Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nandigram links and thoughts

Last time I blogged about Nandigram and certain craven lefties in the media, Space Bar pointed me (in the comments) to Kafila, who have some excellent coverage of the matter.

Here are some more links from prominent leftists peddling the CPI(M) line: Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Howard Zinn et al. ("We understand that the government has promised not to build a chemical hub in the area around Nandigram. We understand that those who had been dispossessed by the violence are now being allowed back to their homes, without recrimination. We understand that there is now talk of reconciliation.") Kafila provides an admirable takedown, signed by Mahasweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Sumit and Tanika Sarkar, and other prominent Indian leftists, here. ; Kunal's savage response to Tariq Ali, in particular, is here. And our usual local suspects, Irfan Habib, Jayati Ghosh, Prabhat Patnaik et al have not been silent; a Kafila response to them is here.

A cynic, such as myself, will note that both the Chomsky and the Habib letters appeared in the Hindu (to which I deliberately did not link directly above). Perhaps they are the only Indian newspaper willing to peddle this rubbish. Perhaps, more insidiously, they are the only source of information for the foreign writers of the first letter. (The Chomsky letter opens: "To our friends in Bengal." If they really wanted to address their friends in Bengal, why did they choose a Chennai-based daily that has no edition published in Bengal?)

Finally, even a hard-core CPI(M) veteran like Ashok Mitra feels compelled to speak out, here. I have never found myself in agreement with his writings before, but he seems to be a rare example of a communist who actually believes that the people should come first.

There is much, much more on Kafila's site; take a look if you are interested.

My first reaction to Nandigram (and, before that, Singur) was this: why is anyone surprised?

One needs, first, to draw a distinction between the "liberal left" and communists -- a distinction that is often not appreciated even by the liberal left. Communists are not liberals in any sense of the word. They do not believe in individual liberty. They do not believe in property rights. They do not even believe in the sanctity of human life. The state is the absolute master. If one thinks of the history of communism, one thinks of Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung (and his son), and numerous lesser figures. One thinks of the Gulag, China's Great Leap Backward, and the wasteland that is today's North Korea. These were only the most extreme examples of savage repression of the people in the interest of a mythical "greater good". India's democratic institutions and free press have prevented such extremes from happening yet. But it's happening now.

That said, one would hope that anyone calling themselves "liberal leftists", even if they thought of themselves as soft communists, would, most importantly, have the ability to think for themselves. Studies in the US have suggested that liberals are more open than conservatives to new ideas (sorry for not providing a better link); this very likely accounts for the dominance of liberals in academic environments. Yet we see Chomsky, Patnaik, et al. falling for the CPI(M) line, not even attempting to do their own research on the matter.

The most despicable part of the Chomsky letter is this: "The balance of forces in the world is such that it would be impetuous to split the Left." To me, "all those in the left must stand together" is just as bad as saying "all Hindus must stand together." These are alternative routes to totalitarianism, and a negation of the supposed receptiveness of the liberal mind to new ideas.

Let's recapitulate what happened in Nandigram: On January 2, 2007, the Haldia Development Authority issued a notification earmarking this land for a proposed Special Economic Zone. (It was no rumour, as the CPI(M) now likes to claim.) The people of Nandigram had already seen what happened in Singur, where land was taken by force to give to the Tatas for their small car project. They decided to resist, and took over the area by force, in the process expelling many villagers with CPI(M) sympathies. For months Nandigram remained out of reach of the state government or the CPI(M). The state government machinery was totlaly absent. Then the CPI(M) decided to act by sending in armed cadres to take over the villages by force. Bloodshed, rape, murder ensued; the state government kept out the Central Reserve Police Force until the "operation" was completed; and finally the place was back in CPI(M) hands. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the chief minister, declared that the villagers had been "paid back in their own coin."

Most of the country was outraged; but a section of the left -- including a self-proclaimed "national newspaper" in Chennai, certain "intellectuals" at JNU, and certain international talking heads -- declared that all was well, except for a few trouble-makers who had been taken care of. Great. Now let's celebrate.

Not even Narendra Modi dared to say in public that the victims of the Gujarat riots were "paid back in their own coin". If this is what Buddhadeb was willing to say publicly, I wonder what was said in private.

But it is fair game to communists. It has happened all over the world.

After the Tehelka sting on Gujarat, I commented that Gujarat was in a real sense worse than the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and other riots in our history, because it wasn't a one-off but "arose from an ideology that has been poisoning our lives since well before independence".

But Hindutva isn't the only toxic ideology in our midst. I do not consider Nandigram a one-off incident. It is time for our leftists to ask themselves some hard questions.


Space Bar said...

Rahul, you're right that one of the most troubling things about Nandigram is how much we're unsurprised by it, and just outrage-fatigued.

The absurd haggling over numbers dead, the spin the CPI(M) is - successfully, it seems - putting on the whole's all of a piece.

I've always been impatient with those who equate unrelated events (when Gujarat is being discussed, the bringing up of KPs, or 1984), but in the case of Nandigram I find myself wondering if it really is fatigue, or some subconscious feeling that Chomsky et al have played upon, to be silent so as not to ally oneself with the people one would normally speak out against loudly.

km said...

Chomsky has friends in Bengal?

Tabula Rasa said...

relatives, actually. they're called chomskerjy.

Sourav said...

So appears like one of the communist bashing exercises.
Pointless to argue over this,but the fact that people like Ashok Mitra,Sumit Sarkar,Medha Patekar et al could come out lashing against the institutional left proves that these people always put the people first,rather than running for political cover.......

The CPI(M) in Bengal today is not any friend of the Left,its just another political party trying to keep itself in power.
Well,Ashok Mitra's article probably makes things clear.
As for Chomsky,it is difficult for him to comprehend things here,sitting so far away.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

sourav - to repeat myself, there is a difference between leftists and communists. Of the names you mentioned, I'd call only Ashok Mitra a communist. If you read his past writings, he's no friend of individual liberty. But on this occasion he happens to think the CPI(M) did the wrong thing. One can be a communist and still disapprove of rape and murder, I hope. It is distressing that he seems to be the only one.