[Marxism] Unfolding controversy over Left Front government's policy in Bengal, India

Sayan Bhattacharyya ok.president+marxmail at gmail.com
Thu Dec 14 18:58:07 MST 2006

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sayan Bhattacharyya <bhattach at umich.edu>
Date: Dec 14, 2006 8:49 PM
Subject: Article by Kunal Chattopadhyay of ICS
To: Peter Solenberger <pws at umich.edu>

Dear Peter,

An  heated  and possibly of-historic-proportions controversy is unfolding in
Calcutta now as we speak, regarding what many are interpreting as a "turn to
the right" of the ruling Left Front government in the state of Bengal (the
trigger seems to have been  the requisition of agricultural land by the Left
Front government  from peasants in Singur in Bengal, to give to private
Indian capitalists to set up a car factory).

It's hard for me to take a stand on the issue, though I'm probably more
inclined to cut the Left Front government in Bengal a little more slack than
the writer of the article below.


---------- Forwarded message ----------

Defending Human Rights the Buddha Way

Kunal Chattopadhyay[*]

[*] The author is Professor of History, Jadavpur
University, Kolkata [Calcutta]:

Kunal Chattopadhyay
Department of History, Jadavpur University
Res. 2 Palm Place, Appt #1B, Kolkata-700019, India
Tel: (O) 91-33-24146962; (R) 91-33-40088174
Cell: 09831398301

10th December was observed as Human Rights Day all
over the world, including in West Bengal. The
interesting thing about West Bengal was the programme
organized by the State Human Rights Commission. In the
presence of Shyamal Kumar Sen, the Chairperson of the
Human Rights Commission, West Bengal Chief Minister
Buddhadev Bhattacharjee explained that there is a
difference between preserving human rights and
hobbling the police. When it is a matter of fighting
terrorists, police should not be demoralized by
criticisms. Excesses against terrorists should not be
viewed as human rights abuse.

This speech by Mr. Bhattacharjee came just five days
after The Telegraph, English language paper claiming
to be most widely circulated in West Bengal, wrote an
editorial, where it advocated a very hard line against
Maoists. It argued: "The menace of Maoist violence is
not new to West Bengal. When it had first surfaced in
the late Sixties and early Seventies, it was
eradicated through counter-violence. Mr Bhattacharjee
must learn from that experience and nip the present
movement in the bud before Maoist weeds strangle the
hundred flowers of West Bengal."

There is a pattern in this approach. And that pattern
is called drive to authoritarianism. It is possible to
conduct seemingly democratic elections, when an
organised cadre force, backed by the police at need,
threatens and cows the whole of rural Bengal, as well
as substantial parts of cities, before election time.
At that stage, a few protests do emerge, and of
necessity, some of them become violent. Every violent
protest can then be labelled Maoist, or terrorist.  If
this sounds too outlandish, we should remember some
news The Telegraph or Ganashakti never published. A
few years back, there was a panic (and manic) arrest
of people suspected to be Maoists. Now the CPI(Maoist)
or its predecessors, the CPI(ML) PW and the MCC, were
not banned organisations in West Bengal. But people
were picked up on suspicion, tortured, harassed. One
man named Abhijit Sinha was so shattered by his
experiences that he committed suicide. An Association
for the Protection of Democratic Rights activist was
arrested for possessing, among other things, a copy of
>From Marx to Mao Tse-tung, written by George Thomson.
This is a book any political science M.A. student
might consult. In May 2002, Sheila Roy and Mamata Ray
in North Bengal were suspected of being close to the
Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, and were made to
stand in the courtyard of their own house and brutally
beaten up. Mithu Roy and Shampa were two of the urban
women arrested in this phase. Shampa, a first year
student of Gurudas College, was arrested for being a
member of the Peoples' War Group.On 16th August 2002,
she was presented before the Baharampur Court, and
told the judge that for the past four days she had
been kept in the police lock up without any food.

Coming to recent events, like the peasant protest at
Singur, we have had a very interesting development.
First, a sizeable part of the mass media (not
including The Statesman and the Bengali Dainik
Statesman) has been supporting the ruling party and
the government to such an extent that even honest
reporting of news has been given a go by. Just like
the CPI(M), these papers went on repeating that only
outsiders were fomenting trouble. An English daily
even sought to link up every issue in West Bengal with
Singur. A train hijack was associated with Singur. And
the responsibility for the violence in Singur was laid
on the doors of Maoists coming from outside. As a
matter of fact, the Chief Minister was even more
explicit. According to him, these were Maoists from
Jadavpur University. Yet, eyewitness accounts, police
arrest lists, all show that in fact, most of the
people were locals, and it was a massive police force
that committed violence, entering peoples' houses,
often helped by local members or supporters of a
particular party, and dragging out and beating up
people. One woman, Swapna Banerjee of Nari Nirjatan
Pratirodh Mancha, was arrested, and a widely
circulated English daily promptly turned her into the
key Maoist organiser. The police also treated her in
the same way. So she was taken to the police lock up,
and according to her own testimony, she was locked up
inside the toilet. Even after the bail petition was
granted by the Calcutta High Court, it took nearly 48
hours before she was released.

In another case, Abhishek Mukherjee, a young man who
had suposedly attacked a Tata showroom, was charged
with 'Conspiracy Against the State'.

Just these few cases give an indication of the utter
lawlessness of the police in West Bengal. If some
minister or CPI(M) functionary turns up to say, as
they are doing these days, that the police always
behaves like this, we need to turn to the Chief
Minister's comments. We do not, at least according to
the Constitution of India, live in a police state. We
live in a democratic state, says the constitution.
There is a rule of law, not a rule by the police, says
the constitution. Every person is presumed innocent,
till found guilty by a court of law, in a trial where
proper procedures are followed and the accused have
full rights to defend themselves. The elected
government is supposed to represent the people, not
rule it like a medieval ruler with his soldiers.

If our "Marxists" wish to show contempt for the
constitution, we should pay heed to the attitude of
Marx and Engels. Writing to August Bebel in 1874,
Engels commented: a free state is one in which the
state is free vis-a-vis its citizens, a state, that
is, with a despotic government. So for Marx and
Engels, the aim was to maximize democratic popular
control over the state. As Marx put it about the same
time: Freedom consists in converting the state from an
organ superimposed upon society into one completely
subordinate to it. And near the end of his life,
Engels dotted the 'i's and crossed the 't's when he
explained that the dictatorship of the proletariat he
and Marx had talked about was realised by the Paris
Commune, which had an absolutely democratic,
pluralistic, multi-party government, accountable to
the people.

So what is Mr. Bhattacharjee arguing for? What are
certain newspapers urging him to do? We can now put it
down in simple terms. Mr. Bhattacharjee believes that
if he wins elections, this gives him a mandate for
riding roughshod over every oppositional viewpoint,
emerging from all layers of society. He and his
government are willing to allow people the right to
protest if police have actually beaten a suspected
thief to death. But for any matter relating to
government policy, civil society protest will not be
tolerated. First, it will be branded anti-development.
Then there will be the charge of being 'outsiders'.
And finally terrorism related accusations would be
brought forth. Once that is done, the police would
have the right to apply any manner of brutality,
without being challenged. For after all, the Chief
Minster says criticising them when they are fighting
terrorists will break their morale. And then they will
shoot people in the back, claiming these were
encounter deaths. This was how the Naxalite movement
was broken in the early 1970s.

What the turncoats from Marxism and the liberal
ex-professors of History do not seem to realise is the
simple lesson of history, that once we create a police
state, it does not stop with the "right" victims. When
the Weimar Constitution, hailed as the most democratic
of constitutions, was created, it left one loophole
for emergency rule. This loophole would be used for
years to rule without a parliamentary majority,
further whittle down democratic rights, till that in
turn paved the way for Hitler's rise to power. The
Maintenance of internal Security Act was originally
brought forward by Mrs. Indira Gandhi ostensibly to
fight Naxalites. In 1975, leaders and cadres of every
opposition party realised that by not fighting tooth
and nail against the MISA, they had created the
situation where they too could be arrested and put
under bars.

We can of course understand the motivations. Hailing
from a Stalinist tradition, Mr. Bhattacharjee and his
party are people who never recognised real right to
dissent. They remain one of the few big political
parties in the world that even today believes that the
genocide (of communists, of peasants not willing to
hand over land for collectivisation, of national
minorities) carried out by Josef Stalin was really
good, and it "built socialism". So even when they give
up socialism and opt for globalised capitalism, they
have not changed their methodology.

As for that section of the media yelling for blood, we
can understand their motives too. Liberalism comes in
two basic forms, within which there has always been a
contradiction. Political liberalism stresses civil
liberties. Economic liberalism stresses the right of
capital above all. If, to uphold that, political
rights like civil liberties have to be jettisoned, so
be it. Behind the seemingly proper words
"counter-violence" lies the reality that the state is
being asked to ignore all constitutional guarantees.
We have, under the tender ministrations of Mr.
Bhattacharjee, already slipped a long way down that
road. Unless we act at once, the result will be
terrible, not just for Maoists, but for all of us who
value our democratic rights.

[*] The author is Professor of History, Jadavpur
Professor Kunal Chattopadhyay
Department of History, Jadavpur University
Res. 2 Palm Place, Appt #1B, Kolkata-700019
Tel: (O) 91-33-24146962; (R) 91-33-40088174
Cell: 09831398301

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