Authoritarianism and Incompetence – The Times in Bengal

December 17, 2011


By Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri

In and around the University of Kolkata and Presidency University are a plethora of bookshops and tea-shops, where students, would-be-poets, little magazine groups, freelance journalists, a multitude of couples and multiples undergoing pairing, are putting the world to right every day. Many of the established intellectuals of different eras have served their apprenticeship here. In this bohemia, Big Brother has made his entry in search of Maoists camouflaging as students. Bookshops have been visited by young, shamefaced scions of the Special Branch and famous teashops have been provided with CCTV cameras. This correspondent was accosted, as he stepped out of a rather traditional mainstream Left sort of meeting with students to discuss some piece of dry, new legislation on education, by a weedy, old watcher. He muttered resignedly, “Meeting still going on?” Beware Lancelot as you whisper sweet nothings to Guinivere, behind Arthur’s back, not only of Arthur or Mordred, but of hidden mikes of the cheap variety that might distort “sailing into the haven of your eyes” into “selling the AK47 likewise”.

Apart from students, the other category of people who, according to this government, are responsible for the discontent of the emaciated, dishonoured people of the forests, battered by security forces of the state and vigilante groups of the parties of the Right, are, yes, the intellectuals, even their octogenarian doyen. The party lords and bad gentry who siphoned off the money allotted for them out of our taxes for 34 years are not responsible for their discontent. The police who knocked out Chitamoni Murmu’s eye are not responsible for their discontent. The joint security forces who killed Lalmohan, the aged president of the people’s committee, refused to hand over his body, and molested the wife of a CPI(M) activist, are not responsible for their discontent. The Harmad and the Bhairab vigilantes are not responsible for their discontent. The far Left line of individual assassination and the consequent killings are not responsible for their discontent. Their discontent is created and manipulated by dyspeptic professors and disobedient students of the metropolis (from secret tea-shops?) via ‘hired supari killers’.

Of course, this is the government which has said that it seems that there are women whose job is to complain of being raped whenever the security forces enter a village. Something jogs the memory. Didn’t the CPI(M)’s women’s front leaders make this sort of fun when a footpath dweller was raped by a policeman, later found culpable by the courts? The people have, unfortunately, a sort of penchant for remembering such remarks, which were the trademark of the likes of Benoy Konar and Anil Bose of the unlamented previous regime. Now, such remarks emanate from this government.

The students’ union funds and the admissions racket have made ‘organising’ the students a lucrative business, run by local party toughs. Till before the assembly elections the CPI(M) students’ wing dominated most undergraduate colleges. Now the students’ wing of the major ruling party has taken over the monopoly and are ‘winning’ the students’ union elections without allowing any other organization to put up a show. Recently, the authorities are themselves interfering in the election process to marginalise opposition, as happened in the Calcutta Medical College. This is the season when managing committees of private schools are elected. An example will suffice to illustrate. A school in Belghoria, just north of the metropolis, was holding an election to form the new committee. The major ruling party was trailing. Hence, counting of votes was stopped.

* * *

In the meantime, business is as usual. In Rajarhat, two factions of the major ruling party are at one another’s throats for control of the ‘syndicates’ which supply, by force and at inflated rates, all building materials. The newspapers claim that one faction is blest by a minister. A major player has recently been gunned down by his opponents.

Indeed, God is in heaven and all is right with the world. In the last six months, six farmers have committed suicide. Ananda Das Bairagya, Joydeb Mondal, Basudeb Mondal, Jagannath Mondal, Kartik Bagdi, and another who is still nameless in the media. In every case, the lack of cheap credit was implicated. The procession towards heaven is likely to become longer.

Oblivious of the large increase in paddy production this year, the government set the support price at Rs 1080 per quintal, while the market price didn’t rise above Rs 700-800. The rice mills and the BDO office did not buy paddy from the farmers at support price, and even in the third week of November, the key procurement agencies like Confed, Benfed, and ECSC did not start purchases. However, better quality paddy streamed in from outside the state. There is always distress sale in such a situation. Such sales flooded the market. What were the star economists and advisers doing while all this happened? Or is it what they intended to happen? Incompetence or malafide intent? The present major ruling party is outdoing the previous one in party-politicking. The party-political panchayet pradhan is to decide how much paddy will be bought from a given farmer at support price. And we thought that the CPI(M) was the past master of partisan stratagems! Many a peasant cannot wait for the government and sells at the low market price. The heavenward procession of farmers lengthens: add Bhabani Porel and Safar Molla.

Incompetence and dependence on bureaucrats has made shambles of the policy on education. To remove the admittedly partisan Vice-chancellors, appointed by the previous regime, an ordinance was hastily passed on the lines of the statutes of Delhi University, bypassing the legislature. The ordinance places University governance squarely in the hands of bureaucrats and nominated heads of different boards and committees. Autonomy is further eroded by making the Chancellor (usually the Governor of the state) sole authority for removal of the Vice-chancellor.

The people in charge of school education are enacting a drama of indecision in their less than competent efforts to balance the Right to Education Act and the compulsions of popular perceptions. No Pass-Fail, yes Pass-Fail; No admission by lottery, yes admission by lottery; Medical entrance tests as per norms of the Medical Council of India, Medical Entrance tests flouting these norms. Meanwhile, the chairman of the advisory committee on the school curriculum has resigned. Broad hints have been given regarding the cold shoulder extended to expert advice.

The bureaucrats are having a field day. The police are becoming trigger happy. News is coming in from Magrahat in south Bengal, regarding police firing on a mass of people, which claimed the lives of two women, a school girl and a young housewife. Bullets hit them on the head. A young boy is in a hospital with a bullet in his abdomen. Who knows what danger they posed to the state. An estimated 40 people have been injured, with more bullet injuries.

The road to authoritarianism is paved with good intentions.


5 Responses to “Authoritarianism and Incompetence – The Times in Bengal”

  1. nabakisor dutta Says:
    December 19th, 2011 at 10:08

    while reading dipanjan’s article one who actively worked for a change of earlier cpm led regime but is left minded in thinking, may feel deceived & dejected by present main ruling party’s activities.political honesty of the presnt cm is in question. her pre election promises and announcements particularly wrt jangalmahal,her speeches from lalgarh manch 09.08.2010 now appear only to attract votes. even jyoti basu in 1977 was more honest in keeping the front’s election promises.but this lady-buddha appears much more dangerous than her predessor at least in her honesty. death of two women in margahat in police firing is a ‘small thing her. just remember that statement ofthen cm jyoti basu about bantala:’emon to katoi hai’many more similarities are coming up. let’s wait and keep watch

  2. Upal Chakraborty Says:
    December 22nd, 2011 at 14:58

    May I ask Comrade Dipanjan – why did he then extend support to the TMC ? Does this not demonstrate lack of political foresight and sagacity ?
    Even if we for a moment agree that Harmads were bad, what was the logic in inviting someone worse ? What was the problem in trying to build a second Left force and till then reluctantly and critically support the LF?
    To quote Mahasweta Devi, “Have we invited Fascicm”?

  3. rocky Says:
    December 23rd, 2011 at 14:40

    Hi Upal, I love the way you slip in “trying to build a second Left force and till then reluctantly and critically support the LF”.

    Why not say: “trying to build a second Left force *within* the LF”. That’s what you meant ;-)

  4. Upal Chakraborty Says:
    December 24th, 2011 at 02:36

    Tthat is not what I meant. I meant a distinctly second force supporting LF on the main – if not sole – issue of preventing a Fascist takeover. Dipanjan and Mahasweta Devi would not have to lament then the way they are doing now.

  5. dipanjan rai chaudhuri Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 15:46

    I wrote on Sep 10, 2010 (Debate with Sumanta Banerjee, :

    “….. the Bangla Congress was a thoroughly reactionary right-wing party and the CPI(M) was all poised to betray the people and fire on the peasants of Naxalbari, directly after the elections, but support to their electoral front was justified in 1967, because the political aim of the people at the moment was the removal of the much-hated Congress government. The situation today is very similar, with the TMC playing the role of the Bangla Congress, and the removal of the CPI(M) from government being the one-point immediate demand of the people…..

    the present generations have endured 30 years of oppression, corruption and misrule by the CPI(M), But Singur and Nandigram were too much to forgive, the arrogance and the idiocy – it was their land the ‘Left’ sarkar were trying to snatch for an almost-free gift to big capital….

    We must learn to feel like the victims and their fellow men and women to understand why the people of West Bengal look on the CPI(M) of 2010 as our generation looked on the Congress of 1966 (and, then, even Bidhan Roy had never dreamt of unleashing Congress volunteers and the armed police to rape and kill incalcitrant villagers, leave alone building a Harmad).

    If we can feel like the people, we will understand why, to the present generations, overthrow of the CPI(M) in 2011 is as big and urgent a project as overthrow of the Congress was to us in 1966. Basic change of the socio-economic is always what we want, but at every moment, this movement for basic change of the socio-economic throws up an immediate problematic which must be solved to advance the movement for basic change over the momentary hurdle…If this is not done, the tempo and spirit of the people’s movement will go down and the movement ebb away……

    The elections are transitory, a momentary problematic, important this time because a change in government is imperative. We are being shown a demonized Mamata to frighten us. Imagine another 5 years of the CPI(M). Which is more frightening?

    The real problem is, of course, building the platform for the people’s movement for democracy, whoever wins.

    Every group of Left activists believes itself to be the core of the future party and treats other groups with arrogance and perhaps enmity. There is even contradiction between individuals.

    Mobilisation is maximal for one’s own organization and token for most united efforts.

    Many organizations are habitually satisfied with the small numbers which turn up. Nobody is prepared to analyse why and how 60,000 people came out in Kolkata to protest against the atrocities in Nandigram, nor the way to build a platform to call them back.

    How to call them back?
    We have ruled out two negatives.
    Subservience to the CPI(M) and the status quo will not do.
    Dependence on the TMC for change will not do.
    Will not the democratic youth of today work out a positive way?”

    I stand by what I wrote then.

    It is useless comparing two parties like the CPI(M) and the TMC without a temporal context when both are parties subservient to big capital in the main : neither is a friend of the people. Support to any one or equi-distance has to be adopted according to the current problematic of the people’s movement. What is right at one time may be dead wrong at another.