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Flying over the cuckoo’s nest

There are broadly two kinds of former communists — those who are expelled from the party or are made to leave it due to differences with party bureaucrats, and those who get disillusioned with the very ideology of communism.

books Updated: Sep 17, 2010 23:41 IST
Sumit Mitra

Left Politics In Bengal
Monobina Gupta
Orient Blackswan
n R195 n pp 272

There are broadly two kinds of former communists — those who are expelled from the party or are made to leave it due to differences with party bureaucrats, and those who get disillusioned with the very ideology of communism. The latter community isn’t much visible in India, though there are plenty of them in America. However, there are quite a few of the former kind in India who, after being shown the door by the party, have claimed to be morally superior to the its bosses, if not ‘better communists’. Some of them have ended up forming leftist-sounding fringe parties. Others have written ponderous and self-justifying books.

Monobina Gupta, author of this somewhat dishevelled but timely book on the CPI(M), is too low-profile a person to resort to bombast. It’s only in one place in this slim volume that she claims having joined the party in the early 1980s. But considering the absence of any reference to her subsequent status in the party, it may be presumed that she dropped off at some stage. Interestingly, the book offers no clue to what drove her to quit. That could have made it an interesting first-hand account of the ‘cuckoo’s nest’. Gupta focuses on the rot that set in the CPI(M) after it became the ‘ruling’ party in Bengal.

Her description of the party’s lust for power and its indifference to human rights are all second-hand stuff based on newspaper reports. It’s made worse by a series of mistakes like Writers’ Buildings being “built by British designer Thomas Lyon in 1780” on page 32 and, on page 44, it “started functioning as early as 1690”. Elsewhere, in a sudden spell of dementia, she makes B.C. Roy the chief minister of the “Congress-led United Front”. It is possible that the slipshod writing and editing lapses are collateral damage of a hurry to hit the market before the 2011 elections. It also explains the book’s soapbox oratory so familiar with the state: “People were fed up with the tyranny of the CPI-M, its politicisation of every branch of administration, every institution, its Orwellian persecution of dissidents.”

However, Gupta touches upon issues that attract a lot of public curiosity. Like the mysterious disappearance of Manisha Mukherjee, the then deputy controller of examinations of Calcutta University, in 1994. Till date, rumours are heard of her proximity to a top commissar who had the state’s universities under his thumb. She possibly paid the price with her life for having known too much about manipulations in the examination system to favour the ruling party’s allies. Though Gupta claims to know her from student days, she doesn’t seems to have anything to add to the newspaper reports she cites. However, this book is, in a way, indicative of the background to the present political slugfest in Bengal between the CPI(M) and its rivals, which the former seems to be losing. It isn’t a contest between the Left and the Right ideologies, as bystanders may assume. On the other hand, the CPI(M) has discovered the limitations of the ideology from which it has derived its name whereas many of its opponents are angry that it’s ‘betrayed’ the ideology. As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, it is not betrayal but despair, as the ‘ideology’ became a roadblock to progress.

Now everyone, Gupta included, uses the epithet ‘neo-liberal,’ the doctrinaire Left’s favorite abuse against those who want states to be small and efficient, against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Bengal’s chief minister since 2000, who thought himself to be the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. And the author is surely having the last laugh.

Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based writer