Yes, Mamata is likely to usher in a Fascistic regime and no, the red flag is still held aloft in Bengal

May 18, 2011

by Krishanu Mandal

[This is not meant to be an academic analysis. Therefore, meticulous referencing (which could be done for almost every sentence of this piece) has been avoided deliberately. However, for a couple of extremely important or contentious issues some bibliographic notes have been provided at the end.]

I control a lot of goons, the big boss that I am–
I am the little sister of the big brother, the goon of goons of this planet.
Day and Night he provides me with courage;
That great goon–don’t you know–lives in Washington DC!

(Translated from “Goonda Avatar” by Anamika Mitra; available at: The context of this poem is an open pronouncement of Mamata during the 2011 West Bengal ellection, shown in various TV channels, that she “controls a lot of goons” and she can “shove in goons” if threatened by goons from the competing party!)

(In the very beginning the reader must be warned that we, by no means, mean that the red flag is held aloft by CPI (M) (Communist Party of India (Marxist), commonly called CPM), often confused as a part of the “left” in India. CPM, though, has correctly characterized Mamata’s coming to power as a possible strengthening of Fascistic forces in West Bengal: and by definition, Fascist power, paradoxically, descends with huge mass support behind it. But what that organization fails to own up, some disingenuous guilt-admissions notwithstanding, is that they themselves threw away even any semblance of the proverbial red flag at least 20 years ago and by their own semi-fascistic politics in Bengal for years together they themselves created the ground for the ascendancy of Mamata.)

This is May 13, 2011. Tonight is a night one might remember for a while. There was another night: way back in March 1977. There was another Prince of the goons and there was his doting mother–the luxurious Queen. And there were courtiers–feasting on common people’s blood. That night in March the Queen and the Prince were removed from the thrown. Partly a court-intrigue though–some other lesser satraps ascended, but that is a different matter. People poured into the streets of Calcutta. The left front government was born in Bengal. Yes, it was a festival of the people that night also. Just like this.

No, the Left have not been crushed in Bengal. Even from the days of anti-British struggle the left remained the abode of the most honest, most committed, death-defying revolutionaries. When the beloved sons of the Father of the Nation were busy playing footsies with their colonial big cousins, the left in Bengal brought about Tebhaga (and elsewhere Telengana, and Punnapra-Vayalar…). Literally death-defying work among and alongside the masses against the Bidhan Ray government and the succeeding Congressites–culminating in movements for security of food, land right and labour rights–finally generated the first United Front Government and its natural successor–Naxalbari. And then said the thunder: the thrust has to be for seizure of political power. And the lean dreamer in Darjeeling diagnosed the poison within the then CPM–fetishism for parliamentary legality, opportunist economism–classic early symptoms of incipient revisionist syphilis. Not many believed then in his prophesy. He was promptly removed from the CPM party. Pus, however, has been oozing, for quite a while now, from almost every pore of the current CPM.

(The seven brothers keep vigil at your head
They drive away death
A thousand hopes will bloom.
Life extends its grip.
Who will chain our sister?

No, this is not a poem about the women protesters of Lalgarh imprisoned by the CPM government, raped by the CPM Harmads. This is a translation of an excerpt from a poem written by Subhash Mukhopadhyay, decades ago, on Ila Mitra, the communist activist and the legend of Tebhaga, who was inhumanly raped and tortured in jail.)

CPM knew that if it had to avoid leading a revolution for people’s democracy, then to stick on to governmental power it had to establish and maintain a stable scaffold of oligarchic structure and patronage-clientelism in Bengal. And they did so in several ways: subtle and not-so-subtle (see Endnote 1). Multinational-imperialist capital loves such stability–bloodsucking gets so much more jitter-free and efficient. And as CPM decayed, from onward the 1990s, from a revisionist entity fostering class-collaboration into an enemy of the people–an unashamed suitor of the ruling classes–the love affair blossomed–and thereby bloomed the bloody flowers of Nandigram and Lalgarh.

(They chase the bare-handed youngmen and murder them–
Bravo! they are true to the salt of their masters!

No, this is not written on the 2007 murders of people in Nandigram by the police and the Harmads. This is translation of a couplet from a doggerel by Sukanta Bhattacharya about police firing on and killing communist activists in February 1946.)

And Mamata, the political careerist par excellence, managed to seize the formal leadership of the persecuted people–yes, so happens with every classic Fascist takeover. Of course, didi does have talent for political manipulation. Of course she had also to erect a structure of counter-patronage in Bengal–bit by bit–thus her licking of a variety of plundering, murdering ruling-class asses in the Centre–from BJP to Congress–to cling to a ministership at any cost.

And here we stand tonight. Big brothers from Washington assured their benediction to a presumably stauncher ally than CPM, FICCI and Shashi Tharoors and Vijay Mallyas are gushing in their welcome and Mamata has promised to take care of the situation in Jangalmahal within three months. Aye, there’s the rub–Jangalmahal–where the red flag still flutters in its formal glory amidst this fear of fascism. And then there is more.

This assembly election has reemphasized that the current polity in West Bengal does accord some meaningful democratic rights in the arena of parliamentary institutions (see Endnote 2). Hasty and wishful projection of that into other instituions of democracy like legal justice or bureaucratic accountability is still uncalled-for though. And these democratic rights had to be secured–by the death-defying struggles of the common people of Bengal, yes those very hackneyed people. Nandigram and Lalgarh were the big battlefields of that struggle. And the revolutionary left, those who picked up that discarded red flag in Bengal way back in the 1970s, were the organic leaders of those struggles–standing together with those people resisting agents of a predatory state, arming the people and providing training to build up people’s militia, instilling the politics of genuine revolutionary change into them–carrying the red flag of Tebhaga, of Telengana, of Naxalbari, of Srikakulam, of Bhojpur, of Bastar to contemporary Bengal. How come, then, all these have resulted in this very real danger that the Subrotos, the Somens, the Sobhans, the Sultan Singhs, and above all the Fraulein Fuehrer–netri–and their financiers may reap the fruit?

(When the beasts crawled out of their secret caverns
And pronounced the end of day with unholy growls…

No, this is not about the butchers of Baranagore-Kashipur genocide and the murderers of 1972-77. Nor is this about the Ghoshkar harmads roving the rural Medinipur. These well-knwon lines (translated here) were written by Rabindranath in the backdrop of the onslaughts on Africa by the European Fascists in the 1930s.)

Yes, that has to be rethought: whether parliamentary institutions like elections can be used tactically in particular localities: within specific local conditions. The fear is very much there indeed: of further intensification of the semi-fascist practices of CPM in the hand of now very popular Fraulein Fuehrer. The labour laws might be `rationalized’ further for the benefit of multinationals in the name of `growth’, already vested lands might be distributed to the multinationals rather than to the landless peasants in the name of `attracting investment’, the modes of democratic protests would have to be approved by the state government in the name of `good governance’, and so on and on.

But the red flag has to be kept aloft. This is a partial victory of the people but the danger of this getting hijacked is clear and present and urgent. The immediate task, then, is to consolidate this victory, to deepen and expand the partial democratic rights and to resist fiercely any retrenchment of them. These tasks are urgent. Fuehrer did not make delay in destroying the red flag, it is expected that nor might didi. (Remember that Buddha rammed Singur down the throats of the people of Bengal immediately after winning the 2006 election with his do-it-now efficiency.) The list is long, but here is a first sample. The urgently immediate task is to make the netri withdraw the killer “joint forces” instantly from Jangalmahal–no dilly-dallying for three months and no replacement of such forces by the Army, a well-known fetish of the Fraulein. The urgently immediate task is to make the Fuehrer honour her campaign promise and immediately release all the political prisoners. The immediate task is to ensure security of food all over Bengal through public distribution and raise the requisite money by taxing the rich directly. And so it goes.

FICCI would not like that. Nor would Tata. And didi is unlikely to like that either.

But the people can resist and compel. That is easier said than done. But they did so: in Nandigram, in Lalgarh, in several not-so-well-known pockets. They kept the red flag, the one that is real, aflutter.


Endnote 1: For understanding the long dominance of CPM, the well-known idea that the rural support base of CPM was constructed by the middle and small peasants and the rural middle classes (and especially at the expense of landless agricultural workers) was first put forward, so far as I know, way back in the 1970s, in “Operation Basaai Tudu” by Mahashweta Devi which was, in reality, an illuminating essay (in the garb of a Bengali novella) on the tasks of communist revolutionaries in the contemporary agrarian scenario of Bengal. This idea was further elaborated in the writings of Dwaipayan Bhattacharya (see, e.g., “Politics of Middleness: The Changing Character of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Rural West Bengal (1977-90)” In Ben Rogally et al., “Sonar Bangla? Agricultural Growth and Agrarian Change in West Bengal and Bangladesh”, New Delhi, 1999). Then the idea got repeated and used in several succeeding works. Possibly the most recent use of this idea (along with an interesting analysis of some nuances of the Singur movement) is in Majumdar (2010): “The Nano Controversy: Peasant Identities, the Land Question and Neoliberal Industrialization in Marxist West Bengal, India” in “Journal of Emerging Knowledge on Emerging Markets” Volume 2. A parallel perceptive stream of analysis of CPM dominance stems from Abhirup Sarkar: in “Political economy of West Bengal: a puzzle and a hypothesis”, Economic and Political Weekly, (2006) Vol. 41 No.4, pp.341-8 and with theoretical rigour in “On the political economy of a backward region”, in “Indian Growth and Development Review” (2010), Vol. 3 Issue 2, pp. 122 – 137.

Endnote 2: Strange as it may seem, there is still no rigorous work, so far as we are aware, analyzing the subtlety of the factors that affect the participation and decision-making of the common people in legislative and parliamentary elections of India! While anecdotal evidences from people like K. Balagopal and P. Sainath indicated the supreme importance of local power relations in affecting both participation and decision-making, no rigorous study (for example comparable to the recent classic by J-M. Baland and J. Robinson (2008) “Land and Power: Theory and Evidence from Chile”, American Economic Review, vol. 98(5), pages 1737-65) ) using disagrregated grassroot-level data has so far been undertaken. Some recent studies on voter turnout in India (e.g., Diwakar (2008): “Voter Turnout in the Indian States: An Empirical Analysis”, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, Vol. 18, 75–100 or Ghosh (2006): “The Phenomenon of Voter Turnout in the Parliamentary Elections of India”, Contemporary Ideas and Issues in Social Sciences, Vol 2) not only use aggregate-level data (which mask grassroot-level subtleties) but also use models derived from experiences of advanced capitalist democracies that are hardly applicable to the Indian scenario. Therefore, the plethora of profound-sounding pronouncements on what or what not caused the electoral success of a political party in India are, unfortunately, most often mere plausible guesses. The political parties at the grassroot level, however, by their actual practice–when they capture areas, threaten inconvenient voters or buy votes–are much better in understanding the reality.