Friday, September 5, 2008

The chemistry of the Singur agitation

Globalization, global capital, farmers’ right, working class, land bank, unorganized sector, agro farming — these are some of the intricate words Mamata Banerjee is using repeatedly in her recent speech and interviews. Any close follower of her political rhetoric will assure that only few years back, these words were excluded from her lexis which mainly used to derive from populist phrases and lumpen dialects. These words started to pour out only after she started finding good friends among the ultra lefts — the Naxals. An open show of this amity is noticeable from the days of her first phase of Singur agitation, then at Nandigram and again now in the second phase of Singur agitation. CPI(M) was aware on this amity from the beginning, now even the mainstream media has started to highlight it. The Telegraph wrote in a story based on the subsidiary intelligence bureau (SIB) report to the Union home ministry that,

Naxalites working under the cover of social welfare organisations in Singur could instigate villagers to launch a violent movement. Their aim allegedly is to create terror and panic so workers at the plant are scared away. More than 100 youths from Maoists-infested West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia are said to be present in the area, as are some Jadavpur University students known to be Naxalite sympathisers.

Police officers posted at the factory site said they had spotted several “suspicious-looking” faces in the siege crowd.
The Naxalite activists are believed to have taken refuge in the homes of Save Farmland Committee members in Beraberi, Gopalnagar, Khasherbheri, Bajemelia and Joymollah villages.
A similar report was published by The Indian Express titled ‘Naxals, NGOs now lead Mamata agitation’. The report says,

With as many as 21 organisations and political outfits under one umbrella for the Singur agitation, there is growing suspicion that Banerjee’s agitation is being hijacked by many of these outfits. A front that was launched as a political coalition by Banerjee to fight the CPM now appears more and more influenced and guided by a strange chemistry of NGOs and politics.
The Indian Express report also commented that, ‘the Naxalites and former Naxalites walk in and out of these NGOs both as members and supporters’. Who are then these Naxals and NGO’s the media is talking about?

Four splinter Naxalite groups have aligned under ‘People’s Secular Democratic Front’ floated by Mamata Banerjee to counter the CPI(M) in Bengal just before the panchayat polls. Notable among them are the CPI(ML) State Organizing Committee, CPIML (Jana Shakti), CPIML (New Democracy) and Mazdur Kranti Parishad.

One of Mamata Banerjee’s chief negotiator today is Purnendu Bose who is the leader of CPI(ML), State Organizing Committee — a breakaway faction of Kanu Sanyal’s CPI(ML). At Singur, Bose represents Krishi Jami, Jiban O Jibika Raksha Committee a NGO working for farmers rights in Bengal, Two other leaders from the same faction are Pradip Banerjee and Dola Sen also very close to Mamata. According to the Indian Express report “Sen has almost become a Banerjee shadow — right from the days of the TMC chief’s 26-day hunger strike at Esplanade over Nandigram-Singur.” Pradip Banerjee is now a convenor of the Singur agitation. He was an important member among those who went to meet Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi in response to his appeal for a solution to the Singur knot. Interestingly, all the three leaders were expelled from Kanu Sanyal’s CPI(ML) after they joined Mamata Banerjee’s agitation in December 2006.

CPIML (Jana Shakti) is a Naxalite group based in Birbhum district of Bengal. It definitely has a ‘leader’ — Alok Mukherjee, who most probably is performing his revolutionary acts within the imaginary space of a revolutionary ‘underground’ as this faction is without a party office or any public activity. Paltu Sen, a trade union leader represents CPIML (New Democracy), and creditable for securing 100 votes in the Hind Motors trade union elections. The Mazdur Kranti Parishad has few presences in Hind Motors labor union and some other factories in Belghoria, a North 24 Parganas district town.

According to the media and police, protestors who have intercepted three busloads of engineers and staff of the Tata Motors plant in Singur last Thursday evening (August 28) and harassed them were not the ‘familiar political faces’. They belonged to the Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samity, the NGO which claims to be working for the rights of farmers and workers and without any political affiliation. This NGO is headed by Anuradha Talwar and her husband Swapan Ganguly. The activities of this NGO are the most suspicious amongst the lot. It runs a project on healthcare and sanitation in villages funded by the Ford Foundation. It also runs an eleven acre “collective farm” and claims it is funded by collections from locals and donations. Anuradha Talwar is today seen almost at every public function beside Mamata Banerjee. She also openly claims that ‘Mamata asks her for advice on all matters involving the Tata project’. On 27 August, a day before her ‘singing protest’ which compelled the Tata Motors management to stop work at the site, Anuradha Talwar secretly visited the US Consulate in Kolkata. There she met the Counselor for Public Affairs of the US Embassy Larry Schwartz, who flew in from New Delhi for the meeting. Though termed as ‘personal’, the timing of the meeting has raised suspicions. Is it a mere coincidence or something deeply dubious going around there?

Medha Patkar and her National Alliance of Peoples Movement initially had separate ‘activities and programs’ in Bengal to fight against farmland acquisition by the government for industry. But currently at Singur, she is sharing the same dais with Mamata and also working in close proximity with Anuradha Talwar and her NGO. Anuradha Talwar has emerged as the ‘talwar’ (sword) edition of Medha Patkar, fiercely vocal against the LF government, particularly the CPI(M).

Also present at Singur are other Naxalites who are not directly into the Mamata Banerjee core group but definitely aiding the anti Tata agitation. In December last year, the CPI-ML (Liberation) sent two state committee members with 22 student-comrades from Jadavpur University, presently the proliferating zone of the Neo Naxals, to resist the fencing of the land meant for the Tata small car project in Singur. Also to mention the ‘apolitical’ Naxal sympathizer artists and intellectuals, the “disinterested seekers of truth, iconoclastic humanists, freespirited intellectuals, or artists for art’s sake, who counterposed themselves to the corrupted "committed" house "hacks" of the Stalinist apparatus.” (James Petras: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited, Monthly Review, November 1999) According to the James Petras article, during the cold war, the CIA penetrated and influenced a vast variety of cultural organizations and helped their metamorphosis from disillusioned ex-communists to stanch anti-communists. Prominent among the disillusioned radicals in Bengal is the great anarchist singer Kabir Suman who only the other day has delivered a highly provocative speech from Mamata Banerjee’s Singur dais that “when I hear that someone has shot and killed a CPM, I feel extremely delighted”. And the last but not least to mention is the presence of the Maoists with their clandestine operating methods of creating terror and panic in the pretext of organizing mass movements.

The volatile image of Mamata Banerjee seems to have ‘transformed’ by these men and women after she has started to be extremely influenced by them. She has become more ‘stable’ in her approaches, more desperate and consequently more irresponsible. As expressed by Purnendu Bose, Mamata Banerjee consults them ‘every evening’ on every matter. “She will not act without taking us into confidence. We have been able to impress upon Mamata Banerjee the need for such a mass movement against capitalism. She will never act without our consent.”

This chemistry is thought provoking. Born from the womb of the Indira Congress and always closely associated with the reactionary section of the society, Mamata Banerjee has now become the savior of many a radical Naxal groups and personalities. Blessed and supported by the former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Roy, notorious for his Naxal cleansing in the seventies, she apparently is a strange choice by the Naxals. But looking from close, the choice is not actually strange but a classic case of a nexus between opportunist and utopian politics.

To wrestle the foremost political force in Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mamata Banerjee is trying to justify her radical image by allowing the Naxals to play around her. She had understood that her only prospect to claim significance solely rests on angling support from a section of the rural populace of Bengal, those who are directly affected by loosing their dear land. Ironically, this same rural populace earlier has hugely benefited from the land reforms orchestrated by the same Left Front government led by the CPI(M) which had intensely fought off all reactionary forces gathered beneath the Indira Congress banner. Bengalis traditionally love the revolutionaries. Hence, Mamata Banerjee’s last hope for absolute political power in Bengal is this revolutionary populism.

To the utopian radicals, the CPI(M) is a Social Democrat party who are ‘adjusting within the neo-liberal paradigm’. According to their theory, CPI(M) as a party is trying to cure themselves from their ‘enormous failures’ by embracing neo-liberalism. When there is no visible presence of a ‘genuine’ Left (read revolutionary) alternative, what option remains for the Naxalite leaders and civil society groups, restless for a genuine democratic revolution, but to share space with Mamata Banerjee? After all, Mamata is popular and yet ‘listening to them, more than her own party functionaries’. To satisfy there ideological conscience, these Naxals has come out with a strange theory: Trinamul Congress of Mamata Banerjee ties to small and middle capital, the CPM ties to big capital. Big capital is toxic, similarly is the CPM. They also feel proud to express that due to their radical presence ‘Trinamul’s basic character of populism has been put on hold’.

The Bengal bazaar has always offered a fertile space to carry out the art of unbound recklessness. How long it sustains this travesty will therefore be decisive for its future.

Source: The Indian Express, Fri, 5 Sep 2008