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Whose Lines Are They Anyway?

It is all one big confusion of lines. The opposition in Singur borrowed its lines from familiar left rhetoric, bombast that should have belonged to the other player in the drama over Tatas' small car project.

OF LIFE, LETTERS AND POLITICSoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly8Whose Lines Are They Anyway?GPDGPD ( is a well-known commentator on literary and political affairs.It is all one big confusion of lines. The opposition in Singur borrowed its lines from familiar left rhetoric, bombast that should have belonged to the other player in the drama over Tatas’ small car project.Reams of newsprint have been used to discuss the developments in Singur, West Bengal giving us details that we could have perhaps done without. It would therefore be a legitimate question whether more can and needs to be said on the subject. The answer for many would be an emphatic “no”. But then we live in times of an information deluge. The Tatas have decided to move out of Bengal. The chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee , who, it would seem, fancies himself as Deng Xiaoping of Bengal had firmly decided to combat the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPi(M)] funda-mentalists and had pushed forward a firmer line on industrialisation. He proba-bly takes Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s assess-ment seriously and has come to believe that what the Bengal Left thinks today, maybe the Kerala Left would think tomor-row! Apart from that belief, however, everything else has come to naught. It is extraordinary that he faced the opposition that he did. It was never clear what the opposition was all about. We think that a ‘bharatvakya’ (the last verse of a Sanskrit play invoking the gods wishing the audience prosperity) to this drama is still in order.There were some editors who saw these moves as a significant shift in the CPi(M)’s position. Indeed from this perspective it was a historic compromise, a term with which the Marxists cannot be unfamiliar. There were some who while distancing themselves from the line made it a point to assert that the left position on the nuke deal, for exam-ple, was a principled position. Normally the left position on the deal with the US presi-dent George Bush would have been attac-ked in much the McCarthy manner. Indeed one editor in Mumbai brought all the Mc-Carthyist venom and vehemence at his com-mand to bear on his frontal attack on the left. Reading those editorials one was left wondering if one was reading an editorial of the Daily Telegraph or some other similar paper during the heyday of the cold war. But we cannot make too much of this ven-om. The fact of the matter is that a number of editors and commentators were not un-mindful of the new age that Buddhadeb was about to usher in. The idea seemed to be that the left was finally learning the lesson of finance capital and learning to give up its textbook approach to the question.Different Lines for Different FolksThey also hoped that before long Singur would be the determining and decisive approach to all such projects. Buddhadeb and his men therefore deserved and should be extended all support. Buddhadeb has to be seen at least as a proto-Deng. The cleverer of the intelligentsia were clearly sympathetic to the Left Front (LF) government. As such their criticism was more measured. The vocal and shrill criticism came from forces and lobbies like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). They were in fact borrowing their lines from the leftists, for example, who were leading the struggles against the SEZs in Raigad district. No less noticeable was the change of lines that had characterised the role of the Trinamool Congress. Mamata Banerji thundered that there would be no industrialisation at the cost of the peasants and their land. These are familiar lines in the left rhetoric. In fact the opposition to the SEZ in Raigad did not say anything different. Banerji is not known for working out her positions in an ideological manner. Her approach seems to be: “My lines have to be different from Buddhadeb’s”. There too, thinking about the left as a whole or even the CPi(M) is a bit too much for her. In the process however she started saying much the same things as the left is saying in Maharashtra! She therefore gave the slogan, ‘No development at the cost of agriculture or the peasantry’. Little did she realise that even these lines were and still are left lines. She is obviously fond of slogans. If some plagiarism is inevitable for making a slogan attractive and catchy and embarrassing to Buddhadeb, so be it. The net result is that she simply appropriated the lines that should have belonged to the other player in this drama.But then her confusion was unavoid-able. Medha Patkar (of the NBA) and her colleagues, on the other hand, did not
OF LIFE, LETTERS AND POLITICSEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 20089have to do that. Theirs is a semi-Gandhian approach that is a shade suspicious of modern industry any way. We do not think Patkar or her colleagues can be very enthusiastic about the small car priced at Rs one lakh. They are deeply influenced by Gandhi’sHind Swaraj, a seminal docu-ment curiously written in the form of a dialogue. In a sense our metaphor of play and lines is thus valid there too. The NBA people seem to have stuck to their lines except that they did not quite make sense in the Bengal drama. Mamata would have borrowed those lines if she could. But then she had no clue to Patkar’s lines. Very few in the country have. Be that as it may, Mamata did not plagiarise from her repertoire. Other-wise lines were being stolen all the time!There was another change of lines within the left polemic. The argument was that Singur and Nandigram notwithstand-ing, theLF was not guilty of atrocities and that the Trinamool Congress and the Naxals were responsible for the violence. It is wrong, according to this argument, to hold the CPI(M) responsible for the goings on in Singur and Nandigram. In fact the CPI(M) and its cadre were at the receiving end of the organised violence. The lines may or may not have been right. But they were interesting in the sense that there was no significant effort to reconcile the policy of industrialisation in West Bengal and the party’s position on industrialisation in other states. How does Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s indus-trialisation policy significantly differ from that of theLF? Is the situation in Raigad so radically different from Singur? One is still looking for an answer. Or is it the case that we have two sets of lines for one situation. In drama anything can happen. After all, it is a tale told by an idiot!No Lines to SayWe recall N D Patil, the Peasant and Work-ers’ Party leader, once arguing that he was not opposed to SEZs per se. Start it in dry and infertile areas. The people will at least get water, electricity and jobs. He had named Beed district of the Marathwada region as an area where a SEZ could be established. There it could work in the peasant’s interests. These lines are important. They have the potential of be-coming the alternativeSEZ policy. The crucial question is whether the LF has an alternative form of dialogue on SEZs. But the play has lost its perspective. The Bengal industrialisation is no longer the theme. Mamata has therefore no lines to borrow! That has landed her in the most embarrassing situation. She has now no lines to say. She has emerged as the princi-pal opponent of industrial development in Bengal. It would be small wonder if she has lost the support of both the local peasantry and the middle classes of West Bengal. Infi-nite borrowing of others’ lines has landed her in an impasse. Confucius says at one place that the use of words has to be ‘zheng’ (correct). But then when you borrow other people’s words the use cannot be zheng. In any case how could Mamata have known how to control and how to conclude Buddhadeb’s, or those of his colleagues in other states?So it is all one big confusion of lines. Nano the small car has given us a big con-fusion of lines that so far was only a left phenomenon. Who is saying whose lines? Whose lines are they anyway?

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