Tuesday, June 30, 2009

God isn’t saving the Left

BYLINE: M J Akbar

''Buddhadev seems to have become besotted with power, which is probably why he will lose.''


Bertolt Brecht, the leftist German playwright, was brilliant enough to give cynicism a good name. Parliamentary democracy, for him, was a moveable feast. He once suggested a great alternative to dissolving the legislature and electing a fresh set of representatives.
Wouldn’t it be easier, he asked, to dissolve the people and elect another in their place?

He might never say so publicly, but Bengal’s Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya is probably ruing the fact that Comrade Brecht’s admirable suggestion cannot be implemented. It is useful to remember that the CPM-led Left Front got hammered in the elections before the Maoist insurgency in and around Lalgarh became front-page news.
How much worse have the prospects of the Left Front become in Bengal since Lalgarh?
The news is not very good for the democratic children of Marx and Stalin. The conscience of the Left in Bengal, Mahashweta Devi, has expressed sympathy for the Maoists and contempt for the administration. The police probably did not take permission from the chief minister when they filed an FIR against filmmaker and filmstar Aparna Sen for visiting Lalgarh to assess the situation. If the police did check with the CM, he had no business authorising such a vindictive and counter-productive action. If they did not check with him, it means that Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s authority has crumbled. Would the Bengal police have filed an FIR against Suchitra Sen or Madhabi Mukherjee when Jyoti Basu was chief minister without consulting him?

No terrorists

Aparna Sen is not an ideologue, but her heart and mind are in the right place. She can see what governments, whether in Kolakata, Delhi, Ranchi or Bhubaneswar cannot. The Naxalites may be wrong in their tactics, but they are not terrorists sent by the Lashkar-e-Toiba from Pakistan. They are born of an economy that has turned a handful of capitalists into the bloated masters of the nation, given the middle class the reality of a better life and the dream of riches, and left the poor to the whiplash of hunger and the misery of indifference.

The overwhelming majority of Naxalites only ever wanted the self-esteem that comes from an honest wage. The CPM has abandoned its core commitment by walking away from this reality. Buddhadev seems to have become besotted with power, which is probably why he will lose. Nor will the police war against the Maoists end in celebratory triumph for Writers Building, draped for more than three decades in fading red. It will continue long after the Left Front and Delhi have declared victory. The governments have state-power; the Maoists have time.

The people of Bengal have sensed that while Mamata Banerjee may not have the sophistication of Marxist dialectic on her side, she is instinctively closer to their sentiments. That is why they shifted so significantly in the general elections, and will incline even further towards her in the Assembly polls.

The CPM has been reduced to seeking brownie points in a university debate. Sitaram Yechury is currently engaged in a debate with Rahul Gandhi over which constituency is more wretched. Rahul Gandhi thought that the tribal regions of Bengal were more backward than the worst in Orissa. Yechury responded that Bankura and Purulia in Bengal had better socio-economic indicators than Amethi or Rae Bareli. Both may be right, which means that we should offer a round of applause to Navin Patnaik.

Quiz question: when was the last time Yechury dipped into Franz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth?’

The Indian political class may not be doing very much for the poor, but it also seems to have lost all sensitivity to poverty. You can hear Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s indignation simmer and boil in his voice as he denounces Maoists before his cabinet and Front colleagues while defending the ban on them. When was the last time he got angry over poverty in Bengal? Unless, of course, he believes that he has eliminated poverty already and that Lalgarh is nothing but a conspiracy between Maoists and Mamata Banerjee to destabilise him before defeating him?

The Muslim factor

The Left Front would be better advised to take a long and hard look a little to the east of Bankura and Purulia, at the Muslim-dense districts that sweep towards Bangladesh and then bend into South 24-Parganas. Mamata Banerjee is Union Railway Minister largely (though of course not solely) because the Muslims of this arc abandoned the Marxists.

Justice Rajinder Sachar intended nothing more dramatic than an honest report on Indian Muslims when commissioned to do so by Manmohan Singh. His bleak portrait of Bengal had a sharp counterpoint: Bengali Muslims could not believe Muslims had more government jobs in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat than in CPM’s Bengal. That was the turning point, exacerbated by the chief minister’s ham-handed insensitivity towards cases like Rizwan, the young Calcutta boy who died as a consequence of an inter-community love affair. Buddhadev is not communal. It was not, to paraphrase another playwright that the Bengal CM should recognise, that he loved Rizwan less, but that he loved the Calcutta police more.

I should amend my suggestion: both the CPM and Mamata Banerjee should take a serious look at the marginalised Bengali Muslims. Their young have not been attracted to Maoists because Muslims will not give up Allah and Maoists will not give up atheism. The first will not change, but the second might. The CPM became an electoral force in Bengal because it softened its rigid position on religion. The Maoists might too.

Mamata Banerjee has been long enough in Bengal politics to understand that replacing the Left Front also means acquiring a crushing burden of aspirations. No one will be more demanding than the poor, particularly the tribals and the Bengali Muslims. The Left Front got 30 years. Mamata will get about 30 months.

Tony Blair had some non-Brechtian advice for those politicians who wanted to win elections, as recounted in the diaries of one of his associates, Chris Mullins. Go around smiling at everyone, he said, and get someone else to do the shooting.
Buddhadev not only has stopped smiling; he also picks up the gun himself when there is any shooting to be done.

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