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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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)

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.”

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.

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.

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.