[Announcement: Anyone in the DC/VA/MD area up for a weekend meet-up at Union Station?]
One of the many instruments used by politician extraordinaire Jyoti Basu to cement his total hold over Bengal was the cultivation of the so-called Bengali intellectual. A brain cadre for the party was incubated in every educational institution of the state, from junior school right up to the universities, where every appointment was vetted by the party and one got in only if one’s CV was typed on red paper supplied by Alimuddin Street (the party HQ). Anyone who did not toe the party line was deemed not academically sound and shoved out. The “private” intellectuals i.e the ones who were not on government payroll—-painters, poets, novelists, theatre-workers, singers, film people– were mollycoddled through the organization of party and government soirees (Sports Minister the late Subhash Chakraborty was the point-man for this), handing out of committee chairmanships and in general through devices that made them feel important and wanted.
In exchange, they acted as the mouthpieces of the Left Front supporting the government volubly through each disaster, be it the raising of admission age for students in schools or the abolishing of English at the primary level. When their silence was asked for, like during atrocities like Bantala and Birati, they would develop a debilitating attack of collective laryngitis. Considering the average Bengali’s awe of erudition, the fetishistic worship of the state’s so-called glorious cultural traditions and their steadfast refusal to acknowledge the alarming atrophy in the quality of public intellectuals, this was one of the most powerful PR weapons that Basu had.
Buddhadev Bhattcharya, in his hyperactive initial days of wooing aggressive foreign investment, forgot to nourish these brain bacteria. Mamata Banerjee, whom I have always maintained is Jyoti Basu version deux, however did. With their rather strong crimson roots (after all that’s what got them their bully pulpit), the brain mafia of Bengal were not favorably inclined to Buddha’s cavorting with the enemy of the classes (i.e. industry). Mamata on the other hand with her disruptive brand of populism was a person after their heart. Of course intellectual empathy was not the only thing that connected them to Trinamool. Parliamentary tickets, like the one given to tuneless singer Kabir Suman, and well-paying “cerebral” assignments on the taxpayer tab handed out to Trinamool-loyal artists (after all the power to dole out these incentives is one of the main reasons Didi wants the Rail ministry for herself) have cemented the association.
So it was not surprising that the rent-a-brains would, even after the responsibility of the Jnaneswari Express blast was accepted by the PCAPA (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities), would call it a CPM conspiracy in essence toeing Mamata Banerjee’s line. After all bills do have to be paid even if it be at the cost of blood. This again is not new since the Illuminati of Kolkata have, over the past few years, become mouthpieces of Trinamool, often for their own corporeal gains, and are willing to use their easy media accessibility to peddle untruths and half-truths.
One of the biggest lies that these intellectuals have spread with the help of sympathetic media is that the PCAPA , under the leadership of Chhatradhar Mahato, is an independent organization that is distinct from Maoists.
” It’s important to make a distinction between the two (Maoists and PCAPA). The PCAPA is a democratic protest movement” Aparna Sen, famous director who shot into the headlines for her march into the jungles to meet Chhatradhar Mahato (head of PCPA), said in an interview to Outlook.
This line, adopted by the intellectuals of Kolkata as their white shield, has acted as their consistent justification for raising money, giving sympathetic press or extolling terrorists like Chhatradhar Mahato in song, as Babar Suman , Trinamool Member of Parliament (now disgruntled with Trinamool) , did with his execrable ditty “Chhatradhar-r Gaan” (The Song of Chhatradhar)
Technically, the PCAPA and the Maoists are organizationally separate. The PCAPA came into being after the West Bengal police and the CPM goons, known to work in coordination with each other, came down with a heavy brutish hand on the local population after the failed attempt on the life of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya at Salboni in 2008 by the Maoists. So while the Maoists have always been a presence in the area but largely as an army of outsiders, the PCAPA was a new home-grown grassroots movement, spun my media and the intellectuals as “an army of politically independent tribals, distinct from Maoists, who have genuine grievances against the State”.
There are a few falsehoods buried in this spin. The first is the “political independence” part. Chattradhar Mahato, the head of PCAPA, was once an active member of the Chhatra Parishad, the Congress’s student wing, till he became Trinamool Congress, when it eclipsed the Congress in political importance. In a way he is as independent as the “independent citizen’s committees” that have sprouted up in Kolkata over the past two years , like mold on a stale bread, baying for industry-friendly Buddhadev’s blood, committees manned by disgruntled Naxalites of the 70s and assorted crumb-grubbers with a college degree.
In terms of the goals that drive them, Chhatradhar is however slightly different from the traditional Maoists. While the latter want the establishment of a Cambodia-like regime in the classical tradition of the Maoist ideal, Mahato merely wants power in the traditional scheme of things. That is why he is ready to talk to the government from time to time and obscenely eager to come out and talk to press and hog headlines, a trait that proved to be his undoing when West Bengal police, masquerading as journalists from abroad, got him to come overground at which point of time he was arrested.
Chhatradhar’s primary political activities have centered on killing all prominent CPM supporters in the region and in consistently demanding the removal of police posts in the area, so that he can emerge as the king with the power of life and death. Indian Express (May 30) reports on the activities of the PCAPA in the area which includes extorting fees from school teachers, truck drivers, poor villagers and local industries who are in addition asked to throw out all CPM workers and hire PCAPA workers at double wages or else. Not quite the heroic champion of the oppressed and upholders of democracy that those who write ballads in his name would like you to believe.
The other falsehood is that the PCAPA and the Maoists are different beasts. While their goals may be slightly different, they share personnel, weapons and training and work in close liaison with each other. With this massive terrorist attack and their open targeting of non-state actors, there is really no justification to treat them differently and collaborators of PCAPA should no longer be able to allowed to get away with the “These are not Maoists but a democratic protest movement” excuse.
The PCAPA have realized that their cover is blown which is why they have called the Jnaneswari Express incident as a “silly mistake” of the galti se mistake ho gya type. It is one thing to hold a policeman Atindranath Dutta hostage and rob a SBI branch of 9 lacs because their so-called cause (releasing tribal women arrested by the police) can be depicted as heroic. But when you murder in cold blood one hundred forty one ordinary non-state individuals in an attack that cannot be justified by any immediate provocation (industrialization and other assorted capitalistic evils), it becomes difficult for some intellectuals, who still care about appearances, to bring out their pompoms.
During the original Naxal unrest of the 70s, when Kolkata reverberated with the sound of gunfire at night, Naxalites were seen by the public as heroes—-brilliant college students brimming over with idealism. One of the things that tarnished the image of the golden boys was the brutal slaying of the benign vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University Gopal Sen inside the university campus. Once similar incidents of wanton violence had exhausted the goodwill they once had, it became easier for the police to go after the Naxalites.
In the same way, incidents like Jnaneswari Express have the potential to turn the tide of public opinion against the PCAPA and reveal them and their backers for what they are—–thugs and terrorists of the lowest order.