A blog on the forthcoming Presidential election in India and the support of CPI(M) to the UPA candidate.
After completing my doctoral studies from the oldest university in the English speaking world, I have recently come back to my hometown of Kolkata. As a Bengali, I just love Kolkata for its rich cultural heritage and intellectual legacy. While coming back, I am witnessing that like rest of India, the city of joy with its true argumentative tradition is deeply engaged with the debates over India’s upcoming presidential election. In recent times, India has hardly encountered such dramatic political developments with rapid twists and turns engulfing the presidential election. Also, both regional and national media with its electronic and print avatars have been obsessed with regular updates and commentaries with an unprecedented scale that any presidential election has hardly witnessed in the recent past.
While the presidential election signals a prelude to new political realignments before the next Lok Sabha elections, ironical decisions by several political parties and entertaining debates in the media are not scanty. It was on 21st June, 1977 when the largest communist party in India led a Left Front government that first took oath in the state of West Bengal to what became the longest serving elected regime in the world, spanning three and a half decades with seven consecutive victories with massive popular mandate. That government was formed against the anti-people and authoritarian policies of the oldest political party in India. It is indeed ironical that on the 35th anniversary of such a historic day, the same communist party took a decision to support a loyal general of India’s oldest party, famously known to be a ‘fixer’, ‘troubleshooter' and ‘crisis manager’ in his party’s game of politicking. The presidential candidate nominated by the country’s oldest party is one of the most trusted leaders of the dynasty that have directly and indirectly ruled the country for over five decades. The news reports say that during his term as a finance minister in early 1980s, he became close to the patriarch of an Indian big business family, whose heirs are now making headlines for becoming one of the richest persons in the world. One of its heirs has now built an aesthetically grotesque personal residence of twenty seven floors encircled by shanties and slums in India’s business capital. The presidential candidate has always been one of the favourites of India’s big capital. He has also been an architect to finalize the nuclear deal in 2008 that would serve the strategic interests of a major imperialist superpower. Of late, due to stalemates in carrying forward several reform measures in the interests of big capital for compulsions of coalition politics, he has now become a bit unpopular among that class which complaints about his ability to manage different factional interests. Perhaps, a new and dynamic person would get the job that would have the confidence of the big capital in order to resolve what the corporate media has termed as ‘policy paralysis’! The presidential nominee of the oldest party is at the helm of the financial affairs of the country when it is facing severe economic problems, one being its inability to feed its own people even if tones of food grains are rotting in the government godowns. In such a turbulent time, the government has expressed its willingness to bail-out Euro-zone economies with an overwhelming price of Rs. 55,000 crores that could have resolved many problems of our own hungry people.
When the Indian economy is in doldrums and marked by the quotidian existence of inflation, corruption, unemployment, poverty and inequality for which the country’s finance minister is largely accountable to the people, he is almost getting scot-free to get the honour of becoming the first citizen of India by constitutional norms. The corporate media is unapologetic of not grilling such a failed minister by asking pertinent questions on the worrying economic situation in the country. Rather as salaried spokespersons of big capital, it is busy in making an image make-over of such a failed minister arguing about his suitability as the next president of India. As a failed finance minister, he does not deserve to get the coveted post. In such a situation, it is indeed ironical that a communist party chose to support such a personality for presidency instead of lambasting him with scathing criticism for his wrong economic policies, responsible for the unbearable suffering of millions of fellow countrymen. In defence, the communist party has argued that given the ‘widest acceptance’ as a presidential candidate, it has decided to support such a failed finance minister, nonetheless it would ‘continue to oppose’ the incumbent government and would ‘resolutely fight’ against the ‘neo-liberal economic policies’ that are ‘against the interests of the people’. It is a shame that a communist party, which is proud of its historic legacies in defending the interests of the people and known for their honesty, integrity and moral high ground would come up with such an indefensible position. It is crystal clear that the second line of the CPI(M) press statement on the presidential election is contradictory to the first line for the simple reason that if the failed finance minister, who is responsible to carry forward ‘neoliberalism’ in this country cannot get the support of a political party to get him elevated to the post of presidency when the same political party is opposed to such economic policies and thinks that such policies are antagonistic to the interests of the people. Ardent supporters of such a position might say, so what! There are many other parties who also had such a formulation of supporting the candidacy of the current finance minister and yet giving the rider that it fundamentally disagrees with the policies of the incumbent government. In simple words, such a formulation can be identified with hypocrisy and political opportunism for it can be only expected from degenerated political elements but certainly not from a communist party, which claims to be serving the interests of the people.
Now, after the UPA finalized its nominee for the presidential election, a section of Bengali society is in a celebratory mode. After all, this is the first time that a Bengali bhadrolok is going to be the president of India! Apart from the Bengal unit of the oldest party in India, a section of intellectuals are also expressing their immense happiness over such a decision by publicly saying that how proud they are now feeling to be a Bengali! However, the irony is that such an overwhelming expression marked by uncontrollable emotions is actually a symptom of an unhappy mind that seeks to find an icon and is only possible when a section of the Bengali community for some reasons, bears a sense of loss and insecurity. It precisely shows how a section of the Bengali community is unconfident while searching for heroic figures in a world of global competition for recognition. This search for heroes of the community is nothing new. In the recent past, a significant section of Bengalis and indeed Indians as well, were fascinated by the rare achievements of Amartya Sen and Sourav Ganguly who undoubtedly have made significant contributions in the respective fields of academia and sports. Such fascination to find new heroes not only portrays the elitist mindset of a section of Bengalis, particularly a section of educated Bengali middle-class that possess an instinctive interest in this matter but also shows the deep anxiety of such a class. As Bertolt Brecht’s play Galileo reminds us that when Andrea says ‘unhappy is the land that breeds no hero’, Galileo replied ‘No Andrea, unhappy is the land which needs a hero’. It is the same unhappy mind, being filled with anxiety that breeds ideological overtones of nationalism, chauvinism and parochialism. In the present scenario, such emotive feelings of Bengali parochialism in celebrating the presidential candidature of a Bengali bhadrolok are being witnessed among a section of Bengali community. Bengali nationalism had its genealogical roots in the 19th century, albeit with its peculiar class character that served the political manipulations of propertied classes in the colonial period and often acted against the class interests of the peasants and workers before the partition of Bengal and India in 1947. It seems that the influence of Bengali nationalism and bourgeois liberalism has again resurfaced in Bengal at a time when there is gradual erosion of working class movement, and subsequently, lack of class perspective and correct Leftwing political strategy that together produces a liquidationist tendency within the single largest constituent of the Left Front in Bengal. However, this is not to say that there have been no icons of internationalism among the Bengalis. Certainly, Tagore was one such icon, a ‘rooted cosmopolitan’ according to a noted Indian historian. Also, a number of fine Marxists within the Bengali community like Muzaffar Ahmed, Harekrishna Konar, Pramode Dasgupta and Jyoti Basu by virtue of their ideological commitments were internationalists par excellence.
From such an internationalist perspective, another celebrated Bengali, Mrinal Sen made a film called Mahaprithibi (World Within, World Without: 1991) in the backdrop of the fall of the Soviet Union. In that film, a housewife who had deep sympathies for socialism got to know from news reports about the collapse of the East European socialism. After reading the newspaper, she committed suicide by hanging herself. In her suicide note, she said to her sons, ‘have we all become a loser today’? ‘Have we all become discredited today’? Indeed, such questions can be posed when communists lose their class perspective and back agents of class enemies. Indeed such questions are valid after what is happening in ironical times.