Mahamichhil for Nandigram and reflections on the people’s movement

Kolkata witnessed another Mahamichhil on May 9, 2008.

(a) to protest against the reign of terror unleashed by the CPI(M) on the eve of the panchayat elections, aimed at cowing down voters all over the state, and

(b) especially to condemn the atrocities being perpetrated by CPI(M) workers in collusion with the state police in Nandigram.

Mahasweta Devi called the Mahamichhil on being earnestly solicited by a number of intellectuals to do so, and the procession was effectively piloted by leading intellectuals and human rights activists of the state, who, earlier, had endorsed the call through the media. They included Aparna Sen, film director and actress, Saonli Mitra, actress, Koushik Sen, actor, Jogen Chowdhury, painter, Shuvaprasanna, painter, Joy Goswami, poet, Sujato Bhadra, human rights activist, and others. A banner featured a bitter poem by Sankha Ghosh.

The procession started at College Square and ended at Rani Rashmoni Avenue.

It was indeed a Mahamichhil with 15 thousand people or so. The gathering had been achieved at a notice of 24 hours. There were participants from different organised platforms, but the majority were individuals who had rallied in thousands to register their total opposition to the savage suppression of dissent in rural Bengal.

The gathering was an effective answer to CPI(M) leaders who had yesterday poked fun at the intellectuals and claimed that their support had dwindled.

Reflections – by Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri

One or two observations may be in order.

The strength of the 9th May rally was impressive but the 14th November rally had been at least twice as big. Of course, May is hot midsummer and November was mild pre-winter. Also, the novelty of a Mahamichhil had worn off. But this doesn’t explain all. Three things had happened, or, rather, their opposites had not happened in these 6 months.

1. The people’s movement in Nandigram had had a setback. The people could not figure out how to combat the armed party-state onslaught.

2. The section of the people of the state who were against the CPI(M) wanted to fight the panchayat elections on a ‘one against one’ basis. But the opposition parliament-centric parties failed even to achieve seat adjustment.

3. There was no effort to link up the 30-40,000 people of 14th November. Since that date, different platforms had attempted to call rallies on their own and through co-ordinated efforts, without involving the well-known intellectuals. Some of the rallies were less disappointing than others, but there was little participation of general individuals in such rallies. It is a historical fact that in this last half of the first decade of the millenium there are thousands of unattached or loosely attached, concerned individuals who have reservations about joining the platforms and organisations, and who seem to respond only to proven non-party cultural luminaries. We may debate endlessly over this phenomenon. We may like it or not. It remains a fact.

Not only have the platforms under-estimated this effect, the cultural luminaries, while taking up programmes featuring protest, within their own competency, and responding piece-meal to individual general programmes, and, in some cases, visiting Nandigram at considerable physical risk, have themselves refused to take up the leading role demanded of them by the 40,000.( It is true that they are fighting with backs to the wall. CPI(M) is trying to wipe them out, for example, by banning calls shows for certain plays and theatrical groups, and banning certain plays and groups from government halls. In a similar situation Utpal Datta had to set up the Minerva theatre. May be we shall have to think along these lines.)

To come back to the Mahamichhil, the task of 2007-08 was to build a loose co-ordination among the 40,000, centred around the luminaries. Everyone of us failed in this task. No 14th November committee or chain of committees emerged as a focus for the convergence of concerned people.

These three factors diminished enthusiasm and affected attendance. 15,000 in such a situation is a booster for people’s movements. This Mahamichhil of 9th May shows that the people have forgiven the leaders and are still ready to unite. Shall the leaders be able to respond this time?

Will all political parties declare that at the grass-roots people should vote for that candidate who has the best chance of defeating the CPI(M)?

Will our beloved artists and intellectuals initiate or, at least, participate in a process of uniting the 40,000, a process which will swell the 40,000 to 400,000?

This is the hope that arises from the Mahamichhil of 9th May, 2008.