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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 36, Dated September 11, 2010
CULTURE & SOCIETY  
BOOKS

LEFT ALONE IN A CRUMBLING COFFEE HOUSE

Monobina Gupta tells a rich and compelling tale of Left politics, only failing when she succumbs to nostalgia, says SWAPAN DASGUPTA

Comrade chronicler
Monobina Gupta at home
Comrade chronicler Monobina Gupta at home
LEFT POLITICS IN
BENGAL
Monobina Gupta
Orient BlackSwan
272 pp; Rs. 195

ENGAGEMENT WITH Left politics may well be compared to college romances: a few passionate years of intense involvement, followed by a steady process of detachment and finally, a bitter separation, as both sides realise they have evolved very differently. Western literature is replete with writings in the ‘God that failed’ genre, some crudely propagandist and others reeking of pain and regret over many wasted years. The theme of ‘betrayal’ resonates constantly from both sides and, ironically, adds to the romance of a movement that combines lofty idealism with callous disregard of human feelings.

Monobina Gupta’s study of Left politics isn’t another journalistic account of the impulses that made for the building of the CPM’s Red Fort in West Bengal. It is a semiautobiographical account of her own involvement with the CPM and the realisation that what she had endorsed was an intellectually deficient, power-hungry and uncaring party. Based on her own experiences, and those of many of her comrades, she tries to capture the degeneration and decline of Bengali Communism. It is a compelling, well- written narrative that goes some way in explaining West Bengal’s growing distaste for the CPM.

What comes through is a familiar horror story centred on a party that tries to own its cadre’s body and soul, suppress all traces of individualism and deny comrades the luxury of intellectual and emotional independence. Like a medieval church, the party is brutally intolerant of dissent and heresy. It not only discards the contrarian but accompanies the rejection with vilification.

Gupta’s book is rich in detailing the emotional turbulence of the renegades and revisionists, including their search for an alternative Left space. The chapter on Lalgarh is particularly instructive for its insights into the way the Maoists replicate the CPM’s wariness of movements from below.

What comes through is a familiar horror story of a party that tries to own its cadre’s body and soul

The book is, however, somewhat sketchy in detailing the political intimidation mounted by the party and the state to maintain control. This is understandable. What attracted many people (including, I suspect, Gupta) is the headiness of belonging to a machine that was personified the ‘vanguard’. In the writings of Lenin and the political practice of Stalin, there was always a divergence between the party and the masses. The party was always the army of the enlightened, a status that always appealed to a Bengali bhadralok that flaunted its own superiority in a philistine- dominated world. The masses, on the other hand, were either voting fodder or a romantic abstraction.

Gupta delves into Marxist theology to explain why the seeds of degeneration were in-built. Unfortunately, she doesn’t locate the CPM and its politics within the context of a bhadralok society that is itself in a state of decay. On the contrary, there is an unmistakable deification of the economic stagnation that is the hallmark of contemporary West Bengal after 30 years of Left rule. Like others in the Left, Gupta looks back a bit too self-indulgently at the world of coffee house politics, subtitled films and street protests — the symbols of Bengal’s wasted years.


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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 36, Dated September 11, 2010

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