Nandigram and CPI(M)’s Response to Its Left Critics

In Kolkata recently, Prakash Karat in a veiled reference to Sumit Sarkar said that those who compared Nandigram with Gujarat were ‘enemies of the people’. This accusation, in much the same phraseology, is elaborated in a piece by Prabhat Patnaik (henceforth PP) titled ‘The Left and its ‘Intellectual’ Detractors’. An initial statement by Noam Chomsky and a group of prominent international Left intellectuals also makes the similar point that PP’s piece does, suggesting that disunity among intellectuals with the CPI(M) over Nandigram will weaken the battle against imperialism, could “tear apart the important experiments undertaken in the state (land reforms, local self-government)”, and that since the chemical hub proposal stood withdrawn and “reconciliation” is underway in Nandigram “the basis of division no longer appears to exist”.

PP’s line of argument is as follows: ‘normalcy has returned to Nandigram’; that Operation Nandigrab in November was actually a desperate act of “homecoming” for those violently dispossessed by the Opposition months ago (an echo of Buddhadeb’s line of defence that the Opposition was being ‘paid back in its coin’); that intellectuals who had allied with the ‘organised Left’ (read CPI(M)) against communal fascism are now virulently and violently against it because a) the decline of communal fascism has created space for their latent anti-leftism to come to the fore, and b) their reaction represents the destruction of politics unleashed by globalization; these intellectual detractors are equating Right and Left and failing to distinguish between types of violence and so equating all perpetrators of violence, and are therefore guilty of withdrawing from political praxis (which requires that the criticism of the ‘camp of the people’ be distinguished from that of the camp ‘hostile to the people’); that therefore the intellectual detractors of CPI(M) are displaying ‘messianic moralism’ that “strengthens politically the camp of the ‘enemies of the people’”; that this apolitical attack is weakening the CPI(M)’s fight against an attempt by imperialism to make India its strategic ally; that these anti-globalisation detractors of CPI(M) share a discourse with the votaries of globalisation, with Manmohan Singh advocating detachment of ‘development’ from politics and messianic moralists advocating detachment of the struggle against ‘development’ from politics; CPI(M)’s critics are lumped with the Youth for Equality trend of disdain for politics; and Chomsky et al’s first statement is upheld as a ‘political position’ that CPI(M)’s anti-political critics held to be a ‘pro-CPI(M)’ position.

But Chomsky’s original piece betrays something that PP and then CPI(M) are eager to evade: as distinct from CPI(M)’s repeated accusation that its critics are all backed by Trinamool or by NGOs funded by anti-Left imperialist forces; in contrast to PP’s claim that CPI(M)’s detractors were basically always closet anti-leftists who have come out of the closet in a phase of BJP decline, and are opponents of political praxis in general and Left politics in particular, Chomsky et al unambiguously acknowledge that Nandigram has divided the Left intellectual camp. In other words, the initial statement by Chomsky et al was an admission that Nandigram has alienated Left intellectuals from the CPI(M).

PP is also silent on Chomsky et al’s second statement that clarifies that it was not their intention to “lend support to the CPM's actions in Nandigram or its recent economic policies in West Bengal”; rather that they, “in solidarity with its Left critics both inside and outside the party” found those actions and policies to be tragically wrong.” That second statement reached a realisation that “it is perhaps not possible to expect the Left critics of the CPM to overcome the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they have come to feel towards it, unless the CPM itself takes some initiative against that sense of disappointment.” PP cannot afford to acknowledge that Chomsky et al, whose views he upholds as exemplary models of a ‘political perspective’, have said that they, in solidarity with those whom Prabhat denounces as anti-left and anti-politics, find CPI(M)’s policies on SEZs and Nandigram “tragically wrong”. Chomsky et al seem to place the onus on the CPI(M) to regain the confidence of Left intellectuals – that is hardly likely to happen if CPI(M) does not desist from attempts to persuade itself and others that its critics are all ‘enemies of the people.’

What of the pious claims of ‘normalcy’ being restored in Nandigram? It is indeed a bizarre and grisly normalcy where grave upon unmarked grave is unearthed by the CBI in the CPI(M) stronghold of Khejuri. Should we simply let sleeping skeletons lie, to prove that we belong to the ‘camp of the people’? The CBI has also confiscated huge caches of weapons in Nandigram – not from any ‘Maoist’ but from the homes of well-known CPI(M) supporters.

Is there any ground for the well-meaning hopes of Chomsky et al that CPI(M) might redeem itself by ‘welfare’ and ‘humane governance’ for the dispossessed people of Nandigram? Let us recall that the very first public response of PP and other pro-CPI(M) intellectuals after the March 14 firing at Nandigram, had assured that no one on the Left could justify firing on poor peasantry which is one of the basic classes of the Left and had expressed the confidence that the Government would ensure compensation and justice for the victims and affected people. In his latest piece PP is silent on the March 14 firing – and well may he be. Because West Bengal Government not only justified the March 14 firing on record, in Court, but in their stubborn determination not to pay compensation or punish police authorities, went to the extent of appealing to the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict! After being rapped on the knuckles by the SC, the WB Government has now agreed to pay compensation only to the families of those killed – not to those raped, injured or whose homes were destroyed.

The camp of the people is not determined by the names and claims of parties; it is defined anew every day based on positions taken in an ongoing class struggle. When peasants are in an all-out war against SEZs and corporate land grab, the ‘camp of the people’ can only be firmly on the peasants’ side of the barricades; on the other side is the camp of the corporates, the camp of the ruling classes’ neo-liberal policies and police force. In this situation, the CPI(M)’s praxis – its national position of voting for the SEZ Act in Parliament and supporting its continuation with minor modifications, its practice in West Bengal of branding poor peasants and even its own supporters at Singur and Nandigram as ‘enemies of development’, while warmly welcoming the Tatas as ‘friends of development’ and showering massive sops on them – has objectively placed it in the latter camp.

What represents an erosion and betrayal of anti-imperialist resistance: CPI(M)’s TINA-type defence of SEZs and other neo-liberal policies or those who criticise it for this betrayal? Isn’t it true that West Bengal’s ‘experiment’ today, far from offering an alternative or a challenge to neo-liberal policies, is a reversal of land reform and an embrace of unashamed pro-corporate ‘development’ and neo-liberal policies, with the inevitable repression of any resistance encountered in its path? Hasn’t PP himself, in his EPW piece on the ‘Aftermath of Nandigram’ has held that Nandigram must be understood as a fallout of a neo-liberal policies – policies that he felt the CPI(M)-led government in other times would have resisted? What is likely to benefit imperialism and its agents in the Indian ruling class: CPI(M)’s back-tracking and soft-pedalling on opposition to the Nuke Deal, or the intellectuals and peasants who reject CPI(M)’s actions and policies in Singur and Nandigram? Who better than Buddhadeb enthusiastically shares with Manmohan the discourse that ‘development’ is above politics and opposition to SEZs and land grab is opposition to modernity, industrialization and development itself? Is there no shared discourse between the CPI(M) and the ruling class parties when they all raise the bogey of ‘Maoist menace’ and equate the militant mass movements of rural poor with terrorism in order to justify state repression against such movements? To recognise the above is not to make any facile equation between Congress, communal fascism and CPI(M) – rather it is to express the deep concern that such a discourse expressed by the CPI(M) indelibly discredits the Left and strengthens the ‘enemies of the people’. To criticise and chastise the CPI(M) for this is not to weaken the Left but is crucial in order to restore the confidence of the people in the Left, to uphold the principles and pro-people praxis of the Left.

Not only does PP equate Left critics with anti-Left discourse, he does not dare to engage with any of the polemic levelled at the CPI(M) from organised Left Communist parties. He makes the fantastic comparison of the Youth for Equality (YFE) with the intellectual critics of CPI(M); but though he is himself from JNU, he offers no explanation for the fact that at JNU, students who rejected the SFI elected not the YFE but a radical Left force – the AISA.

PP is also silent on the criticism of CPI(M)’s role in Nandigram even from within the ‘camp of the people’ as defined by him: i.e by CPI(M)’s own partners within the Left Front, who have said that land acquisition in Singur was based on a lie; that Buddhadeb ordered the March 14 firing; who are not endorsing the CPI(M)’s claim that Nandigram was in any danger of becoming a ‘Maoist liberated zone’ and who have instead maintained that CPI(M) is squarely responsible for the violence in Nandigram. This silence in understandable because to acknowledge the criticism by either CPI(ML) or even RSP-FB would totally undermine PP’s claim that criticism of the CPI(M) is criticism of organized Left politics.

Actually what worries CPI(M) is not the alleged abandonment of political praxis and left unity against imperialism and communalism by its intellectual critics: it is precisely the fact that political praxis and left unity are being imagined anew by the people, by Left and democratic intellectuals and even to some extent by its own partners. The fact that CPI(ML)’s appeal for a realignment of left forces and for an alternative LF in W Bengal has caught the imagination of many in West Bengal, and that even LF partners RSP and Forward Bloc shared a platform with CPI(ML) at a Seminar on Left politics in Kolkata, the remarkable response of intellectuals and people at large to CPI(ML)’s 8th Party Congress and the Shahid Minar Rally in Kolkata on December 18 : it is this new churning in the Left camp, this urge for a reassertion of the revolutionary spirit of the Left movement, that is the real cause of consternation in the CPI(M) camp. This churning, that in Naxalbari and Nandigram alike begun not with the intellectuals but with the mobilization of poor peasants from the ranks of the CPI(M) itself – cannot be wished away by the any “smugly self-congratulatory” (to use PP’s turn of phrase) attempt by pro-CPI(M) intellectuals to say “either you are with the CPI(M) or you are with the enemies of the people.” 

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