More than one circus
Lookback: Udayan Namboodiri (Pioneer, April 5, 2008)
Even as intellectual gymnastics were being performed in Coimbatore this week to justify the CPI(M)'s frank preference for Mammon over Marx, party cadre were shutting down Haldia Petrochemicals and AV Birla outlets in West Bengal. A Saturday Special focus on the 19th party congress features a CPI(M)-linked ideologue and a former MP of the RSP
Mr Jyoti Basu and Mr Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who passed into history this week after seven decades each in Indian Communism, may have reflected sardonically on at least one aspect of the CPI(M)'s just-concluded triennial party congress -- the new leadership's fatal attraction for more and more trivia. Their single-minded pursuit of instant fame based on vacuous and banal rhetoric.
In their heyday, party congresses were about raising dangerous-sounding slogans for not just regime change, but world-change. Articulate prophets like Putchalapally Sundarayya, Pramod Dasgupta, EMS Namboodiripad and even the poker-faced Basu could instill newer generations of comrades with whatever pride could be felt in the Communist struggle. But in Coimbatore, what Mr Basu and Mr Surjeet probably recognised was something more profound in terms of its wastefulness. Indian Communism, from a powerful bonding of men and women with revolutionary zeal, has degenerated into a body of inveterate self-caricaturists with a yen for media attention. Not one string of words was generated that was not done to death over the past three years. Also absent was an attempt at new policy formulation. Since 1988, the party has been conceptualising funnier and funnier versions of the "lesser evil" theory. Yet, the paroxysm of delight that emanate during the regurgitation process never seem to end.
For the regiments of babalog journalists who descended on the southern textile town, there were bytes galore on all outstanding national and international issues. What better way to begin a party congress without baiting the Congress? After all, isn't it only natural for a party that has played gadfly to the Congress for four decades? 'Third Frontery' (a term up for patenting) is the CPI(M)'s old way of repaying the Congress for its kind acts of cutting into the non-Left votes in West Bengal and playing tame Opposition in Kerala. The Congress, as we know from history, has an interest in 'third frontery' -- it helps keep the BJP out of power in post-election situations.
So, how to fill three whole days? General secretary Prakash Karat thought up a wonderful way to keep the media on tenterhooks till it was time to announce the highest point of the 19th party congress -- his own "re-election". So we had two days of wordsmithery over contentious issues like Nandigram-Singur, SEZs, foreign investment in retail, etc. But eventually, that too was déjà vu.
The Organisational Report, itself a caricature of Sovietism, was silent on most issues. Nandigram was dismissed with just one sentence. To placate the West Bengal comrades, who, under Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee are pushing the case for Reliance's takeover of the State's agricultural retailing for no apparent reason other than assure a steady fund flow to the party machinery in the rural areas, it was OK for domestics, but no for foreign players in retail. Though sections of the media saw a hula-hoop here, they soon realised that Marxism-Leninism is about more than one circus.
Even as words were lassoed, spaced and punctuated for Mr Bhattacharjee's benefit in Coimbatore, CPI(M) workers in Sodepur and Uttarpara of Hooghly district were forcing the Aditya Birla group's "More" chain to down shutters. At the height of the Coimbatore event, sceptics wondered where the real show was happening. In Kerala, home to the country's third-highest farmer suicides? Or in Mr Bhattacharjee's own turf where Marxists were not only forcing shut retail outlets but also the only showpiece of West Bengal's industry, the Haldia Petrochemicals plant? And, what about the 120-year-old Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur and the 10-year-old Satyajit Ray Institute of Film and Television Institute which also entered the news this week for being the latest victims to Communist hooliganism?
With nothing new to offer the political discourse of the country, Karat and his comrades decided to stage a pathetic defence of Mr Bhattacharjee's "industrialisation" of Bengal. The Chief Minister tried his best to sound like the odd one out at the mad hatter's party, but failed to convince when he sought to explain away the CPI(M)'s Janus-headed policy on Special Economic Zones: OK in West Bengal but no Posco in Orissa. "We are of the view that SEZs should be granted only for those industries where advanced technology is required. The second category could be for the export-oriented sectors," said Mr Bhattacharjee to confirm the adage "little knowledge is dangerous". On the other hand, Mr Nirupam Sen, his forked tongued Industries Minister, who has also found a berth in the Politburo, claimed fantastic achievements have been made by his Government in industry. However, evidence as supplied by the Planning Commission, Central Statistical Organisation and the Union Government, tell a completely different story.
Saturday Special had approached quite a few CPI(M)-cleared columnists to contribute a perceptive piece on the Coimbatore event. However, after everybody ducked, one, an up-and-coming ideologue from Delhi, agreed. But, on the 11th hour, he too cried out. It's probable that nobody is quite sure of what's going on there right now and are fearful that their written words would damn them in the event of a purge in the near future. Eventually, Basab Dasgupta, a Kolkata-based CPI(M) card-carrying intellectual, who has been with the party since its formation, agreed to articulate the mixed feelings now sweeping through the heads of all Marxist-Leninists now. "Isn't it time we changed the name of our party", one was heard saying in reaction to the brazen celebration of Mammon over Marx that one saw in Coimbatore. In The Other Voice, we feature Debabrata Bandopadhyay, a former Revolutionary Socialist Party MP and presently its general secretary, who would like to remind the CPI(M) that "you can fool some of the people some of the time, all the people some of the time, but never all the people all the time".
-- The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer