The Ghosts of Nandigram
There was panic at the CPM headquarters on Calcutta’s Alimuddin Street as rumours spread like wildfire of a ‘special’ investigative team having arrived to do some fact-finding on the gory events of 14 March 2007 in Nandigram.
The ‘dream’ team, spotted by party activists and corroborated by airport immigration staff, is said to have comprised of the founding fathers of the global communist movement - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels themselves. As if their presence was not enough, accompanying them in tow were a certain Vladimir Illych Lenin and Mao Tse-Tung.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing two white bearded men with prophetic looks asking for directions to get to Nandigram and expressing frustration at the fact that all official road signs in the city showed only turns to the right. Ordinary folk on the other hand were observed turning left even if this sometimes meant breaking through brick walls blocking their way.
One person with a Lenin beard sitting inside the dark-windowed car was seen taking down notes under the heading ‘What is to be done?’ while the Chinese gentleman, with an enigmatic countenance, was overheard saying sceptically “Comrades, getting to Nandigram is not going to be a tea-party”.
This was the grim scenario the CPM top brass had been worried about for years together- the return of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Mao to West Bengal. As long as they dangled like dead corpses from party banners it was fine but now Nandigram had brought them back to life among the people and this was dangerous.
“Why are you all looking so worried” said Buddhadeb Bhattacharya looking around at the glum and sullen faces of top party leaders urgently gathered to discuss this latest crisis hitting them. “And who are these four fellows anyway? Foreign investors looking for land to purchase?” he quipped.
“Idiot! In all these years how many times have I told you to memorise their names and remember what they look like? And yet every time you open your mouth to say ‘Marx’ out comes the word ‘Market’” barked a voice across the table.
“The photos, hanging in party offices all over the country - of Marx, Engels, Lenin - you have not observed them even once in all your life- have you Buddha?” the voice continued. “You just see your own reflection in the glass frame, adjust your kurta, comb your hair and wear that silly grin you got from the last corporate orgy you attended”.
It was Buddha’s turn now to look glum and sullen for nothing he did these days seemed to please Jyoti Basu anymore. And imagine, to be scolded like this in public when he was only following in his mentor’s footsteps and taking forward his legacy.
“Yes, the photos. What will we do with them now? If these blokes, Marx, Engels, whoever…. write a report critical of our land grab operations in Nandigram, we will have to throw away all those expensive portraits? They cost a damn lot of money to make, and will all go waste now” whined Biman Bose.
“Give them to the CPI” whispered someone (with a sense of humour) in the room.
No one laughed of course and instead an ice-cold Brinda Karat, adjusting her red bindi, said “We give nothing to the CPI from now on, not even leftovers. The bloody backstabbers, bad-mouthing us in public!”
The damp Calcutta air inside the party meeting room froze. Only someone with such cold-blooded clarity could induce this sudden drop in temperature so effortlessly (a clue to tackling global warming!). The mood among those gathered also changed abruptly now.
“Ok, enough of lamenting the fact that these stalwarts of global communism are here to check out what really happened at Nandigram. The question is how do we get out of this mess now, for given their reputation they will surely get to the truth?” said Prakash Karat, grateful to Brinda for giving him a chance to break into the conversation.
“Easy enough. Just discredit them thoroughly and make sure no one believes them at all,” said Biman Bose. “After all that is what we have been doing to anyone criticizing us, even if it is those who have been with our own party all these years”.
“Brilliant! Biman da! You can start with the simple fact that all four of them - Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao - are outsiders in Bengal. Obviously they are here to incite the peasants, join hands with Mamata and bring down the Left Front government” said Sitaram Yechuri, excitedly jumping from his seat and almost leaping onto the table like in the good old SFI days at some JNU canteen.
“Not just that, they are all foreigners anyway so they must be surely foreign funded too otherwise how did they get here all the way to Calcutta? Who bought their plane tickets?” said Biman, warming up to his old passion for throwing mud and making it stick- anywhere - even on Marx or Engels.
“They may have come by the sea-route, all subversives these days do that” said Brinda.
“Foreigners causing trouble in Bengal? That sounds like the Salim group or Dow Chemicals” said someone at the back of the room in a soft voice. The time for hearing soft voices had however long passed and the discussion now was at a frenzied pitch.
“I like your logic Biman da. Now that I remember, from all the reading I have done - all four of them can be shown to be anti-communist in general and anti-CPM in particular” said Prakash Karat trying to give a pretty theoretical cover to the ugly stuff flying around.
“To begin with, Marx himself said at some point ‘I am not a Marxist’, which can only mean he was anti-Marxist and automatically an enemy of ours. Engels’ father owned a textile mill, so he was a bourgeois masquerading as a revolutionary. On top of this both of them have long beards like the Hindu or Muslim communalists. Lenin too came from an aristocratic background and Mao Tse-Tung is of course the biggest Naxalite in all of modern history” continued Prakash, leaning over to Brinda to see if she was taking notes to send to N Ram of The Hindu.
“Bravo General Secretary! You have finally clinched the logic, now it is time for us to prevent these guys from reaching Nandigram and stopping West Bengal from becoming a global capitalist power. Call Laxman urgently to get the boys ready for action,” shouted Biman.
“Did anybody say action? I know what we should do - get our women cadre to show their backsides to this ‘special’ fact-finding team!” said an excited Benoy Konar, who despite his age still had the spring of a street urchin about him. He was famous for blowing hammer and sickle rings with his beedi smoke- a cool comrade at 75.
“I run the women’s wing, you get Laxman’s goons to do whatever they want” hissed Brinda, the bindi now a fiery red. She didn’t like this old fogy stepping on her turf.
“Laxman’s men had better watch out around Chairman Mao comrades! He still wears his spiked boots from the Long March”, piped up someone in the room.
At this point Buddhadeb woke up with a jolt on his bed. The mobile phone was ringing loudly. He was sweating all over. Phew! What a nightmare it had been! From Marx to Mao in Nandigram indeed!
Buddha picked up the phone, “Salim, is that you?”
“What’s wrong with you babu moshai? You have been seeing the ghosts of Nandigram in your sleep again?’ said the voice from Jakarta with a laugh. “I told you many times, we killed a million communists in Indonesia long ago and you are still spooked by a few dozen dead in your little province?”
“Yes, I saw them again” said Buddha, wiping his brow. “Here I am looking for German, Russian and Chinese investors and all I get are Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao giving me sleepless nights. Oh! Why on Earth do we still call ourselves a communist party and pretend to be Marxists?”
“Good question, Buddha. Welcome to the Salim and Suharto neo-liberal fraternity”
For the first time in an entire month Buddha Smiled.