Wednesday, April 17, 2013

‘Being an opportunist party, the Trinamul can align with anyone’: CPI(M) general-secretary Prakash Karat

Created 14 Apr 2013 - 00:00, The Asian Age Interview of the Week

What do you have to say about the recent outburst of political violence in West Bengal?

There has been sustained violence against the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal ever since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Trinamul Congress is responsible for the attacks on the CPI(M) and Left cadres and supporters in an effort to suppress strong Left base in the state.

This attack intensified after the Assembly elections in May 2011. Since the Trinamul Congress government came to power, 96 cadres and supporters of the CPI(M) and the Left have been killed. The recent incident at a demonstration outside the Planning Commission office has been used to unleash another bout of organised attack on the offices and leaders of the Left Front.

What do you have to say about the attack by the SFI and CPI(M) activists on West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the state finance minister Amit Mitra outside the Planning Commission? Do you condemn it? Do you think it is a good precedence?

There was no attack against the chief minister. There was a protest organised against the attitude of the state government regarding the custodial death of SFI leader Sudipto Gupta. Unfortunately, in the course of that demonstration, there was an incident involving Mr Mitra. We have condemned it. On earlier occasions, too, there have been such acts against various political leaders and ministers and we have always disapproved and condemned them.

Ms Banerjee has said that majority of those who got killed in West Bengal were Trinamul functionaries?

She is used to making such wild charges. Even on this occasion, she has said that there was an attempt to kill her. This is totally baseless.

What do you think about the way the West Bengal government is handling the murder case of SFI leader Sudipto Gupta?

A 23-year-old student died in police custody. Ms Banerjee declared that it is a petty matter. Why is the West Bengal government not ordering a judicial enquiry into the incident? Whether death happened due to killing or accident, let the truth come out.

West Bengal has a history of political violence. The Left dominated the state for more than three decades. There is a perception that the Left spearheaded violence and that it is responsible for creating a culture of political violence in the state?

This is a hackneyed charge against the Left. The political violence in West Bengal has been primarily an effort of the state machinery and the ruling classes and landlords, who unleashed violence against the Communist and the Left movements in the 1950s and 60s to suppress them. Even when the Left Front government was in office, violence was directed against the working class and peasant movements. The fact is that such violence existed before the Left Front government assumed office and is there even after the Left Front government ceased to be in office. The Trinamul Congress represents a reactionary force which is out to suppress democratic rights and give the Opposition no quarter.

What is your stand on the situation in Kerala, where one of your party leaders M.M. Mani had publicly claimed the party’s involvement in political murders? Even though you had said that an internal enquiry into the murder of T.P. Chandrasekharan was in the process, nothing has come out yet. Have you given clean chit to your partymen in this case?

As far as the speech by M.M. Mani is concerned, our party took action against him. The judiciary gave its verdict in all those cases. However, the UDF government in Kerala has reopened the cases and filed chargesheet against Mani, which is totally unwarranted. In the Chandrasekharan murder case, our party conducted an enquiry, but the matter is in the court. We are confident that the party’s leaders in Kozhikode district who are implicated in this case will be found innocent.

What do you think about Ms Banerjee’s stalemate with the state Election Commission over panchayat polls? Do you think the Trinamul Congress is deliberately delaying the elections?

We want the panchayat elections to be held on time. The state government is wilfully disregarding the recommendations of the state Election Commission about the manner in which the panchayat polls are to be conducted. The Trinamul wants to ride roughshod and hold elections in a manner in which the Opposition parties are not able to participate in a free and fair poll. That is why it is opposing the sensible proposals of the Election Commission.

Do you see any possibility of Ms Banerjee striking an alliance with the Congress ahead of or after the general elections?

Being an opportunist party, the Trinamul Congress can go with anyone. It should not be forgotten that the Trinamul was part of the BJP-led alliance government where Ms Banerjee was a minister. She has alternated between alliances with the BJP and the Congress. The only constant position she has is against the CPI(M) and the Left.

Do you see any possibility of your party striking an alliance with the UPA?

Our party has already decided to oppose both the Congress and the BJP. We, as the Left, will take a united stand. We would like a non-Congress secular government in office.

Why is the Left not taking a lead this time to form a Third Front?

Our efforts are to create an alternative based on alternative policies. This can come about only through movements and struggles jointly by parties and organisations who are committed to an alternative set of policies. The third front is more commonly associated with an electoral alliance. As far as the general elections are concerned, our party along with the Left will fight elections together and may have some understanding with some of the regional parties at states level.

How do you look at Narendra Modi emerging as a prime ministerial candidate?

If the BJP decides to project Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, it will be a clear message that it is going ahead with its hardcore Hindutva agenda. It is becoming evident that big businesses are backing Mr Modi. This form of Hindutva and big business support is a form of insipient fascism. That is the meaning of the Gujarat model of development, where the Muslims have been beaten down to the status of second-class citizens.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bengal’s Slide into Fascism

By Vijay Prashad

On April 2, the four major student union federations jointly held a protest against the withdrawal of campus democracy in West Bengal. They wanted elections to be held for the student unions in their colleges. A tsunami of neo-liberal reforms in higher education had made the students restive. It was not just a matter of higher fees that exercised them. They were also furious at changes in the character of the education – with a tendency to yoke education to careers and to measure learning with fealty to rules developed in the North Atlantic. Thousands of students chanted their way down Kolkata’s College Street and assembled in Rani Rashmoni Road. They faced a police line, which advanced with unpleasant motives. The police arrested hundreds of students and threw them into private buses to be transported to Alipore Jail. On the buses, the police beat the students affiliated with the Communist’s Student Federation of India (SFI). One SFI leader, Sudipta Gupta, age 23 and a recent Political Science MA from Rabindra Bharati University, was beaten, thrown from the bus, retrieved, and beaten again. He died within hours of being admitted to SSKM Hospital.

The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress (TMC), said that his death was “an accident.” She was at that point opening the new season of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament. Despite hearing of the death of Gupta, she remained at the celebrations. Her police said that Gupta had been “man-handled,” although her consigliere, Derek O’Brien said that CCTV would vindicate Banerjee’s statement about the death being accidental.

Anger in the Left has been growing steadily. Gupta is the 93rd left cadre killed by the state forces or the Chief Minister’s party over the course of the past few years. It is in this context that the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) leader Mohammed Salim asked, “what kind of fascism is this?” Banerjee and the TMC have not only targeted the Communists – anyone who crosses her path must be excised, whether someone who simply forwards a cartoon critical of her (Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested for defamation and passing offensive messages through the Internet) or someone who asks her a question at her public meetings (farmer Shiladitya Chowdhury of West Midnapore who asked, “What are you doing for farmers? Farmers are dying because they have no money. Empty promises are not enough,” and who was then arrested on grounds of criminal intimidation). Her party has taken its worship of her seriously (see the picture of a temple dedicated to her). If anyone insults Banerjee, the TMC will send its men to collect its blood debt.

The level of casual political violence in the state is startling. Activists of the ruling TMC had in February of this year clashed with activists of the Congress Party as both their candidates tried to file papers to run in student elections for Hari Mohan College in Kolkata’s Garden Reach area. Fists turned to guns and a policeman, Tapas Chakroborty, was killed. Nothing will come of it even though video shot at the scene shows TMC activists (including a local TMC councillor Mohammed Iqbal) involved in the fracas.

Two days after the murder of Gupta, the SFI held national protests and demanded that the Central Government hold an inquiry into the nature of his death – any state inquiry would be compromised by the culture of impunity that has begun to enfold the state. Only those who make noises about the government, such as Kolkata’s chief of police R.K. Pachnanda after the death of his officer, are transferred into limbo.

On April 9, Banerjee and her Finance Minister Amit Mitra came to Delhi to visit the Planning Commission. A demonstration against the murder of Gupta led by the Left greeted them. The Planning Commission heard of the demonstration, contacted the West Bengal officials to have Banerjee come through the secured VIP gate and avoid the main gate where the protestors had gathered. Banerjee not only ignored their advice, but near the main gate she got out of her car and walked toward it, through the highly emotional throng. It was an act of provocation. The Delhi police did not forcibly prevent her from doing this. Knowing full well the charged state of the demonstrators – gathered to protest the murder of a young comrade and Banerjee’s callous statements – the police should have insisted. It did not. Banerjee know full well the power of street politics. In April 1975, when she was with the Congress Party, her leader Indira Gandhi’s bête noire, 74-year old Jayaprakash “JP” Narayan, came to Kolkata. Banerjee personally blocked his car (standing on its bonnet) as Youth Congress activists smashed the windows, and almost beat up JP who suffered from acute respiratory ailments, which would have killed him if the stress were kept up. She a remarkable populist street fighter knew what she was wading into when she walked to the main gate.

In fact, all that happened to her, according to the Delhi Police, is that she was buffeted by the crowd (when she returned to Kolkata she checked herself into Belle Vue Clinic for a “check up”). Her Finance Minister lagged, and was himself caught in the wave, with his kurta slightly ripped as he struggled to make it through the gate. The police grabbed him and brought him within the premises of the Commission. This was not an attack, certainly not premeditated as the Bengal Governor put it indelicately. It was a crowd that found itself with those whom it had come to protest within its ranks – it would have taken an extraordinary act of self-discipline to have stepped back, created a path for them and held their tongue. One expects this kind of discipline from Communists, which is why the CPM made it clear that it did not condone the assault.

News of these events spread through the TMC channels, and its activists took to Bengal’s streets for revenge. It is not as if the TMC has been silent and that it took this scuffle in Delhi to provoke them. They have already been on the march, and simply used this as a pretext to continue their depredations – now in the full light of day. CPM and SFI offices across the state were attacked, as were academic institutions (a friend called to tell me that the laboratory at Presidency College was smashed up). Most shockingly, TMC activists attacked the office of the Ganatantrik Mahila Samity (the Bengal wing of the All India Democratic Women’s Association) in South Dinajpur, dragged onto the streets its leader, the veteran Communist and former parliamentarian Minati Ghosh and physically attacked and verbally abused her. AIDWA and the National Federation of Indian Women have called on the National Commission of Women to look into this case.

Things are at a tense pass. Activists of the Left have been called up to defend the buildings of the party and its mass organizations. The violence unleashed has the quality of the early hours of the Night of Broken Glass (the Kristallnacht), this time not against Jews but against the Communists. It is the reason why the CPM and its allies have tried to calm the situation – not only a sensible posture but also one that is motivated by its weakness before the fascistic character of the TMC. No liberal groups have come forward to defend the Left against TMC fascism. The media has taken the drama full tilt, neglecting to properly report the shenanigans of Banerjee and the negligence of the Delhi police. The media will not let this be in context. It is using the incident outside the Planning Commission to shore up the declining fortunes of the TMC machine, whose votes will be essential in the next parliament for a Congress-led bloc that now feels threatened by its own inadequacies.