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Why the Bengal intelligentsia is fragmented today

February 15, 2010 08:22 IST

Last Tuesday, Home Minister P Chidambaran was at the Writers' Building reviewing and planning operations against the Naxalites across four affected states in the east, including West Bengal. A few hundred meters away, a section of the Bengal intelligentsia led by Mahasweta Devi, writer and social activist, burnt effigies of the home minister and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The open protest was symbolic of a truth that runs across the political fault line in the state: that the Bengal intelligentsia that stood by Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee is now divided on how to resolve the fracas at Lalgarh -- a generic name that represents the Naxal-stricken tribal heartland of West Bengal.

Although it remains undebatable that the major political parties in the state -- the CPI(M) and the TMC -- are clearly divided on the way forward at Lalgarh, there is brewing resentment within Mamata Banerjee's cultural camp on how the issue is being handled, more so with Banerjee now distancing herself from the Naxalites.

The Bengali intelligentsia that had unprecedentedly come together in support of Banerjee during the altercations at Nandigram and Singur, and raised the decibel level particularly before the Lok Sabha elections, is now seemingly fragmented.

In many ways, TMC MP Kabir Suman, singer, composer and former journalist who, contested his first election last year, is leading the charge.

"There is an ingrained racism and paternalism, along with a lack of understanding of the real problem at Lalgarh. Unlike Nandigram, the people fighting against the administration are not (ethnically) Bengalis, they are adivasis. These are people who are ready to fight on their own and for them, the TMC is not the clear alternative," says Suman, while explaining why many intellectuals have remained silent on the issue.

It is his assertion that the perception of the PCPA (People's Committee against Police Atrocities) being a frontal organisation for the ultra-Left rebels is incorrect, but despite this, the very risk of being labeled a Naxal-sympathiser is prompting "the Bengali bourgeoisie" to keep Lalgarh at an arms length.

"Some of them (intellectuals), who are now part of lucrative Railways' committees, stood at the rally at Singur to say they hadn't come to join the movement but to take stock of the situation. There were those who had sided with Buddhdeb (Bhattacharjee), now they have sided with Mamata (Banerjee). But there is a third-voice and I am part of that," he adds.

Despite Suman's tacit admission that much is unwell in the TMC intellectual club, filmmaker and journalist Rituparno Ghosh believes the coming together of a certain political party and independent thinkers was temporal.

Explaining the support for the TMC at Nandigram and Singur by the intelligentsia, once the champions of the Left Front, he says, "It was not a conflict of ideology. It was more of protest against suddenly blossoming of capitalism. And although it was a citizens' protest against the administration, right from the beginning, it became a movement of one (political) party against the other, rather than an appeal for justice."

Ghosh argues that since many who comprise the intellectual community have disagreed on Lalgarh, it is now coming across as a different stand.

"They (the intellectual) were misconstrued as a glorified mouthpiece for a particular party. Now, that they're expressing their own opinion, it's looking like a political rift. They have stayed, the party has shifted," he adds.

Mahasweta Devi, who is known to be close to Mamata Banerjee said, "I don't have to abide by what Trinamool is saying. I have been supporting the cause for 42 years."

Devjyot Ghoshal & Ishita Ayan Dutt in Kolkata