THE COMMUTWITS' TRIUMPH - Nandigram is supposed to have taught the reactionaries a lesson

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By Writing on the Wall - Ashok V. Desai
  • Published 20.11.07

In Godhra, some people detached a bogie of a train in February 2002, locked in the passengers and burnt them. The perpetrators were never conclusively identified. The Hindutwits claimed that the murderers were Muslims, and called for retribution. It started the next day. Hindu mobs killed thousands of Muslims, looted and destroyed Muslim businesses, and in three days, turned Muslims into the new scheduled caste of Gujarat — poor, deprived and maligned.

In Nandigram, some people forced local supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to leave, destroyed bridges, dug up roads, and isolated Nandigram from the rest of West Bengal. No one knows who they were. It is widely believed that they were local villagers. The CPI(M) said they were members of the Trinamul Congress, Naxalites, or both, and called for retribution. Armed commutwit mobs invaded Nandigram, killed and wounded hundreds, destroyed their homes, and turned them into the new scheduled caste of West Bengal.

This is not a coincidence; it is transfer of the technology of violence. In the Eighties, the BJP was exasperated; however hard it tried, it just could not get itself elected in any numbers, let alone come to power. And there, in the east, was CPI(M), an equally committed, ideologically-focused party, which simply could not be driven out of power. How did they do it? The Hindutwits diligently studied the secret of communist hegemony.

They worked out that the secret lay in the creation of a captive mob. Till the Sixties, West Bengal used to be India’s most industrialized state. It was the home of the jute industry, India’s largest industry next only to textiles. It was a leader in engineering; in those days of import substitution, anyone who could not get a machine or a part headed for Calcutta, where workshops could reproduce the most complicated engineering goods.

Then arrived bulk handling and cheap plastics. Pourable goods such as cereals began to be transported in containers in the United States of America. Railways acquired new wagons to transport containers; the first container ship was built in the US in 1956, if I remember right. Soon, bulk transportation spread across all the oceans, and increasingly along railway lines. And if small quantities of pourable goods had to be stored, plastic bags were more sturdy than gunny bags, and gave better protection. So over the Sixties and Seventies, life slowly seeped out of Calcutta’s jute industry. And the slump of 1965 hit its engineering industry hard.

That was when the CPI(M) found a niche amongst the embattled industrial workers. Citu started organizing them; it developed the technology of bringing them out in processions and paralysing Calcutta. It taught workers to abuse and attack managers. In a pyrrhic victory, it drove industry out of West Bengal, but captured the unemployed workers — and young men who never had any jobs. They became the CPI(M)’s foot-soldiers. They developed a rough-and-ready social insurance system: they intimidated and collected money from whoever was making a living — shopkeepers, hawkers, farmers, whoever wanted a peaceful life and could pay for it. If the victims belonged to the Congress, so much the better. Within ten years, the musclemen taught West Bengal that it was unprofitable to belong to the Congress — and that supporting CPI(M) minimized costs. This is how the commutwit monopoly of power was created in West Bengal.

Having learnt this technology, the Hindutwits reproduced it in Gujarat. In every village, every community, they collected musclemen and set up branches. But in one respect, they had it easier than the commutwits. Gujarat is more commercialized and industrialized than West Bengal; there were many more rich men to tap, and, correspondingly, the tribute to be collected from each was smaller — so small that many of them would not mind paying. Besides, many of these rich men could be asked to give jobs to the faithful, in which case those believers did not have to be paid a dole at all.

But how were those moneybags to be persuaded that Muslims were their enemies? Right into the Nineties, 600 tons — 600,000,000 grams — of gold used to be smuggled into India. So was most of synthetic cloth. So were thousands of watches. All these goods used to be loaded into fast boats in Dubai, carried across the sea, and land on Gujarat’s coast. They were a source of great convenience for consumers fed up with the rigours of the socialist state, and a source of prosperity for those involved in smuggling and selling the goods; most of whom were Muslims. Once in a while some smugglers were caught; their names were predominantly Muslim. Sometimes the smugglers fought and murdered one another; those caught were again Muslims. Thus there arose an impression in Gujarat that Muslims were smugglers and thieves. So when the Hindutwits offered to sanitize Gujarat of the Muslim criminals, they found ready clients. When they removed Muslim competitors from business, their services were all the more appreciated by Hindu shopkeepers. When the commutwits sanitized West Bengal, they created an economic desert. When the Hindutwits sanitized Gujarat, some flowers went missing, but business continued to bloom.

This is where the difference lies. Year after year, Gujarat grows faster than West Bengal. West Bengal, once one of the richest states, has fallen behind until it is just about average today; Gujarat, once average, has advanced upwards. No ruler of West Bengal who attends meetings in the South and North Blocks of Delhi, who can read figures, can ignore West Bengal’s decline.

That is why the commutwits are in a hurry. But they cannot bring back the capitalists whom they scared away in the Sixties. Nor can they tolerate the emergence of thousands of small industrialists, for whom trade unions would be anathema. What would be compatible with Citu’s prosperity? Obviously, industries that pay workers well. So the commutwits’ first answer was information technology. They laid out the red carpet for IT moguls. Some came, but on the whole they preferred the South; it has a huge output of graduates with good English, and they do not mind people from other states coming in. So today, West Bengal’s IT employment is still in thousands — no higher than that of Gujarat.

Now the commutwits have thought of big industries like steel and car-making. These require large tracts of land, and the commutwits are determined to clear land of obstructive human beings, however much blood they have to shed. The Hindutwits think that the post-Godhra riots taught Muslims a lesson; the commutwits think that Nandigram has taught the reactionaries a lesson. And if it has not, they will teach it again, in battlegrounds galore. Mamata, take guard!

Each lesson will reduce the number of industrialists that would be prepared to invest in West Bengal; Buddhadeb will have to travel ever farther to find an investor. But it is a quest in the right direction — for making West Bengal India’s richest state. It may take some time, and many lives, but so what? Revolutions cannot be made without bloodshed. In the meanwhile, the prime minister will continue to monitor the situation closely — from Moscow, Washington, Cape Town, from his eyrie on Race Course Road.