Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Analysis of failure of secularism in West Bengal

-Biplab Pal 11/27/2007

Take one: Taslima hurricane on Indian secularism

At no point of Indian history, a person from other country occupied such a central stage in Indian politics and media as Taslima did in last few days. Her saga emerged as litmus test for ‘secularism’ in India . While Indian constitution provides for censorship of religiously sensitive material, it does not approve any kind of vandalism or intimidation to anybody. Over last few days we have seen so called leftists have miserably buckled before Islamic fundamentalists and exposed their ideological bankruptcy. At the same time, Narendra Modi is making ‘Taslima’ as his prime and prized campaign against Congress. Congress, at last, has been able to show some secular character by a tough statement from Prime Minister vowing full security for Taslima and action against Islamic extremists. I would try to shed some lights on how WB leftists become completely bankrupt in the matter of secularism.

Take two: Legacy of Muzaffar Ahamed and CPI

CP(I)M was founded by Muzaffar Ahamed. The Communist party of India was first set up at Taskhent on 17 October 1920. Comrade Muzaffar established contact with the International Communist Movement and began collecting papers and journals in large numbers from abroad. The Vanguard of the Indian Independence , the first publication of the party, came out on 15 May 1922. Muzaffar met Comrade Abdul Halim towards the end of 1922 and jointly took up the task of building the Communist Party of India.

Between 1938-40, the Communist Party had spread to all 28 districts of undivided Bengal and party members began to be enrolled in thousands. Trade Unions and Kisan Sabhas developed in large numbers. The task of re-organizing the party continued throughout the fifties. The party began to emerge as a national party both inside and outside the legislature. Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed was at the centre of all these activities. He was the Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Committee of the party from 1940 to 1943. Throughout his life Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed remained in the leadership of the party.
Several features of Muzaffar Ahmed's life attracted everyone's attention. His deep devotion to working class internationalism, firm conviction in democracy, and tremendous enthusiasm for equal rights of women combined to make him a great revolutionary.
Ahmed believed that freedom of press and speech is essential for expansion of mind and that the exchange of ideas is essential to encourage thought. He used to protect and nurture press, paper and bookshops with loving care. The National Book Agency and Ganashakti Press are his contributions. His articles on many different subjects are to be found scattered in many journals and magazines. His writings on peasant problems, his Communist Party of India : Years of Formation 1921-1933 and his Myself and the Communist Party of India throw valuable light on contemporary politics.

Every Bengali comrade who took to street for undivided CPI in '70s was disciple of comrade Muzaffar-you name it-be it Jyoti Bose or Biman or Buddha or Promad Dasgupta. In the seventies, three distinct characters made communism popular in West Bengal —their struggle for working mass, liberation of women and protecting democracy against Congress goons. This was the legacy of comrade Muzaffar, popularly known as KakaBabu. Every CP(I)M member lived by these principles till they captured power in 1977.

Take three: 1977-to present: sordid history of decline of CPM party ideology

Before that, we look for how CP(I)M succumbed to religious right wing and lost its secular values. Before 1977, party workers had nothing to gain-except to embrace misery at the hand of Congress and Naxal goons. They worked purely for their dedication to ideology. Who were they? Mostly a group of educated people who struggled in their personal life to realize class struggle. Post 1977, saw emergence of a different set of leadership devoid of their commitment to secularism. It is extremely important we analyze the class and character of this new leadership. First I will start with Muslim leadership in CPM. One has to understand, communism in India mostly started with Muslims as they have seen and been subjected to oppression more than educated Hindus.

Muslims leaders of CPM used to be better secular minded than their Hindu counterparts in '70s and '80s--but they have been gradually removed from the party power because they could not gather much support among Muslim community as Congress did wide-spread propaganda that communists do not approve Allah. I have witnessed this gradual deterioration sadly. I have seen how Abdul Bari established CP(I)M in Murshidabad since 1970s. He was a close friend of my father and both once worked for leftist cause in Muslim dominated areas of Murshidabad. By 1982-84, Bari uncle was a frustrated man--he frequently complained how fundamentalist Muslims are rising on CPM ranks-and finally he was removed. He died broken heart. Today leaders like Muhammad Selim, Abu Sufian are the face of minority in CPM--who are at best Islamic leftists --a garden variety of Sonar Pathar Bati. There are exception like CPM MP Moinul Hossain, a young comrade who took ardent task to secularize Muslim community in village area by writing book and criticizing Islamic texts. But look what happened! Last time he lost his seat because Congress capitalized his criticism and he was portrayed as Murtad. This is true secular character of Congress. Bottom line-CPM Muslim leaders already succumbed to religious rights to garner vote by 1987.

Now, let focus on Hindu leadership in CP(I)M. CP(I)M allowed sublime castism in its intra-party power. I lived in a locality where Mahishya cast were majority. Their vote bank matters the most. So even if, there were more charismatic Brahmin leader of CP(I)M, all the top party positions were filled with the people from Mahishya cast. Even I can not blame Congress with this kind of cast bias. What better you can expect from this kind of leadership that was elected based on cast politics? Leftists? I have quite a high number of relatives in CP(I)M rank and file-they have not abandoned their cast and religious bias completely.

Take Four: Rise of Islamic fundamentalism in WB

Muslims in WB comprises mostly working class peasants in rural areas. There are two kinds of Muslims in West Bengal—Urdu speaking in Calcutta , called Bihari Muslims and Bengali speaking Muslims in the village area. Religion of Bengali speaking Muslim is a inheritance of mixed culture drawn from Baul, Fakir-Sahajia tradition of Bengal . Very little influence of orthodox Islam could be found among them till ‘80S. When I was a kid, I have not found a single Bengali Muslim offering five time prayer in village area-they were exception. Gradually they become a norm. How? Arab Petrodollars fueled billions of dollars in these area and Madrasas after Madrasas, Masjids after Masjids were mushroomed during ‘80s-2000 as value of gasoline took a meteoric rise in international market. Arab money provided free food to the poor kids and converted them into orthodox Islam. In the past, spiritual need of the Muslims was mostly drawn from soil—musical tune of the Bauls praising the love for Allah—cult of devotion was the source for their spiritual inspiration. Gradually Imams took their place with their hate mongering teaching—so the cult of love was shifted to the cult of hatred.

Was CP(I)M watching? Of course. Mr Bari wanted to stop mushrooming of Madrasa and reported to leadership but in vein. As the Muslim fundamentalists gained power, they kicked out CP(I)M. CP(I)M is weak in two districts-Murshidab ad and Maldah—in both the districts, Muslims are majority. Congress enjoyed power here thanks to Islamic fundamentalists in their ranks. So Islamic fundamentalists are boon to Congress but a threat to CP(I)M. But then why CP(I)M is buckling before the Muslim fundamentalists? To understand this, we need to analyze Bengali Hindu Nationalism and failure of BJP as political force in WB.

Take Five: Why buckling before Muslim fundamentalists?

Rise of BJP posed a threat to Bangladeshi refugee vote banks of CP(I)M during ’91-96. But it failed. BJP never gained any ground in WB because Hinduism in Bengal is quite different than Hinduism promoted by BJP. Most of the Bengalis follow reformed Hinduism-either from the tradition of Chaitanya for poor mass or Ramakrishna order for educated elites. Both the orders promote ritual free spiritual Hinduism. This image of Hinduism does not fit with cast infested Hinduism of cow belt championed by BJP. So it is difficult for Bengali Hindus to accept the ideology of Hinduvta which appears to them as imperialism of the North India . However, it will be wrong to assume that Bengali Hindus are secular-indeed they are soft towards Hinduvta but not enough inclined to bring them into the power. It is because of this problem of separate Bengali Hindu nationalism, CPM knows that their Hindu vote bank is secured. It will not switch to Congress either because its image has already been tarnished as party of Islamic fundamentalists and servitude of Delhi high commands. So CPM emerged as the only champion of Bengali Hindu Nationalism!

So question is, when there is no threat of losing Hindu votes, how they can win back their lost ground to Muslim fundamentalists? CPM is choosing easiest option. Recruit the fundamentalists in their leadership. Lot of Imams are party leaders in the district of Murshidabad and Maldah. They are the latest comrades of CPM. Which ideology do you expect from them?

Take six: The future?
Bengali Hindu nationalism is the most prevailing sentiment of WB yet it is not represented by any political force. Bengali Hindu nationalism is characterized by reformed Hinduism, Bengali music " culture, defiance of power management from Delhi and rejection of or apathy towards Islamic culture. Except for element of hatred towards Muslims, it has nothing in common with Hindu nationalism. And the very reason, it has not evolved into a political force despite a dominance of sentiment, has to do with its element of hatred towards the Muslims. This is a tragedy and let me explain this point further.

Bengali Muslims in general are highly respectful of spiritual tradition of Chaitanya and RamaKrishna. However, they are opposed to ritualistic Hinduism of cow belt. So is Bengali Hindu Nationalism. Al Amin Mission started following the footsteps of RamaKrishna Mission and not any Arabic NGO. So far Al Amin Mission is the most successful reform movement among Bengali Muslims producing hundreds of doctors and engineers by adopting poor Muslims to their schools. Bengali Hindus have failed to recognize fellow Muslims and isolated them from Bengali nationalism.

Therefore, need of the hour is to convert Bengali Hindu nationalism into Bengali nationalism by rejecting the element of hatred and apathy towards the Bengali Muslims. Bengali nationalism is the only political force that can unite Hindus and Muslims of Bengal against confused and fallen leftists of Bengal . Order of Chaitanya, Ramakrishna and Sufism represent liberal spiritual tradition of Bengal . Neither of the order is in conflict with Marxism or any scientific thinking as they are the product of reformed movement that acknowledges dynamic nature of an evolving religion and opposed to any class exploitation. Rich tradition of Bengali culture and literature can serve as basic ground of political motivation. Bengali secularism can not be devoid of spiritualism—it is impossible given the spiritual inclination of the mass and our tradition. Instead we can assimilate tradition of Sufism, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Rabindranath and Nazrul to promote secular spiritualism of Bengal .

Basic hindrance for evolution of such political force in WB is the pathetic attitude of Bengali Hindus towards the Muslims. Sooner, they would be able to assimilate them into Bengali nationalistic force better. Or else Bengali Muslims will be hijacked by Arab nationalism (Jamat) and Hindus will be dominated by North Indian imperialism as a result of collapsing ideology of CPM.

[The article is not copyrighted- and meant for free circulation]