DAWN - Opinion; November 16, 2007

Published November 16, 2007

Left, right and centre

By Kuldip Nayar

I ASKED some high-up in the government at the centre what happened at Nandigram. He merely said: the CPM’s waterloo. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has, indeed, been exposed and it has lost stock among the intelligentsia.

Nandigram in West Bengal is a cluster of villages. This is where the CPM government tried vainly earlier in the year to acquire agricultural land in the name of ‘public interest’ to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

The Salim Group of Industries from Indonesia had sought a SEZ to start an array of industries. It meant huge capital for West Bengal. This was an effort to begin the industrialisation of the state which was once a hub of the corporate sector. The proposal had to be dropped because of violence.

I think that the matter should have ended when state Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee gave an assurance that the land would not be taken forcibly from the farmers. He was overwhelmed by the death of 14 people in the fight between the authorities and the villagers or, more aptly, the CPM and the Trinamool Congress, a regional party. The police were responsible for most of the killings.

Apparently, the government, particularly the CPM had not given up the idea. Nor had they forgotten the slight they had faced.

It looks as if both the government and the party were preparing themselves for an opportunity to take revenge and occupy the land forcibly. A few days ago the CPM cadre reignited the fire by attacking some villages in Nandigram.

State home secretary Ranjan Ray confirmed that the CPM triggered clashes. More than 500 villagers fled to escape the party’s wrath. Two persons were killed this time, not by police. During the attack by the CPM cadre, the area was sealed. The police stood by silently. No media person was allowed to go in. Human rights activists were barred from visiting the place. An activist, Medha Patkar, was slapped.

The CPM’s fury was undiminished till it had ‘recaptured’ the non-party villages. It was a war-like situation which forced state governor Gopal Kirshna Gandhi to describe Nandigram as a ‘war zone’. He was more critical of the CPM government in his other observations: “Enough is enough” and that “the manner in which the recapture of Nandigram is being attempted is notably unlawful and unacceptable.”

The CPM’s attack on the governor did not absolve it of what the party did in Nandigram. His statement only expressed his anguish. The governor did not want to create a crisis by recommending to the centre the imposition of president’s rule in view of the failure of law and order machinery. He confined himself to issuing a warning to the government which it did not like.

The CPM should know that the warning had to be public when his private advice was not heeded.

That the governor’s warning was only an understatement can be judged from the reaction of Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee who resigned from the Lok Sabha on the ground that a jungle raj prevailed in West Bengal. Leading film industry personalities like Aparna Sen boycotted the film festival held in Kolkata a few days ago. Many famous writers also voiced their protest.

However, I was disappointed to read the statement by CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. He defended the West Bengal government and found justification in using force by the CPM cadre. He has changed a lot since some of us met him after the first incident. Then he was on the defensive and felt embarrassed over what had happened.

I have no doubt that the Trinamool Congress is politicising the issue. Likewise, I have no doubt that the CPM is playing with fire by articulating its authority. The poor governor has been caught in the cross-firing. Jyoti Basu, the former chief minister, can play the role of a firefighter. But he is a dove when the hawks dominate the CPM. It is astonishing that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is turning into a hawk.

His statement that the CPM has paid its adversaries in the same coin is regrettable.

The party does not realise the harm it has done to itself because the people have felt disappointed over its handling of the situation. They ask the same question: how is the CPM different from other political parties which also use the police for their own purpose and which too violate human rights blatantly? The CPM has no reply except to say: An eye for an eye! It is unfortunate that the West Bengal government has turned out to be as autocratic as the governments in many other states.

New Delhi would have intervened and imposed president’s rule for lesser reasons in other states. But since the CPM is crucial to the continuance of the Congress-led government at the centre, it cannot even dare to express its concern. The Congress has only gone on record lest its silence should be noticed.

Yet the party is too dependent on the CPM, especially to have the Indo-US nuclear deal going. Already, the intractable Left has allowed the Manmohan Singh government to have talks with the IAEA.

The Nandigram violence has scotched another chance for the CPM to industrialise West Bengal. The use of guns by its cadre is bound to scare the investors away from the rest of India or abroad. Capital does not come to the areas which are uncertain and inclined towards violence.

Still the bigger question that the Nandigram happenings have thrown up is: how should one safeguard the democratic ways in the states which are becoming authoritarian, government after government. Coalitions at the centre have made things more difficult because they are in no position to upbraid a ruling party in a state. Invariably, it is its lifeline, the key support.

The way out, however, is not that a single party attains the majority at the centre. The states have to develop a sense of tolerance and spirit of accommodation. In fact, this is the glue which has kept India together despite different religions, different languages and different standards of living. And this is the glue that the nation cannot afford to let go dry. Despite its intractable ideology, the CPM has accepted the parliamentary system of government. It officially recognises the leader of the opposition.

The party has to develop a consensus in the state to sort out questions like Nandigram. It is heartening to see that some Left parties have distanced themselves from the CPM on this point.

This gives strength to democracy because it indicates that the parties rise above the discipline of ideology when it comes to the people’s interest. The CPM should tear a leaf out of their book.

The writer is a senior columnist based in New Delhi.

Imran caught on the wrong foot

By Asha’ar Rehman

BORN-again Muslims are not good enough for Islamists. The sorry drama enacted on the Punjab University campus in Lahore on Nov 14 should solve the mystery for those emerging from the sidelines to claim the command of a team of motivated students in whose selection and training they have played no part.

Imran Khan came to the campus in the face of ‘stay-away’ warnings from Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba. He was pushed and shoved and insulted and thrown to the keepers not long after. Did the Jamaat-i-Islami leadership know what was about to happen or was it a personal initiative of their student wing to assail the idol? While the first possibility is highly unlikely in the case of ‘the most organised political force in the country’, in either case it is as dangerous an occurrence for the Jamaat as it is for Imran Khan and his Justice Party. For the Jamaat is nothing without its ‘likeminded’ allies.

Before the brutal toss on the campus that landed Imran Khan in jail on Nov 14, he had done plenty in the last 15 years to be labelled as an enigma. For the pro-democracy purists, his biggest folly was his decision to join General Pervez Musharraf. Those, who boast of knowing the only way to the seat of power in Islamabad, say his real mistake was that he left the general too soon. For the apolitical the mere fact that he acted against their counsel to form a political party some ten years ago was an unpardonable act.

Those who believed that the honest and the straight-talking should come forward to rescue Pakistan from the clutches of the corrupt, the incompetent and the insincere were happy to see him take the political plunge. Many among them were soon disillusioned by Imran’s sheer ability to lose those who gave his party a progressive look and indeed the appearance of a party rather than a one-man reform squad.

Hamid Khan, who is in the vanguard of the fight for an independent judiciary today, was not so long ago an active member of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf as was Dr Pervez Hasan, an internationally known lawyer of standing. There were many other ‘new faces’ by his side, such as journalist and analyst Nasim Zahra for a brief period making rounds of newspaper offices in Lahore as an Imran lieutenant before, like Hamid Khan and Dr Pervez Hasan, she also turned away from a struggle from the Tehreek’s platform.

The progressive dialogue Imran Khan had engaged himself in came to a halt as he made post haste to the Right. To the surprise of his early supporters who strained to see in him an alternative to the tried and sullied political leadership of the country, even as he sported this new image of his, the cricketing icon would still be known as a liberal face in Pakistani politics, not only anti-America, but liberal, with a special attraction for youth and the domestic and international media. That was an anomaly as big as an ‘alien who neither studied at the Punjab University nor taught there’ leading the student activists who owe their allegiance to the Jamaat-i-Islami.

Sadly, it was written in Imran’s fate. A couple of days before he was scheduled to make his appearance at the Punjab University, hoping to court arrest amidst thousands of cheering students, the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba had warned him against the adventure. They had actually done the cricketing hero a great a favour by allowing him the benefit of a forewarning.

Only three months ago the organised Islamists cadres had watched in silence as their ally and benefactor, Nawaz Sharif, suffered the ultimate ignominy a politician could ever face: returning home to a cold reception. Now it was the turn of another natural ally to experience the exemplary Jamaat discipline. Even after all the reverses that the all-rounder has undergone in the last decade and a half it hurts to see a rare hero being humiliated like Imran was on the Punjab University campus on Wednesday.

Despite his political leanings, Imran of late was on course to restoring to himself the old aura, that of a guerrilla commander who relied heavily on springing surprises to make an impact. His ambushes during his playing days are part of Pakistani folklore. He excelled in catching his opponents napping by sending out a soldier – the Abdul Qadirs and the Salim Yousufs -- up the order for rapid-fire action, saving his key men – the Miandads et al -- for a later onslaught. He would opt to bowl when every expert in the game would be advising him to bat. The gamble often paid and it was a crucial element of his captaincy.

He does not have the same kind of men at his command now and maybe not the same luck with the coin but he did show the spark of the past in managing to keep the policemen at bay for almost two weeks. The way he was trapped in the end is perhaps a sign for him that he is far better off returning to his old uncompromising ways. Who knows he might end up rallying groups of students to his cause. The secret, as always, lies in selecting and nurturing them on their own.

Lessons from Hungary

By Ayesha Siddiqa

A LOT of people in Pakistan these days seem a little upset with the United States’ lack of action against the Musharraf regime. Why can Bush not just tell the Pakistani president to back off? This is because Pakistan is a sovereign state and so can make up its own mind. Or is it because Washington is just not interested in rescuing the civil society? After all, the US has its own calculations about what is happening in Pakistan and the possible remedy.

The Bush administration is more worried about the possibility of the nukes falling in the hands of rogue elements than civil liberties of average Pakistanis. One would not be surprised if some day the Americans manage to convince the pro-West Pakistani elite about the threat of extremism and make them agree to surrender the nuclear weapons. After all, is this not what happened in South Africa where the change of government and an end to apartheid were accompanied with the country surrendering its nuclear capability?

Understandably the fear of militancy and religious extremism is much greater than lack of democracy. The battle in Swat or Waziristan by characters that were connected with the intelligence agencies in the past creates the necessary image to justify the murder of democracy in Pakistan. Surely, the American elite and government is too scared to trust Pakistanis with democracy and are too self-absorbed in their neo-liberal agenda to find out more about the games being played by the terrorists.

But extremism is just another matter not to be discussed at length in this column. The issue under discussion is American reaction which should not come as a surprise to people if they remember American reaction during the Hungarian resistance against the Soviet forces in 1956. While the Soviet troops butchered hundreds of innocent Hungarians, policymakers in Washington sat silent and played the flute. More important, despite the CIA investing millions of dollars in promoting the gospel of democracy, the Eisenhower administration balked at providing support to the Hungarians in their fight for democracy.

In fact, as the author Victor Sebestyen states in his book, Twelve Days: Revolution 1956. How the Hungarians Tried to Topple Their Soviet Masters, Richard Nixon, who was then the American vice-president, was of the idea that Washington must not stop Moscow from dealing with the Hungarian revolution with an iron fist – all in the name of realpolitik. So, while Communist USSR is to be blamed entirely for slaughtering the civilians who were protesting against authoritarianism, the US must own up to its responsibility for remaining strategically silent during the 1956 crisis.

The story of the 12 days Hungarian resistance against a superpower is interesting in many ways. First, it tells how resistance movements can produce unlikely heroes and leaders. Second, it is about tricks repressive leadership plays in fooling the people to surrender. Third, it is a lesson in how realpolitik does not allow bigger countries to help the downtrodden. For the powerful, it is eventually a matter of national interests which define values and principles than the other way around.

Finally, professional militaries take some time before they abandon their authoritarian masters and join the side of the people. More important, they do not decide in favour of the public until they are compelled by visible mass outcry.

The genesis of the 12 days Hungarian resistance in 1956 lies in the eight years of brutal authoritarianism of the Soviet stooge, Matyas Rakosi who had cleverly imposed communist rule on his country. Having personal terms with Stalin, Rakosi used salami slicing tactics in suppressing the civil society. Such technique involved using soft and hard coercion to suppress all resistance and clamping down on alternative sources of political opinion. Moscow, in any case, was biased against Hungry due to the history of Hungarian invasion of Russia during the Second World War. Hungary was turned into a Soviet colony which was exploited to Moscow’s advantage. For instance, the steel mill built near Budapest imported iron ore and coke from the USSR while Hungary itself was abundant in these ores.

Such policies, however, made Rakosi unpopular amongst his people to a degree that the Russian leadership thought it necessary to reduce his significance through a power-sharing arrangement with another politician Imre Nagy who was made the prime minister. Such change coincided with Stalin’s death and ascendancy of new leadership in Moscow headed by Nikita Khrushchev. Nagy was a relatively unimpressive man who was honest but not a firebrand revolutionary. He did not even have the finesse to counter Rakosi who managed to sideline him in a short time. The infighting was bound to happen because the Soviet leadership expected Rakosi, who had earlier enjoyed absolute power, to share his authority.

The Hungarian leadership was too preoccupied in their own internal battles to notice the resistance developing in the streets, the culmination of which was a student demonstration in October 1956 in Budapest which was dispersed through use of force. Clearly the Hungarian Communist elite had failed to get the message and could not predict that the small demo would grow into a more forceful resistance. The resistance grew to a degree that Moscow had to consider sending in troops to conduct a police operation.

The Soviet forces, however, were surprised by the organised armed resistance. Although the freedom fighters had no central command, they managed to repulse the invading forces. At this point, Imre Nagy was brought in to manage the situation.

Nagy proved to be a weak leader who could not initially understand the mood in the streets. The honest man that he was, he finally stuck by the side of the freedom fighters. In fact, Nagy emerged as an unexpected leader who stood by his people, a sin for which he was eventually tried and hanged in the summer of 1958. The Soviets managed the situation through a frontal attack on the innocent people and by bringing in a quisling, Janos Kedar.

The most noticeable fact is that throughout the struggle Washington kept quiet and unwilling to confront Moscow. In fact, Eisenhower decided not to interfere in Hungary despite that the resistance movement and the civil society kept asking for help. The American leadership chose to concentrate on the Middle East instead.

The resistance could not finally manage to defeat the Soviet forces due to the role of the Hungarian armed forces which initially played a confusing role. The professional officers of the military tried to tackle the problem as a law and order issue without noticing that the bulk of troops would not become willing partners to the massacre of their own people. Although some segments of the military participated in curbing resistance, others crossed over to fight alongside the freedom fighters. Eventually the resistance was crushed with massive use of force in which hundreds of people were killed and the reign of fear was established again. The biggest blunder made by the leadership of the resistance was to believe in fake promises made by the invading forces to buy time. The time gained through negotiations was used by the Soviet troops to regroup and crush the resistance.

In the end, the Hungarians were abandoned by the very power which claimed to be the epitome of a democratic free world. This is sufficient lesson for others that societies have to find their own strength to win their battles.


© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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