Turning the Tide

September 25, 2014

By Saroj Giri

On the one side there are university students chanting “hok kolorob (Let there be clamour, movement, change)”. On the other side is a regime of power led by Trinamool Congress (TMC) openly calling for “#hok kelano (Let’s beat them up)”. The latter slogan is unmediated by ideology – unlike say the ‘kelano’ of the previous left regime in West Bengal which was done in the name of ‘socialism’ and what not. What does this say about TMC’s particular modality of rule?

Beat up the protestors and treat them as though they are anti-socials: that will make them, ipso facto, ‘appear’ anti-socials. This seems to be the modus operandi. Hence the spineless VC of Jadavpur University (JU) calls the police in and gets the protestors beaten up. He then goes on a TV news channel (NewsX) and portrays the students and protesters as related to drug mafia, Maoists and goondas.

Students are bullied, beaten up by plainclothes policemen (and assorted hooligans), female students are molested – now this is, ipso facto, supposed to prove that ‘they deserved it all’! The mistreatment and the form of punishment meted out establishes what they are really like, doesn’t it?! No wonder then, that Didi’s supporters can so brazenly declare “hok-kelano”. Most political parties, rotten as they are, tend to maintain a gap between their democratic public face and their real seamy underside. Clearly, TMC does not need to maintain this gap.

TMC’s other speciality is their use of filthy, violent and extremely misogynist language. They in that sense, really ‘lower the standard’ so much that you do not want to counter them. You are disarmed. This seems to have become a ploy if not a practiced art.

Take Mamata Banerji’s declaration that those activists who highlight the issue of rape are conspirators against her party, or that they are Maoists or CPI(M) supporters. But beyond this, she also went on to say that these intellectuals and social workers have links with porn. Now that is really hitting low and insanely below the belt and grossly baseless. If those who raise the issue of rape are themselves lowly people, how could you believe them?

So in JU the protestors become those linked to promoting drugs, criminality and vulgarity. TMC mobilises a vulgar-’plebeian’ language and ‘popular culture’. This plebeianness sometimes seems like a welcome anti-dote to Bengal’s or rather Kolkata Bengalis’ famed hegemonic upper-caste bhadralok high-culture sensibilities. But it is not. It is not really empowering the underclass or the lower caste since as a regime of power TMC brings a bigger calamity, deploying everyday misognynist and conservative tendencies towards a criminalised domination.

What all this amounts to is this: any opposition is thereby delegitimised and emptied of its social content. The fight for justice is presented as a bunch of anti-socials disrupting the normal functioning of the institution and society, or hindering ‘development’, ‘unnoyon’. In particular, radical politics which involves thought or critique can be trivialised or even treated as alien, elitist, uncivil – not part of an organically given Maa, mati, manush.

Mamata Banerji’s knee-jerk reactions and famed unpredictability feeds into this peculiar logic of power. She bans bandhs but then gleefully declares unexpected holidays all of a sudden. She messes up the usual order of things.Rendering any normal expectations and patterns redundant, she is able to keep people fixated on her and her every next move, for that is all one can rely on! This gives tremendous wanton power, thereby establishing a kind of a direct connect between herself, her surprise ‘decisions’, and the perplexed people who must follow her next whimsical decision. She seems to put off big capitalists as much as left protestors. Any ‘class analysis’ of Mamata Banerji and ‘critique of power and representation’ seem to go for a toss!

Further, the loose, decentred localised power networks she mobilises makes the opposition go from one issue to the next, from opposing one foul misogynist utterance and scam to the next. Activists are left fighting a nebulous regime that does not apparently ‘stand for’ any ideologically definable entity. This keeps activists and people perpetually busy in a low-intensity battle. More than anger, it arouses nausea in the opposition. It seeks to draw you into pettiness.

All this is perhaps backfiring now, finally. The mahamichil, the massive demonstration in Kolkata on Saturday (20 Sep 2014) (and the various protests held in support across India’s cities and educational institutes) showed TMC’s bluff is being called out. It was not just a narrow section of ‘lefty-junkie’ JU and Presidency students, but students from different colleges across Kolkata. Indeed, people from different sections of society, ‘outsiders’ (bahiragato), have not just sympathised with the protestors but are seeing their own discontent being somehow connected. This is a tremendous achievement – not just sympathy from afar but active solidarity.

A ‘small’ movement sometimes becomes a point of convergence where now everyone can see an image of their own discontent and anger in it. Individually felt discontent can now find a collective form. Then at some point the tide will turn. It feels like now it is no longer a question of only this particular stand-off in JU, related to just this set of protestors and that particular issue – but now it is ‘our’, everybody’s issue. A collective imagination is born and hopefully the kolorob then is not just the kolorob of the guitar-strumming, Dylan-chanting, Godard-watching, Kafka-reading, deconstructionist urban radical.

Indeed, on the very day of the Saturday demonstration, poor taxi-drivers in Kolkata were also protesting against the false cases slapped on them by the government. Will the hokkolorob include them? Once this happens the tide will really turn and the current regime will no longer appear nebulous and slippery to grasp and fight against.
In this tide however providing justice to the women who have filed a complaint against the specific case of sexual molestation must not be overlooked, as a ‘minor detail’. #Hokkolorob!

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