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To Rebel Is Justified

Beyond Bhangar

S R

On the occasion of the West Bengal assembly polls of 2006, this writer went to Bhangar in order to campaign for Siddikulla Choudhuri. Meetings held in his support drew large numbers of people. But he got ony 5000 votes. As a matter of fact, many villagers had said before the polls that Choudhuri would not get many votes because Bhangar needed a 'strongman' in order to counter the might of the CPI(M). The electorate of Bhangar chose the 'strongman' Arabul Islam as their representative.

For the last ten years, this strongman has reigned over Bhangar. He who was considered by the people as the protector has become the devourer. Not only 13 acres meant for the power substation but also hundreds of acres have been bought at nominal prices at the point of gun. Towers for power grids have been installed without paying any compensation to farmers. There was no scope of going to the police station and secure remedy, because the police station acted as directed by the 'strongman'.

The supremo of the Trinamul Congress knew everything. But she had nothing to do, because such strongmen existed everywhere and they constituted the main prop of administration.

Finally when in last November, the work of setting up wires on ripe paddy fields began, the patience of the people was broken. This time, they did not look for another 'strongman', but placed reliance on their own united strength and mustered enough courage to come out in protest. Women too joined the protest. A few persons were arrested and implicated in false cases, which only added to the determination of the people. In December, about ten thousand persons went to the Dharmatala region at the heart of Kolkata in order to articulate their grievances . But the state government, instead of coming forward for discussion, imposed Section 144. Gatherings and assemblies were prohibited. On 11 January thousands of people, irrespective of age and sex, broke the order without any weapons in their hands. The government gave the assurance of lifting the order of 144 and sitting for a discussion. But openly violating this promise, the police, along with Arabul's armed bands, entered the villages on 16 January at night, and began to beat up and arrest people. This added fuel to the fire. On 17 January West Bengal witnessed another people's rebellion.

Such events do not appear in history every day. But when they do, they sweep away all stumbling blocks like straw. These are the phenomena that take history forward.

It is being said that the people of Bhangar do not want electricity. This is a lie. Modern science and technology can play a beneficient role in human life but that is not always unmixed beneficence. X-rays are needed for treatment but they can produce cancer too. Modern science does not have anything that is an unmixed blessing without any side-effects. Hence some sort of equilibrium is required. Democracy consists precisely in recognizing a role of the people in deciding the point of this equilibrium. The capitalist class and the bureaucracy cannot be solely entrusted with the task of determination of this equilibrium. Examples of this are spread all over the world e.g. Bhopal in India, Chernobyl in Russia, Three Mile Island in the USA etc. While setting up their factory in Bhopal, the Union Carbide talked of using the safest technology. But when twenty five thousands died and more than one hundred thousands were maimed in just one night, there was nobody to take the responsibility. It is said that there is no harm in using high-tension lines. If the case is really so, why did the power grid corporation notified the people on its own to ask them not to build up dwellings under the lines. Anybody with the slightest knowledge of physics knows that electric lines emit electro-magnetic waves and the intensity and frequency of radiation vary increasingly with the voltage of the lines. Modern research on cancer has revealed that there is no lower threshold on the cancer-generating power of radiation. If someone lives long in an atmosphere of radiation, radiation of a low intensity may also turn to be harmful.

What was necessary was to place the entire problem before the people, conduct debates and discussions and finally to leave the right to decide to the people. The content of democracy is not only to elect someone every five years. Gramsamsads are constitutionally approved institutions. The decision regarding power grid could be taken after discussions in samsad meetings, if necessary through a voting process. But in that event the reign of the 'strongmen' would crumble.

Some leftist activists sided with the agitating people. The state government labelled them as 'outsiders' and finally arrested them under UAPA. Is it for the reason that these leftist activists considered the struggle for establishing democracy in society more valuable than their career and even life?

Besides persons like Mukul Roy and Soven Chatterjee were certainly not original inhabitants of Bhangar. If they are entitled to go to Bhangar and express their views, what is the problem in applying the same criterion to others? Wasn't Mamata Banerjee an outsider when she went to Singur or Lalgarh?

Had the government really sought to represent Ma-Mati-Manush (Mother, Land and People), they would have returned to the peasants the many acres of land forcibly taken away by Arabul & Co, properly compensated the families of the killed, placed all the facts about the power grid and left to the people the right to take decisions. But the state government did not tread that path for understandable reasons. If the people win a victory in their revolt against 'strongmen' like Arabul that would become viral and such revolts against 'strongmen' would reak out in all the districts. Hence Mamata Banerjee, has taken the path of suppressing the rebels with strong hands. Pradip Singha Thakur and Sarmistha Choudhury, left activists who sided with the people in the movement, have been arrested and the UAPA has been applied so as to keep them indefinitely in police custody. But that is not all. The government has passed in the assembly draconian measures, including punitive tax, on an entire village if the people of it rises in revolt.

A new situation has been created in the political life of West Bengal. One aspect of it is the popular rebellion in Bhangar. The other is the application of UAPA against activists of mass movements and promulgation of draconian laws for suppressing the people. This situation brings to the fore the task of uniting all left and democratic forces for the protection of democratic rights. The importance of this unity is vast. Over the last five decades, a distance was formed between the CPI(M) and those leftists who, in the wake of the Naxalbari peasant uprising, came out of the CPI(M) and formed the CPI(M-L). Sometimes the relation assumed the shape of antagonism. For this, the mistakes of the CPI(M-L) as well as the attitude of the CPI(M) were responsible. Today there is a situation favouring joint movements to be launched by leftist parties, which leftist parties should not fail to utilize. On the Bhangar movement, the CPI(M) has taken a positive stand, and has stood by the movement and peasantry of Bhangar. It has at the same time decried the use of UAPA and arrest of the leaders of the movement. On 30 January, it cancelled its own programme in Bhangar and supported the procession held by people's committee of Bhangar; well-known leaders of the CPI(M) expressed their desire to join it. They even informed that they were willing to join it without their party banners. But some groups and individuals belonging to the so-called third stream did not like it. They did not want an effective resistance to build up against the despotism that is being imposed in West Bengal. Some of them had participated in meetings and gatherings frequently under the banner of the TMC. Did they then demand any self-crtiticism from Mamata Banerjee for her lifelong alliance with the Congress and later, with the BJP? For these reasons, the procession of 30 January failed to project a picture of unity against despotic rule, which it could have succeded in doing. For those who have been engaged in politics under the banner of Naxalbari, it is extremely necessary to realize the importance of the situation that has arisen all over the country and this state. The project of globalization, through which the capitalist system sought to get rid of its crisis, has failed. The system is now in deep crisis. Liberal democracy is the most preferred form of capitalist rule in order to ensure a smooth path of profit-making. But in today's crisis situation, they are throwing it away and trying to establish a narrow despotic rule based on racial and communal hatred. Victory of Donald Trump in the USA and strengthening of the far right in various European countries are indicators in this direction. In India it has assumed the shape of communal fascism and is about to dismantle the democratic and secular set up. The main direction of Mamata Banerjee's government, despite her opposition to the central government on some issues, is to suppress all sorts of mass initiative. Abducting the CPI(M-L) leader Ramchandran and sending him back, arresting Sarmishtha Chudhury and Pradip Singha Thakur, implicating them in cases under UAPA etc reveal this despotic trend. In this situation, there is no alternative to the formation of unity among leftist and democratic forces. 

[Courtesy : Deshkal Bhabna, 5 February 2017] [Translated from original Bengali by Anirban Biswas]

Frontier
Vol. 49, No.38, Mar 26 - April 1, 2017