat Writers' Buildings, disregarded even the mass front organizations of his own party and their close to the earth leaders. Their wisdom and apprehensions were just brushed aside. In due course, the government, the Left Front and a regimented party like the CPI(M) lost touch with a good section of their own people. The situation came as a godsend to the opposition who merrily started to exploit the doubts, anxieties and grievances brimming in the minds of the effected people.

A large number of the effected peasants couldn’t make out the value of industrialization, how it would bring prosperity to their lives and will ensure a better future for their children. Brand Buddha miserably failed to explain them the differences between land acquisition and land grab. True, Buddhadeb and his team had tried to communicate their vision, to make the masses aware about the benefits of their policy. But their tone of discourse was mechanical and callous, entirely inappropriate for a compassionate pro-poor government.

During the 2006 Assembly elections, Left Front had raised the slogan: Agriculture is our base, Industry is our future. We still think that the slogan was correct. But the deeds failed to match the lofty words. Oversimplifying the electoral results as an automatic mandate for industrialization, Buddhadeb and his team misjudged the objective ground realities of Bengal. The mistakes committed in Singur got amplified a hundred times or more during and after the events of Nandigram. To consider Nandigram as the logical continuation of Singur will be wrong – it was much more complex, and certainly devious in nature. However, after the fatal police shooting that had killed fourteen individuals, the concealed anger against the chief minister, his government and party busted out in open.

Nandigram had also exposed Buddhadeb’s terrible weakness as an administrator, his lack of leadership skill. After the Nandigram fiasco Buddhadeb’s administration lost all their strength and courage to counter the unyielding opposition led by a reincarnated Trinamool chieftain. For the first time in their long tenure the CPI(M) had to face a tough united opposition which also included prominent representatives of the Bengali intelligentsia and the civil society. Nandigram events have taught the Leftists a severe lesson – never take the people for granted. The events have also pulled them by their ears and taught them that losing touch with the people is synonymous to death for a Communist Party.

A section of opportunist intellectuals who used to pry around Buddhadeb just a few days ago and flattered him in public to prove their proximity, suddenly turned hostile. With the choicest phrases possible they started to curse him and the CPI(M). A bewildered Buddhadeb watched in utter dismay how some of his “close” intellectual pals, for whose behalf he had once disregarded many of his party comrades, have manifestly went against him. Yet it was those debarred party comrades, who have always failed to occupy a place in his larger imagination, solidly stood by his side. But whether Buddhadeb felt any comfort among them is a difficult question to answer.

The consistent erosion of the Left’s support base in the rural areas that had started since the 2008 panchayat elections reached its high point when Mamata Banerjee successfully chased away the Tatas from Singur. A helpless chief minister and his government just watched like a sitting duck how skillfully the rainbow opposition force took complete control of the situation. Titmice were seen kicking the elephant that had been stuck in mud. Men and women from different walks of life – from the ultra Left-ultra Right-Centrists, the poets-writers-artists-critics-dramatists-actors-singers-filmmakers, the historians-sociologists-anthropologists, the spiritualists-anarchists-existentialists-rationalists-socialists-social democrats, the Gandhians-Ambedkarites-Arya Samajis, the traders-middlemen-brokers-peddlers-touts-pimps, the rights activists-environmental activists-fact finders, the renegades-utopian dreamers-opportunists, the conspirators-manipulators-undercover and double agents, the time servers-self seekers-turncoats, everyone from everywhere jumped on the Mamata bandwagon to protest against Buddhadeb’s industrial policy. Taking advantage of the situation, the Maoists in the Jangalmahal area and the ethnic Gurkhas in Darjeeling raised their head to add more trouble for an already dejected administration.

The mainstream media which had conspicuously stood behind him and rained praises just a couple of years ago, penned editorials advising him not to “follow or react to policy parameters set down by New Delhi” and started putting on pressure to “act as the pace-setter in opening up new areas to foreign direct investment,” abruptly changed their course. And what a change it was! By that time, Buddhadeb’s brand value has hit a rock bottom. The Left’s legendary mass base has also started eroding from its core. Tasting blood, a cohesive, belligerent, and blatant campaign was initiated against the Left Front, particularly targeting the CPI(M). The unprecedented campaign eventually turned into a total bias in favor of the Trinamool chieftain. At every defeat of the Left Front in consecutive elections, the media gloated more and more with ruthless joy. Such was the beauty of the systemic propaganda that people have almost forgot that the Jangalmahal crisis started after the Maoists have tried to assassinate the chief minister and another central minister near Lalgarh.

After the 2009 general election results, Buddhadeb finally started to see the writings on the wall and made a last afford to recover his lost ground. The chief minister, who during the crisis moments of Singur and Nandigram had not once visited those areas, came out from the dark chambers of Writers' Buildings, from the company of his charmed circle of bureaucrats, and started traveling all over the state. As a desperate attempt, he visited the districts every weekend to communicate with the people. But it was all too late. He found that large sections of the masses have not only turned their faces away from him, but also from his party. Therefore when his government undertook several pro-people policies just before the 2011 assembly elections, it failed to make any impact. As an alternative, the people have started trusting the wily Mamata Banerjee and her treacherous gang. Why should they continue to keep faith on a regime that has turned so insensitive? Even those who had strong reservations about Mamata Banerjee’s style of politics ended up supporting her.

***

The 2011 assembly election debacle of the Left in Bengal is undoubtedly historic. It is not only an electoral setback but a political defeat as well. But is it the end of the road for the CPI(M)? Can we now objectively start terming it as “the death of the Left” and presume that the Left has become politically irrelevant in the country? Off course not. History will again create situations when the Left and the CPI(M) will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The present rulers of the country are ensuring that the moment is not too far. Within a brief time, the poor and socially oppressed sections in Bengal will eventually realize that the Trinamool Congress is not their political party, the new “liberator of Bengal” Mamata Banerjee is not the leader on whom they can keep faith for a long time – even if she continues to carry on nourishing them with her populist Ma-Mati-Manush philosophy, presenting herself under the garb of the “real” Left.

Can the CPI(M) bounce back under Buddhadeb’s leadership? In the backdrop of the debacle, his strange attitude is making us skeptical. When leaders and workers of his party are brutally attacked and killed on a daily basis across the state by the Trinamool-Congress goons, when party legislators are physically assaulted, when party and union offices are ransacked, when party supporters are being evicted from their homes by force and extortion is going on a large scale, Buddhadeb is far away from the scene. He is never found walking beside the dedicated Left workers who are trying to consolidate and revive. Instead he is behaving like a crestfallen lad, abandoned by his parents. Once again Buddhadeb has found it safe to retreat into his private cocoon, completely disregarding countless ordinary Left workers – those who have believed and accepted him as their leader.

Since the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections where the CPI(M) suffered a major embarrassing setback, he has continuously skipped eight Politburo and several Central Committee meetings. What message does he want to convey by running away from the party’s highest policy making body? Is he signaling to do something similar to what he did in 1993 by tendering his resignation from the fourth Left Front government? Time and again he has proved his failure to grow-up from just a leader to a leader of the masses. We are therefore doubtful about seeing him rolling up his sleeves and fighting back again in near future. 

Not even the greatest of his critics can criticize Buddhadeb’s personal integrity. No one can even think of charging him as corrupt. Inside the party circles not a single detractor can question his dedication to the party cause. His cultural sophistication is way beyond any shadow of a doubt. He is an ardent reader, a playwright and a first rate translator. He is certainly a person with a modern progressive mind who dreams for a better world. At the same time, he bears a typical Bengali urban middle-class psyche, mirroring the confusions of liberalism and orthodoxy. His inability to reach and understand the people he leaded and his failure in managing political contradictions has tragically trapped him in an endless battle within itself.

Time has come to tell in plain words that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is not the leader who can steer the Left Front and the CPI(M) in these difficult days.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chaos to Creation: the enigma of Bob Dylan (Part: Three)

In 1968, Dylan came out from his eighteen-month long self-imposed exile, once more picked up his acoustic guitar and recorded John Wesley Harding, a soft, somber acoustic album very different from the surrealistic verbosity and flashy musical arrangements of Blonde and Blonde. Unlike the apparently impromptu manner in which he wrote the lyrics of his previous album, every song of the new album was written with more care and completed before he went for recording. The world he described in the songs, as Mike Marqusee has drawn our attention to, is loaded with connotative characters: the immigrants, drifters, outlaws, hobos, greedy landlords, hateful figures of unentitled authority, saints, martyrs, the rich and the poor. Though sounded simple and rustic, the narrative songs are in fact ingrained deep into elemental social themes, revealing several intertwined layers of subtle political message which went almost undetected to the listeners. During the sparkling 1968 Sing Out! interview, John Cohen asked him why his songs aren’t as socially or politically applicable as they were earlier. Absolutely conscious and confident about his intention, Dylan gave a categorical reply to the question and said: “Probably that is because no one cares to see it the way I’m seeing it now, whereas before, I saw it the way they saw it.”

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To the Comrades in Bengal

The 2011 Bengal assembly election is now over. A synthetically manufactured socio-political commotion that had embarked on a plotted journey from mid-2007 has finally arrived at its logical end. The much hyped circle of poriborton (change) is now complete. An assorted conglomerate of anti-Left elements, personified by the “magnanimous” Trinamool chieftain Mamata Banerjee have triumphed over a thirty-four years long uninterrupted Left Front rule in this eastern Indian state – the longest-serving elected communist government in the world. The euphoria over the victory in the anti-Left camp is therefore obvious. Prominent renegades, fence-sitter Leftists, drawing room revolutionaries and the awake-aware intellectuals have also joined to sing the celebration chorus. The winners and their embedded friends in the mainstream corporate media have announced with a big sigh of relief that Bengal, at last, is free. The people, we are told, is now liberated from a tyrannical and sluggish regime which has destroyed every aspect of democratic rights in the state. The Left’s terrible debacle, we are edified again and again, is therefore nothing less than historic. On the other side, a stoic silence has been observed from the losers who have gracefully accepted the people’s mandate and are presently tiring to protect their grass-root workers from the vicious attack launched against them by the victorious Trinamool goons.

A distinctive feature of this election, too obvious to be doubted, is the unprecedented, near total consolidation of anti-Left forces. All sorts of incongruent political elements, the ultra-Leftists, the separatists, the centrists as well as the reactionary Rightists, had deliberately assembled together with the singular aim to defeat the Left Front. This election has also seen an extraordinarily antagonistic, insolent and biased campaign by the corporate media against the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Though anti-Left campaign by the mainstream media is nothing new during elections, this time the modus operandi, dimension and range of the media campaign has actually crossed every imaginable limit. In an act of desperation, the corporate media perhaps have overlooked the fact that an overdose of anti-Left bias can turn counterproductive in the long run.  

Yet, the results have come like a body blow to the Left Front, particularly to the CPI(M), for a special reason. The way in which the party has lost the elections is not only stunning but also unprecedented in the party’s legislative history in the state. Almost all of its stalwarts including incumbent chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have lost in huge margins to the opposition; many greenhorns of the opposition combine have emerged as giant-killers. The Marxists are also been routed from the four districts considered to be their traditional stronghold – Bardhaman, Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia. The most shocking news for the CPI(M) came from the Maoist infested Jangalmahal area where in the past two years over 122 party activists were brutally annihilated, their families were attacked, hundreds of homes were burnt and thousands were displaced. In the fourteen Maoist-affected rural constituencies in Jangalmahal the Left Front has won only seven assembly seats. They were defeated in their stronghold Salboni and also in Jhargram that includes Lalgarh – the epicenter of the Maoist movement in the region. Earlier, the masses had never completely believed the lies spread against the Left parties and their leaders. This time they did.

From the moment the results were declared, Left Front and CPI(M) nitpickers are having a field day. They are yelling from the rooftops: Isn’t it true that the Left Front has ultimately paid the price for their arrogance, for imposing their myopic vision, for their incapability to deliver good governance, for their autocratic approach to control each and every democratic institutions, for their absolute but needless interference in the daily lives of the people, for unleashing a reign of terror in the countryside to maintain their supremacy? Have they not tried to cripple the people of Bengal and prevented them to flourish like the people of many “vibrant” states of the country like Gujarat or Maharashtra? Why the Bengalis needed to leave their homeland in numbers in search of better education, medical facilities and jobs? The decade long Left rule, as one Rupert Murdock blessed media group tells us, has ruined the state to such a level that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the new government to repair the damage in just one term.

Curiously enough, these viewpoints are not only raised by the vociferous critics of the Left but are also seen to be shared by many of their well-meaning advocates too. Even the Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan has jumped into the fray with his “spirited” opinion that the electoral debacle in Bengal is the fallout of arrogance and corruption that has crept in among the cadres and leaders at certain levels and a series of “mistakes and sins of omission and commission.” (Source) Everyone seems to have grown wiser after the event.

***

From close to 50 per cent in the previous 2006 elections, the Left Front’s share of total votes has sharply reduced to just over 41 per cent in the present. Though the opposition TMC-Congress combine has received just 6 per cent more votes than the Left parties and the CPI(M) has still retained a core base, compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections the Left’s vote-share has reduced an additional 2.2 per cent. How is it possible that the Marxists who brag on their incisive organizational strength failed to even sense this immense public mood? Is it not then a clear indication, as one observer has judiciously concluded, how much detached they were from ground reality? Former Left Front minister and noted essayist Ashok Mitra has bitterly criticized the Left leadership for displaying a “grotesque” optimism and “ridiculous self-confidence” on the eve of vote counting.

However, C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh has shown in their post-election analysis that this optimism most likely came from the fact that the Left Front had indeed managed to considerably improve its performance by gaining nearly 1.1 million additional votes compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. “Not only was the Left Front vote in 2011 very close to that in 2006,” the authors have observed, “this increase was almost equal to the extent by which the Left Front had fallen short of the votes of the TMC-Congress combine in 2009.” The authors have further noted that even if “more people actually did come out to vote for Left parties than had done so in 2009 […] the party cadre apparently did not anticipate that many more people would turn out to vote for the opposition.” (Emphasis added) The opposition combine had the last laugh as 72 per cent of the 4.8 million overall votes which has increased between 2009 and 2011 have gone in their favor whereas the Left was able to garner only 23 per cent of the votes. (Source) A significant number of these additional votes came from the women voters. The women of Bengal, as some commentators have suggested, seems to have strongly identified with the famous lady.

Another point is worth noting. While the Left Front this time has received 19.6 million votes and ended up with just 61 of the 294 seats, in the previous 2006 assembly elections it had secured 19.8 million votes and yet won a massive 235 seats. Thus a fundamental question is raised by human rights activist and blogger Vidya Bhushan Rawat: “Just 6% of shift in votes has changed the fortunes of the left in West Bengal reflect a serious concern of all of us that we need to discuss on the issue of electoral reform. How can a mere 6% difference create loss of 162 seats?” (Source) The Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala, however, has lost the election by a slender margin and was also successful to slightly increase its vote-share from the 2006 assembly elections. LDF’s vote-share in the 2011 elections is just under less than one per cent of what the opposition UDF has acquired.

***

While gloating at the defeat, congenital Left detractors are pretending to be greatly worried about the Left’s future too! Advising to scrap Lenin and Stalin along with the ideological commitments, media-bred pundits have recommended that the Left parties in India now must “challenge existing beliefs and assumptions” to follow the path of revisionism and convert themselves into Social Democrats – just like what their Eastern European counterparts have done after the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the barrage of advices pitched towards them from all directions, the Left leaders and workers must be having a hard time to distinguish between the “friendly” and the “fiendish”. Furthermore, a malicious attack has been systematically instigated to dilute the historic contribution of the Left Front in Bengal – the remarkable role they have played to deepen grassroots democracy through decentralization of power, to uphold communal harmony for more than three successive decades, for distributing land to the sharecroppers, for bringing the poor and marginalized into the democratic mainstream and giving them the respect they deserve.

It was certain that when the law of Dialectics takes its own course, the Left Front government of Bengal was bound to fall. However strong it may be, no political party or alliance can remain invincible forever in a democracy. “In a democracy, political parties win and lose electoral battles,” commented senior journalist M.R. Narayan Swamy in a recent article. “There is no Shakespearean tragedy in the rout of the Left in West Bengal.” (Source) Why then some of us are feeling heartbroken and the others are trying to phrase the election results as a catastrophe for the Left? No doubt, the 34 year-long stint in absolute power is one of the key reasons behind such attitudes to develop. It will also be wrong to deny that a good section of the Left leadership and workers at various levels took the people of Bengal for granted and had started to think and behave like an everlasting ruler. Then there is another oblivious section among the Left’s extended family which had completely forgotten that winning elections is not the only purpose or the real marker of the significance and strength of the communist parties. The wise masses have given a fitting reply against these attitudes.

Has the time come to write an elegy for the Left? Will it be possible for the major Left parties in the country to recover from this enormous defeat? These are the fundamental questions which has prompted much discussion and debate in various corners in and outside the country today. Instead of backing away after the defeat, the Left parties must look-up at the silver lining outshining the gloom. The election results have provided a unique opportunity for them. First of all, after a long time they are now free from the apparent obligations of balancing their “words and deeds” while functioning to run three state governments in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura within the parameters of a fiercely competitive neo-liberal bourgeois democratic framework. After a long time, the Left parties will not have to constantly defend or explain their inner contradictions, alleged as “duplicity” or “hypocrisy” by the critics, for adopting the neo-liberal policies on one hand and opposing pro-US neo-liberalism on the other. They have nothing further to lose and therefore there will be no need now to go on defending the concentrated attack launched against them on this question. Instead, they have more time to focus on past mistakes, seriously introspect, undertake in-depth analysis and initiate systematic rational debates within itself which will eventually help to generate newer ideas on their future approaches to socio-political issues. They now have a golden opportunity to transform themselves from within and reinvent a creative Left Front – reflecting the aspirations of the masses, being uncompromising in their anti- imperialist, anti-liberalism stand.

The Left parties will have the wonderful chance to sharpen their praxis and launch waves after waves of vigorous mass movements against the mounting imposition of economic burdens on the livelihood of the people. They have the capacity to emerge as a dedicated, meaningful and uncompromising opposition force, protesting each and every anti-people policies of the corrupt Congress government at the central and its tributary in Bengal. We sincerely believe that it is only the Left parties who can take-up such a crusader role. They will also have more time now to rethink, reorganize and bounce back stronger with a viable, structurally reformative and alternative concept of governance.

On the other side, the Trinamool led government will gradually get strangled in its own web of perilous incongruity. The hideous rogue elements which are carefully kept obscured as of now will soon take full charge of the situation. News reports has already started rolling out that 38 per cent of the victorious Trinamool legislators are facing pending criminal cases against them which includes serious charges like murder, attempt to murder, theft and kidnapping. (Source) The crooks, buffoons and cunning opportunists, those who have been steadily creeping into the Trinamool bandwagon for quite some time will start demanding their pound of flesh. The “matured” media-made “honest and humble” new chief minister has afforded quite a lot of time and money to change the color of her skin. “I am against the Left here but not against Leftism. I share the values of the old Left,” she had boasted in order to emotionally impress the Left-minded voters just a few days before the crucial election. Though it looks like she has succeeded to impress them for the moment, the people of Bengal will eventually realize that a snake, after all, remains a snake.

Keeping in mind the core composition of the new rulers, certain possibilities are almost inevitable. Shortly after the honeymoon period is over, the feel-good factor will vanish into the blue. Many of the bombastic ideas, the duplicitous “leftist” slogans and hollow policy concepts will eventually get exposed as plain rubbish. The demand to fulfill the bogus promises will grow louder and louder. Bertrand Russell once made a distinction about the difference between change and progress. “Change,” he wrote, “is scientific, progress is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy.” On their “progressive” path towards a “change”, Mamata Banerjee and her Ma-Mati-Manush (Mother-Earth-People) army of gallant warriors will start churning out a sufficient amount of illegitimate and divisive stuff and eventually create ground for a complete reversal of the circumstances. Time will come when the victors of today will recognize why it is too dangerous to gamble with people’s lives.

So, there is no real need to rush. Responding to the new chief minister’s “courteous” opening, popular CPI(M) leader Gautam Deb has written the following words in an article in his party organ Ganashakti: “We have taken an oath – for the sake of Bengal, for the sake of the country, for the sake of democracy and for the sake of courteousness we will return you your teachings in due course.” Deb then wrote with conviction, “We have taken an oath – to meet up again on the grand road of struggle.”

***

The primary task of the Left Front parties is to win back the people’s trust they have lost. It will be a terrible blunder to lose faith on the ordinary masses who are disenchanted right now. The corrupt elements occupying a good portion of the deck also need to be ruthlessly weeded out. The Left parties must concentrate on widening and strengthening their social base with more imagination, maturity and integrity. This is a pivotal task and is easy to say than done. But it is the only way for the Left Front to pull off a stunning comeback. 

Meanwhile, we want to ask all the Leftist critics of the Left Front to spare some time and ponder why the neo-liberal, pro-US lobby requires to aggressively and repeatedly suggest the “end of the Left in India” after Left Front's defeat in Bengal and Kerala. We really do not want to disagree with these adored critics when they say that the Left in India is certainly not the Left Front parties alone. But how can we deny or ignore the significant contribution and relevance of the Left Front parties in contemporary India? Only an iniquitous mind or a fool can afford to do so.  

Image Courtesy: thehindubusinessline.com

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Media hyperbole and Bengal assembly elections

If we go through the standard news reports, analysis, editorials and opinion pieces been published daily in the national and local mainstream media concerning the ongoing assembly elections of Bengal, there can be little doubt in our minds about whom the voters would prefer to see in the next government. According to the obvious trends and predictions reflecting in the media, the people of Bengal have already “decided” to reject the worn out Left Front and embrace the impressive Trinamool Congress (TMC)-Indian National Congress (INC) opposition alliance. Experienced pollsters have concluded that in all probability, this grand alliance under the sagacious leadership of our famed railways minister Mamata Banerjee is heading for a clean sweep. Passionate supporters of the Left might still go on arguing that a sheer anti-Left bias in the print and television coverage during any election campaign is nothing new in Bengal. The spectrum of debate that gets released on various media forums during the election season has seldom been objective. They are also trying to point out that for a long time independent media organizations in the state have been completely polarized along political lines. But not many people are listening to them. The coming Bengal election results are therefore, as one thin on top editor recently wrote, “the easiest to predict in our electoral history in a very long time.”

The media is daily enlightening us why sympathizers of the Left needs to acknowledge that the situation on ground looks “qualitatively different” this time. We've all been repeatedly reminded how the famous lady has “singlehandedly shaken head-to-foot the patriarchal, ideology-fostered Left Front, led by the CPI(M)” and have pushed the Marxists almost to the brink of catastrophe after successfully capitalizing on the broad opposition to the Left Front government’s land acquisition policy. Isn’t it but true, we are asked, that the lady has elicited a suppressed desire for poriborton (change) that was simmering for years in the minds and hearts of the interned, subjugated and suffocated millions? In a predisposed tone, almost all of the mainstream media is barking daily that the people of Bengal want a phenomenon called Mamata Banerjee as their future leader – not a cold-blooded Stalinist chameleon! We are forewarned that the people do not want to breathe any more under a thirty-five year old, stagnant, wretched, ruthless and authoritarian regime.

[2]

One “eminent” Bengali academic, clearly elated by the Left Front and particularly the CPI(M)’s terrible performance in the 2009 parliamentary elections, blissfully wrote some time ago: “A spectre is haunting West Bengal – the spectre of change.” He then snarled further adding wisdom, wit and pathos to his unique view of history: “Moreover, as the end of History has been prognosticated, it seems that the era of ideologies too is over. The new generation does not give a fig for ideology.” (Source) The message our astute academic have tried to articulate here is quite simple. To get rid of the Leftists, first of all, attack its ideology and push ahead the notion that the theories of all Communist parties as no more than “repertoire of slogans”. Leftist ideology, after all, is a dangerous thing! Therefore, if the new generation prefers custard apple to mango – give them custard apple. If they prefer to stand aloof – provide them an isolated haven to enjoy their life since people “dislike being supervised”. If someone runs the risk of believing himself better than others and start criticizing something for his petty private interests – allow him to do so. 

Raising inane vilification against the CPI(M) is the stepping stone towards success today since it has become the easiest way to enter and get embedded with the Trinamool’s inner coterie. It matters little whether one needs to compromise one’s credibility and independence while doing so. Thus, the few illustrious “awake and aware” intellectuals and academics who have rose into prominence during the Singur-Nandigram stir finds absolutely no problem to extend their malleable necks to wear the golden buckle offered by Mamata Banerjee’s Railway Heritage Cultural Committee – plum posts, hefty salaries and attractive perks – as a “reward” for their services to the Trinamool Congress. The desire for “change” is so intense and the “greater cause” so sacred that we were told to keep our eyes shut and not to ask any uncomfortable questions that might jeopardize the “favorable situation”. “The true hypocrite,” remarked French writer Andre Gide “is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.”  

The “success story” of the first batch of TMC intellectuals has certainly inspired a hoard of celebrities, intellectuals, film stars, big business agents, former civil servants, CBI and police bosses and even Marxist-Leninists to flock into the TMC bandwagon in great numbers. A manufactured euphoria of a potential TMC victory in the crucial assembly elections has lured these special brand of people further. Pushing the grass-root party men on the sidelines, many of them are now among the TMC chieftain’s “most trusted lieutenants”. All of them have turned into well-wishers of Bengal, howling under the pale summer moon to resuscitate the pitiable populace of a derelict state. Lies, as the saying goes, are more believable than the truth. 

Just like the TMC band of intellectuals, the stakes seems to be too high for a section of the media also. A recent article in The Hoot by Asian News International’s (ANI) Kolkata bureau chief Ajitha Menon gives a shocking account of how a large section of the “independent” media in Bengal has entirely sold itself to the Trinamool chieftain and her party. High paid jobs in TMC sponsored television channels or newspapers, prominent positions in the executive committees of the railways and Municipal Corporations controlled by the party, powerful political posts endowed with several opportunities to make money and even party tickets are some of the many carrots that have been offered to a great number of journalists who, as Menon observes painfully, “seems have no pride left in their profession anymore and have become openly and acceptably corrupt, no longer even hiding behind the excuse of supposedly working for party mouthpieces […] The aspirations of journalists have moved from being an ethical watchdog for democracy, in the interest of the common man, towards power, position and money.” Menon bitterly writes that “several reporters, both senior and junior have become part of the Mamata coterie,” and even feel proud to “act as doorkeepers at Mamata Banerjee’s residence in South Kolkata.” (Source) Never before journalists of the mainstream media was embedded with a single political party so deeply as today. Never before has such blatant partisanship been observed in Bengal as we are observing today.

The situation no doubt looks weird but is certainly not unprecedented. In several aspects Bengal’s political situation today has lots of amazing similarities with the events of 2001. During the 2001 assembly elections a similar pro-Mamata “wave” was hatched with a definite urge to remove the Left Front from power. We were informed that the people of Bengal was “craving” for a change in government, the Left was facing its “toughest challenge,” the depth of resentment against the Left was “at an all time high” and Mamata Banerjee, driven by her inordinate anti-Left stance was on the verge of “creating history” by personifying the resentment. An all-out slanderous anti-Left propaganda were launched by the mainstream media to manufacture public consent against the ruling Left Front. Through obvious one-sided reporting, the media created their own myth of “change”. Perception upon perception was mounted to persuade the people of Bengal to profess this synthetic myth. 

In this post we want to illustrate how the mainstream media tries to influence the course of events during elections and works to fulfill a specific political agenda. We have based our argument on resources extracted from the website of ABP group’s flagship and influential English daily The Telegraph. We chose the Kolkata daily since it is generally considered as a impartial and liberal newspaper which offers a fair and balanced reporting. 

[3]

Protesting against the Congress high command’s “secret affairs” with the Left, Mamata Banerjee parted away from the Congress in 1997 and floated the Trinamool Congress. A year later she entered into an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This apparently strange alliance was based on a simple agenda – just like her, the extremely reactionary right-wing BJP is a traditional adversary of the Left. The alliance brought rich dividends for the TMC. Consolidating the anti-Left votes, the party went on winning seven parliamentary seats in 1998. The TMC joined the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1999 and Mamata Banerjee became the railways minister of the country. A year later, the party added one more seat to its tally by winning the traditional Left stronghold Panskura in East Midnapore.

The 1998 parliament elections gave a clear indication to Mamata Banerjee that it will be extremely difficult for her to conquest Bengal from the Left by peaceful, democratic means. Though the BJP-TMC alliance had successfully weakened the Congress in the state, it has failed to dent the imposing Left which continued to benefit from their absolute support base among the rural poor. Realizing that she must strike right away to take advantage of the favorable climate, a vicious blueprint was prepared to unleash a reign of terror in the rural Left bastions like Keshpur, Garbeta, Sabang, Pingla and Khejuri during the 1998 panchayat elections. In order to establish their hegemony in rural Bengal, local CPI(M) leaders and supporters were physically attacked, village after village were “liberated” by armed TMC cadres, many of them notorious criminals of those area. Brutal murder, looting and arson turned out to be a regular affair. Several CPI(M) supporters were forced to abandon their homes and take shelter in makeshift camps in fear of being killed.

The free run of Trinamool goons were earnestly backed by several erstwhile landlords who bearded a rancor against the Leftists for confiscating nearly 45,000 acres of fertile land from them and redistributing it among the landless poor. As some media reports had suggested, the violence against the CPI(M) was also actively assisted by clandestine People’s War group squads which had surfaced in the violence hit areas. The ultra-Left PWG with their technical proficiency in annihilation came as an excellent handy tool in the TMC sponsored class war in rural Bengal. Trinamool’s terror tactics reached its high point during the May 2000 Panskura bye-election. The election brought into open Mamata Banerjee’s vaunted “Panskura line” – a strategy of ruthless violence, booth capturing and all-out rigging orchestrated by local TMC henchmen like Mohammed Rafiq in favor of the TMC candidate Bikram Sarkar. In 2000, the TMC also grabbed the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Just before the 2001 assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee ditched the BJP and join forces with the Congress after the website Tehelka exposed BJP’s internal corruption. An opportunist to the core, her decision to ally with the Congress which she had discarded four years ago was based on simple electoral arithmetic. The combined vote share of the TMC-BJP alliance and the Congress in the 1998-99 general elections was near to 51 per cent against the 47 per cent of the Left. Pollsters of both the camps and a section of the mainstream media had predicted that since the Left Front’s position has grown relatively weaker after twenty-nine years of uninterrupted rule, a one-opposition vote added with even a slight erosion of the Left’s vote share can easily do the desired magic. Besides, Mamata Banerjee’s friends inside and outside the media had advised her that the BJP cannot be her right choice as a coalition partner against the Left considering Bengal’s huge 22 per cent Muslim vote bank. The Congress high command’s eagerness to dethrone the Left was so intense that no one had dared to ask why Mamata Banerjee did not need to announce a complete break with the NDA while clinching a deal with the Congress.

[4]

The chief sponsor of the TMC-Congress alliance, clearly, was the Congress president Sonia Gandhi who according to TMC insiders has always maintained a soft corner for their charming leader. The Telegraph mentioned in a report Dejected Cong Still In Pursuit Of ‘Best Bargain’ on April, 2 that the Congress president has briefed Kamal Nath, Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal, to “reach an alliance by any means.” Kamal Nath was duly assisted by Pranab Mukherjee, a loyal and seasoned war horse who had taken the charge of the state Congress from the veteran ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury just a few months before. On April, 3 the newspaper reported that “a potent alliance against the Left took shape today as Mamata Banerjee and the Congress sealed a seat-sharing deal.” The report further pointed out that the Congress and Trinamool would fight the polls under Mamata Banerjee’s leadership and remarked that the agreement has “virtually taken the wind out of the state leadership’s sail. Most leaders who had been vocal against Mamata’s bid to deny nomination to sitting legislators appeared to have accepted the arrangement.”

Realizing the significance of the development, the daily jumped into action. In the April, 4 editorial titled United Stand, the daily praised the efforts of Sonia Gandhi by saying: “One important element in the context was the refusal of Ms Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, to shut the door on Ms Banerjee. Ms Gandhi kept herself aloof from the petty bickerings of the state Congress and saw in Ms Banerjee a leader who had a popular appeal among the people of West Bengal.” Calling the Congress “her natural habitat,” the editorial certified the Trinamool chieftain as “a leader who has been uncompromising and relentless in her opposition to left rule.” In a manifestly delighted tone, the editorial went on to optimistically predict that the alliance “takes Ms Banerjee a few steps closer to what has all along been her stated political objective: the defeat of the Left Front,” since the development “rules out the possibility of a split in the anti-left votes in West Bengal.”

What The Telegraph editorial meant by “petty bickerings of the state Congress” was the public discontent displayed by a section of the state Congress leaders who were “not too happy with the deal”. The daily reported on April, 7 that “Ghani Khan and Adhir Chowdhury do not intend to concede a single seat in their strongholds,” and did a follow up on the story the next day to report that the “last hurdle to a unified battle against the CPM-led Left Front was removed today with Mamata Banerjee and the Congress”. Though the report gave due importance to the fact that a host of state Congress leaders including Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Somen Mitra “sat in the front row along with Nath and Mamata” while the announcement was made in a joint news conference, there were many indications in the same report that TMC’s seat sharing with the Congress did not pass on calmly.

A special correspondent of the newspaper continued the story on April, 9 with a slightly different twist under the banner headline Resignation, Rumblings Greet Congress Deal. “At least half-a-dozen Congress leaders, including ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, have revealed their resentment at the manner in which a seat-share deal was struck.” In contradiction to the previous day’s report, the story had also revealed that several of the leaders present during the joint news conference were in fact sitting “glum-faced,” swallowing a bitter pill prescribed by the high command from party compulsion. The story also mentioned that Adhir Chowdhury, the Murshidabad leader who skipped the joint news conference “appeared determined to put up Independent candidates against the Trinamul nominees in at least two Assembly segments.”

The incidental or one sided versions of the daily stories about seat adjustment between the two parties gradually disappeared from the news pages. The newspaper made a banner headline report on April, 16 about the first joint election rally of the Trinamool-Congress alliance to mention how Pranab Mukherjee, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Somen Mitra, the three top Congress leaders, all her senior in politics, “proclaimed Mamata as their leader.” To circulate the message of a cordial domesticity between Mamata Banerjee and the Congress leaders who just a few days ago were questioning the efficacy of the alliance, the report gave a graphic depiction from the dais of unity depicting how the veteran leaders rained respect for the Trinamool chieftain. Quoting Pranab Mukherjee, the report in addition asserted that the alliance was born out of historic necessity – from “the demand of the common people,” and its sole aim is to remove the Left Front from power.

The English daily’s political polarization was pretty obvious in its April 20 coverage of a Jyoti Basu meeting in Dhuliyan, Murshidabad. The report acerbically mentioned how government funds were spend to bring stone-chips from nearby Pakur and thrown on the brick-laid path leading to the dais, how PWD rollers were pressed into service to take care of the ailing leader’s back and ensure as much comfort as possible “so that the CPM’s star campaigner could do his bit for the party.”

The Telegraph, which clearly doesn’t feel any affection for the Left made few interesting observations on the TMC-INC alliance in its April, 21 editorial. Fascinated by the “astute political understanding” of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi for reaching out to the Trinamool supremo from a “larger political necessity”, the editorial has discovered a pragmatic politician in Mamata Banerjee for dumping the BJP and choosing the Congress. The editorial had also speculated that “she still will have the vote of many saffron sympathizers, for whom the first priority remains the end of the red raj.” It is significant to note the effort undertaken by the newspaper to remove any doubt or confusion in the minds of its readers about the effectiveness of the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance when it stressed in the editorial that the alliance “seems the best possible arithmetic against the Left Front.”

Four days later, the newspaper ran an extremely opinionated piece Bengal Turns National Alliance Lab where the staff analysts went on claiming at full volume that Bengal “could alter the future course of politics”. What the editorials were shying to express was vociferously expressed in this politically motivated article where the analysts had consciously inserted their preconceptions to build-up their case. Giving the TMC-INC combine a clear edge over the Left Front, the article claimed that the “Opposition never stood a better chance in Bengal,” since the “anti-incumbency factor is running so high that the Mamata-Congress alliance threatens to aggregate the non-Left vote in its favour.” An April, 28 feature article titled Left High & Dry by Soaring Aspirations pointed out at cracks in the Left Front’s traditional support base – the rural poor. Based on inputs from rural Midnapore, the report went on describing how the rural voters are thinking not to vote for the ruling alliance this time. “This time the ‘M’ party will find it difficult,” one Jadunath Hembrom bitterly tells the feature writer complaining about power deficiency in his village. Though there can be sufficient scope for suspicion on the authenticity of the report, the sheer anti-Left Front bias that lurks below the surface of such reports cannot go unnoticed.

The newspaper also gave “due importance” to the joint rallies addressed by Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee at the south Bengal districts of Midnapore and Burdwan. A banner story titled Sonia for Sight, Mamata for Sound on May, 4 adoringly gives a detail account about how the Congress president started “speaking Mamata’s language” after getting a taste of the Mamata “wind”. Inserting his own preconception, the reporter of the story noticeably mentioned about a “striking” similarity between the languages and tenor of the two leaders, emphasizing on how the Trinamool chieftain showing her gratitude gave the final-speech honor to Sonia Gandhi. The next day, the daily published another report to point out that after her Bengal tour, “Sonia was confident that Mamata will be the next chief minister,” and reported that Mamata Banerjee “has given a ‘firm commitment’ to Sonia Gandhi that she will not go back to the BJP-led alliance irrespective of the poll outcome.”

The editorial on the same day tries to analyze the importance of the Bengal elections and expounding the impact it might produce “all the way in New Delhi”. “In West Bengal, the Congress hopes to ride on a Mamata Banerjee wave,” the editorial comments. It then went on glorifying the Trinamool chieftain’s “immense popularity,” asserting the readers about how she has “touched a chord in the heart of West Bengal’s disaffected. Disaffection towards the Left Front, like loyalty towards it, cuts across social and economic boundaries. Ms Banerjee personifies this disaffection. […] The articulation of the discontent may well constitute one of the major surprises of this election.”

On May 8, the daily published another opinion piece which found “a pathetic manifestation of the bankruptcy of political dialogue” put into practice by both the contending parties during the poll campaign and mourns that the new trend “signals the demise of the bhadralok brand of politics”. Though the article does not elaborate what this “bhadralok (gentleman) brand of politics” actually means, it didn’t blinked twice to say that the “the first attack on bhadralok politics in West Bengal came from the left”. Mamata Banerjee, according to the article, was just “matching the Marxists in their words and action”. The article furthermore pointed out that, since the left “has become the most recognizable face of bhadralok politics” from the day it came to power, it is nothing wrong for Mamata Banerjee to shun bhadralok politics and “degrades the level of political discourse to cheap entertainment.” She is after all “the face of the anti-establishment movement. Hers is the mission to break the political status quo.” A fantastic analysis indeed!

On May 9, the newspaper published three interesting stories. The first one was based on the several opinion polls conducted by various independent agencies which had predicted a fifty-fifty chance for the opposition combine to come in power. Referring to the opinion poll results, the report tried to keep alive the hope that the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine has a good chance to “sail with the wind into the corridors of Writers’ Buildings” and end the twenty-four years of communist rule in the state. The second report was based on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s press meet. It starts citing a “seemingly confident” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then twists the report to mention that Bhattacharjee has “promised the Left Front would give a responsible Opposition to West Bengal”. According to the report, the chief minister was “forced to admit that the Left was facing its most difficult challenge; the government had failed to live up to the expectations of people…..” The third report that attempted to divulge Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s political future was a stunning display of how The Telegraph can became terribly prejudiced to push a particular viewpoint instead of reporting in an objective manner. “Never before have the prospects of a chief ministerial candidate been doubted so much,” the speculative report claimed after conducting a micro opinion poll at the Jadavpur 8B bus stand among twenty commuters and found that “more than half the respondents were not sure of his prospects”! “Bhattacharjee is better placed to win in Jadavpur than the CPM is to win in Bengal,” was the inevitable conclusion of this fictitious report.

But a marked difference can be seen in another story that had appeared on May, 10. The story tried to sense the minds of Bengal businessmen and find out why they are “throwing their lot behind the leader of a party founded with the vow to make them an extinct species.” Obliquely indicating at CPI(M)’s trade union wing CITU for pushing out industry from Bengal due to their militant trade unionism, the report cited unnamed and faceless “sources” from the business world to praise Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who has “proved himself to be proactive to industry in a very short time,” and for “talking about the right things” the business world like to hear. The objective behind the story was plain and simple – strongly condemn CITU, condemn the policies and programmes of the CPI(M) but at the same time start heaping praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as the poster boy of reforms. It took some more time for the corporate media to achieve its biggest success when Bhattacharjee fell pray to this cunning strategy. But that is another story to tell.

[5]

On May 11, two days before the results, The Telegraph had a story on Mamata Banerjee to describe how confident she was about her victory. “I have no doubt that we are coming to power. We are the rising sun tomorrow morning,” a confident Mamata Banerjee told the reporter “with her lips spread in a smile and her fingers parting in a ‘V’.” On the counting day, the daily reported how Trinamool Congress activists made elaborate preparations at their chieftain’s south Kolkata residence “in anticipation of her victory in the polls.”

But after all the hype and hyperbole, the high-flying opposition alliance received a lethal blow from the Bengal electorate and ended up landing on their nose. The alliance which was cocksure about forming the next government was successful to win only 86 seats against the 199 seats won by the Left Front. The Front not only swept the countryside but also achieved remarkable success in urban and industrial areas. In many so called “neck to neck” seats marked by the pollsters, Left Front candidates won by comfortable margins. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, whose prospects The Telegraph had doubted, won the Jadavpur seat by more than 29,000 votes. Soon after the results were declared, a disgraced Mamata Banerjee offered to resign owning moral responsibility for her alliance’s defeat and vanished from public view.

The staff analysts of The Telegraph, those who had previously visioned a sure success of the opposition alliance, made a 360 degree somersault to attack Mamata Banerjee for “not been able to translate resentment into votes and votes into seats.” Squarely putting back all the trash created by them on the Trinamool chieftain’s doorsill, the analysts lampooned her by saying, “She was preparing to take credit for a victory she assumed was inevitable.” “She began with several advantages,” another angry analyst wrote, “and then went about dismantling and reducing them to irreversible losses.” An editorial on May 16 accused the TMC  chieftain  for being “her own worst enemy,” and called her a leader “completely unprepared for defeat.” The editorial left no stone unturned to harshly criticize her for choosing “to nurse her own sense of hurt and disappointment precisely at the time when her party workers and supporters needed her to be at their side.” Terming the verdict as “one of the great anti-climaxes in the history of West Bengal politics,” the editorial argued that her “egocentric behaviour may be at the root of the debacle the Trinamool Congress has suffered.”

On May 23, eminent economist, noted author and a former Left Front minister Dr. Ashok Mitra’s scathing article Look Back In Triumph appeared in the pages of The Telegraph. Lambasting the media’s vindictive political role Dr. Mitra, wrote:

A few months ahead of the election date, important segments of the media launched a furious campaign of dissembling. The people of West Bengal, it was ipso facto evident, want a different regime to rule them and they, the media, are ambassadors extraordinary, directly despatched by the Almighty to bring about this change. The media set to work. They posted hilarious imaginary tales about how the minds of the voters were working in district after district and constituency after constituency. Once such an exercise is on, it is contaminating: A’s gossip becomes B’s staple, B’s gossip becomes C’s staple, and so on down the line, with illusion feeding upon illusion. […]

None of the media bothered to find out whether voters in West Bengal, in town and country, could have a mind of their own and might have benefited in some measure or other on account of the activities of the Left Front regime in the course of the past two and a half decades. They regarded the electorate in West Bengal as dummies who would vote as the media would direct them to.

[6]

Mainstream media constantly tries to thrust particular political viewpoints, omits actual facts, misinforms, systematically makes or breaks a candidate’s popularity or a party’s success and failure through obvious one-sided reporting. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes they fail but pretend that they didn’t. Keeping in mind the 2001 events, we humbly offer a suggestion to the pompous TMC leaders and their obsessive supporters – do not get carried away by the media hyperbole. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  

*****

Postscript: While tracing the mainstream English and regional language media’s blatant projection of Mamata Banerjee as the next chief minister, R Uma Maheshwari wrote in a most recent article in The Hoot that “Mamata seems more like a media candidate than that of a party”. Titled “A media bubble called Mamata?” the article points out how The Telegraph, for instance, seems to have “appointed itself the election manager of Mamata Banerjee / Trinamool.” Rather than focusing on crucial socio-political issues, the motivated media has concentrated, as Maheshwari has observed, on a a single-point “hate campaign not just against the Left Front, but Communist ideology itself.” “Today the poll battle is not merely, as I see it, about Mamata and the Left, per se, but a fight between different forms of economic and ideological developments. It is a concerted effort made by a section of media, supported by a certain class, against Communism,” Maheshwari comments bitterly. (Source)

Image Courtesy: bengalnewz.blogspot.com

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Looking at the Egyptian uprising

It all began in a rural Tunisian town. Mohamed Bouazizi, who sold fruits and vegetables on the streets to make a living for himself and his impoverished family, was publicly humiliated on December 17 by a policewoman Fedya Hamdi. Hamdi slapped Bouazizi in the face, spat at him and forcefully confiscated his goods and weighing scale. An angry and distressed Bouazi­zi, who often suffered harass­ment and abuse at the hands of the local police, went to complain his grievances to the local municipal officials but failed to get any recourse as the officials just refused to meet him. As an act of desperation, Bouazizi doused himself with inflammable fluid and set his body on fire outside the municipal office. The plight of young Bouazizi became the catalyst that sparked off massive anger against the regime of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia since 1987 with an iron fist. Thousands of furious Tunisians came out on the streets to protest against police brutality, the corrupt power structure, soaring unemployment and unending poverty. Weeks of violent demonstrations followed as protesters clashed with the state security forces. Members of the police force clubbed the unarmed anti-regime protesters and open fired on them killing dozens. Sensing the enraging public mood, Ben Ali visited the bedside of Bouazizi in an attempt to draw public support. He also dissolved the government, promised legislative elections within six months and assured to take meaningful steps toward political reform. But his entire attempt was all but too late. On January 4, Bouazizi succumbed to his injuries escalating unrest and further violence. On January 14, president Ben Ali fled the capital Tunis with his wife Leila in a private jet to Saudi Arabia shortly after the army general Rachid Ammar refused to back his orders to keep shooting on the protesters. According to French agencies, the 74-year-old dethroned president suffered a stroke and is now lying in coma at a Saudi hospital.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Who are the Harmads of Bengal?

When a joint forces team raided and arrested two suspected Maoists – Amiya and Asim Mahato from the Municipal Guest House in Midnapore town, Trinamool Congress chieftain and railway minister Mamata Banerjee rushed at the spot with “friendly’’ television units and swung into damage control mode. Banerjee’s quick reaction does not need much explanation. The guest house was run by her party with the Congress as a relief camp to “shelter” party workers who are on the run from CPI(M) cadres “reclaiming” lost ground in various parts of West Midnapore district. According to Midnapore police chief Manoj Verma, the “sheltered Trinamool workers” comprises many hardcore Maoists and PCAPA activists from the Jangalmahal area. His team was keeping a keen watch on the guesthouse for a long time and the raid took place only after they became definite that seven Maoists had been staying there. Eight letters of CPI(Maoist) politbureau member Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, senior Maoist leader Asim Ghosh alias Akash and Jharkhand Maoist leader Ranjan Munda has been seized from the two arrested suspects. One of Kishenji’s letters was addressed to the boisterous and bleeding-heart Trinamool MP Kabir Suman. The police have also informed that Amiya Mahato was present with Maoist commander Sidhu Soren when the faction encountered with the joint forces and lost eight of their members including Soren. Asim Mahato acted as Kishenji’s courier. The duo was hiding in the guesthouse since September 2010 with other Maoists including Kanchandeb Sinha, who was arrested on November 2010, from Trinamool block president Nepal Singh’s car in Shalboni. They have also participated in the recent Trinamool-PCAPA rally at Lalgarh. The joint forces team faced stiff resistance from local Trinamool men and women who had tried to prevent them from raiding the den for a second time. Six journalists suffered injuries when the police baton charged the mob to control the pandemonium. The police force has failed to nab the other suspected Maoists who have fled the den after breaking a window at the back of the building. (Source)

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Chaos to Creation: the enigma of Bob Dylan (Part: Two)

Dylan’s radical spell lasted for a brief period – between January 1962 and November 1963. While his music was been considered as the definitive proclamation of the sixties folk revival and its radical political thought, Dylan had clearly indicated that he is not the conventional folk singer who is just adapting traditional material for a new context, neither a political artist committed only to socio-political causes. Along with the situational songs, he was writing distinctively personal lyrics marked with private references of grief and anxieties, songs about relationship, about the nuances and contradictions of love. He did not hesitate to include a confounding and abstract composition Boots of Spanish Leather in his most politically charged album The Times They Are A-Changin’. Many decades later he complained in Chronicles, “As far as I knew, I didn’t belong to anybody then or now […] the big bugs in the press kept promoting me as the mouthpiece, spokesman, or even conscience of a generation […] I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of.”

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Chaos to Creation: the enigma of Bob Dylan (Part: One)

John Bucklen, the son of a miner, was Robert Allen Zimmerman’s closest high school friend and partner in his teenage musical adventures. The two grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota – once the largest of the many mining towns on the iron-ore-rich Mesabi Range. Just a year after the Zimmerman family moved here from Duluth in 1948, the town witnessed a two months long miners’ strike demanding pensions and insurance rights from the Oliver Iron Mining Company – a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation. The Zimmermans were middle-class Jews and owned a household appliance store in Hibbing. Bucklin’s family depended on his mother’s earnings from sewing after his father was injured in a mining accident which restricted him from working again. By the late fifties, Hibbing’s mining community started to encounter the harsh realities of layoffs and regularly shutting down of mines as the two World Wars had seriously depleted much of the high-grade iron ore of the Mesabi Range. When the two friends parted away in November 1960, the town had become a place of limited prospect due to this bleak economic situation. Young Bobby Zimmerman had two aspirations in his mind when he left his hometown. The first was to meet his idol Woody Guthrie, who was bedridden by Huntington’s chorea in New Jersey’s Greystone Hospital. The second was to become a professional folk singer. Bucklen liked airplanes and so went on to join the United States Air Force.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Ayodhya verdict & our secular conscience: Part Two

The three members Bench of Justice D.V. Sharma, Justice S.U. Khan and Justice S. Agarwal has ruled by a 2-1 majority that all the parties in the title suit, i.e. Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla represented by his sakha (close friend) Triloki Nath Pandey, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board will have one third equal share each of the disputed property and declared the litigants joint title-holders. Justice Sharma has disagreed with the decision of the majority that one-third of the disputed land should be given to Muslims for construction of a mosque. Dismissing the suit filed by the Sunni Waqf Board for a declaration and possession of the site so that Muslims can rebuild the demolished mosque on the same spot, the Bench has allotted the portion right below the central dome of the demolished Babri Masjid to Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla Virajman with a caution that the defendants should not obstruct or interfere the area in any manner. The areas covered by the structures of Ram Chabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar in the outer courtyard were allotted to the Nirmohi Akhara. The two Hindu litigants will share the remaining unbuilt area within the outer courtyard “since it has been generally used by the Hindu people for worship at both places.” The Bench has allotted the rest of the area where the Babri Masjid stood, including part of the inner courtyard and if necessary also some part of the outer courtyard to the Waqf Board stating that “the share of Muslim parties shall not be less than one third (1/3) of the total area of the premises”. To alleviate the progress of such a three-way division, the Bench has advised to use some parts around the disputed land presently under acquisition of the Government of India. The judges also ordered that the prevailing status quo which is currently under state control shall be maintained for a period of three months.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ayodhya verdict & our secular conscience: Part One

In a large and diverse country like India, there is never a dearth of issues that stimulate the citizens to talk, argue and fight. But the credulous public mind, overexposed and debilitated by artificial trends and a plethora of confusing information are often been hypnotized by the shining pendant of a forged present and a delusional future. Moreover, a vague vision of history compels them to acquire comfort by mirroring a general trend of forgetfulness. In this spurious atmosphere, even a detrimental agenda can easily capture public imagination and receive popular support. Incapable to ponder much of its gravity, people tend to offer themselves as cannon fodder in socio-political conflicts waged against their own interests. The six-decade-old Ayodhya dispute over the ownership of 2.77 acres of “holy” land is such a thorny issue that has sharply polarized a devout Indian society along quasi-religious lines. Flaring up from time to time, the dispute has instilled a stream of dangerous ideas deep inside the country’s psyche. Acknowledged as one of India’s most divisive and contentious issues, the dispute with its high hegemonic potential has shaken the very foundation of the country’s collective identity as a nation and gradually grown into a symbol of subjectivity. Looking into the chronology of events including the wide network of relations and sectoral interests in and by which the dispute is situated and sustained for such a long time will provide us a necessary linkage to the Ayodhya verdict which was recently delivered by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.

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