I’ve had some interesting conversations about Nandigram with people in the last few days. Seeing for myself the ground realities there has given me a fresh perspective because no matter how much you read about it or view images on TV there is a certain emotional detachment. Actually visiting the site is an experience. A friend told me that this trip, if not anything else, would change my life. I suppose in a way it has. Nandigram is not just about industry and displacement. It is not even the name of a place in Purba Mednipore district, West Bengal anymore. ‘Nandigram’ is the name of a seismic shift in Indian politics; In future when Nandigram is talked about it will be in the sense of a ‘Before Nandigram’ and ‘After Nandigram’. ‘Before’ signifying a time when politics was more rigidly demarcated into left, centre and right. The battle lines were more clearly defined and people, depending upon their predilections, hunkered down behind the politcal frontlines and yelled abuses at each other. ‘After’ is a strangely disorienting time. The lines demarcating left from right are more nebulous. The ‘left movement’ has received a right hook to the head and is stagerring like a headless chicken.
Let us then take a look at who is saying what. Buddha babu is all set to woo big capital into West Bengal. His mentor, Jyoti Babu “wants capital, both domestic and foreign, after all we are working in a capitalist system. Socialism is not possible now.” Party apparatchik Nilotpal Basu has been tasked with the job of going to TV studios and yelling the opposition down while Big Brother Prakash Karat does the same in Parliament. Nandigram represents the social costs of a particular paradigm of development that a large section of the Indian middle class, political class and media have subscribed to: that of ‘development at any cost’. The human, social and environmental costs of this model of development are not taken into account.
In fact, the more strident the call for development the more of an authoritarian mind set that makes that call. Is it any coincidence that the middle class in the most urbanised and industrialised state, Gujarat, has subscribed to an ideology that blanks out all dissenting views: whether these pertain to the communal question or the Narmada issue. This class has overwhelmingly voted for Narendra Modi who projects an authoritarian figure and ‘development at all costs’ hardtalk. They now talk of him as a potential Prime Minister. Seems like even the organised left has succumbed to this rhetoric. The people who till yesterday cultivated working class militancy and championed peasant’s struggle are now falling over themselves to welcome the Salims and the Tatas. And both left and right use the bogey of ‘Maoist’ to demonise anyone who questions what the state is up to. You just have to look at the number of planted stories in the mainstream media that talk of ‘naxal terror’ to realise that today ‘Naxal/maoist’ has become a sort of code word to shut down voices that question our current model of development, raise issues of human rights or otherwise question the status-quo. So who speaks for the poor now? For clean rivers, for chock-free towns, for farmers, tribals and dalits, for the victims of police brutality and judicial overreach, for Bhopal, Godhra, Marichjhampi. For India. I don’t know.