Tag Archive for 'communists'

After the fall

In the wake of an historic defeat, can India’s communists finally break with the hidebound dogmas of their past? Ramachandra Guha in Caravan:

The recent defeat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala and especially in West Bengal—where it ruled for 34 uninterrupted years—calls for a detached, dispassionate analysis of the party’s place in the history of modern India.

In what manner, and to what extent, did politicians committed in theory to the construction of a one-party state reconcile themselves in practice to bourgeois democracy? What were the sources of the CPI(M)’s electoral appeal in Kerala and West Bengal? How were its policies constrained or enabled by its ideology of Marxism-Leninism? How should this ideology be rethought or reworked in the light of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the manifest attachment of the people of India to multiparty democracy? How might the CPI(M) restore and reinvent itself after these electoral reversals in Kerala and West Bengal?

In seeking to answer these questions, I shall start with the analysis of a printed text. This is apposite, since Marxists are as much in thrall to the printed word, or Word, as are fundamentalist Muslims or Christians. True, their God had more than one Messenger, and these messengers wrote multiple Holy Books. Withal, like Christianity and Islam, Marxism is a faith whose practice is very heavily determined by its texts. Thus, communists the world over justify their actions on the basis of this or that passage in the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Mao.

It was the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre who first drew attention to the parallels between a professedly secular belief system and religious doctrine. In a 1968 book called Marxism and Christianity, MacIntyre observed that “creedal uniformity, as in religion, often seems to be valued by Marxists for its own sake”. He added that this secular creed, like its religious counterpart, endowed its adherents with an emancipatory role denied to individuals who believed in more humdrum ideologies. To quote MacIntrye, “both Marxism and Christianity rescue individual lives from the insignificance of finitude…by showing the individual that he has or can have some role in a world-historical drama.” In this, Marxism and Christianity are akin to one another, and to Islam, whose devoted or dogmatic adherents likewise believe that their life and death find meaning and fulfilment in a pleasure-filled and enemy-free utopia. More:

Also in Caravan: Scenes from the last days of communism in West Bengal

Collapse of India’s Left

The front page of The Telegraph, Calcutta

Ashis Chakrabarti in The Telegraph on Mamata Banerjee’s victory and the collapse of Marxists:

Friday afternoon, Mamata Banerjee’s long march to “liberate” Bengal from the world’s longest democratically elected communist rule ended in a green revolution that was reminiscent of the revolutions — velvet, orange, rose, et al — that once felled the Berlin Wall and one communist regime in eastern Europe after another.

The big difference is this: none of those revolutions, except perhaps the one led by Lech Walesa’s Solidarity in Poland, was the making of a single leader the way the one in Calcutta has been Mamata’s very own.

It was in the making for several years, but the way it gathered momentum in the last few weeks was nothing short of a blitzkrieg that knocked the supposedly mighty edifice of the CPM down without the party leaders having a clue to what was about to hit them.

She began her campaign to end the CPM’s rule with the slogan: “Now’s the time” — that became the call to action in Prague’s Velvet Revolution. It proved illusory in 2001 but it has happened now.

But the slogan will take on a completely different meaning now. From now onwards, her years of street fight will be yesterday’s story. Both for Bengal and for Mamata, the story that unfolds from this morning has to be about her vision and work to create a tomorrow. It is not the ordinary change of government that comes and goes with every election, changing little in people’s lives.

For everything that she plans to do, she may have to undo plenty of things. The historic turnabout of the traditionally Leftist Bengal to her side is clear evidence that she has to reverse many of the supposedly irreversible legacies that have led to Bengal’s economic and social decline. More:

Ladies script sweep show: Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph

In The Times of India: Almost one-third of Indians will now be ruled by women. With Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa storming to power on Friday in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, they join two other women chief ministers, Mayawati and Sheila Dikshit, to administer 368 million, or around 30% of India’s 1.2 billion population.

But the day didn’t belong to just the women. It also belonged to the wise Indian voter who punished the corrupt and the arrogant with ferocious intent. CPM’s impregnable bastion of Bengal, increasingly working more for its cadre than the people, was blown to bits and its 34-year-old hegemony ended, while a corruption-tainted DMK, running Tamil Nadu like a family profit centre, was consigned to the dustbin.

The outcomes in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu dwarfed Tarun Gogoi’s hat-trick in Assam, the Congress’s shock defeat in Puducherry and the Left’s better-than-expected performance in Kerala, where it fell agonisingly short of the finishing line — 0.7% of the votes and four seats were the difference between the two fronts, UDF and LDF. More:


The eye of an Indian hurricane

In The New York Times, Jim Yardley profiles Calcutta’s Mamata Banerjee who is all set to topple Bengal’s Marxist regime:

Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the All-India Trinamool Congress. Image: Wiki Commons.

THE door opened, and out came Didi, as everyone knows her. Didi means Big Sister, but Mamata Banerjee is hardly big, at least in size. She is barely five feet, dressed plainly in a simple cotton sari and plastic sandals. Yet, as she stepped out of her tiny house, Didi began barking orders that sent her covey of male aides into a solicitous tizzy. It was time to wage her political insurgency.

“Go! Go! Go!” she shouted as she slid into a small black car and the driver lurched into the tumult of a city of 15 million people. “First, we are going to the hospital!”

It was last Sunday, and like almost every other day during the last two decades, Ms. Banerjee, 56, continued her unswerving pursuit of toppling one of the most entrenched political machines in the world. The Communist-led Left Front government has won seven consecutive elections and dominated the state of West Bengal for more than 30 years even as the state, once an intellectual and economic capital of India, has suffered a gradual decline.

Now, with new elections expected to be called no later than May, the Left Front appears on the verge of being beaten by a woman who, quite against convention and expectation, is emerging as one of the most powerful and unpredictable politicians in India. If Ms. Banerjee wins, she will join a group of regional leaders whose successes are reshaping the Indian political map.

“We have been fighting this battle for a long time, since my student days,” she said as the small black car sped through the streets of Calcutta. “We have been the only and lonely people who have opposed them.” More:

On Kerala campus, the “vulgar” breasts of a mermaid shrub are trimmed off

Illustration: The Indian Express

From The Indian Express:

The Leftist-controlled Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) thinks that a garden shrub pruned to resemble a mermaid is unacceptably obscene.

Image: The Telegraph

Following a complaint from a women’s welfare organisation on campus, CUSAT ordered its garden master to “pluck out the two breasts” of the mermaid and trim the shrub into a man’s figure, which according to university officials, would not have any “vulgar overtones”.

Accordingly, the beautifully sheared mermaid-shrub — which has adorned the Kochi campus of the deemed varsity for the last 20 years — lost its breasts yesterday, and is now awaiting the garden scissors of the curator to get transformed into a man.

The vandalism has triggered outrage. Education Minister and CPM central committee member M A Baby said he would look into the matter. Dr K S Radhakrishnan, former V-C of Kerala Sanskrit University, said CUSAT’s action was “tantamount to the demolition of Buddha idols in Afghanistan by the Taliban. What is vulgar about a shrub shaped like a woman?” More:

Also read The Telegraph: P.A. Varghese, who created the mermaid, was in tears as he looked at the mutilated figure. “I feel as if I’ve lost my child,” Varghese, who retired as gardener two years ago, said. “I worked for years to bring it to perfection and maintain its shape. The beauty of the work is gone. What lies bare is the perverse mindset of supposedly educated people.”

Clock ticks for Nepal to settle its future

Jim Yardley from Kathmandu in The New York Times:

For anyone living in a country where reforming health care is regarded as an insurmountable challenge, consider the political calendar in the struggling Himalayan republic of Nepal. By May 28, or roughly four months off, the entire country must be reorganized.

First, a new constitution has to be drafted to reaffirm fundamental rights for Nepalese citizens, restructure the national government and create states in a country where none previously existed. The positions of president and prime minister (the king has been deposed) must be clarified: Should the country have a directly elected, powerful executive? Or should a parliamentary system prevail?

Then there is the army. Or armies. Two of them. One is the Nepalese Army. The other is the People’s Liberation Army controlled by the country’s Maoists. For a decade, the two sides fought a savage guerrilla war. Now the peace plan stemming from a 2006 accord calls for blending them together, except no one can agree how to do it, so both armies remain intact, resistant to civilian oversight and increasingly testy. More:

Nepal bans airline staff pockets to fight bribes

From BBC:

Staff at Nepal’s main international airport are to be issued with trousers without pockets, in an attempt to wipe out rampant bribe-taking.

The country’s anti-corruption body said there had been growing complaints about staff at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport.

A spokesman said trousers without pockets would help the authorities “curb the irregularities”.

The move comes after the prime minister of Nepal said corruption was damaging the airport’s reputation, AFP reported. More

Nepal’s cursed palace opens its doors

In the Guardian, Ed Douglas takes a tour of the compound that witnessed a royal bloodbath and the death of the monarchy in Nepal:


The two banknotes I handed over to get inside Kathmandu’s newest museum told the story. On one were the mild features of King Birendra, whose reign ended in June 2001 when Birendra’s son, the Eton-educated Crown Prince Dipendra, killed dad, mum, his brother and sister, and five others before turning the gun on himself. Allegedly. On the other, newer banknote, there is a picture of Mount Everest – and no king at all.

That’s because Nepal’s monarchy is now history. After years of grim authoritarianism and mismanagement by King Gyanendra, who succeeded his brother, Nepal’s people finally got the chance to boot him out last year, via the ballot box. Gyanendra quite literally handed his crown to the new government and after 240 years, Nepal’s ill-starred Shah royal dynasty was gone.

So what to do with their digs? Even before Gyanendra quit the throne, plans were laid to turn the Narayanhiti palace into a national museum. This opened in February to intense public interest. Nepal’s then prime minister, Maoist and former rebel leader Prachanda, cut the ribbon. Ordinary citizens queued round the block to see where Birendra died and how their recent monarchs lived. More:

Long, lonely march

Somnath Chatterjee’s resolve to hold on, despite the onslaught by his Communist comrades has enhanced his stature, writes Diptosh Majumdar in The Indian Express 

One doesn’t know what happens to Somnath Chatterjee from here. Even after his expulsion, he is constitutionally under no obligation to give up his office. After having battled so admirably with a Stalinist party structure, one would hope he stays on. He has expressed a desire not to continue in politics after next year; he must continue to adorn that chair which befits the stature he has acquired over the years.

Chatterjee has scored heavily in the past month simply by holding on, by being able to brave the onslaught of the party. He has demonstrated beyond doubt that he can take on apparatchiks and will, under no circumstances, mix his politics with his constitutional responsibilities. He has carefully stayed away from media glare and has avoided making unnecessary statements. He has not been drawn into any political discussions on his probable change in stance. It is quite possible that given the option, he would have actively pursued the Jyoti Basu line. He wouldn’t have been pushed easily into voting with the BJP.