Thursday, March 15, 2007


By now, hopefully, we all know about Nandigram.

The hypocrisy of the West Bengal government is, even by the low (or high) standards of Indian politics, breathtaking. Three decades after the Communists began their transformation of West Bengal, winning praise and admiration for their superb land reform efforts, and condemnation for the industrial marginalization of West Bengal that has happened on their watch, the Marxists in power in the state have reversed course. Cause for celebration, you say, now that the likes of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya have learned to see past the "capitalism is evil" cliches? Not quite: for the Marxist government's volte face is more than economic liberalization -- it is the mortgaging of democracy at the altar of the government's newfound allies, the large investors for whose benefit SEZ's are proposed to be set up. The Bhattacharya government's approach has shown all the earmarks of an authoritarian dispensation: propaganda, intimidation, and violence against dissenters.

But Nandigram is about more than the CPI(M)'s hypocrisy. It should also serve as a wake-up call to those who prefer to live in the Great Boom Bubble, who prefer to believe that in the new India taking shape all around us, we needn't bother ourselves with sordid trifles like politics, policy, or even democratic debate, that all that matters is the economy, and that as long as it is allowed to grow all the other problems will take care of themselves.

In fact, however, there is no necessary link between economic growth (doubtless essential to India) and the fostering of the sort of polity where Nandigram does not happen. Stated differently, economic growth is merely that, and cannot substitute for the virtues, the obligations, of democracy: debate, disagreement and argument, the celebration of difference. I cannot shake the feeling that in an era when far too many of India's best and brightest youngsters feel that the only thought worth thinking is material gain for oneself, the nature and quality of our democracy is compromised.

Nandigram isn't the first wake-up call by any means. It almost certainly won't be the last. And it's up to us to ensure that it doesn't end up as yet another pointless reminder of the violence states -- even "progressive" ones -- inflict on their subjects (yes "subjects"; "citizen" would be an obscenity here).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nandigram is not about capitalism. In a capitalist economy, the State has no rights to "acquire" property for anyone. Private property is respected and guaranteed. However, in our "socialist" state, right to property was abolished. People who earlier benefitted by this move are now losing as the chickens come home to roost. The only solution is to restore right to property and limit the authority of the state to trample on people's rights.