Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Left Politics in Bengal by Monobina Gupta

India is never short of political problems and doomsday theories. One of the political theories that’s doing the rounds is whether the Marxist government in Bengal is on its way out. Monobina Gupta’s book Left Politics in Bengal analyses this issue approaching the Left rule in Bengal through its coming to power, 35 years of stay in power and its slow degeneration from a revolutionary party to a power-grabbing machine.

Monobina’s scanner hardly misses anything taking into account smallest of details and humblest of men and their contributions to Left’s deterioration as a party. She blames Left’s fall from grace mainly on two factors: its reliance on violence as a means of perpetuating power and its intolerance of dissent and dissenters. And attributes Left’s continuity in power despite its lack of performance to two things: a) subversion of the electoral process where elections are either rigged or people coerced to vote for the party; b) jingoistic speeches which always create an enemy to blame Left's failures and problems on. This has helped Left, she alleges, be seen as a pro-poor underdog fighting for the masses against imperialist powers who are constantly conspiring to keep a toiling people down who are led by the Robinhood party. She says they have used the Congress and the CIA alternately as the enemy. This creates a certain emotional bonding between the party and the people it leads where the people develop a sense of victimhood and sees the party as their savior. This has always been a ploy of the communists, she says. Infighting among various Left parties has also been a cause for concern. Being from West Bengal, I agree with her.

 To support her analyses, she cites parallels from history. Instances of Lelin and Stalin and their belief in violence to help a ‘larger’ cause find generous mention in the book.

Although Budhadeb Bhatterjee, the current West Bengal CM, has come in for criticism, Jyoti Basu the Left patriarch of Bengal has been praised for the most part. She interestingly details the hours in 1996 that led to the decision that Left wouldn’t be part of government formation at the center with Basu missing out on his opportunity to be the prime minister. She describes Basu as a pragmatist who mostly found himself in minority in his party.

On the other hand, Monobina doesn’t invest hopes in Mamta Banerjee, the leader of the main opposition party, Trinomool Congress. 

Although the language is a little heavy and impersonal with long sentences and journalistic approach, it doesn’t take away from the readability of the book. The paragraphs are sometimes packed with details that are so local to Kolkata that an outsider may feel a little put off. Initially the book may also read like a catharsis of bitterness about the Left. The overall narrative, however, is very gripping and anybody searching for an answer to why the Left continues to rule Bengal for so long will find it interesting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Applaud Liu Xiabo

China’s bossiness in international politics is clearly on the rise. The western countries congratulating Liu Xiabo, the 2010 Peace Nobel Price winner for non-voilent struggle for fundamental human rights in China, has again pricked China's allergy for criticism. It has also betrayed China's belief that because of its new-found economic muscle, it can browbeat any nation into toeing its line.

Support for Liu has mainly come in form of countries demanding his release from prison. China has dismissed the international community's reactions calling them an attempt to subvert China's sovereignty. But  it would be interesting to see how the Chinese government handles the support for Liu growing within China.

China tried to arm-twist Norway to prevent it from awarding Liu, but failed. Severing of ties with Norway followed. Now through its angry outbursts directed at the western countries (including the US) that are applauding Liu, China is threatening them with the same consequence: severance of ties. Is this the behavior of a rising super power?

India along with the other BRIC (Brazil and Russia) countries isn’t risking China’s wrath, though. Apart from the BRIC nations, the Arab countries and some countries in Africa have also followed the wisdom that silence is golden. India, having strained its relations with the Myanmar government for celebrating Aung San Suikyi being awarded with the Peace Nobel Prize in 1991, is reluctant to risk straining its already strained relations with China However, the countries have said their colonial experience has taught them not to interfere with others’ internal matters.  

It's understandable that offending China may hurt economic interests, but shouldn't a country also  stand for certain ideals? If countries refuse to rise above their day-to-day interests in response to higher human concerns,  the world will become a difficult place. Imagine if the world had remained cold to the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. International opinion did a play role, if not the most important, in helping former colonies get their independence.

Through solidarity with the democratic movements and voices inside China, the international community can at least alter, if not reverse, China’s attitude towards fundamental rights of its citizens. Even embarrassment might have a slow effect on the Chinese government. By applauding Liu, the western countries have played a constructive role. And by playing mute spectators, their Asian counterparts have allowed themselves to be bullied by Beijing.

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