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Guest Column <br>Retrofit: Kudos to AB Bardhan’s candid searching of the Left soul

25-November-2009
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Guest Column <br>Retrofit:  Kudos to AB Bardhan’s candid searching of the Left soul

AB Bardhan reloaded. Wow!, was my initial reaction. For my mind immediately switched to rewind. Five and a half years ago, sometime in mid-May, AB Bardhan’s comment – ‘Bhad mein jaye vinivesh’ (To hell with disinvestment) triggered a veritable bloodbath on the bourses. The Congress had emerged as the single largest party, but it was clear that it needed support of the 61 Left MPs for government formation. And that, in fact, was the very kernel of the problem. The world looking at the Congress for direction on reforms realised quickly that the new government, in whatever form and shape it would finally emerge, would be hobbled by the Left. And when Bardhan did his famous diatribe against disinvestment, literally all hell broke loose. For the first time in its history, the BSE had to be shut down, not once but twice on the same day.

That in many ways set the tone and tenor of the five years of UPA rule, which finally culminated in the baggage being dispensed with at the altar of a revivalist Congress storming the 2009 general hustings. So, cut to 2009 and the same Bardhan’s interview to Karan Thapar. Believe me, it was a refreshing change from the raft of mediocre talking heads telly that is the norm on the box these days. More than anything else, here was an honest Bardhan being true not just to himself, but to all the viewers as well. I have not seen a politician so forthcoming, so open and unabashed in airing his viewpoint. He spoke at length about the demise of the Left, its afflictions and the straitjacket that it wears and is unable to wriggle out of. It was a wonderful exhibition of soul searching, an honest appraisal of the state of the Left, more than anything else a critique of the CPM, the largest and most arrogant chunk in the Indian Left led these days by Prakash Karat, a man so comfortable in the environs of his ivory tower that he has lost all sense and touch of reality.

Bardhan spoke of the retail corruption that had permeated the middle and lower rungs of the cadre in Bengal, which, according to him, is different from the wholesale corruption that is endemic to its top echelons. Here was a new Bardhan, bereft of bluster, acquiescing to most of Thapar’s posers and that too in the affirmative. He spoke about the arrogance of power, the imposition of the faulty industrialisation mantra on the hapless populace of Bengal. He highlighted the challenge of defeat. The Left led by CPM has ruled West Bengal for 32 years, uninterrupted. He said very interestingly that Chief Minister Buddha is a member of a collective and that he cannot impose his will on the people of Bengal without wider debate and dissemination. The problems of land versus industry have thrown the ruling dispensation into a tailspin. And Mamata di has cashed in on it. Since nature abhors a vacuum, Mamata di has stepped up to the plate and her appeal to rural and urban Bengal has seen the hoi polloi respond. The yoke of the Left has to be cast aside is the new clarion call in Bengal.

What I thought was even more pertinent in this interview with Thapar was Bardhan’s plain speaking. He said something to the effect that as a Communist, he was convinced that they can retrieve the situation by mending their ways. We need to whitewash our sins, we are Communists, we can correct ourselves, truth must be spoken, is how Bardhan summed up the situation. Mirroring what Bardhan said on telly was an analysis that I read in the latest issue of Tehelka, penned by Swapan Dasgupta, titled ‘Revenge of the Proletariat’.

But more of that a little later. As I watched Bardhan speak some home truths, I thought to myself, what prevents BJP leaders from introspecting publicly. Why can’t one of the gang of four – Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar and Venkiah Naidu – stand up, or sit down for that matter, and call a spade a spade. What prevents them from indulging in some plain speaking? How long will they delude themselves that all is well? Well, actually it begins with the fountainhead – LK Advani – who refuses to go. He refuses to accept that the history has passed him by. Oblivious of the repeated electoral disasters, the so-called intellectual elite of the BJP lies in disarray, running at sixes and sevens, refusing to accept the cold blooded reality of the yawning gap between themselves and the electorate. With a scrambled thought process no further from the realism existing on ground zero.

The guys who had the courage to tell it like it is – Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh – have been muzzled and passed by. At least they attempted to examine the rot that had set into the party. More than anything else, the conglomeration of journos, both inside and outside the party, that it had cultivated and pampered is responsible for papering every ill that the party is suffering from. They have intellectualised everything and anything and left the party bankrupt and vacuous. One cannot believe that this is the same party that ruled India for six years. It has imploded so quickly and fallen into a dark abyss from which it cannot seemingly climb back to the surface.

But wait, I have digressed, let me bring you back to Swapan Dasgupta’s analysis in Tehelka. In many ways, this is a tale of two political formations that have gone so rapidly to seed that it seems improbable that they can extricate themselves from the lassitude and inertia that they face. The BJP ruled India for six years, the Left has been ruling Bengal for 32 years. Both are terminal patients. All the goodwill of Operation Barga, which empowered bargadars and provided landless labourers with a patch of land, has been frittered away by Buddha’s 2004 industrial policy. A policy, which allowed land grab in the name of industrialisation and went against the grain of Operation Barga, the edifice on which the Left stormed Bengal. Didi’s ‘Ma, mati, manush’ (mother, land and people) call has rallied Bengal like never before; in the main potently catching the rural mood.

I would like to end with Dasgupta’s writings, “Today, the CPI(M) finds itself politically paralysed. Buddhadeb’s lofty industrial dreams have come crashing down. With Mamata on the rampage and her party colleagues bulldozing their way into areas that were hitherto forbidden territory, old memories have come to haunt West Bengal again. There is fear that political violence could become endemic as turf battles intensify. There are concerns that a more vicious brand of Maoism (as compared to the Naxalites of an earlier age) has entrenched itself in some outlying districts, using Mamata as a convenient cover. More ominously for a state that was once a communal tinderbox, there are indications of Muslim sectarian bodies also using Mamata’s ever-growing umbrella as a camouflage.

“For the politically paralysed CPI(M), the Maoist menace became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fattened and even corrupted by 32 years of uninterrupted power, the CPI(M) lacks both the capacity and the will to take to Mamata’s raw aggressiveness. With the state’s poor rallying behind her and identifying her as the new repository of entitlement politics – sops and lollipops for all – it is more than likely that West Bengal will give Mamata a chance to prove herself in Writer’s Buildings. The middle class may well be nervous, but the Bangla street is wildly enthused by her populism. Since Independence, West Bengal has had just seven chief ministers. Dr Prafulla Ghose, Prafulla Chandra Sen and Ajoy Mukherjee were old-style Gandhians, fuddy-duddy and ineffective; Dr BC Roy, Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Jyoti Basu were bhadralok patricians; and Buddhadeb is a chain-smoking Left intellectual, most at ease watching films with subtitles. Mamata, if she gets her way, will herald the entry of colloquialism into a rarefied pantheon.”

Ironically, SS Ray, the last Congress chief minister of West Bengal, lost because of his anti-naxal policies, and now, an even more dreaded and deadly Maoist menace is upon the Left Front, wreaking havoc on rural Bengal. The wheel of life has come full circle. From naxalites to Maoists; Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh have become pit stops in a journey where the State has hurtled into a vortex of unprecedented violence, leaving even the intelligentsia alienated. And an electorate waiting to exhale, waiting for Mamata di’s coronation in 2011. But not before Bardhan told us some truths…

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.

(The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)

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