MAMATA, MAOISTS AND POVERTY
THE WOMAN WHO FREED A PEOPLE FROM ONE OF THE WORLD’S LONGEST SERVING MARXIST REGIMES IS TODAY THE EPITOME OF THE WORST MARXIST TRAIT: PARANOIA. MERCIFULLY, UNLIKE MAOISTS, DIDI HAS ONLY DECLARED WAR ON LAUGHTER.
The paradox is too much of a cliché to repeat. Still, as the politics of poverty, armed with country-made guns and guided by the redundant Book of liberation, challenges the state, stoic and soft, we can’t escape even clichés. India is one of the poorest countries, and India is an inevitable superpower of tomorrow. India, along with Africa, continues to provide the picture-perfect grotesqueries of poverty: The deformed child in black and white on glossy pages, published by aid agencies and the UN to break the frozen conscience of the western reader. The only consolation—or shall we say discrimination?—is that Bono doesn’t sing for the famished lands of the East, as he does for the Dark Continent. We are condemned to be content with the italicised angst of an Arundhati Roy. Beyond the realm of the cause junkies, though, the politics of poverty is not a romance. In India, it’s a sub-rural horror show. Or it’s a perverted variation of the politics of social justice.
Both are on display in India of the moment. When the so-called Maoists kidnap a civil servant or kill security personnel, we are not particularly shocked. The sheer frequency of their “revolutionary” method has given them a kind of political legitimacy in India. We negotiate with them with the same kind of business-like approach as we do on a water dispute or any other contentious issue between two democratic entities within the Constitution. We refuse to recognise what really these guys whom we call Maoists are. Mao did not really care for the lives of the bad eggs of revolution; they were mere statistics— jarring but necessary statistics—in the larger narrative of liberation. The Helmsman was not a kidnapper either. And the man’s last refuge in China today is the souvenir shop. In the rural remoteness of India, even the orphaned ghost of Mao will look incompatible with the bloodlust of armed thugs. They have declared war on India but India is reluctant to treat its own citizens as enemies of the state. It is the poverty, and the inevitable anger from an unequal society, argue one section which sympathises with the thugs. So the argument goes: Engage, but don’t eradicate. Total annihilation is a logical extension of permanent revolution, and hence it has to be the preserve of the killer. The vacillating state is caught between development, dialogue and resistance, even as it bleeds. Development can’t bring an end to the war on India. Poverty is an essential condition for this war. Still, India refuses to use the only option available.
It is poverty that powers the politics of social justice too. With Maoists, poverty is the ammunition that sustains the war. With Mamata Banerjee, it is a joke. A bad joke. A character in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of
Being says, “My enemy is not communism, but kitsch”. Kitsch, says the novelist, is the aesthetic ideal of totalitarianism. Kitsch defines the politics of social justice, and Mamata is its most effective apostle in India today, maybe more effective than the vintage Lalu Prasad or even the cardboard iconography of a Jayalalithaa. For the shirtless of rural Bengal, she is not a bad cartoon; she is Our Lady of Liberation. The woman who freed a people from one of the world’s longest serving Marxist regimes is today the epitome of the worst Marxist trait: Paranoia. Mercifully, unlike Maoists, Didi has only declared war on laughter.