Bengal intellectuals queer pitch for communists

April 30, 2009

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.

19 comments

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this is heartening news indeed. it’s high time intellectuals revolt against the revolting; ie the lies, hypocrisy, theft, and bloodshed caused by communism. perceiving its signal failure in europe and asia requires but open eyes.

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

Sujoy Dhar correctly mirrors the growing disenchantment among the intellegentsia in Bengal. Once regarded as a prop of the Left, Bengal’s powerful intellegentsia have now made their alienation complete.

You can create a good impression on yourself by being right,but for creating a good impression on others there’s nothing to beat being totally and catastrophically wrong. — G.K. CHESTERTON

Posted by Debasis Chakrabarti | Report as abusive

An eye-opener piece…

Sujoy portrays the picture of current Bengal which is too good to be true. Our intelligentsia and intellectual are more active with politics than before. After three decades the Communist rule in Bengal turned into a regime, they have to go. But what is the alternative to this government – Trinamool/Congress, BJP or any other front. I am not a Communist but just scared about the situation. We really need to have strong opposition with common agenda and same platform for the betterment of Bengal before we topple this government. If we make that happen in 2009 then go for the change or else pulling the communist plug may end up in total chaos and political vacuum in WB- Better late than never……….Suman, Toronto

Posted by Haripada | Report as abusive

Insightful post. Those speaking their minds or protesting what they believe is wrong should not be vulnerable to persecution,

Posted by Laura Ungar | Report as abusive

Sujoy Dhar has hit the nail right on its head. But I am a bit confused about the apolitical stance of the hoarding. There is a small inset showing a part of our Didi Mamata and the Trinamool logo so is it really apolitical? I do not think so.Besides, barring sincere and committed protestors like Mahasweta Devi and a few others, many of the faces on the hoarding claiming for change, which I too, believe in, are in it for the publicity mileage this protest brings them. Without naming names, there are many on the hoarding who have gone to Nandigram or to any West Bengal village for that matter, for the first time after the whole thing began around Mamata’s protest against setting up the Nano thing. It is old hat now. Manata Shankar and Suman Mukherjee’s hackles have been raised because like many faces on the hoarding, they would love to be fence-sitters, and are therefore afraid that their faces up there might anger the Establishment and they might fall in their favour if the CPM is brought back to power.I am completely disillusioned with this whole intelligentsia protest thing because they could have formed a fourth front and prepared an election manifesto for the people to go through. Why are they not doing that? What can we do with mere faces put on on large hoardings across the city? What ‘change’ are they talking about? A change in the political power? Are they, in that case, suggesting a joint state administration to be run by the Trinamool-Congress joint government? Or, are they suggesting a change in ideology and in its execution? We are completely in the dark about what ‘change’ means for them. Who is responsible for this hoarding is what I would like to know.

Posted by DR. SHOMA A. CHATTERJEE | Report as abusive

Insightful post! I’d like to exploit this opportunity to address an important message to someone. On 30th April I was watching the debate between intellectuals (“Poriborton Chai” vs Pro-WB Govt). During the program I found Mr. Chandan Sen’s arguments/rationale of making the movie/drama on “Tapasi Malik” as very dull/dumb/non-interesting. During the course of discussion Mr. Kaushik Sen very correctly raised the issue of one-sidedness. It seems that Mr. Chandan is probably suffering from this one-sidedness virus and hence I can suggest him to watch the German masterpiece – The Lives of Others (German: Das Leben der Anderen). Please watch it Mr. Chandan and try to look through the eye of the “spy” character in the movie. I hope one fine day you will rediscover yourself.

Posted by Samit | Report as abusive

VERY THOUGHT-PROVOKING ARTICLE BY A PERSON WHO IS AN INTELLECTUAL BY HIS OWN RIGHT.

A VERY GOOD ARTICLE INDEED.

one of the best articles I have come across so far.

Bengal’s so called intellectuals (or antels in the local language) live in their own little dream world and love to think that they are connected to the “masses”. In reality they have little influence on the politics of Bengal.Take Ms Aparna Sen. She makes decent movied which are appreciated by the urban elite and niche international film festivals. She once edited Sananda – a magazine which caters to the well off urban Bengalis. People are more interested in how many marriages she has had and the only film whioh really made people sit up was Paroma because of the wrong reasons. 36 Chowringhee Lane was also a hit in urbam Kolkata because of the reasons that went beyond a good film.Or let’s take the singer Sumon who has now become Kabir Sumon. He is probably one of the best male singers of Bengal. But his influence is limited to the urban youth. A majority of Bengalis don’t even understand the meanings of his lyrics – the Jibonmukhi trend that he started and which has kind of faded away. Charged with alleged battering of his German wife and kid, he has now changed religion and married a top Bangladeshi singer. A person who has hypocrisy in personal life, cannot really get respect in public when he sings against hypocrisy.Painter Shuvoprasanna, is a good painter. But who outside his tiny circle of urban elite have even seen his paintings? Has he even held a painting exhibition in any of the villages? He can do all the padayatras he wants to and claim on TV cameras that he is an intellectual (he is the first person I have heard who calls himself intellectual). But do the masses care?Bengal’s famous writer Mahasweta Devi (even Bollywood fans should know that Rudali and Hazar Chaurasi are films based on her novels) is hardly read outside the urban classes.Dramatist Shaonli Mitra – is great on stage, but who are the people who spend money to watch her shows? The small eilte circle of bhadrolok society.So despite their media pampered high stature, Bengal’s intellectuals have never had any real influence on the masses. So whether a double dozen of intellectuals support the Trinamool Party and five hundred others support the CPM – on the polling day they will have no impact on voting patterns of the masses.

Posted by Sourav | Report as abusive

A nicely polished looking-glass……

Posted by samrat banerjee | Report as abusive

I couldn’t agree more with Sourav’s post. Bengal has gone from bad to worse in the past 32 years and none of these intellectuals ever raised a voice, preferring to stay in the cocoon that Nandan offers and enjoying the Left’s patronage. But isnt it ironical that these intellectuals are stirring at a time when one of them, Buddhodeb babu, is the chief minister!

Posted by AN | Report as abusive

EYE OPENER EYE OPENER EYE OPENER!!!

Posted by Bappa Majumdar | Report as abusive

eyeopener, good, very good, eyeopener-eyeopener, nice, good, very, eye-opener, eyeopener…

Posted by Bappa Majumdar | Report as abusive

Your piece of writing is fully relevant in the context of present political situation in West Bengal. I fully justify this kind of campaign that was long overdue. Actually, what we are observing in West Bengal for the past two decades is totally detrimental to any ideal democracy. But now time has come to turn around to get the taste of democracy to its original form. That’s why a whiff of change is resounding in and around us. It is quite obvious that after so many days of sluggishness and anarchy in every respect of our lifestyle, change has become inevitable. From this perspective, the clarion call by some intellectuals to get rid of this hypocrisy in the name of development is a bold step to arouse public awareness. Truly speaking, they have become successful to a large extent. The bone of contention among some intellectuals over a hoarding depicting the face of some illustrious intellectuals is nothing but a meek protest to show their solidarity towards the present government lest it stop any gratification for them on various occasion. When change has to bring in, revolt cannot be far behind. There is no ambiguity whatsoever the way some intellectuals like Mahasweta Devi, Amlan Dutta, Aparna Sen have put up their logical protest post Nandigram and Singur. It is quite beyond my knowledge why some sycophants belonging to this government are so scared of this outdoor campaign if they truly believe in change of any sort. Can this present government totally disown of this present political and social turmoil ? Considering the hue and cry by some of the adopted intellectuals of the government over this a mere hoarding campaign is nothing but reveal their fake character of crying for any development. Actually to whom democracy is a mere word in a book, they always find excuse in their favour to upset any kind of development. But in reality they should know that when mass wakes up no excuse works. So as much the communists intellectuals will keep on this war of words over change, as they queer pitch of their own.Susanta Kumar Biswas

Posted by Susanta Kumar Biswas | Report as abusive

“Pariborton Chai”— New brand lauched by Tata Tea???lol, the commies will need a lot of it after 16 may when their tally comes down from 60 to 32…(what sort of people vote for these sadists?)

Posted by anup | Report as abusive

hi..persons whose snaps are used in that poster, have all been involved with ultra left campaigns and are led by ultra maoist campaigners going strong day by day in west bengal. Situation is that, mamata has been gaining popularity by portraying herhelf as the mesiah of the maoists have nots..!! so its not going away from communism at all..its a change from pseudo communism to a complete armed maoist kind of communism..!and their leadrs are the ones who are themselves established rich artists..who has got acres of land at no price from west bengal govt in recent times, where actual land cost is more than 20 milion INRs…what bengal need, probably good guys taking over all the parties..instead of illiterates and misbehaving people like mamata, somen taking control..congress, cpm, tmc all should promote smart leaders….not half educated actors/anti socials..so..!! :( from frying pan to fire…

Posted by B chatterjee | Report as abusive