As early in her life as now Bengal’s Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee has murder on her hands; the stain of the Maoist blood will be difficult to wash off and the assassination of Kishenji might well be her fatal flaw. This burden of abrogating human rights imposed on her so soon in what one expected to be a flawless run of the TMC in bringing about a new order in Bengal and from there to spread her ideology towards the rest of India and vindicate Gokhale’s belief what Bengal thinks today the rest of India thinks tomorrow. To wedge such a deep gap with the Maoists, to have them hunted and killed at point blank, to have provoked them into despair is not something that Mamata can afford to do especially in view of her tabula rasa of her intentions for Bengal. Clearly Mamata’s rising Bengal is not a copy of shining India and hence one need not have hunted a certain section of the citizens, namely the Adivasis to appease another section, namely the capitalists. Yet this is exactly what appears to have been done; the day Mamata visited the Trade Fair in Delhi was the very same day that Kishenji was killed in a manner that was not a mere encounter. The assassination was a hint to assure the industrialist that Bengal had sympathies for super profits of oligopoly.
Mamata is not all that chaotic and impulsive as she appears to be. It is true that she was abrupt and tentative in all that she did to oppose the deep entrenchment of the CPIM in the state but that was till Nandigram and Singur happened. She suddenly seemed to have hit upon a formula that could forge a programmatic opposition to the invincible hegemony of neoliberalism. In Singur and Nandigram, villagers opposed the takeover of land by industrial projects; it was not conservatism on part of the farmers, nor was it a resistance to change nor was it a preference to farming over industrialization. The farmers in these areas were often prosperous than the rest of their ilk; many were retrenched industrial workers who returned to land for food security and many of the landless farmhands worked on land to obtain their food especially in view of rising food inflation. Many looked upon their lands as their savings bank account into which they accumulated their earnings and helped the asset grow in value and worth. Mamata fought on the side of the peasant to secure for them their only asset as social security. It was a fight for social security against the increasing uncertainty that global capital invariably brings with it. The CPIM was too ineffectual to be able to resist global capital and gave in to the Tatas and the Jindals, both rising players in the global arena of steel, power, raw materials, logistics, trade and real estate. Mamata took on their might.
Mamata’s indefatigable defense of local property in the face of global capital also brings her ideology very close to that of the Maoists. The Maoists are indigenous people who we call as adivasis; their asset is ecology consisting of forests, biodiversity, water tables and quality of soil. The adivasis have a very different organization of economics that rests very heavily on food security; much of the tribal isolation is also due to the peculiar nature of food security where food production must be withheld from the market forces; it must be bartered to the members of the community who in turn offer their labour much needed to diversify the tribal economy. Markets are notorious for homogenization of crop production, lowering the fertility of soil, over exploiting ground water and reducing food value and finally bringing about food insecurity through squeezing margins at the producer’s end while raising the same at the retail end as the latter must cover the ever rising rentals in metropolises. Maoists resist the market and because of it, the society at large. Yet to say that the adivasis are especially attached their pristine ways of life is sheer ignorance. In my extensive travels in Jharkhand I have learnt that Adivasis pursue a way of life where high thinking especially the pursuit of scientific knowledge is at the very centre. Little children want to be scientists, women want to be able to discover principles of microbiology to be able to defeat the monopolists selling them fertilizers and pesticides; men wish to be able to master mechanics and the science of materials to be able to procure basic materials for building homes, bunds, towers and roads. For all such pursuits one needs food security and this is done by preserving the ecology, something that market forces erode. The Maoists desire similar protection for their assets as the farmers need for theirs. When Mamata defended such local assets in Singur and Nandigram, the Maoists hailed her as their savior too.
But soon the breach happened between the Maoists and Mamata. Democratic politics like market economics has its own rules in which rights of minorities are usually passed over. Both work on impersonal signals whether of numbers of voters or of the purchasing power of consumers. Maoists oppose the market because of the peculiarity and hence specificity of their situation that cannot be subsumed under the more universalized laws of the country designed on the basis of statistical uniformities; this is also the very same reason why they also oppose democratic politics. A political tabula rasa that must deal with the Maoists must have an ability to create exceptions rather than rules, handle plural polities rather that homogenize the constituency. But this was not to be so because of the nature of relationships between the mainstream peasants and the adivasis.
Despite West Bengal being a state perhaps the highest density of population, rural Bengal sends avalanches of migrants to work in metropolitan cities and other states. The reason for such outmigration is the non sustainability of agriculture due to high input costs, subdivision of land in view of extensive property rights in land and a very successful land reforms programme and of course the rising cost of labour due to the collapse of the PDS and the food inflation. Further to this list of woes is also the rising population pressure on land that makes some people regularly get thrown off land ownership without having the security of food through subsistence farming. Much of this is because alternative employment opportunities namely through industries did not take place in the state. It was therefore in a state of desperation that the CPIM government had invited the Salims from Singapore and the Tatas from Jamshedpur and the Jindals from Haryana to set up plants in the state. What happened then to trigger off agitations in Singur and Nandigram is another side of the above story to which we will shortly return. As of now, the adivasis are a steady source of cheap labour upon which much of the farm economics in Bengal depend. Assertions in the adivasi zones are thus extremely detrimental to the interests of the Bengali mainstream farmers.
There is yet another function that the adivasis perform and which is that of carriers. Were it not for the adivasis, much of the produce from farms would never have reached the market. Farmers, especially the women who would carry headloads of no less than 25 kilos on a 30 kg body, are now passé. Tribal women are thus easy sources of labour to carry goods to the markets. Political agglomerations, tribal unity through movements and cultural expressions and above all ideological consolidation of existential issues are thus detrimental to the interests of the peasant community. For an urbane intellectual, removed from the countryside both mentally and physically, such compulsions of mainstream and adivasi conflicts are difficult to grasp. Just as the way farmers realized a whole new voice and political constituency through the Singur and Nandigram movement, these movements were also important, especially the Nandigram movement to help adivasis organize themselves around a new kind of political ideology. Did Mamata, by killing Kishenji actually choose the peasant over the adivasi, to appease the section of the rural mainstream where the CPIM’s base lay? Does she then go back on her agenda of creating a new mainstream that is more inclusive?
Yet, Mamata failed them; wherever I have visited villagers, forest dwellers, adivasis, industrial workers all eyes seemed to have been turned towards Mamatadidi; she can never harm the poor, she is the face of new India, a new thinking, a new politics, a new power structure. But I am not sure what her killing of Kishenji would do to her. There will be a huge disappointment among her followers in Sukinda forests, Latehar hills, Noida factory complex and this was a very large constituency which morally backed her by speaking of her as the new messiah and thus creating a buffer of public opinion beyond those who were on her voters’ lists.
As I walk into the avenues of Gariahat market to escort my father while he buys vegetables, there is cheer everywhere, Kishenji Khatam, ki bolen dadu? Maobadis attack trains and kill passengers, a huge catastrophe for Bengal where people are forever travelling from within the state to beyond it, from villages to kasbas, suburbs to downtowns taking the public transport, mostly the train.