Nandigram in a wider context


The Nandigram crisis set off a flurry of speculation about the CPM’s prospects in the immediate future. While some were clear that this was an indication of the crappy politics of mainstream Left, others merrily continued to function as shills for a long defunct strategy. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm of the latter, even Party leaders have acknowledged, albeit in the vaguest of platitudes, that Nandigram was a setback to the CP. Thus Prakash Karat said in an interview:

Yes, after Nandigram, the image of the CPM outside West Bengal has been damaged. It has been tarnished to an extent. We are aware of that. We have discussed the current situation in Bengal and our party comrades have told us that they had miscalculated and mishandled the problem. But now they are trying to take corrective measures.

One wonders, of course, about the image of the CPM inside West Bengal–has it been merely “tarnished to an extent”? We’ll have to wait and see, just as we’ll have to wait and see what these “corrective measures” might be. Don’t hold your breath, though: I don’t think we’ll see workers’ and peasants’ councils running the state anytime soon. More likely, the “measures” employed will serve as “correctives” to the CPM’s “image,” and little else.

On this side of the globe (i.e., in the U.S.), Indian academics and apologists for the CP are merrily constructing their defences against critics of the Nandigram fiasco. None more enthusiastically, of course, than Professor Vijay Prashad, who co-wrote a piece with Sudhanva Deshpande for Counterpunch recently. By their account, the entire crisis was the fault not of the state government that gave away land that belonged to farmers and tribals, but of an anti-Left conspiracy hatched by the Trinamool Congress, and little more. Ugh. I’ll probably have more to say on this in another post. Responding to one of Vijay’s rambling apologia for bureaucratic authoritarianism is not exactly my favorite pastime.

It seems to me, though, that Nandigram is simply the tip of the iceberg, and that all of South Asia is entering a period of increasing social and political instability and volatility. Here’s why:

  • Bangladesh: Add to Nandigram the crisis on the other border with India–the Bangladeshi government is stamping out dissent and democracy viciously. (My friend, Jalal Alamgir’s father is among those jailed: see I’m not sure of the details of what’s going on, but a few months ago, in the run up to elections Khalida Zia’s government, a right-wing Islamist government, ceded power to an “interim” government, which was supposed to oversee elections, but which has essentially imposed martial law, and under the guise of rooting out corruption, is jailing and silencing the secular, liberal-bourgeois opposition parties. Although the official line is non-partisan, it seems that the government is colluding with the Islamists to smash the pro-democracy forces and establish some form of authoritarian rule. I’m not sure that the opposition has been able to mobilize forces of the same scale as Pakistan.
  • Nepal: To the north, there’s the Nepal crisis. Maoists have gotten a boost, and India, after initially supporting the king, quickly switched sides and looked for allies in the opposition, but they weren’t able to sideline the Maoists the way they would have wanted to.
  • Sri Lanka: To the south, the civil war is flaring up in Sri Lanka once again, after peace talks broke down. This time, the LTTE are showcasing their airpower–they aerial-bombed a major airbase or airport in state-held territory recently. A guerilla force with planes, like a South Asian Hizbollah, but with crappier politics.
  • Pakistan: Finally, and one might say most importantly, check out Tariq Ali’s article on the crisis in Pakistan following Musharraf’s attacks on the judiciary and on the media. There is something ominous about this growing crisis in the subcontinent. And I think Tariq Ali feels it too–note the cloud that hangs over his last paragraph. In Pakistan, the Islamists, both within and outside the military are by far better organized and perhaps much more numerous. And yet, their own factionalism (that Musharraf has in part encouraged), will hinder their cohesion as well. If they take the upper hand, of course, it will get even nastier. But even if they fail, I’m not sure there is an obvious Left alternative of any respectable size, except perhaps the Labour Party of Pakistan, whose leader, Farooq Tariq, was recently jailed by the government for his role in the protests. If the crisis worsens with no viable alternative presenting itself, this could result in Pakistan descending into a “failed state.” This is certainly something that the Indian elite would want to prevent, so we’ll have to see how the Indian government reacts to all of this.
  • India: Now take a look at Arundhati Roy’s recent Tehelka interview about the climate of increasing violence in India. Place Arundhati’s interview within this broader context, and you find that the crisis hits deep into the heart of the bully on the block itself. Today there is no left political formation in India, and in the subcontinent, for that matter, that is up to the challenge of a crisis this deep, especially if events begin to move faster

What a nightmare. The contradictions of neoliberal globalization, imperialism and war, and communalism could tear apart the fabric of society across the region, with the subcontinent descending into chaos–not tomorrow, perhaps, but in the coming months and years.

The breather that India experienced from RSS-VHP-style “gundagardi” (as we’d say in India) or thuggery could come to an end.

Unless, of course, the activist bases of the broad Left actually mobilize to fight back together and independent of their leaders. Trotskyist groupings in India are tiny and scattered, although there are some ongoing attempts to regroup. Of the major parties, my sense is that the CPI-ML (Liberation) group, led by Dipankar Bhattacharya, has been doing good work in recent years, and is best positioned, I believe, to be the organizational basis for such a fightback. If they can help to coalesce a new left out of the global-justice, dalit, and environmental movements, then we can see some big things happening. They have the opportunity now because of the Nandigram crisis–the old guard of the Left, the CPM in particular, have been exposed, but no alternative formation has presented itself on a national scale as yet.

Their most recent Central Committee meeting had this to say about the current political climate in India (and it seems to be quite accurate, in my opinion). It seems to me useful enough to quote at length here.

a) The UPA government at the Centre has completed three years. In these three years, it has failed to ameliorate the impact of the agrarian crisis. The UPA’s showpiece NREGA legislation has proved ineffective and it remains ridden with irregularities and bureaucratic restrictions and distortions. On the contrary the government’s SEZ policy and other pro-corporate steps like large-scale entry of big capital in the retail sector and commercialisation of health and education have generated tremendous anger and resistance across the country. On the foreign policy front too, this government stands increasingly exposed for its pro-US tilt. The CPI(M)-led Left bloc supporting the UPA has also proved ineffective and bankrupt particularly in the context of its claim of reining in the government and pushing it into a pro-people direction. The passage of the SEZ Act remains the biggest failure of the Left bloc and the Singur-Nandigram incidents have badly dented the CPI(M)’s pretension to fight against the economic policies of the Centre. Instead, the CPI(M) and its Left allies are now known for their desperate bid to implement the central policies. The growing popular anger against the UPA-Left combine provides a favourable ground for the BJP and NDA and the election results from Punjab , Uttarakhand and Delhi municipal elections seemed to reflect such a trend. But the UP elections have come as a big blow to the BJP. Indeed, the UP election results indicate an increased marginalisation of the two biggest national parties. The BSP has emerged as the latest and biggest choice of the ruling classes in UP and efforts are on to promote the BSP experiment beyond UP. But at the same time, the BSP government in UP will reveal its policies and class character in real life and we must make use of this material to impart effective political education to our ranks and the masses and confront the BSP on the basis of its policies and performance.

b) State repression is on the increase across the country. The Nandigram carnage, the shocking incident of police firing on Muslim people protesting the blasts in Hyderabad and most recently the large-scale killing of rallyists demanding reservation in Rajasthan are three major pointers from three different states that are ruled by three different political formations. Assault on democratic rights has also intensified. Recent arrests of Dr. Vinayak Sen and Rajendra Sail, senior PUCL campaigners from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh mark a growing authoritarian trend in the country. Some state governments have come up with special laws (Public Security Act in Chhattisgarh, Police Act in Bihar) to curb democratic rights and confer greater powers on the police. We must mobilise public opinion against this authoritarian trend and increased state repression and strengthen the democratic voice of protest across the country. The fake encounter cases from Gujarat and Kashmir have exposed the growing lawlessness within the top echelons of police administration and the state must not be allowed to protect the guilty and hush up the crime. The human rights movement in the country must now exert greater pressure to demand a comprehensive probe into all cases of fake encounters.

c) While the situation is maturing for the growth of powerful mass struggles, communal and fundamentalist forces are also trying to raise their ugly heads. The controversy between the Sikh clergy and the Dera Sachha Sauda has the potential to snowball into a major social turmoil and both the Congress and the Akalis are adding fuel to the fire. The blasts in Hyderabad marked a disturbing trend of terrorism that seems particularly directed against the Muslim community and its institutions. We must remain alive to this danger and take prompt initiative to thwart any attempt to whip up communal frenzy and divide the people along sectarian lines.