Some time ago, a commentary I had written on Nandigram was carried by pragoti [http://www.pragoti.org/pragoti/news_detail.php?news_id=355&sessionid= ]. Shuddhabrata Sengputa responded to that [http://www.kafila.org/2007/11/15/nandigram-redux-reading-sudhanva-deshpande/#comments ]. My response to this was again posted on pragoti [http://www.pragoti.org/pragoti/news_detail.php?news_id=370&sessionid=], and Shuddhabrata responded again [ http://www.kafila.org/2007/11/21/a-little-biology-a-little-arithmetic-a-... ]. Below is my response.
December 5, 2007
I should have written earlier, but I have been travelling (performing, actually) in the north-east and had no access to internet and email for about a fortnight. I saw your response to my letter upon return.
Your eloquence remains overwhelming as ever, as does your capacity for ctrl+c and ctrl+v jobs. So, again, my response must remain short.
The death sentence analogy, though attractive, is unfortunately flawed. A death sentence is pronounced by a judge at the end of a trial, not the beginning. In any case, the Chief Minister said, more than once, said the notice carried no legal weight and that land would not be acquired in Nandigram. More: he put a moratorium on all SEZ projects in the state till the changes in the SEZ Act, which the Left is fighting for, are clinched in Parliament. Ordinarily, when such an assurance is wrested, those who struggle celebrate it as a victory, and work to consolidate the gains.
Given your relentless struggle for the dispossessed, I am sure you were side by side with Medha Patkar the last time she was on hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, in April 2006. Perhaps you too sat on hunger strike in solidarity, like many others. At the very least, I am sure you expressed your solidarity with the cause through your art, as some of us did. At any rate, you will recall that Medha Patkar eventually withdrew her hunger strike for a much paltrier assurance – that the Prime Minister would look into the issue. Here's what she said after breaking her fast: "The State had not responded favourably to a non-violent people's movement. We urge the Prime Minister to invoke the authority vested in him by the Supreme Court, the Constitution and his own commitment to development with a human face. He must not bow down to the fascist and communal forces and must intervene to ensure that the poor affected by the dam's construction get justice." So the fast was withdrawn with an appeal to the PM to live up to his own commitment. That is all. No concrete gain. Not even a verbal assurance.
In Nandigram, on the other hand, after what was really a substantial victory, a siege was put in place, roads dug up, elected bodies immobilized, administration paralysed, and CPI (M) sympathizers forcibly evicted. Why? Because Nandigram, like Keshpur a few years ago, was an attempt to do by force what has been impossible to do democratically, through the ballot: defeat the CPI (M) and the Left Front.
The lists you mention are indeed at Sanhati, but I wish you'd bother to read what you claim to be responding to a little more carefully. I thought I was quite clear that after the initial lists in March, no fresh lists have been made public, nor have the older lists been updated. As I said, neither the CPI (M) nor the district administration had access to the area for seven and a half months, and this ought to have been the perfect time to put together a complete and authentic list of the dead and the missing. Complete, because even a comprehensive village-to-village survey of the entire area would not take seven and a half months for a small team of dedicated activists, of which surely there is no dearth; and authentic, because the information would have come directly from the community, untampered by the state you so despise and are working so hard at helping wither away.
That this has not happened ought to give us pause. That the one list submitted to the High Court turned out to be fraud ought to give us pause. That the one instance where a BUPC-led crowd excavated a child's body and that body turned out to be, after forensic tests, a burnt PVC pipe, ought to give us pause. That the one body to come out of the river was that of a lynched policeman, before the March firing, ought to give us pause.
Ganashakti is of course full of lies, so here's what the Ananda Bazar Patrika recently reported. Quoting the BUPC, the paper put the total number of dead, from January to now, at 25. Add to this 27 CPI (M) supporters. Since my math is weak, I leave the totaling to you. But the more interesting detail is here: the figure of 25 breaks up into 13 on March 14 and 12 otherwise, from January to now. Funny, isn't it? The official toll for the March firing is 14, while the BUPC claims 13. Want to know why? Because the 14th person did not belong to the area, and claiming him gives credence to the CPI (M) claim that armed outsiders were present in Nandigram even before the March firing, let alone later.
The National Human Rights Commission recently toured the area. The Minorities Commission toured the area. The Governor toured the area. Medha Patkar toured the area. The CRPF maintains its presence. If the possible location of mass graves is known, how come none of them has been taken to any of those locations? As an aside, let me note that for someone so passionately opposed to a strong state, your faith in the CBI and other instruments of the state, including the judiciary which has a glorious record of protecting the working people, is touching.
In any case, now that the Governor acknowledges that peace is returning, and even Medha Patkar admits that barring people in one camp (less than 100, according to today's papers), everyone else has gone back home, maybe a team can now be put together to count the dead and the missing? Maybe people in Kolkata are preoccupied fighting a fascist government, so why don't you lead a team from Delhi? Compile a list of the missing, and file a habeas corpus petition in the High Court. Why don't you? Why doesn't someone? Anyone?
It is interesting, isn't it, that the same left which you screech stifles critique and dissent, has actually produced a rich range of critical discourse around the Singur and Nandigram issues. The contributors to the ongoing debate have included, to name just a few, Prabhat Patnaik, Malini Bhattacharya, Jayati Ghosh, Badri Raina, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, and even, would you believe it, Vijay Prashad and myself. The website pragoti.org, in fact, routinely features these interventions. I am sure that several "good schools of thought" contend on Sanhati and Kafila, just that I am yet to find the evidence. I am sure it exists though, waiting to be excavated.
While we are on debate, I would add one more point – that the Nandigram debate has confused two points, that are nonetheless interrelated. One, the question of industrial policy, which is a debate in which members of and sympathizers of the left parties can be found on both sides of the debate. Second, the question of the right of the dispossessed to return, the question of opposing the BUPC siege – in a word, the ethics of resistance and opposition. You and others on Kafila and Sanhati are unwilling to separate the two analytically or politically. You assume that the defence of the return of the dispossessed is the same as a defence of every policy decision of the West Bengal government. This is obfuscatory, though of course I fully understand your need to create obfuscation.
I found your invitation to me to cross the line and come over to your side absolutely fascinating. I have of course a hundred good reasons to decline your invitation. But the cause for my fascination is your logic: that either I cross the line, or be prepared for "only more abuse from the likes of me." This is reminiscent of the logic of the Hindu Right: conform, or be pulverized. Not a strategy designed to win misguided minds, you will agree. Ordinarily, when one tries to win converts, one engages them in dialogue and debate. Which, I have to say, I'd have happily joined, in the belief that it would prove to be mutually enriching. We could have read Marx together maybe, and understood what he meant by the state withering away; or we could have read Lenin on the agrarian question, in particular his critique of the Narodniks; or, if Marxist classics are too dreary for you, we could have speculated on the reasons for the failure of a viable non-CPI (M) left to emerge, in spite of numerous appeals over the decades, from Kanu Sanyal to Mohan Ram to Aditya Nigam; or, if questions of programmatic understanding and strategy and tactics bore you, I could have shared with you my recent experience in the Tripura countryside, which is quite a contrast to the unremitting poverty one sees in the countryside in Assam or in Meghalaya, the other two states I went to.
But as you candidly admit, you are drawn to abuse, not discussion. Sorry boss, I withdraw. Match forfeited. The field is all yours.
PS: I noticed that you chose to write in what you call "bald" rather than purple prose the last time. Since one is unlikely to get anything other than abuse from you, you may as well give us purple prose. You will at least become entertaining.