Bengal intellectuals queer pitch for communists
Amidst the stream of billboards, posters and party flags flooding Kolkata’s chaotic streets in the run-up to elections, a glazed hoarding featuring popular intellectuals of West Bengal is catching everyone’s eyes these days.
“Pariborton Chai” (We want change), reads the hoarding popping up at regular intervals, in opposition of the communists who have ruled the state uninterruptedly since 1977.
The hoardings are part of a campaign with a difference – It is not mounted by the opposition Trinamool Congress-Congress combine, but by a group of powerful intellectuals who have joined hands against the communists.
Battle lines were drawn by the intellectuals, who had patronized the Marxists for decades, after the government began seizing farmlands for industrialization and allegedly used repressive means to tame those opposing the policy.
The divide became official after the police firing of Nandigram on May 14, 2007 that killed 14 and triggered more violence, largely blamed on the communists.
In what is now infamously known as the Nandigram Recapture operation, communist cadres allegedly used brutal force in November that year to regain their lost bastion, a cluster of villages in south Bengal which flared up over land acquisition fears for a chemical hub.
At least 50 people, mostly farmers, have been killed in protests over land disputes with West Bengal’s government since 2007.
In October 2008, Tata Motors moved their car factory in Singur — which was slated to produce Nano, the world’s cheapest car — out of the state after villagers blocked highways to protest the seizure of their land.
The Bengal intellectuals, internationally acclaimed in the world of art, cinema, theatre and literature, became disillusioned by the policies of the Left and came out on the streets to protest like the political opposition.
From avant-garde filmmaker Aparna Sen to Magsaysay winning writer Mahasweta Devi, the campaign for political change in West Bengal found unprecedented expression in this outdoor campaign.
But the hoarding also became a subject of contention within the intellectual camp, with filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhayay and actor-choreographer Mamata Shankar saying their pictures were printed without permission and they never intended to feature in an outdoor campaign that benefited a particular political party.
But these jarring notes are perhaps little solace for the communists who are fighting a double whammy – a unified opposition and a vocal intelligentsia that defected from their camp completely.