Birds of a feather: Prakash Karat and Mamata Banerjee (Comment)

October 11th, 2008 - 10:18 am ICT by IANS  

If Prakash Karat is honest with himself, he will see the similarity between his opposition to the nuclear deal and Mamata Banerjee’s scuttling of the Nano automobile project in Singur in West Bengal.Both the general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Trinamool Congress president were guided by the interests of their respective parties to the exclusion of all other considerations.

Karat, for instance, did not care whether his stalling of the nuclear deal would harm the overall national interest by continuing to keep India under the post-Pokhran I sanctions on nuclear fuel and advanced technology. Pokhran I in 1974 marked India’s first nuclear test. It was followed by Pokhran II in 1998.

On her part, Mamata Banerjee wasn’t bothered whether by forcing the Tatas to quit Singur, she would scare away all investors from West Bengal, thereby undermining the state’s developmental efforts aimed at its long-delayed industrial rejuvenation.

To be fair, both offered cogent, if partial, explanations for their stand. Karat’s view, as that of his other Leftist colleagues, was that the nuclear deal would tie India to American apron strings, making it a junior partner in serving the interests of US “imperialism”.

Mamata Banerjee’s view was that not only were the Tatas given fertile land on favourable terms, but not all the farmers gave their consent to the acquisition. Hence her demand that the disputed 400 acres of the total of 997 acres be returned to the owners.

However, the failure of the two leaders lay in their restricted outlook. For instance, Karat’s views recalled the post-1945 period of confrontation between the American and Soviet worldviews without any appreciation of the fact that the Cold War had ended, the Soviet Union had collapsed and socialism was no longer the inspiring beacon it once was.

It was pointless, therefore, to keep India locked in a posture of antagonism against America like Cuba and Venezuela. The Left’s position also ignored the fact that in the emerging world India is no longer a weak Third World country but one with a booming economy and a vibrant multicultural polity which had earned the admiration of the rest of the world.

It was fatuous to believe, therefore, that India would be a clay model in America’s hands if only because the US itself had learnt the limitations of its power. The only purpose which the Left’s outdated ideological obsession would serve was to keep India devoid of nuclear fuel and technology at a time when China and Pakistan continue to have a clandestine nuclear relationship. It is necessary to remember that India has been at war with both these less than friendly neighbours.

If Karat sees the world as it was in the 1950s and 60s, Mamata Banerjee’s eyes are focussed on her inveterate enemy in West Bengal, the CPI-M. Having been at the receiving end of the violence unleashed against her personally and against her party by the Marxist militias throughout her political career, she has made it her life’s ambition to oppose the Left tooth and nail.

While her guts and determination has many admirers across the board in West Bengal and the rest of the country, she has made the mistake this time of overstepping her limits by opposing the CPI-M even when it was trying to rectify some of its own past mistakes. She would have shown greater political wisdom if instead of blindly opposing the Singur project, she had taunted the comrades for wooing the capitalists back after having driven them out of the state with pointless militant agitations in the sixties and seventies.

Such a nuanced stance would have shown that she was not opposing the Left for opposition’s sake, but was generous enough to let the communists repent for their past sins by supping with their former “class enemies”.

If she had taken such a position, she would have emerged as a mature leader who was willing to take into account the changing realities. Now, however, she is likely to be seen as a reckless maverick with little idea about the state’s developmental needs. What is more, if she now carries her pro-farmer agitation to Katwa in Burdwan district to oppose the acquisition of land for a super thermal power station, then she will be doing a great disservice to her own political future.

What is obvious from the single-track minds of Karat and Mamata Banerjee is that the regional base of their parties has severely restricted their perspective. As is known, the CPI-M has failed to expand beyond West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura while the Trinamool Congress exists only in West Bengal.

The result of this tunnel vision is that while the CPI-M leader is unable to place India in the present-day global context, the Trinamool Congress chief cannot even understand what is good for her own state.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

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