All posts by marginalmatters

LEGACY OF DENIAL  

By BAPPADITYA PAUL  

IN April through early May, Naxalbari was in news for BJP president Amit Shah’s visit and an adivasi couple joining Trinamool within a week of having hosted lunch for Shah in their hutment.

Irony, this happened close to the 50th anniversary of Naxal Movement on 24 May. Fifty springs ago, it was an uprising of the working class in hitherto unknown Naxalbari village that stemmed from an unflinching belief in Communist ideology to bring about social and economic equity.

This time it has been about drawing media attention for injecting a religion centric politics that has historically failed to make headway in Bengal, and a counter tactic for grabbing people’s allegiance by hook or by crook.

That, over the past near one month, Naxalbari has been in the news more for Amit Shah episode than the Naxal Movement turning 50, is ironic but not surprising! Such thing happens when the proponents of a landmark uprising hesitate to claim ownership of its history and hesitate to tell people the real story, leaving it to the ruling class to concoct a propaganda by publicising half-truth.

In all these years since its birth in 1967, Naxal Movement has been riddled by state suppression, factionalism, and the branching into Maoist Struggle that considers guerrilla warfare the only means to achieve social and economic equity, as against the core Naxal ideology of dependence on mass movement and using arms only as an enabler.

Factionalism and the Maoist deviation robbed the proponents of Naxal Movement an opportunity to tell people that the uprising did make some remarkable achievements for the exploited and the toiling masses.

These include putting an end to a cruelty named Hattabahar wherein tea garden managements in northern Bengal used to literally out throw ‘disobedient’ workers and their family anytime of the day or night without notice; abolishing Zamindari wherein a handful of wealthy individuals used to own huge tracts of cultivable land, and effecting land reforms that gave ownership of farmland to the peasants who tilled them.

In contrast, an overzealous ruling class kept on feeding the media about the collateral bloodshed of Naxal Movement. There has been a conscious design to bury every single piece of history that has got anything to do with Naxal uprising, and rather portray it as a misguided venture by some savage populace.

The net result: by and large the people in India, especially those in urban areas, consider Naxal Movement to be anti-development and anti-India. The perception gets reaffirmed every time the Maoists carryout a guerrilla attack on State forces, which get huge publicity in the media, while the issues that they fight for take a backseat.

The moderate Communist parties ~ CPI and CPI-M are equally responsible for the legacy of Naxal Movement getting overcast by relentless misinformation campaign by the ruling class and for being overtaken by the Maoist deviation.

This is despite that the foundation for CPI-M’s coming to power in Bengal and then ruling the state for 34 years was laid by the Naxalbari uprising and the years of struggle preceding that.

Until coming to power, both CPI and then CPI-M used to talk of a people’s revolution and made the Communist foot soldiers in northern Bengal strive hard to achieve the goal. Once in power, they watered down the idea of a revolution, leaving the foot soldiers in a state of disgruntlement and confusion.

It was almost akin to Mamata Banerjee distancing herself from Chhatradhar Mahato and Maoist leader Kishenji as soon as she assumed Bengal’s power seat in 2011. In the preceding 4-5 years, she had shared dais with Mahato and participated in protest against the killing of Maoist leader Azad in a 2010 police encounter in Andhra Pradesh.

The only difference between CPI-M’s stance during Naxalbari uprising and Mamata’s in 2011, is that she has been quicker in making the volte-face. The ‘politically conscious’ people of Bengal neither spoke out then nor they are speaking out now.

Given that Mamata Banerjee has consolidated her grip on Bengal’s vote bank, and BJP is gradually taking over the slot of the main opposition, CPI-M and its allies in disarray are now desperately looking for shortcuts to reinstall the politics of status quo that they practised for better part of the 34-years.

Even on the 50th anniversary of Naxal Movement, there is no sign of getting into introspection. There is hardly any effort at claiming the legacy of what had been the first “spring thunder” over India.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN and author of The First Naxal: An Authorised Biography of Kanu Sanyal (2014) and Pehla Naxali (2017) published by Sage Publications. This piece first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 25 May 2017)

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In head-on fight with dev plank, Gorkhaland sentiment wins again in Darjeeling Hills

By BAPPADITYA PAUL

NOTWITHSTANDING the extensive campaign for months by several ministers, Darjeeling Hills have remained out of bound for Trinamool in the civic polls, the counting votes for which took place today, 17 May.

The results have reaffirmed that when it comes to choosing between development and Gorkhaland statehood sentiment, people in the Hills prefer to be emotive than clever.

This is despite the fact that Trinamool government had pumped in crores of rupees through 15 development boards formed for various ethnic groups in the Hills, and also contested the municipal elections in alliance with Gorkha National Liberation Front that had waged the first bout of Gorkhaland Movement between 1986 and 1988.

Mamata Banerjee’s party has, however, succeeded to germinate its seed by capturing the Mirik civic body that was part of Siliguri Assembly constituency until 2011 when delimitation relocated it under the Kurseong Assembly segment.

Trinamool has also won a handful of seats in Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong municipalities. In that sense, it is for the first time in 28 years since 1989 that a political party from the plains has managed to get a toehold in the Hills. Before the first Gorkhaland Movement breaking out in 1986, CPI-M and Congress used to have a sound electoral presence in the Hills.

Going by the overall results of the civic polls, out of the 32 seats in Darjeeling Municipality, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has won 31 and Trinamool 1. In Kurseong out of the 20 seats, GJM has won 17 and Trinamool 3; and at Kalimpong, out of the 23 seats, GJM has captured 19, Trinamool 2, and Jan Andolan Party of ex-GJM leader Harka Bahadur Chhetri 2.

As regards Mirik civic body, out of the 9 seats, Trinamool has wrested 6, and GJM 3. When civic elections were held in Darjeeling Hills last time in 2012, GJM had pocketed Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong municipalities uncontested, but in Mirik it had to suffer defeat to Independent candidates backed by the CPI-M in two seats.

In this civic election, a combination of factors has acted in favour of Trinamool in Mirik. First, Trinamool government made Mirik a sub-division only about a month before the elections. Second, in as many as 7 wards, the government gave land rights to hundreds of landless families.

Last but not the least, due to being part of Siliguri Assembly segment until 2011, CPI-M used to give a special attention on Mirik and maintain a sound organisation keeping the practice of political fight alive. This made Mirik not to succumb to the monopoly of GJM in 2012, and now in 2017, it has make Mirik align with the Trinamool.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 17 May 2017.)

 

Work starts in Kolkata for India’s first under-river Metro tunnel

BY BAPPADITYA PAUL

IT was in 1984 that Kolkata had gifted India the country’s first Metro railway. Now, 33 years down the line, the City of Joy has added another first to India’s urban transportation landscape.

The public sector Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Ltd today, 14 April 2017, commenced work on digging up under river Metro rail tunnels that will connect Howrah to Salt Lake via north Kolkata.

The 520 metre long twin river tunnels, passing under the Hooghly river, are part of East-West Metro Corridor that KMRCL is constructing since 2009. The 16.55 km Metro corridor is to run from Salt Lake Sector-V to Howrah Maidan.

Today morning, KMRCL organised a puja at Ramkrishnapur Ghat located opposite to Howrah railway station on Hooghly river bank, seeking blessings of the river God. Following this, a tunnel boring machine ceremoniously began the tunnelling work.

“This is happening for the first time in the country. We have made all necessary arrangements to ensure safety of our workers and complete the task smoothly,” project manager Virendra Kaul said.

The proposed tunnels will be dug about 90 feet or 18 metres below the Hooghly river. They will run from below Howrah station post office at Howrah station-end, to Armenian Ghat, at Kolkata-end, about a 1-km away from the business hub Burrabazar.

Of the two underwater tunnels, one is for Howrah-bound Metro trains; the other is for Salt Lake-bound trains. KMRCL officials said that 250 workers will be working on the tunnels on a daily basis.

The target is to place 10 concrete rings a day, each of which measures 1.5 metres. Project engineers said that at this rate they should be able to complete the 520 metre twin tunnels in the next three months, that is, by end June.

Once this happens, Kolkata would have added yet another feather to its glory. People, however, shall have to wait at least until 2020 to ride a Metro train passing below the Hooghly river.

KMRCL has plans to throw open a near 7 km stretch from Salt Lake to Phoolbagan, off Sealdah station, by end 2018. The stretch between Phoolbagan to Howrah Maidan via Sealdah shall have to wait for the work to get completed.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 14 April 2017.)

 

Rare scene in Bengal: RSS frontal organisations hold armed rallies on Ram Navami

By Bappaditya Paul

WEST Bengal today (05 April 2017) remained witness to something that it has rarely seen before and which might be an indication to the days that are in store for the state, so far widely believed to be liberal in nature!

Various frontal organisations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP today took out armed processions in different parts of the state to commemorate Ram Navami that celebrates the birthday of Hindu god Lord Ram.

Not only adult men, teenage boys and girls also took part in such processions, unfurling saffron flags in one hand and brandishing swords or similar weapons in the other. They shouted slogans like Jai Shri Ram, Bharat Mata Ki Jai, etc glorifying Lord Ram and the country.

Until now, such armed rallies could only be witnessed in Bengal during the annual Muharram processions by the Muslims. Albeit for the past few years, instead of brandishing actual weapons, participants in Muharram processions have been gradually switching over to wooden or plastic replicas of the same.

The armed Ram Navami processions that RSS and BJP frontal organisations today took out included one at Paddapukur (Bhowanipore) in the heart of Kolkata, at Kada Road in Durgapur, and Karidhya in Birbhum district.

Bhowanipore happens to be the home constituency of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Participants in the procession there included several BJP leaders and many of them moved at the front in motorbikes, wielding swords in hand.

Participants in the Durgapur procession were mainly teenage and college-going girls, sporting white salwar and saffron dhupatta, and had swords in their hand. Asansol, which is a neighbouring town of Durgapur, has a BJP MP and Union minister in Babul Supriyo.

But of all the processions taken out today, the one at Karidhya in Birbhum was the largest one comprising a few hundred youths and teenage boys. Almost all of them were brandishing swords or similar weapons. Birbhum has a sizeable number of Adivasi tribal population and has been witnessing occasional communal flareups for the past two years.

Upbeat by the turnout in the processions, Bengal BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said that it was “a good sign that Hindu population in Bengal has gained courage and was trying to unite by taking up arms.” Only such weapons that were used by Lord Ram have been brandished in the processions today, he added.

Apprehensive that BJP will gain political mileage by organising Ram Navami processions, Trinamool took out counter rallies in some parts of the state such as Howrah, Siliguri, and Birbhum. In Birbhum, Trinamool workers organised pujas of Lord Ram’s disciple Hanuman all over the district.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who addressed an administrative public meeting at Bankura today, hit out at the BJP accusing them of misusing Ram Navami. “This is a solemn festival celebrated in Bengal for ages. Don’t hijack Ram Navami and do not try to incite communal tension,” she cautioned the saffron party.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 5 April 2017.)

 

First time in Manipur’s electoral history, a Bengali wins Assembly poll

By Bappaditya Paul

IN Manipur’s electoral history, a Bengali candidate has for the first time won in an Assembly poll in the tiny state dominated by Manipuris and tribal communities.

Ashab Uddin (51), a full-time social worker who survives on his family’s agricultural income, has won from the Jiribam Assembly constituency bordering the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley in Assam.

Ashab has defeated outgoing Congress MLA and former minister T Debendra Singh by 1,650 votes. In the constituency of 28,140 voters, Ashab has secured 8,189 votes to register victory. The results of the Assembly elections, held in Manipur in two phases on 04 and 08 March, were declared today.

What is more important is that, this man of medium built and moderate height contested the elections as an Independent candidate and practically on donations from common Bengalis living in Jiribam.

Jiribam is the only Assembly segment, out of the total 60 in Manipur, which is inhabited by Bengalis and the sizeable amongst them are Muslim by religion. Despite this, no mainstream political parties ever gave nomination to a Bengali to contest the Assembly poll there.

This is because of an undercurrent of anti-Bengali sentiment that is widespread in Manipur. Thus, for years, the Bengalis in Jiribim rallied behind the Congress whom they found a little sympathising, notwithstanding the overt jingoism that has been in play in Manipur.

But alleging that they have been a neglected lot despite extending support to Congress year after year, the Bengalis of Jiribam this time decided to take a plunge into the election and fielded Ashab Uddin as their unanimous Independent candidate.

A local voluntary organisation, Bengali Samaj Unnyan Sangstha, played crucial role in unifying the community for the elections. But it has not been a smooth sail. During the campaign, a public meeting was planned for Ashab at a playground in Jiribam and was scheduled to be addressed by Bengali leaders from Silchar and other parts of Barak Valley.

Manipur administration declined permission for the same citing law and order issues. This made Ashab and his supporters to fall back on street corner meetings and door to door to campaign. Now, these seems to have worked more for him than the public gathering could have.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 11 March 2017.)

 

KALIKA PRASAD: MUSIC FROM THE PERIPHERY FALLS SILENT

By Bappaditya Paul

“When the news rang in, it felt like the earth beneath my feet had vanished, and I was falling into a bottomless abyss of darkness,” says Mon, from the ancestral house of noted folk singer Kalika Prasad Bhattacharya at Silchar in Barak Valley.

Mon, in her mid-20’s, is the cousin sister of Kalika, who passed away today morning in a terrible road accident at Gurap in Hooghly in West Bengal. They grew up under the same roof of the illustrious Bhattacharya family located at Silchar’s Central Road: albeit when Kalika was in college, Mon was barely a toddler.

Like Mon, no member of the large joint family could at first believe that Prasad (family and friends called him by this name) was actually no more.

“How could one come to terms with a crude reality like this? He was only 47, and yet had to take leave in such a terrible way,” wailed Prasad’s octogenarian uncle Madhusudhan Bhattacharya.

“He has been the brightest star of our family,” he adds. The statement could not have been more apt, given that the Bhattacharya family has a legacy to boast of. Silchar Sangeet Vidyalaya, one of the oldest institutes of Barak Valley, was set up by this family before Independence.

Kalika’s father Ram Bhattacharya was a known cultural organiser of Silchar; his uncle Mukundadas Bhattacharya was a famous danseur mostly known for his rendering of Sukanta Bhattacharya’s Ranar, and another uncle Ananta Bhattacharya had dedicated his entire life to collect and preserve the folk music of Barak Valley.

Kalika was born in Silchar in 1970, and just about the time he had started to drift away from breast milk to solid food, his mother gave birth to a daughter. This robbed him of the care that a kid is entitled to get from his mother as she was now engrossed in taking care of the new-born.

“But this, turned out to be a blessing for Prasad. His spinster paternal aunt, Anandamoyee Bhattacharya, took charge of him. She has all along been a very good singer (has been the principal of Silchar Sangeet Vidyalaya) and thus, started imparting music lessons to Prasad from a very tender age,” recalls Madhusudhan.

By the time, Kalika enrolled at Narsing Higher Secondary School in the town, his uncle Mukundadas Bhattacharya, had earned kudos as a danseur. Kalika would often play tabla as his uncle performed in Silchar and elsewhere.

Mukundadas was also an activist of the Communist Party’s Indian People’s Theatre Association, and this made several Communist leaders visit the family quite often. This introduced Kalika to the Left politics.

It did not take long for him to become an active member of CPI-M’s student wing SFI and in due course, its unit secretary in Silchar. At Guru Charan College, where Kalika studied BA, he was elected the general secretary of the SFI-led student union in 1989.

Just as Kalika was finishing college, his folk music collector uncle, Ananta Bhattacharya, passed away, leaving behind a treasure trove that he had accumulated over two decades. Kalika eventually took charge of the collection and started dusting them off. Until then, he was hardly into singing.

In 1996, Kalika came over to Kolkata to study master’s in Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University. He found accommodation at his elder cousin sister Bhabhani Chakraborty’s house at Santoshpur in south Kolkata.

By 1999, when Kalika completed his master’s by securing a gold medal, the popular music in Bengal had been taken over by music bands. With music in his blood, how could he not become a party to this? He did, but with a difference.

“Prasad decided to form a group to take the Bengali folk music from the periphery like Barak Valley to the centre stage in Bengal. He gathered a few others hailing from Barak Valley who lived in Kolkata due to professional obligations, and then went to a teacher of his at Jadavpur University requesting him to suggest a name for the group. Thus was born Dohar in 1999,” Madhusudhan tells.

Over the next few years, Kalika went on performing folk music in different parts of Bengal, many a times in fusion with other singing forms. In this, he largely benefited from the collection he had inherited from uncle Ananta Bhattacharya.

Dohar was yet to click the way it did a few years later, that in 2006, Kalika married Ritacheta Goswami, a JU junior from the Bengali department. Ritacheta, a native of Raiganj in north Bengal, is a school teacher by profession.

To run the family, Kalika took job with an FM radio channel in Kolkata in 2007. He quit the job in 2010, as this was affecting his music. Subsequently, he dedicated himself completely for Dohar, not only ending up earning the legendary status as a proponent of Bengali folk music in the recent times, but also got some commercial success.

He bought a flat at Santoshpur and lived there with wife and five-year-old daughter Ashabhari until today morning. Around 07 this morning, he went out in a hired Innova car  with his team to perform at a college in Birbhum’s Suri.

Around 08.50 am, the speeding car hit the railing of Durgapur Expressway at Gurap in Hooghly and then onto a culvert. The car was then flung into the air several feet below into a ditch and got almost twisted. Apart from Kalika, his team members Rajib Das, Sudipto Chakraborty (Kalika’s nephew), Niladri Roy, Sandipan Pal, and driver Arnab Rao were in the car.

Residents of the area rescued them and with the help of cops from Gurap police station, rushed to the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital. Kalika was declared brought dead; others are still under treatment.

Kalika’s demise has brought down a pall of gloom over Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee paid her last tribute at Nabanna when his mortal remains were transported to Kolkata from Burdwan around 4 pm.

The mortal remains were then kept at Rabindra Sadan, where, who’s who of Bengal’s music fraternity, offered their tribute. From there, the body has been taken to Keoratola Crematorium in the city for cremation with full state honours this evening.

Kalika’s younger singer Indrani Bhattacharya has flown down from Silchar to attend the cremation far away from his place of birth ~ a land that has given blood for Bengali language, more than once.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 7 March 2017.)

Grab one last copy as Hindustan Times shuts Kolkata edition from Monday

By Bappaditya Paul

COME Monday, 09 January, India’s leading English daily, Hindustan Times, would discontinue its edition from Kolkata after a stint of about 16 years in the City of Joy.

Employees at the Kolkata office of the second most widely read English news daily in India received an e-mail from their Delhi headquarters on 04 January informing about management’s decision to stop publishing from the city.

This, the management wrote, was being done with the aim of investing into “Digital Future” which the company thinks would be more rewarding. Independent web portal Newslaundry reports that the company would also stop publishing the editions from Ranchi, Bhopal, and Indore from the same day.

The move comes about a year since the company started imparting training to its Kolkata editorial staff into producing and publishing news on digital platforms. For the past near two months or so, Hindustan Times Kolkata edition began to publish more news online and made reporters and copy editors to publicise the same on social media.

An editorial staff with the Kolkata edition said that ever since getting the e-mail, the 120-odd employees here were in utter anxiety, fearing that they might be sacked.

“We hear that the company would barely retain three to five reporters in Kolkata,” he said on conditions of anonymity. On Monday, an executive editor of the newspaper from Mumbai is scheduled to visit Kolkata to announce the downsizing and the next course of action.

The strength of the editorial team of Kolkata edition ~ including reporters and copy editors ~ is around 40. Some of them have already started approaching other English dailies published from the city for opportunities.

This is the first instance in India of any major newspaper stopping to publish print editions as the media world marches into a digital era where news is consumed more on the Internet.

Hindustan Times had started its edition from Kolkata in early 2000 and this was followed by a satellite edition from Siliguri the next year. The Siliguri edition, however, was discontinued within a year or so, but the Kolkata edition continued despite making losses year after year.

Until the announcement on 04 January, everyone associated with Hindustan Times in Kolkata used to believe that the company would never stop publishing from here as the city was once the base of the Birlas, who own the newspaper.

The unforeseen move probably also indicates at the dying ad revenue market in Bengal due to the absence of major industries in the state.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 7 January 2017.)

‘Trinamool can never be an alternative to progressive Left movement in Bengal’

By bappaditya paul

THE alliance of CPI-M’s Students’ Federation of India and CPI-ML Liberation’s All India Students’ Association on Saturday swept the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) elections by winning all the four top seats.

Among the winners is a Bong ~ Satarupa Chakraborty ~ who has been elected the new general secretary of JNUSU. She defeated Vijay Kumar of BJP’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad by 1,094 votes.

There is an added dimension to Satarupa’s identity: she hails from Karimganj town in Barak Valley, where people became martyrs in the 1961 and after in opposing the imposition of Assamese language on them and upholding the right to study their mother tongue Bengali.

There is another aspect that needs a mention. Satarupa comes from Barak Valley where Left politics have been elbowed to a marginal corner for over three decades now.

No wonder, Satarupa’s father Sankarjyoti Chakraborty, is far from being jubilant by the fact that his daughter from remote Karimganj has travelled this far to get elected a JNUSU office bearer.

“We are happy that she has won but I believe her focus should be on studies. We did not object to her getting into election as she told us that at JNU, student politics is part of education,” Sankarjyoti said over the phone.

NEWSMEN caught up with Satarupa on a telephonic interview for her reaction to the big win, the anxiety of her parents, and her future plans. Here are the excerpts:

How does it feel having got elected the general secretary of JNUSU?

There is nothing individual about it. It is the collective victory of the people who stood up against the #ShutDownJNU campaign of the BJP and joined the fight for #StandWithJNU.

But getting elected to the student union of India’s topmost university and that too when you belong to Barak Valley where Left has no strength, is remarkable. Isn’t that?  

Once the Left, in particular the CPI-M, used to have a robust presence in Barak Valley. Over time, the party has become frail there and after the demise of Nurul Huda last year; there is a crisis of leadership. But the Left politics there is not over.

How did you get drawn into Left politics?

I became a member of SFI in 2006 when I was studying XII at Karimganj College. But my association with Left politics became strengthened while I was pursuing masters at Hyderabad University in 2010-12.

Subsequently, I joined JNU in 2013 to pursue MPhil in philosophy and got elected the student convenor of School of Social Sciences at JNU last year. I learned a lot from the tumultuous days at JNU campus last winter; we were the ones who took lead in the protests when our fellow students were being branded “anti-nationals” and were being slapped with sedition charges.

Has your family been associated with Left politics?

Not exactly! My father was employed with LICI and had an inclination towards CPI-M but he never took part in active politics. This holds true for my homemaker mom, who is a native of Tripura where the party has been in power for over two decades now.

However, my elder brother Subhankar, who is pursuing research at National Institute of Advance Studies in Bangalore, is an active member of CPI-M and is into progressive movements.

What was your parents’ reaction to you participating in JNUSU polls?

They have been in anxiety ever since the turmoil broke out at the campus last year but they never stopped me from joining student movement. All they wanted me to is focus on studies alongside the campus politics.

Bengal, till the other day, was the strength of Left politics in India, and now even CPI-M MLA is switching over to Trinamool. Do you think, you people sweeping JNUSU polls will infuse some energy into Left politics there?

See, liberal thoughts and democratic movements across India is under attack from authoritarian power mongers, and West Bengal is not any better. In fact, Bengal has been ruined in the past few years: education sector has been ruined completely and people’s democratic rights are under suppression.

There have been mistakes on the part of the Left (in Bengal) but these can be rectified and will be rectified. Trinamool can never be an alternative to progressive Left movement that has been a tradition in Bengal.

What would be the focus of JNUSU now? Would it be any different from the policies that Kanhaiya Kumar pursued?

Despite some ideological differences, Kanhaiya Kumar and we belong to the same Left liberal politics. Hence, there will not be much change as far as the broad politics is concerned. However, as regards the campus politics, we would like to focus more on issues that students face at JNU day to day, such as hostel facilities, funds cut by the BJP-led Centre etc.

Outside the campus, we would continue to raise our voice against the way Centre is appointing ill-qualified people in academic institutes all over India, as has been in the case with FTTII Pune.

On the personal front, any plans to join active politics?

I am in the middle of my PhD in philosophy and would like to complete it first. At this point in time I am not sure about joining fulltime politics, but whatever I do and wherever I stay in future, I would continue to take part in progressive movements.

Would you like to pass on any message to the students in Barak Valley?

The people in Barak Valley are not getting exposed to the kind of student politics that are vibrant in the campuses all over India. There students are largely discouraged by parents and others from taking part in politics. This is even as the education scenario and the state of the campuses there are really pathetic.

Look at the Assam University in Silchar: it is plagued by so many problems. There is an inadequate hostel facility, frequent power cuts, and above all the quality of studies is deteriorating. Yet, students are not speaking up, they are not taking stands.

People in Barak Valley must recognise the fact that if students do not speak up for their rights, the region will continue to get neglected as always.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This interview first appeared on NEWSMEN on 11 September 2016.)

Ashok Model costs Left Front dearly in Bengal Assembly polls

By bappaditya paul

HE is the one who by forging an informal tie-up with the Congress had turned the electoral tide against the Trinamool in two subsequent local body elections in Siliguri.

The experiment was such a runway hit that popular media lost no time in naming it Asok Model, and eventually the state level leadership of the Left Front replicated the same for this Assembly polls by entering into a state-wide electoral understanding with the Congress.

But notwithstanding the fact that CPI-M heavyweight Asok Bhattacharya has won from the Siliguri Assembly seat, the Asok Model has failed to leave a mark in this state Assembly polls.

It is not only that the Left-Congress alliance has failed miserably in south Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress has been on a strong wicket since 2008. In north Bengal too, which has been traditionally the stronghold for the Left and the Congress, Asok Model has failed to yield the desired result.

So much so that the out of the 76 seats that are there in the seven north Bengal districts along with Murshidabad, the Left has won only in 13 seats. The Left has been electorally wiped out in the districts of Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts.

In contrast, Congress has been able to win as many as 29 seats, emerging as the strongest party in north Bengal-Musrshidabad region. Trinamool has come out close second by winning 28 seats, albeit the ruling party has failed to open an account in Malda.

Moreover, BJP too seems to have made the most of the situation by winning two seats in north Bengal ~ Madarihat in Alipurduar and Baishabnagar in Malda.

Thus the region has greatly contributed to the BJP overall state tally of three wins; the saffron party’s third win has come from Kharagpur Sadar in West Midnapore where its state president Dilip Ghosh has won. Overall, BJP’s vote share in the state stands at 10.2 per cent as compared to the 17 per cent votes that it had managed in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

BJP’s ally, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has retained the control over the Darjeeling Hills by retaining all the three Assembly seats there. Notably, Harka Bahadur Chhetri, who had rebelled out from Morcha, has lost at Kalimpong Assembly segment.

The setback for the Left this election is very acute: its overall tally has come down to 33 seats (including one Independent that it had backed at English Bazar in Malda) from the 62 seats that it had managed during the Parivartan storm in 2011. Left’s vote share now stands reduced to 25.9 per cent.

This apart, most of the senior leaders of the Left Front, including state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra has lost the election. The notable exceptions, other than Ashok Bhattacharya is Siliguri, are Anisur Rehman at Domkal in Murshidabad, Biswanath Choudhury at Balurghat in South Dinajpur, and Sujan Chakraborty at Jadavpur in Kolkata.

Congress, on the other hand, has improved its tally to 44 seats in the state from the 42 seats that it had won in the 2011 Assembly polls. Congress vote share this Assembly polls stands at 12.3 per cent.

Thanks to the active support of Left cadres, several senior Congress leaders such as Manas Bhuniya, Abdul Mannan, Manoj Chakraborty, Shankar Malakar, Sukhbilas Burma and others have registered a victory despite the state-wide landslide victory for the Trinamool.

Contesting the polls alone, Trinamool has won 211 seats out of the 294 Assembly seats that are there in the state. Its vote share now stands at 44.9 per cent, which is about 5 per cent jump than what the party had got in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Against this, the cumulative vote share of the Left-Congress alliance stands at 38.2 per cent.

Notwithstanding the corruption charges brought forth by the Naradanews Sting Operation, Vivekananda Road Flyover collapse, and the links with real-estate syndicates, Trinamool has won all the 11 Assembly seats that are there in the Kolkata administrative district.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN. This report fist appeared on NEWSMEN on 20 May 2016.) 

EC for lab test of Trinamool Naradanews sting video

By bappaditya paul

ELECTION Commission of India (EC) has decided to get examined the video footage of the naradanews.com sting operation wherein several Trinamool Congress leaders are seen taking bribe.

“This (CD of the sting video) has been given to us and this will be passed on to an appropriate authority for examination,” Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi told a news conference in Kolkata this afternoon when reporters asked if the EC was contemplating any action on the exposé.

Zaidi’s colleague in the three member EC bench, Election Commissioner A K Jyoti explained that the bench had very little time to pursue the CD that was handed over to them by the Opposition political parties last evening.

“We cannot immediately react because we have not seen anything yet. The Commission will get it examined,” Jyoti said.

Neither Jyoti nor Zaidi clarified as to which is the “appropriate authority” that the EC would send the sting video for examination and what would be the deadline. They were also silent on the Opposition’s demand that those captured in the video as accepting bribe be barred from contesting the Bengal Assembly elections.

Highly placed sources in the EC said that the Commission was first likely to send the video to a Central forensic laboratory to verify the genuineness of the footages. If the footages are found genuine, the matter would then be referred to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the Income Tax (I-T) department to trace the money trail of the bribe received.

EC, on its own, does not have any plan to refer the investigation to the CBI. But the DRI and the I-T department can subsequently rope in the CBI into the investigation.

This was on a day the BJP took out a protest march from its state headquarters to Dorina Crossing at Esplanade where the party activists jostled with police. Later a BJP delegation called on Governor K N Tripathi at Raj Bhavan and served him a memorandum demanding strict action against the Trinamool leaders shown in the sting video.  

The Left and the Congress too today hit the streets of Kolkata demanding immediate arrest of the Trinamool leaders captured in the sting operation.   

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This report first appeared on NEWSMEN on 15 March 2016.)