Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lalgarh: when the saints go marching in

Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, two conscientious rabble-rousers of our time have marched into Lalgarh on last Monday, grabbing the apron string of their spanking soul mate – our famous railways minister. They went to attend and address a rally organized by the Trinamool party under the “apolitical” banner of Santras Birodhi Mancha (anti-terror forum) to spread the message of peace among the people of Lalgarh and to re-establish rule of democracy in this Maoist infested land of Bengal. Both have delivered the best of their banal statements concerning adivasis and their rights, about why MNCs must be resisted from setting up factories in the adivasi land, about how democratic process had come to a halt in the area. Both have also condemned the atrocities perpetrated by the joint security forces against innocent villagers after putting a Maoist tag on them and demanded a judicial inquiry into the death of Maoist Central Committee spokesperson, Azad. Both the crusaders without a pause had heaped immense praise on the railways minister for “putting up a brave fight against the ruling regime in favor of the poor and establishing the rule of democracy.” Agnivesh has informed the sizeable crowd mobilized primarily by the notorious Maoist frontal body PCAPA that, “Only Mamata has the courage to oppose Operation Green Hunt. Only she has the courage to oppose land seizure in the name of industrialization.” The polemicist Swami went one step further. Unable to resist him from the exiting setting or maybe the scorching heat, he barked out slamming the chief minister of Bengal: “It is time for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to go on vanwas (exile). Naya Zamana Aayega, Mamata Banerjee ka Zamana Aayega (A new era will come, the era of Mamata Banerjee)”. The rally was also blessed by top Maoist leader Kisanji. Manoj Mahato, the infantile leader of the PCAPA, has gone out of his way to ensure its success.

Agnivesh has taken aback many of his admirers who are embarrassed and miffed by his blatant political rhetoric. He has been admired as a man of many facets, an unusual Swami who looks like a sadhu (holy man) but talks like a politician. He is a self-titled leader of the Hindu religious sect Arya Samaj and an indisputable multi-tasker who is capable to be present in apparently contradictory subjects and situations at the same time – in “religion and giraffe” we can say, borrowing from a famous Shakti Chattopadyay poem title. He is a religious and social reformer, a human rights activist, a crusader against western cultural imperialism, globalization and neo-liberalization. He is a pungent critic of the Hindu fundamentalist RSS and from the Nandigram days an energetic nitpicker of the Marxist Communist Party of India too. He greatly admirers Congress President Sonia Gandhi and hearteningly noted that, “under the leadership of Sonia, the Congress is slowly regaining its temporarily misplaced social conscience.” He bluntly talks politics but under the saffron garb of a humanist Hindu.

It is a pity to see how such an extraordinarily competent Swami becomes a tool in the hands of the lady who as the Trinamool chieftain had sent flowers of gratitude to congratulate the re-elected Narendra Modi of Gujarat and as a railways minister has coolly wash her hand after blaming on people’s lack of discipline when they get killed in a stampede at the New Delhi railway station. Agnivesh is also a self appointed mediator between the central government and the Maoists. However, after Azad’s death, the Maoist leadership is blaming him for being a “pigeon among the cats”. “The cats are using you to catch us in this process,” wrote Maoist central committee member Srikant in a recent letter addressed to Agnivesh. But Swamiji had assured us that the Maoists have further communicated to him and has agreed to holds talks with the Centre after Mamata Banerjee has “risen over narrow political gains” and helped to “break the deadlock” through her “peace appeal” from the Lalgarh rally.

Medha Patkar, the goddess of anti-dam crusade in India must be feeling redundant today after her much hyped and handsomely funded Narmada Bachao Andolon (NBA) fell flat by a October 2000 Supreme Court verdict. The NBA’s petition to halt the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River was overruled by the judgment which has squashed the stringent demands of the NBA and directed that “every endeavor shall be made to see that the project is completed as expeditiously as possible”. The judgment has categorically noted that, “When such projects are undertaken and hundreds of crores of public money is spent, individual or organizations in the garb of PIL cannot be permitted to challenge the policy decision taken after a lapse of time. It is against national interest…..” Quite naturally, the dam-busters have bitterly criticized the court verdict as “anti-people”. The arrogant and obstructionist Patkar’s sweeping opposition to big dams and every development projects has been harshly criticized by many of her detractors. Among them are her former associates who have argued that Patkar is really not interested on reaching to a solution. She is not only inconsiderate about alternative development proposals that depart from her particular line but also “actively worked to see that it was made impossible” as alleged Ambrish Mehta of Action Research in Community Health and Development (ARCH), a Baroda-based NGO who worked closely with the NBA in negotiating the rehabilitation and resettlement of dam evictees. (Source)

Sociologist and human rights activist Dr. Gail Omvedt had pointed out that calling for alternatives to the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the subsequent demand for rehabilitation of dam evictees was actually initiated by the CPI(M), the Shramik Mukti Dal (SMD) and the Shramik Sanghatana in Maharashtra’s Dhule district. By her sheer talent Patkar had not only hijacked the movement but also ensured that the organizations and adivasi activists who had moved on the issue before her never gets any credit. A conceited tendency of not recognizing the work of others, or at least willing to admit that there has been a history of struggles is one of the salient features of Patkar’s firebrand activism. In her Open Letter to Arundhati Roy Dr. Omvedt has also raised an important question, “Why are all the leaders (of NBA) from the urban elite, and how democratic exactly is their relationship to the rural poor they are organizing?” She had observed that most of the environmentalist leaders and liberal intelligentsia who land in the rural villages from urban upper and middle class backgrounds always try to put their own arguments, either explicitly or implicitly, in the mouths of the rural poor but are less concerned about the lasting effects of such activities on their livelihoods. “We did not go on to the stage, neither were we called,” wrote Waharu Sonavane, a young adivasi activist of Shramik Sanghatana. “But they, sitting on the stage, went on telling us of our sorrows, our sorrows remained ours, they never became theirs.

At present Patkar coordinates the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), a conglomerate of grass root social activist groups, which claims to oppose corporate globalization and has sworn to “struggle against injustice and discrimination”. But this apparently valiant job is probably not fully satisfying Patkar’s activistic appetite and ambitions. She is found to be constantly in search of one cause to another, desperately looking around to get re-employed in some other high-flying assignment akin to the former NBA which has raised her almost into a cult figure. Also, after losing the Narmada battle she must have realized that keeping away from supporting or opposing one or the other political parties is not a wise approach for her future livelihood. Therefore, her hobnob with the Trinamool chieftain and hard efforts to get enrolled into her coterie in the ruse of pro-people struggle has nothing really to do with the hapless people on whose behalf she claims to speak. That is why she needs to be present on the dais beside Mamata Banerjee to “condemn the CPI(M) government of West Bengal,” and charge the Marxists for “carrying out such violence across Lalgarh to maintain their political positions.” Smart as she always is, she knows when and where to be present and where not to. Recently she met Congress President Sonia Gandhi to “apprise” her about the Maoist issue and alleged that the Unified Command is not a solution to the Maoist problem. Like Agnivesh, she had also demanded for a judicial probe into the killing of Maoist spokesperson Azad and Sidhu Soren – chief of the armed wing of the PCAPA, who was recently killed in an encounter in Golatore area of West Midnapore.

There are one or two questions which we want to ask them. Do you think that the only reliable political party in this country capable of preserving all basic democratic rights and justice of the citizens is the Congress Party under Sonia Gandhi? Do you believe that the Congress has the resolve in order to protect the indigenous communities from exploitation and open up avenues for inclusive development? It seems that both of you are quite convinced about Sonia Gandhi’s “unequivocal commitment” she has made to the poor and her Gandhian avoidance of the evil of “politics without principles”. Sorry Swamiji and Medhaji, we are not. We are not convinced about the “wide spectrum” myth where a Digvijay Singh locks horn with an “intellectually arrogant” P. Chidambaram and claim that the party shares his views. The Congress Party might have the best political spin-doctors in their kitty and greatly mastered the art of trickery. But we beg to know what the party thinks about the anomalous price rise that is directly effecting around 84 crore of our country people who subsist on per capita income of less than Rs. 20 a day. We also do not agree that the left parties are intolerable and deplorable because they cannot afford to be blemished and the Congress is tolerable and amicable because monarchism, nepotism, corruption, factionalism and sycophancy are the inherent nature of the party.


Folks who foresee the birth of a new era in Bengal through the prism of the Trinamool chieftain, bleeding-heart defenders who bake their revolutionary reveries through the prism of a possible Maoist revolution have emerged with their all-out tantrums to justify the apolitical character of the now infamous rally and shield the charges against the Trinamool chieftain for providing oxygen to the Maoists. The corresponding chorus is to defend the two controversial aspects that have come out in open at Lalgarh. Firstly, how does a Trinamool Congress announced, sponsored and controlled program aimed to pluck political fruits in the region suddenly become “apolitical”? Just because there was no Trinamool Party banner behind the dais? Secondly, is it by any means convincing that a rally which has received unconditional support from the Maoist top leaders, where people were mobilized by the PCAPA, where the main speakers spoke a lot from the “neutral platform” on withdrawal of joint forces, demanded for a judicial probe into the “murder” of Azad and Sidhu Soren and issued a “peace” message to the Maoists does not have any links with the Maoists?

Why Mamata Banerjee should be accused of trying to take political mileage from the rally when it was not even organized under her party’s banner – the sycophants have innocently asked. “By turning the rally into a success,” claims a recognized anti-CPI(M) English daily from Kolkata, “Mamata has dealt another blow to the beleaguered Bhattacharjee government.” Ridiculing the Marxists for allowing her to reap political dividends in their bastion, the report emphatically pointed out that the Trinamool chieftain has “refused to use a bullet-proof car” to arrive at the venue and cited one unemployed youth Nantu Mahato of Goaltore who has vented that “The government (read Left Front government) has done nothing for us.... We are happy that Mamata at least came here…..we all know that she is a brave woman.” (Source) Who can dare to deny Mamata Banerjee’s courageousness? Can’t we see how the grand Congress Party has turned into a mumbling mouse in front of her?

Let us one by one jot down the sermonic gems that our able and brave CM aspirant has delivered in Lalgarh. To the people of Lalgarh she had said:

“The rights of the jungles would be with the tribal people of the forest. I will see development does not elude Lalgarh. I believe that tribal should be owners of the forest land.”

“Just wait for a few more months and the Marxists will be out of power. I promise to bring development here. If you want jobs, I can set up a railway factory in Lalgarh to provide jobs to the unemployed.”

“The CPM cadres are carrying out raids in CRPF and police fatigues in the region and capturing villages. The leaders at the Centre were being misled and fed wrong information.”

“We have won battles in Singur and Nandigram through peaceful means. And we can do it in Lalgarh.”

In a deliberate attempt to play to the gallery and prove her leadership integrity, she promptly announced a grant of Rs 20 lakh from the Trinamool half-minister Mukul Roy’s MP funds for the school premises that hosted the rally. Keeping the geography of Lalgarh in mind, her most hilarious promise was the proposal to set up a rail factory at Lalgarh. In addition, we must be thankful to her for making us aware about the alarming incompetence of our leaders at Centre who can be misled so easily by some CPI(M) cadres!

The following comes exclusively for the Maoists to notice:

“Operation Green Hunt must end.”

“I believe Azad had been murdered. It was unjust. But peace talks should be started... I pay my respect and tribute to Azad.”

“Tell me what you demand. Give a time. Tell me the place and I am ready to initiate the peace process; but on one condition…you have to stop violence and bloodshed. You will achieve nothing by killing innocent people.”

“We will go to Chhattisgarh…Dantewada…anywhere you want…will address all your problems.”

“Do not kill people, do not kill people. Take my life but not of the innocents.”

This almost Gandhi like approach of her peace talk is not only silly but also gives an insight on her megalomaniac mind-set. Can we ask her why being an influential and high profile cabinet minister she didn’t consider to raise these issues in the cabinet meetings? Why didn’t she raise these issues in the parliament? The Maoists problem is not only Bengal centric. It is, in every sense, a serious national issue. Why does she need to utter these words in a public rally in Bengal? Is the so called Operation Green Hunt only a state initiative? Was Azad killed by the Bengal police?

And finally for the CPI(M):

“It’s an open challenge to the CPI(M) to prove Mamata Banerjee is a Maoist. It’s not me, but CPI-M, who exercises gun politics.”

“You will not get even one.” (predicting the 2011 assembly election performance of the Marxists in the region)

Still we have to believe that the Lalgarh rally was nothing but “apolitical”.


All the saints who went marching in Lalgarh on Monday have actually gone there to sing cheap politics with the lives of the locals and dupe them. From the extreme right and the extreme left, all kinds of forces are trying to hitchhike on Mamata Banerjee’s whimsical, opportunist and semi-fascist bandwagon. How many of the poor Lalgarh adivasis, who have borne the maximum brunt of the Maoist “uprising”, really wants to be in that number is therefore extremely doubtful. The PCAPA, the “concerned” intellectuals, social activists and citizens does not represent them, neither the Trinamool chieftain who has generously extended her clandestine patronage for the Maoist frontal body eyeing the 41 assembly seats of the adivasi heartland surrounding Lalgarh. As the Indian Express report has clearly explained, Mamata Banerjee desperately needs to find a foothold in Lalgarh because her party, even in this somewhat “favorable” situation, does not have much of electoral hope in this area.

The Trinamool chieftain in fact cares a damn for the Maoists. She is using the Maoists as well as their stupid sympathizers who swear day-in and day-out by democracy and human rights, just to settle political scores with the CPI(M). The Maoist leadership, presumably, knows this well. Kishanji’s support for the Lalgarh rally and his extol for the Trinamool chieftain’s “peace attempts” are also motivated by political mathematics. The Maoists, as many reports have suggested, is steadily losing grounds in Lalgarh. In recent months, the joint forces have achieved significant advance and breakthrough in this region. Moreover, there have been many instances which prove that a growing anti-Maoist sentiment is brewing among the villagers who are seen to come out in open to defy the diktat of the PCAPA goons. In Radhanagar village, the villagers did not allow the PCAPA to hold a rally. In another village, Binpur, villagers came out in numbers to protest against the PCAPA. The Maoist leadership is therefore using the Trinamool chieftain and her dubious “peace initiative” to make a comeback in this highly strategic terrain.

What is going on between Mamata Banerjee and the Maoists is nothing but political trading of the nastiest kind. Akin to what has happened in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh where mainstream politicians have electorally benefited by striking a devious deal with the Maoists. The poor people are only an unwitting pawn in their game. The vibrant democratic and political space that the Left rule has created in Bengal has shown too much patience to bear this ongoing nuisance. It must end now.