Friday, December 25, 2009

Adivasis and the Maoists: few thoughts from an outsider

Gandhian social worker Himanshu Kumar has recently delivered a talk at the Mumbai Press Club after his NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in south Bastar’s Dantewada was bulldozed by the Chhattisgarh government. Hailed by other NGO associates as their ‘only hope’ in Dantewada, the mainstream media has given wide publicity to this incident and has tried to put up Himanshu Kumar as a worthy victim of a repressive State. In the incisive talk, the Gandhian has expressed his utter discontent about the State sponsored Salwa Judum and has categorically held the State of Chhattisgarh responsible for brutalizing its own people – the adivasis (indigenous people), in the pretext of eliminating the Maoists. He has resentfully spoken about how the State has forcefully evicted the adivasis from their natural habitat in the process of bringing their villages under the Salwa Judum fold and subsequently pushed the displaced villagers into makeshift relief camps – because “the Maoists had support among the adivasis”. Calling the Indian State’s much publicized Operation Green Hunt as an operation to ‘Hunt’ innocent adivasis, he has pointed out that the real intention of the government behind the operation is to lay the adivasi land – the mineral belt of India, to the MNCs. “The State talks of the violence of the Maoists, but it is the State which is violent”, he has thundered. The Maoists, according to this now famous Gandhian, are the one “who supported the adivasis. That is why they regard the Naxalites as their friends.” He is also absolutely doubtless to declare that the awful situation in Chhattisgarh “is because of the State, not because of the Naxalites” where adivasis are held under perpetual fear and all the normal channels of redress are closed to them. The liberated zones, according to him, are actually “part of the State’s strategy” to generate a credible excuse for failure of governance in those areas. He has resentfully asked “how can peace come when you are all the time attacking the adivasis? Then you expect me to tell the Maoists, stop your violence.” (Source)

While Himanshu Kumar’s comments on the recurrent violence in Dantewada might sound like the same ‘chicken or egg’ fallacious argument currently clichéd by numerous discourses related to this subject, his fuming words regarding the repressive Chhattisgarh government and the Salwa Judum campaign cannot be straightaway disregarded. Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district is literally a Maoist hotbed. To combat the perpetrating violence, the Chhattisgarh government, apart from utilizing the state forces, has also initiated to shape a notorious vigilant force Salwa Judum by arming and training adivasis with guns and ammunition and recruiting them, including their children, as special police officers (SPOs) to fight their own people. This civil militia force is infamous for carrying out mindless atrocities against adivasis on the opposite side. Their activists have been responsible for many illegal activities and crimes including looting and burning villages, gruesome killing of innocents, torture and rape. While this counter-insurgency campaign has been strongly defended by both the centrist Congress and the right-wing BJP as a spontaneous ‘people’s movement’, in reality it has brought extreme suffering on adivasi life and livelihood by pitting adivasis against adivasis, as the executor and the victims, and creating a civil war like condition in the state.

To perceive a crisis which has its origins in socio-economic deprivation and backwardness only as a ‘law and order’ problem is a grave mistake. But the imperious Raman Singh government has precisely chosen to follow this mistaken path. Powered by draconian laws like the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) along with an exclusive possession over the legitimate use of forces, the BJP regime in Chhattisgarh has considered that a ruthless counteroffensive is the only solution to the problem. Instead of taking initiatives for a political solution, they started reacting with guns and bullets, went on sponsoring the Salwa Judum campaign and virtually converted Chhattisgarh into a police state which became a futile exercise to tackle the menace and have caused counterproductive effects. The Maoists could easily exploit the adivasis as a profound feeling of neglect, alienation and deprivation had already been settled among them due to the existence of acute poverty, severe inequality in living standards, intense exploitation and lack of economic prospects. The callous approach of the government has further augmented the situation by offering a fertile ground to the Maoists for spreading their red roots deeper into the adivasi heartland. Today the situation of Chhattisgarh has become a predicament from where there seems to be no way out.

* * *

This blazing issue also puts forward several uncomfortable questions. Is it an assuring or a disturbing signal when a Gandhian working among the adivasis in Chhattisgarh for seventeen long years goes “soft on Maoist violence” and eventually starts transforming into a “Maoist Gandhian”? Are the compassionate feelings extended towards the adivasis and the sympathy extended towards the Maoists equivalent to each other? Is it appropriate to severely criticize the state sponsored violence but at the same time praise the Maoists for their efforts “to take on the violence of the ruling classes and its representative state machinery”? Can we overlook the fact that the Maoists have also committed an unlimited number of indescribable atrocities on innocent adivasis by either branding them as Salwa Judum activists or police informers? Is it a morally correct stand to support the cruel Maoists since we hate the brutal Salwa Judum? Should we then also start believing that we “can’t extract morality” when the clash is between “an army of very poor people” and “an army of rich that are corporate-backed”? Can we ignore the daily annihilation program that the Maoists have undertaken to eliminate the poor and ordinary rank and file rival political activists? In which army do these victims belong to? Should we carry the belief that the poor adivasis are fighting their own battle and the Maoists deserve sympathy because they have joined them in their fight as ‘true friends’? Are they really ‘friends’?

* * *

To save their backs from the looming State onslaught, the Maoist leadership has chalked out elaborate plans and projects. They have expedited the work to build several escape corridors through Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand which includes strategic places to function as transit camps. (Source) With the assistance extended by the ‘useful idiots’ of Trinamool Congress they have now included three Jharkhand bordering districts of Bengal – West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia in their list. In exchange of the ‘premeditated support’ they have received from the Maoists in places like Nandigram and Lalgarh, the TMC has gleefully agreed to assist them without considering the dangerous ramifications.

Another brilliant plan has recently surfaced. In an interview with The Indian Express, the CPI(Maoist) central committee spokesperson Azad has provided details of their insightful battle strategy against the Central forces and said that “All our plans, policies, strategy and tactics will be based entirely on the active involvement of the vast masses of people in this war of self-defense”. Using the catch-phrase “relying on the sea of people in which we swam like fish”, the spokesperson has further emphasized that “The enemy class cannot decimate us without decimating the entire population in regions we control”. (Emphasis added) This appalling statement about how the ‘entire population in regions we control’ will be used as sacrificial lambs for safeguarding the invaluable lives of the Maoist leaders bares the real face of the so called ‘friends of the adivasis’. There is no lofty revolutionary moral embed with this statement. It is just a declaration of blatant treachery with the plain and simple adivasis who have wholeheartedly trusted them with all their passion and dedication. (Source)

* * *

By living sheltered within the adivasi society, by acting as avengers and rousing the adivasi masses against elite repression, the Maoists have earned much admiration and support from them. They have also made themselves admirable in the eyes of many city-bred bleeding-heart intellectuals and academics who love to visualize them as ‘weapons of the weak’. Though the Maoists pretend as leaders of adivasi freedom, in real sense, they are nothing but an anarchic group with an erroneous ideology. It will be far more accurate to describe them as ‘social bandits’ – using the Eric J. Hobsbawm term. The learned academics may keenly argue that their paramount contribution is overturning a general assumption that the adivasis are only interested in livelihood issues and cannot get politicized. (Source) Here, the distinguished academics can be gently reminded that when the politics of a socio-political movement is fundamentally wrong, everything goes wrong. Instead of leading the adivasis towards socio-political freedom they have pushed then into a far greater danger. Their future is getting devastated almost beyond redemption by the politics of gun championed by the Maoists. They are not really ‘fighters for justice’ but merely another ‘power structure’ within the system. Therefore it will be a systemic blunder to glorify them as ‘revolutionaries’. The ‘strategy of the Protracted Peoples’ War’ is a falsehood. They need this war because war means business!

From many shady sections of our society there is an overwhelming display of compassion for the adivasis today. It is hard to distinguish how much of these compassions are genuine and how much is actually a pose or disguise of the Maoist sympathizers. If their concerns are genuine then they should stop romanticizing the Maoist social bandits as beacons of resistance and instead, start talking against their perilous plots in the same intensity in which they talk about the terrible State repression. They need to condemn both the sides equally for causing immense harm to the hapless adivasis like political and social activist Aruna Roy who has unambiguously expressed that, “anybody who indulges in violence or kills is a murderer, be it a policeman or a tribal person”.

The nonstop disgorgements of aesthetic, academic and theoretical jargon on this topic is incessantly making all of us perplexed. However, it has also made us particularly suspicious about the moral uprightness of some of our learned friends who have cherished to share the repugnant viewpoints of conspicuous Indian dissent Arundhati Roy. While passing a remark on the approaching State-Maoists conflict, the talkative ‘global justice activist’ has said, “You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed…..So you can’t extract morality from the heinous act of violence that each commits against the other”. (Source) Maoist sympathizers like Roy go on talking endlessly about a symbiotic relation between the adivasis and the Maoists. The same has been put in plain words, but differently, by the other Roy, Aruna: “The people have taken to this ideology because there is no alternative, or they see it as their best alternative. If you give them a better alternative, the people will go there.” She further continues, “For the tribals, the truth is that there is no choice, or very little.” (Source)

What is the way out from this gloom and grey? The primary task is to find out the alternative. It should be followed by asserting some tangible steps to facilitate a climate of justice, equality, freedom and peace. It is going to be another big battle; but a special one to fight. Winning this battle will depend upon the combined political will and commitment of the State and its people. But before everything, the Maoists must be separated off from the adivasi life. At the moment this is the most challenging task in front of the country.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Minister Mamata Banerjee and the labyrinth of Singur

In a recent public announcement Union Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee has proclaimed that her ministry is ready to start up the ‘world’s biggest coach factory’ at the abandoned Tata Motors site in Singur “if the state government gives us the land”. As soon as she became Railways Minister for the second time following her most conspicuous success in the 2009 parliamentary polls, she has taken up numerous ‘new’ programmes, floated several ‘innovative’ proposals and started introducing various ‘development’ works. From the typical ‘Kalpataru’ syndrome which has affected many Indian politicians time and again, she is right on her track publicizing ‘big plans’ for Bengal on a regular basis through trusty media bulletins. From the bouncing Railways Minister’s continuous announcements of innumerable Bengal initiatives, it seems that the Bengal voters have at last voted a leader who is capable of satisfying their unfulfilled wishes – just like the mythological wish-fulfilling tree which came out during churning of the ocean. Her railway strategists are doing a commendable job to link her ministerial offerings with the Trinamool party agenda. But the people of Bengal need to be cautioned about one thing. Desiring something from the ‘Kalpataru’ could turn dangerous in the long run because, according to the myth, the tree fulfills all wishes regardless of good or bad outcomes.

The Railways Minister's juggernaut

Within a short period of time, Mamata Banerjee has launched many ‘new’ trains, ‘new’ stations, ‘new’ railway line extensions, ‘new’ railway connections, ‘new’ computerized reservation offices through a nonstop inauguration extravaganza and bombarded project after project. To accrue advantageous publicity and score political points over her bête noire CPI(M), she has flagged off old trains in new names, introducing new trains by taking out coaches from existing trains and re-laying foundation stones of old projects which were inaugurated long back. Recently she had laid the foundation stone of the New Jubilee Bridge over river Hooghly in North 24-Parganas, and renamed it as ‘Maitreyee’ bridge. The farcical part is, during her first tenure in 2001 she had laid a foundation stone of this same bridge!

Keeping track on all her Bengal centric projects and promises is not going to be an easy task. Her railway budget has proposed the takeover of the wagon units of Burn Standard and Braithwaite. Both units under the Ministry of Heavy Industries and both are based in Bengal. From the 375 ‘ideal’ stations that her budget has promised to create all over the country, 216 stations are in Bengal alone! Assuring the commuters that the progress of this project will be ‘personally’ monitored by her, she had declared to sanction “Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore for each of these stations”. In presence of representatives from national auto majors, she has inaugurated an automobile logistics hub at Shalimar which will “provide employment to scores of local men and women” and has also chosen Singur for the Rs 3 crore perishable cargo storage unit under the "Kisan Vision" scheme where “Singur’s farmers can store their excess products at this unit free of cost”! It is highly interesting to note the locations of her bombastic projects – most of them are carefully chosen on the merit of their political significance.

Her budget proposal also include the Rs 900 crore project of a new coach factory at the Kanchrapara-Halishahar railway complex in North 24-Parganas, a component factory at Dankuni in Hooghly district, and a high-speed bogie casting unit at Majherhat, South 24-Parganas. Though the same Mamata Banerjee and her party is fervently opposing a power plant at Burdwan district’s Katwa in the pretext of ‘forceful land acquisition’ by the state government, she found no problem to propose a 1000MW power plant at Purulia’s Adra in her budget as it will “create jobs for local tribals” and bring “the tribal people into the mainstream”. Though critics have pointed out that the Railways have to acquire additional land if they truly want to set up the proposed power plant in Adra since they do not possess the full amount of land required for the project.

There are other Bengal projects in her kitty such as extending the Metro rail network to Dakshineswar, Barrackpore and Barasat, connecting Kolkata by a ‘ring-railway network’, and laying new rail lines at Canning, Bakkhali and Nandigram. Her ministry is also thinking to set up new coach factories in Burdwan, Nadia and other Bengal districts. She has also announced that the Railways have planned several industrial projects in the state that would generate ‘employment for lakhs’ and has expressed her desire to revive the jute industry in the state. “There are many closed jute mills in and around Kanchrapara. The jute industry will be revived and there are other plans as well” she has assured. To pour honey into people’s ear she has proclaimed, “Many more industries will be coming up and there is no need for you to leave Bengal.” It occurs awesomely bizarre when we recall that it was this same industry friendly and ‘changed’ Mamata Banerjee who had forced Tata Motors a year ago to shift the Nano plant from Bengal to Gujarat’s Sanand by spearheading the Singur siege.

The myopic Railways Minister has also reached a new low by refusing to invite the state government at her inaugural ceremonies. Relishing her act of disregarding democratic protocols as a fitting response to the ‘high and mighty’ Left Front government, one of the client scribes has gone to the extent of declaring that, “her individual acceptability with the people of the State is more than what the Left Front as a whole”. A highly pretentious statement follows: “the Union Railway Minister has appeared as a titan in State politics” in front of pygmies “like Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, Biman Bose and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee”. (Source) Her Railways functions have also been converted into TMC party events where invitees are categorically selected according to their loyalty. Mamata Banerjee really gets a sadistic pleasure by publicly ignoring the State government. Over the years, she has induced a new kind of political hatred into the polity which has greatly assisted to lumpenize Bengal’s political culture.

An unconventional Railways Minister!

The talented Railways Minister has also indicated that she does not want to stay restricted into the conventional Railways Minister’s cocoon. In fact, she has attempted to put forward a unique idea; that it requires only one minister to gratify almost every requisite of the voters. Surrounded by film stars and the intellectual glitterati of Kolkata during the flagging off ceremony of the Tollygunge-Garia Bazaar Metro Railway extension, she had announced to set up a 75-bed hospital near Tollygunge in Kolkata, and promised to upgrade the existing South Eastern Railway Hospital into a well-equipped medical college. In the “next two-three years” she had proposed to set up more hospitals, schools, cold storages, flyovers, museums, theatre complexes, stadiums and what not? Her ministry has sanctioned Rs 17 crore for a stadium at Bongaon in North 24 Parganas. “If we get land from the state government” she had said while offering to construct another stadium at Canning in South 24-Parganas and bragged that “we can construct it in seven days”! Scrapping off a similar sports complex project in neighboring Howrah which was approved by the former Railways Minister Nitish Kumar during the NDA regime, the Eastern Railway will now have to spend Rs 57 crore to build an ‘world class’ indoor stadium to Behala, a part of the Railways Minister’s South Calcutta constituency because she simply “does not seem to be interested” in the Howrah project. Instead she has sanctioned Rs.3.5 crore for an amphitheatre there to “develop it as a platform for cultural interaction” and “to nurture cultural activities in our state”. Naming the amphitheatre after theatre personality Sambhu Mitra, she had appointed Sambhu Mitras’s daughter Shaoli Mitra as the chairperson of the advisory committee. Shaoli Mitra is one of her client intellectuals who were in the forefront of Nandigram-Singur agitation demanding a political ‘change’ in Bengal. Mitra also chairs the newly formed Heritage and Cultural Committee of the Railways and draws Rs. 50,000 per month of public money as allowance along with other perks. Many of the Bengali intellectuals considered close to her were also rewarded with plum posts in various Railways committees.

The Basumati fiasco

During her budget speech, Mamata Banerjee had also offered to take over the state-run printing press Basumati Corporation Ltd, a 128-year-old historic publishing house associated with the freedom movement. The corporation is presently a sick unit with an accumulated loss of Rs 100 crore. Mamata Banerjee’s announcement in the Parliament that “if the state government agrees, we will take over Basumati and modernize it” was promptly welcomed by the Bengal government as a “very good proposal” and had generated huge hope among the 200 doomed Basumati employees. The jubilant Bengali media also created a lot of hype around the proposal. But the lofty offer turned into a damp squib and subsequently ended the hope of the employees when the Railway Board wrote to the state government that it will take over the PSU but ‘would not accept the liabilities’. Mamata Banerjee’s Basumati flop show is a premonition of what is really going to happen with her Singur proposal.

The Singur labyrinth

From the day Mamata Banerjee and her friends has forced the Tata’s to leave Singur; the humiliated Bengal government is keenly trying to bring in new investors to ensure industry in the abandoned land. After negotiations with the Chinese automobile manufacturing company First Automobile Works (FAW) failed to materialize, the state government opted for the central government PSU Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) to set up a power plant. Keeping a careful watch on the developments “whether BHEL is really coming” and calling the state government’s initiative a joke, Mamata Banerjee was quick to float her counter proposal of setting up a railway coach factory on the same day the BHEL officials has visited Singur to assess the site. Informing the media that her proposal has already received the blessing of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, she went on further to disclose that the affectionate Finance Minister “told me to go ahead”. After all, who can dare to oppose a vital Union Minister’s “dreams regarding Singur”? Keeping in mind the present political clout, it would have been a real surprise if the central government PSU had agreed to go ahead with the project on this ‘dream’ site. Inevitably, BHEL refused to go ahead with the project on ‘technical, commercial and environmental grounds’.

To a certain extent Mamata Banerjee was taken aback when the Bengal government agreed to her proposal. The state chief secretary’s announcement before the media that “The state government, in-principle, is agreeable to hand over the entire land at Singur to the Railways for setting up a coach manufacturing factory” caused panic among the TMC think-tank. Receiving instructions from the above, familiar Trinamool face Partha Chaterjee has to plunge in with the musty old demand of returning ‘400 acres’ of land (This figure is a blatant TMC lie. The actual figure is 254.36 acres, where the owners have either refused to accept compensation from the state government or unable to claim the compensation due to legal problems) to the unwilling landowners. Accordingly the Railway Board chairman wrote back to the Bengal government echoing the TMC line that “The railways want to set up a world-class coach factory in Singur on the entire land (600 acres) after returning 400 acres to the unwilling farmers/landowners.” (Emphasis added)

There are enough reasons to be skeptical about the proposal. Mamata Banerjee and her band of cohorts are not so stupid to recognize the fact that once acquired for public purpose, no land can be returned to the original owners until the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is amended. She knows very well that it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to keep her promise and return the so called ‘400 acres’ to the unwilling farmers after removing the legal obstacles. In addition to legal problems, it is also impossible to fish out and rescue 600 acres for the coach factory as the disputed lands are scattered in the form of small plots all over the site. They are definitely not stupid but wicked to the core. Their aim is only to recur into the same vicious politics that they had played with Singur just a year ago. For her own interest, the deceitful Railways Minister wants to keep Singur as a labyrinth where the destiny of numerous ordinary people will be captivated.

While answering the question about how the so called 400 acres could be returned, a stupid TMC source has revealed the true intention: “In all probability, the entire rail coach factory project will start rolling post 2011, when we come to power.” This comment shows the sly cunning face of Mamata Banerjee’s Singur initiative. It is neither the coach factory, nor the future of Singur but ‘coming to power’ that is important. This vicious political game will never encourage industry in Singur but simply evoke utter hopelessness and despair.

Plotting the Bengal line

Mamata Banerjee propagandists embedded with the media are asking: why she is blamed for being blatantly partial to her State when she has initiated national projects like spreading the Railways network in Kashmir, launched ladies Special EMU trains connecting metro cities with suburbs and has introduced trains like the Izzat – intended for the poorest of the poor, and the Duronto – India’s ‘fastest’ non-stop trains? Applying Railways Minister’s status for pushing forward the party agenda has been made an established norm in this country by all her predecessors. There is nothing wrong if she is doing the same. To defend Mamata Banerjee’s biased Bengal initiatives, the client scribes has premeditated an aggressive attack on the Marxists, blaming them for deriding “various development works of the railways”. The Railways Minister herself has provided them the tip: “The CPI(M) is constantly conspiring against the railways. If any accident takes place in the railways, they CPI(M) will be solely responsible for that”. Haunted by the CPI(M) specter, the client scribes are cautiously trying to obscure the dark truth. Mamata Banerjee actually cares a damn for the development of the Railways infrastructure throughout India. Her interest on the few national projects is only because they have the potential to generate wide publicity in the national media. Her real interest lies in making the most of the Railways infrastructure projects to mesmerize the Bengal voters for the next one and half years till the 2011 Bengal assembly polls. The ‘privileged’ voters in return will pave her way towards supremacy and make her the Chief Minister. It will also ensure a long-term reverie of the anti-left spin doctors – to end the CPI(M) rule in Bengal.

Who is going to finance the hogwash list of Railways Minister’s ‘inventive’ proposals? Obviously it is the Finance Ministry under Pranab Mukherjee. The Finance Minister has sanctioned Rs 15,800 crore budgetary supports (Rs 5,000 crore more than the Rs 10,800 crore promised in the Interim Budget for 2009-10) for the Indian Railways and has also exempted transport of goods by Indian Railways from service tax. This abrupt exemption is startling when transport of goods in railway containers were already under the service tax net from 2008 and in July this year the Finance Ministry had further proposed to extend the levy of service tax. Pranab Mukherjee’s fishy U-turn again indicates a desperate political ploy. To dislodge the CPI(M) in Bengal, it is a joint venture between the present patriarch of the Bengal Pradesh Congress and the TMC chieftain, under the watchful eyes of the enigmatic Sonia Gandhi. The farsighted Congress president appears to be confident about the return of the prodigal daughter as well as the state of Bengal into her fold.

Our friendly neighborhood Railways Minister is notoriously greedy for power and authority. The parliamentary poll results and its subsequent ambiance have made her so overconfident on winning the 2011 assembly polls that she has valued the Railways Minister job only as a booster for her approaching encounter with the Marxists. By assimilating a five year agenda into one and half year, she wants to exploit her ministerial position and reap maximum advantage from it. Therefore, it has become relatively easy for her to go on ‘gifting’ an endless list of unrealizable projects and promises regardless of any responsibilities about the consequences. On this matter, her conscience is as clean as a white piece of paper. Munawer Tehseem, the Railways Minister’s complaisant media manager from the ministry has recently boasted about how the dynamic minister has “fulfilled 70% of the promises she made in her budget speech in 56 days”. (Source) Unfortunately, the word ‘promise’ has lost its significance long back – particularly if connected with a special brand of Indian politicians turned ministers.

Like the other deceitful and reactionary politicians of this country, Mamata Banerjee is also cut from the same piece of cloth. Hence it is difficult to digest the ongoing cant that she has ‘changed’. How much the myopic vision and short time objectives will help the Railways Minister to grab political power in Bengal will be manifested in the near future. But one thing is for sure. If her cunningly plotted political gamesmanship succeeds, then Bengal will change; but possibly for the worst.


Sources: Unless stated, all news sources used in this post are from the websites of The Hindu, The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Telegraph and DNA.

Image courtesy:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On democratic delusions and the politics of publicity

The crucial but complex relationship between the public and political parties has been under extreme pressure in recent past due to the lack of an efficient, reliable and dynamic exchange between the two sections. The existing setting was lowering the credibility of politics in general and was looking somewhat ‘risky’ for democratic progress. To come out from this position, it was required to expose and amend the limitations and problematic aspects of the existing form and find out a newer form. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalist lackeys have found an excellent opportunity to popularize the idea that a strategic partnership between democracy and market economy constitutes the favorable conditions essential for economic growth. During the same time, in the year 1991, India has started implementing its liberalization policies. A major shift in the political landscape was also taking place. The country that had tasted only a single-party regime for 25 years since the first general elections in 1952 had started to experience various shades of coalition governance. Since the 1989 general elections, this tendency has found itself a firm foothold. Though the 2009 general elections have given a decisive mandate for the Congress Party, its share of the popular vote in 2009 has increased only by a mere two per cent from the 2004 general elections. The changing situation with its variants has fundamentally distorted the relationship between public and political parties. The political arena has been altered into a keenly competing market where essential marketing mechanisms are allowed to regulate the system for carrying out the ‘right’ message in the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time. Some choice marketing phrases like relationship, credibility, loyalty and motivation are frequently being heard from the everyday political talks.

The ruling ideas of every age have always been the ideas of the ruling class. Bourgeois analysts today are spawning lot of hope around a market driven symbiotic model between the public and the political parties. The analysts feel that this model, under an extensive presence of the ‘free’ media, will strengthen and eventually improve the democratic institutions, its representatives and instruments of democracy promotion. Toeing the line, political doctrines are being shaped according to bazaar rules, ideas and strategies. It has also started to significantly regulate and shape opinions of the Indian public.

Though public opinion germinates in the imagination of the public mind, “It is not the consciousness of man that determines their existence,” as Marx has famously said, “but, on the contrary, it is their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Public opinion is the human response to a wide range of feelings that originates from socio-political relations; from the conflicts, choices, ambitions, compromises, purposes and uncertainties of human life. But the image that appears to the human mind from the varied aspects of the social structure can also mislead the people in their dealing with the outer world. This happens if interpretation of that image is shaped into a pattern of mental stereotypes that is influenced by preconceptions and prejudices. All sorts of complex human issues like individual aspirations, economic interests, class views, enmity and hatred, religious and racial prejudices distort the way people see, think and act.

Besides, people’s access to information is always obstructed by the establishment. Having supreme control over the access of facts, the authorities of establishment consciously decide how much the public should know. Facts are circulated in a deceptive way that prevents the public from separating the truth from the myth. On several important issues pertaining to their life, people make up their minds before the facts are verified and defined. In his major work Public Opinion, American political columnist and social critic Walter Lippmann has shown how public opinion is “pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine” and depends upon “what group of facts we shall see, and in what light we shall see”. “The tendency of the casual mind” Lippmann continues, “is to pick out or stumble upon a sample which supports or defies its prejudices, and then to make it the representative of a whole class.”

Public opinions are therefore, rarely spontaneous and mostly subjective. Opinions formed from disingenuous facts mixed with emotions, instincts, and prejudices do not remain just as opinion but transforms into delusion.

Delusions consistently influence the consciousness of the public and deprive them to perceive reality in its true sense. Fences of naïve political perceptions are erected all around the public mind that hinders them to appropriately make right decisions for their own future. It is widely acknowledged that public opinions are the deciding factor in a democracy. But delusion concerning democracy is extremely dangerous in the sense that it can smooth the progress of fascism. By damaging the rational and moral fiber of the public mind, democratic delusions drive them to follow demagogues. Experiences from history have always shown that demagogues have initially secured a following among the petty bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia – the ‘thinking section’ of the society. Their power and influence get reinforced when they further appeal to the emotions, instincts, and prejudices of other sections of the masses through a non-centralized, awkward and discrete manner. Fascism was born in Italy under Benito Mussolini as a political revolution and was blessed by the people for being ‘too good to be true’. The hypnotic and rosy beginning did not take long to turn into disillusionment. Similar delusional behavior of the German public had immensely helped the Nazi Party to grow popular. By mixing actual dangers with imaginary scares, the fascist demagogues have always created an atmosphere where the bewildered masses lose their ability for the constructive use of reason. The mass psyche is weighed down with meandering, invisible, and perplexing facts.


In the recently concluded Maharashtra assembly poll, Raj Thackeray’s three-year-old party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has won thirteen seats including six seats in Mumbai alone. From the day of its birth, the MNS and its maverick boss have continuously been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In the name of safeguarding Marathi culture and the rights of the Marathi Manoos (Marathi people), the party has earned national fame by instigating assault on North Indian taxi drivers, shopkeepers and hawkers, by beating up North Indian students who appeared for the all-India Railway Recruitment exam. MNS has objected to Chaat Puja celebration of the Bihari people and attacked cinema halls in Mumbai, Thane and Nasik exhibiting Bhojpuri films. (Source) The Indian IT major Infosys had to stall their expansion and shift 3000 of their employees from Pune as MNS supporters attacked on North Indian labourers in the construction site. The reputation of MNS got a huge boost when Raj Thackeray was successful in reinstating the sacked employees of Jet Airways by threatening the management with dare consequences.

MNS maintained its reputation when its newly elected legislators physically assaulted the Samajwadi Party legislator Abu Asim Azmi inside the Maharashtra Assembly House during the swearing in ceremony. Abu Azmi’s offense was that he was taking his oath in Hindi – India’s national language. The MNS legislators later justified their act by proclaiming that Abu Azmi has insulted the ‘Marathi Manoos’ by taking his oath in Hindi.

From the election results, it is apparent that MNS has obtained the consent of a sizeable section of the Maharashtra public. The regional chauvinism of ‘Marathi pride’ propagated by Raj Thackeray and his party and its street-fighting method of politics has favorably captured their imagination.


On 30 December 2006, Mamata Banerjee was on her way to address a rally against the proposed Tata Motors car project at Singur where the state administration, apprehending trouble, had already imposed prohibitory orders. The police stopped her from entering the area, bundled her into a car and brought back to Kolkata. To condemn this ‘barbaric’ incident and register protest against the assault on their supremo, furious Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislators decided to discharge their rage on the Bengal Assembly House. The vandalism that went on inside and outside the House later was unparalleled in the legislative history of Bengal. TMC legislators overturned tables, smashed furniture and microphones off their holders and flung the broken pieces at the ruling Left Front legislators. Six legislators belonging to the Left Front, two staff of the Assembly and two journalists were left injured during the incident. During the extensive vandalism, one TMC legislator was seen ‘busy breaking furniture and jumping from table to table’. Some fetched eggs and chicken legs from the Assembly canteen and hurled them towards treasury benches. One CPI(M) legislator was slapped. Another female legislator of the TMC ‘kept hollering abusive slogans against the chief minister’ and ‘threatened CPI(M) legislators with dire consequences’. (Source)

Two years later following the Bengal Assembly ruckus, this same female legislator, known to have proximity with the TMC chieftain, was once more in the news as the key performer of another unmatched incidence. She had locked at least thirteen policemen including the inspector-in-charge (IC) inside a police station in Nodkhali of South 24 Paraganas district. Much to the delight of the TMC clan, she then frantically went on to hurl abusive and filthy language while threatening the IC in full view of TV cameras. Enthused by their leader, her followers snatched the IC’s badge and manhandled other policemen.

Over the last few years, TMC and its rumbustious leaders have received effective consent from a considerable section of the general public, media and business bosses, the intelligentsia and bureaucrats. Mamata Banerjee and some other minor TMC leaders have become central ministers with ‘significant’ portfolios. Political astrologers have predicted that TMC is going to rule Bengal following the 2011 assembly votes.


The above two gems from the contemporary history of democratic India are cited here to reveal a blooming political culture that is steadily receiving popular support among the citizens of this country. The hooliganism of MNS workers establishes a fascistic mindset behind the act which has many similarities with the actions of the Trinamool cohorts in Bengal. What encourages Raj Thackeray to supervise the organized hooliganism of MNS activists has also been the pivotal motivation to the awkward and rancorous Mamata Banerjee and her pet ruffians – the ambition to gain quick popularity and votes. Both have perceived that showing little or no respect for the institutions and practices of democracy could also be put into effect as a publicity tool that has the potential to capture the mind and hearts of the ‘stupid’ public and deliver political mileage. The regional bigotry of MNS supremo and the imperious conducts of the Trinamool chieftain, their calculated attempt to take politics away from the democratic framework is therefore a deliberate choice – to obtain publicity.

Publicity is basically a political device which dispenses a massive influence on the society. It systematically works upon mass anxiety and offers a superior alternative to overcome the anxiety. It also works upon emotion. Emotional reactions motivate and guide the people for their future thoughts and actions. It gradually builds up a physiological mechanism or a mind model with the assumptions about what is important in life. This mind model is also attached to various kinds of incentives. Any challenge to this mental status quo faces stern resistance as it threatens the established routine of lives.

In his highly influential work Ways of Seeing, the English art critic John Berger has revealed that, “without publicity capitalism could not survive” because “publicity is the life of this culture.” Publicity needs to be dynamic and must be continually renewed and made up-to-date. It is also closely related with certain ideas about freedom. Berger further observes that publicity is not merely an assembly of competing tactics since all forms of publicity follow a certain logic which confirms and enhances one another. Publicity talks only about the future. It can offer different choices but makes just a single proposal – to transform human lives for a better future, to make them feel good. Publicity helps to put up a mirage by filling the public mind with “glamorous day-dreams” because existing social contradictions “make the individual feel powerless”. The choice of day-dreaming becomes a substitute for political choice. It is this key reason, Berger argued, why publicity remains credible. According to him, “Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society.”

The way people perceive things are influenced by what they know or what they believe. Public opinions are manufactured through gradual, systematic but insidious application of publicity. The manufactured opinions are then set into action to influence and control the courses of the land. The best way to control the minds of people is to control their perceptions. The fundamental purpose of publicity therefore is to manufacture fake realities and deliver them right into the people’s mind. The media, governments, big corporations, reactionary religious and political groups are all hand in glove in this manufacturing process.

Manufacturing of consent, as Walter Lippmann has depicted, is a revolution “infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power”. He has further explained the design in the following passage:

“Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart.”

When a political party gains popular support by encouraging its band of cohorts to callously violate basic democratic principles, when a political party which wishes to acquire its legitimacy through popular votes is found to have no real faith in democratic institutions or democratic practices, it squarely indicates the ineffectuality and fallacy of the democratic system. It also raises serious doubts about the mindset of the people who sanction the craven acts. But whether the people are to be blamed or they are “only a pawn in their game” is the pertinent question here.

In the disguise of democratic freedom, consents will continue to be manufactured in a deliberate way “under the impact of propaganda” to “alter every political calculation and modify every political premise”. The MNS and TMC instances might sound cliché and petty in a wider context. But the stakes caught up in these instances are high and serious. It was therefore necessary to rip the topic to bare its hidden layers.