Yesterday a friend whom I met during the vigil for Rizwanur rang up to ask how the campaign was going. I didn’t have a lot of joy to give her. The disclosures we’ve had since I last blogged on the subject haven’t raised any hopes of justice. The allegations made against neighbours and family members who may or may not have taken money from the Todis, and the tussle apparently developing between Priyanka Todi and Kishwar Jahan, have only served to make the issue even murkier. Today Ashok Todi was let off having a polygraph test, supposedly because of bad health. In any case, the results of polygraph tests are inadmissible as evidence.
As I feared earlier, the net result of all of this will be to render the case inconclusive. Justice will not be done for Rizwanur, because the case against his killers has been damaged beyond repair. But the matter will not end there. With any luck, the findings of the court will focus attention on why the case is inconclusive. There can be no doubt that the sabotaging of the case can be laid squarely at the doors of the authorities who mishandled evidence from the start. That crime, which is part of a larger network of wrongdoing, is the one that we should aim to punish.
This larger network of wrongdoing includes the other two issues which have been burning in Bengal’s heart in recent times: Nandigram and Taslima Nasreen. There is an organic relationship between what happened to Rizwanur, what is happening in Nandigram and what may happen in future to Taslima Nasreen. What we are seeing is the comprehensive breakup of the system under which we have lived for thirty years. Each of these incidents is one crack in the crazy star of fractures radiating outward from the heart of the power base that has ruled us for so long. That heart is dying, and in its titanic death-struggle we are all in danger of perishing.
So how can we save ourselves and our society? The last three days have seen unprecedented occurrences: rioting on the streets, the BJP giving asylum to a Bengali author against her own people, questions in Parliament about the government’s fitness to handle its own law and order. The inscrutable isolation of the Left in its Eastern fastness has been broken. We are now everybody’s business but our own. How do we take back the initiative in such a situation, used as we are to being the marginal on the margins? By ‘us’ of course I mean civil society, the ‘sushil samaj’ that has so rapidly become a dirty word in the mouths of the apologists for things as they are. In other words, people who read, write, blog, talk and occasionally submit to being called intellectuals. Are we as marginal as the Left Front has always thought we were? Or is our marginality something that we ought to re-examine, along with the other truisms we’ve grown up with, like the solidity of the Left’s rural base, its sympathy for the sharbohara and the totality of its stranglehold on every institution worth the name in this state? And if we are not marginal, what are we to do about it, how should we make a bid for centrality?
The commodity that is most scarce at the moment is imagination. We cannot imagine a system or a government that is other than the one we have always had. We are consumed by dismay when we look at the cardboard opposition that the Left Front has allowed us all these years. We shudder when we imagine them in power — which is exactly the reaction we are meant to have by the people who have cleverly arranged things just so. However, to build a credible alternative to the present government, we have to imagine an alternative, and fast. That alternative has to be born in our heads before it can exist out there. And we can’t do this individually and alone; we have to come together. So the first thing we need is a platform where we can meet and talk, and before that we need to know who we are. We have to start small; we must talk to our friends and family, find out what we really want, and then reach out to others who think the same way. In other words, we have to build a movement, starting with ourselves and the handful of individuals we regularly interact with.
There are signs that such a movement is beginning to stir. Its most salient common feature, at the moment, is a severe allergy to the label ‘political’. This is understandable, because the word ‘political’ has until now always meant ‘party-political’ and effectively there has only been one party in town. The second most common feature is anger. Everyone who has any sense of decency is today angry beyond measure. We feel as though someone somewhere has betrayed us, and is pushing us towards ruin, and we want their heads. This is again understandable, but it isn’t constructive. We need to look beyond anger. Anger will get us on the streets, but it won’t help us when the marches are over and we go home and put our feet up.
But we have a few things on our side. One is that we are part of a larger country which is watching us: we aren’t alone. The other is that we can look at other societies and compare the way they work with the way ours has functioned till now, and we can ask questions about the discrepancies. One reason why the rulers have always discouraged ‘aposanskriti’ (ie any exposure to the world outside Bengal) is because it invites such comparisons. Now that globalisation has brought the world into our living rooms, let’s drive those comparisons to their logical conclusions. There is no guarantee that we will succeed. But the alternative to success doesn’t bear thinking about. Whatever the future holds, it won’t be more of the same, because that time is gone. The authoritarianism of the future will be much, much worse than anything we have yet seen. But the pinch of time when it will be decided whether we are in for that or not, is also the moment when we can break this vicious cycle of oppression and waste. Provided, that is, we get our act together in time. So go and talk to someone. Anyone. Now.