No news from Narayanpatna


“The fact is people have lost the fear of the law because they feel they can get away with anything. My job is to take hard police action against the Naxals. The fear of the law is to be ingrained in the people.”

This is how one of the leading police officers in Chhattisgarh defined his task. All of us understand what constitutes the mechanism of ingraining the fear so that it becomes part of the people’s collective unconscious for a long time to come. It has been practiced in Kashmir, in the Northeast, in Chhattisgarh among many other places, and now in Orissa.

The State has dealt with the Narayanpatna movement in Orissa too in a most brutal, yet tactful, manner so that the possibilities inherent in it are not realized, and its brutal suppression becomes a reminder lesson for others on what constitutes the legitimate within the evolving political economy in India.

As “a single spark can start a prairie fire”, the state apparatuses are not just busy beating the “spark” down, they are, in fact, trying to hide it or corrupt the vision of the beholders, so that the spark does not seem to be a spark. Even liberal fact finding teams are not allowed to enter the Narayanpatna block of Koraput. The bitter experience of the all-women fact finding team that consisted of prominent civil rights activists from all over India is only symbolic of how brutal the State can become when the question is of safeguarding the interests of capital and its agencies.

It would not be fallacious to say that the situation in Narayanpatna is a clear manifestation of the fascist conjuncture of capitalist development in India. We find a remarkable complementarity between the three wings of the Indian state and its coercive and consensual/ideological apparatuses in maintaining the rhyme and reason of political economic developments. The synergy among various levels of political and bureaucratic institutions and between the state’s repressive components (the local police, the cobra battalions, and civilian stormtroopers like salwa judum in Chhattisgarh) and the Fourth Estate of the hegemonic forces is unprecedented. Anybody who has attempted to organize press conferences in Raipur (the capital of Chhattisgarh) to highlight incidences of state repression is witness to mafia media men shouting at the organisers. All these form the fascio (a bundle of sticks or rods) by which the Indian state rules.

Today, we see entry into Narayanpatna virtually impossible. The police, local exploiters and the private militiamen whom the women’s fact finding team confronted on the 9th of December guard the very entrance of the area. To complement this, the local and to an extent the national media has been playing its role most sincerely projecting the movement as an expression of uncivilized violence, while remaining unabashedly antipathetic to the cause and scope of the movement. When fact finding teams have attempted to unravel the truth, what has happened is in front of our eyes. Hence, we have no news from inside Narayanpatna, except a few statements of the police present there – regarding how many are held or killed etc.

The height of brutality that must be going on in Narayanpatna can only be imagined from what treatment a women’s fact finding team received in the hands of ‘the armed bodies of men’ even after taking the requisite permission from the local authorities to enter the area. Abused and beaten came back a team of civil dignitaries with sincere intentions of finding the ‘neutral’ truth.

The media reports that Nachika Linga, leader of CMAS, who is now in the most wanted list of the government is under the shelter of the ‘Maoists’. It is necessary here to pontificate at the apathy of the media towards any move that has been taken in Bhubaneswar (the capital of Orissa) to empathise with the Narayanpatna movement. About 100 people from various organizations on the 10th of December silently demonstrated in the city’s Master Canteen Square against the issuing of the order to arrest Nachika Linga. This was something that could have been sublime to the media but what instead caught the media’s eyes is the probable alliance of Nachika with the ‘Maoists’. (However, if at all Nachika Linga is protected by the Maoists today, this is more a comment on India’s rule of law and those who see possibilities within it – it proves that the ‘democratic’ voices having faith in the present system are not able to protect people’s self-rule efforts).

Today, the State has militarized the democratic movement of the tribals and landless. To tackle the movement of the landless and the near-landless inside Narayanpatna, there is an already existing State sponsored militia. It is important to clarify that this is a well thought out strategy of the state, by which it demarcates the “limits of legitimation” for any popular collective action. And the state understands that the people have crossed those limits in Narayanpatna.

So war zones are being defined and the “national” media is fast becoming a “nationalist” media – a propaganda machinery to fight the influence of “aggressors”. However, this time, the aggression is from within – the “cattle class” which was bred to be slaughtered threatens the “nation” of the first class. The media in India today gives expressions to the anxieties of the first class, packaging its hallucinations as facts and news reports.

Habib Tanvir is dead

Bhopal, Jun 8 (PTI) Noted playwright and theatre director Habib Tanvir died at a hospital here today after a brief illness. He was 85.

The theatre legend was admitted to the National Hospital here three weeks back after he complained of breathing problems and was put on a ventilator, family sources said.

His daughter Nageen was at his bedside when the end came.

Born on September 1, 1923 at Raipur, Habib began his career as a journalist and went on to become a highly renowned playwright.

Known for his plays like Agra Bazar and Charandas Chor, Tanvir founded the Naya theatre company here in 1959. He also scripted many films and acted in a few of them.

He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1969 and Padma Shri in 1983. (Courtesy: PTI)

An Interview with Lenin Kumar


Lenin Kumar, editor of a progressive peoples’ magazine in Oriya, Nisan, was arrested and sent to jail on charges of writing provocative literature. The fact is that his magazine took a stance against the anti-Christian pogrom in Kandhamal district after the killing of Laxmananda Saraswati. His arrest was an attempt by the government of Orissa to silence the voices of the oppressed, and could be seen as corroborating the ongoing McCarthyization process in India. After much struggle, Lenin is free on bail now.

Satyabrata: You have been convicted for possessing inflammatory materials. What, according to you, is being regarded as inflammatory in your booklet, Dharma Namare Kandhamalare Raktanadi (Kandhamal’s River of Blood in the Name of Religion) and why?

Lenin Kumar: Is it inflammatory, to identify the communal and brahminist forces and their agenda? The riot affected people in the relief camps have already pointed at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal men as responsible for violence in the name of religion. In the book, Dharma Namare Kandhamalare Raktanadi they are unmasked. But, they are in power in the state. So using the police they wanted to silence the voice, which is ‘inflammatory’ to them. It is ridiculous to say that the book disturbed communal harmony because it exposed them who really disturbed it.

Satyabrata: Why is Nisan being targeted? What is your expectation from other progressive people, intellectuals on this assault on Nisan?

Lenin Kumar: Nisan stands for janabadi (democratic) literature. Its basic trend is against Brahminism and imperialism. Unlike mainstream journalism, we have focussed on the ongoing peoples’ movements (including the Maoist among others) and their roots in genuine popular desire for liberation from brahminical and imperialist domination. The magazine is not yet banned. There is no question of bowing in front of the anti-people forces. When they sent me to jail, people protested throughout the state – writers came on the streets in a manner quite unimaginable in a region like Orissa. I think this is due to our commitment. All these developments inspire us. So there is no question of leaving the battlefield. And how can one repress an ideology?

Satyabrata: What reaction do you expect from other newspapers and journalists?

Lenin Kumar: Unfortunately in Orissa, most newspapers are in the hands of the ruling classes. They are simply bourgeois party leaflets. It is very difficult for a genuine reporter to take his position. Some reporters blindly act like representatives of the state. In my case, I have seen my name as ‘Mao writer”. What does it mean, till date I do not understand. Professionally they are expected to be above the outlook of the ruling classes, which are openly becoming the agents of international capital. Otherwise, there will be no space for democracy.

Satyabrata: You were arrested because of touching the Kandhamal issue. What is your personal view regarding the recent incidents in Kandhamal?

Lenin Kumar: Anti-dalit, anti-minority agenda is in the air. The Sangh Parivar is openly challenging the democratic values. The state is keeping silence. The Maoists in Kandhamal have showed us that the communal forces are building their second laboratory in the region after Gujarat’s. They have opposed these forces in their own way. We should not forget that Laxmananda Saraswati in Kandhamal was not a saint or a representative of the Hindu religion, but a leader of VHP. And frankly, I have no respect to their riot-politics.

Satyabrata: What is your message for fellow journalists, writers, intellectuals and progressive people?

Lenin Kumar: For getting the bail, I heartily thank the writers, journalists, intellectuals who stood for freedom of expression and protested my arrest. I thank my wife Rumita for her camaraderie in this process. If a person like me coming from a middle class family living in the state capital can be targeted, one can only imagine the extent of state terrorism and violation of human rights in the remote villages of Orissa, which hardly get noticed. We must stand united against any undemocratic, exploitative, anti-people actions.

Terrorism, Mass Hysteria and Hegemony in India

Pratyush Chandra

All incidents in India that have occurred recently, which go by a blanket name terrorist attacks, have been viewed as self-explanatory. A terrorist and his acts don’t need any explanation. A terrorist is like any other professional who is supposed to do what he is trained for. Why does he do that – is not a question to be asked. It is his own “free will” which clashes with others’ free will. Haven’t we been time and again accused of talking about the human rights of the “terrorists” while “ignoring” those of the soldiers and policemen who are “victims” of the terrorist attacks? Their opposite location with respect to the hegemonic centre does not mean anything.

I feel the post-modern capitalist celebration of relativism indicates towards an important aspect of the reconstruction of power, civil society and expression in the age of finance capital. The footlooseness of faceless finance capital characteristic of this age has intensified the process of solid melting into the air to an ever-increasing degree – every click on the keyboard makes, changes and destroys billions of lives every moment. This has led to a multiple crisscrossed entrenchment of every segment in the society trying to hold on to something solid – an identity or something… In the process, every ‘melting’ identity poses its own language which could not be understood beyond the space-time of its posing. This is what we can call a continuous process of subalternization, of manufacturing subalternities that cannot act, but simply react in the hegemonic paradigm. When useful things become commodities, their self-expression (through their own use-value) is incomprehensible in the market, they must express their worth through the hegemonic reactive monetary expression of exchange-value – a general form of value.

Thus, the resolution of “civilizational” conflicts (between various levels of subalternities) is possible in the within-the-system framework only through a generalized cutthroat competition or simply mutual annihilation – the well-armed and defiant robots clashing with each other – “the terrorists”, the security personnel etc. The only language that is mutually understandable is that of the guns and bombs… So the citizenry can’t empathize with the terrorists, they are always aliens. And so are the (counter)terrorists and their ‘innocent’ protégées for “them”. They are reduced to reactive agencies within the hegemonic game-plans. They can only react to each other’s moves.

Today’s terrorism is a desperate cry to make others’ listen to what subjects/terrorists are unable to express and what “others” either refuse to hear or are unable to understand. It is the failure and crisis of self-representation let out in the hegemonic language of coercion and terror. This seems absurd but this is as absurd as the absurdity of the conjuncture.

The whole arrogant security discourse that the media and security mafia in India pose is far more absurd than the defiant terrorist attacks. What can be more absurd than the astheticised victimhood of the “great” India that they sell while being slyly proud whenever a terrorist attack takes place in the country, as that makes them feel to be in the league of the greatest victims of global terrorism – the US, UK and Israel. So now we have our own 9/11. This is the level of discourse in the Indian media in the context of the Mumbai incidents.

The recent unabashed display of an elitist, confessedly, “anti-political” stress on security infrastructure and technology to resolve every conflict and the aim to put away politics on security matters are nothing but an insistent inability and a lack of will to understand conflicts. Nobody is asking for an everyday democratic control over every aspect of social life, rather what is being provoked by the panicky bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in India is a hysteria in favour of a trans-political security and intelligence machinery – which can easily become a permanent coercive, of course, an efficient, bureaucracy which regulates the social life.

Terrorism in the present shape is not a threat for the system but like its counterpart is an opportunity for the hegemony to create consensus to (counter)terrorise (and subalternise) the alienated voices and stop them from becoming a meaningful and organised threat to the system by transcending their own subalternity. Anyway, as a prominent postmodernist, postcolonialist scholar categorically said, “Who the hell wants to protect subalternity? Only extremely reactionary, dubious anthropologistic museumizers. No activist wants to keep the subaltern in the space of difference… You don’t give the subaltern voice. You work for the bloody subaltern, you work against subalternity.” (“Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature (July 1992), 23(3):29-47)

Media Circus of the Encounter

Yousuf Saeed

I have titled this message the ‘media circus’, although I am actually referring to this morning’s (September 20) so-called encounter killing of two young people referred to as ‘terrorists’ in L-8 Batla House, Jamia Nagar, by the Delhi police. I call it media circus because that’s what I think it really is, like many more such incidents.

The incident happened in my neighbourhood, about 150 meters from my house. So I have the opportunity to see how things are turning up. I had gone out of the area for some work while the incident was taking place around 11 am, but found it impossible to reach back home 2 hours later, because the road for about 1 and a half kilometre (on both sides) was completely blocked, not by the police vehicles, but by the parked OB vans of the countless TV channels, some of which I never heard of before. Each of these vehicles had its generators on, and thick video cables jetting out of them for several meters to the other end where the cameraperson and the excited anchor were shouting how two terrorists have been killed in the fierce encounter. Most local people are surprised at the speed with which the TV crews arrived here and in such large number. Apparently, the Delhi Police had already told a section of the press they are going for a raid in Batla House, based on the suspect Abu Bashir’s tip-off (I heard this from a anchor on Times NOW channel, although Police chief Dadwal is now denying there is any link with Abu Bashir), but they didn’t obviously say it was going to be an encounter. Its strange that the local residents got to know about the incident only after the two people had been killed – many in fact learnt it from the Aaj-tak channel. They claim they heard only the police firing and no gunshots from inside the flat, which the police claim have injured two of their constables.

Most of you watching news TV in your homes may have already heard the cacophony of the TV anchors, each trying to be shriller than the other to prove that the local members of the Indian Mujahideen have been killed. They now seem to have memorized their lines on this issue well, since they have to repeat the same thing again and again. The graphics, animated logos, crawling tickers, and dramatic music/soundtrack to go with such coverage are always ready in the cans to be used at short notice. A cameraman running towards Batla House is nibbling at a burger while he holds on to a camera in his other hand. I saw two members of a TV crew outside the Holy Family Hospital (where the injured policemen have been taken) fiercely fight about which camera angle would look best for a sound byte. Everything looks as if planned and part of the usual business. The cops are happily allowing the media to climb any wall to get the best shot while they beat the local rickshaw pullers to leave the roads clean. The message has got across loud and clear: we told you – Batla House is a haven of terrorists.

But many things sound fishy. I’ve been hearing a lot of angry conversations in the neighbourhood: people are asking that if the police had only planned a simple raid (which they did 2 days ago in Zakir Nagar and Abul Fazl Enclave too), why did they have to bring battalions of police and encounter specialists with AK-56 and other deadly looking guns (that I myself saw) in advance. And why is the media called in even before the residents are told. Of course the fact the this happens in the month of Ramzan, on a Friday, and near a large mosque where people were going to gather in large numbers later for prayers, sounds just too predictable and clichéd for anyone’s imagination. The local people claim that it was a stage-managed encounter. However, their claim is less likely to be taken seriously after the death of Inspector Sharma.

I didn’t find a single local resident who is not fed up with this oft-repeated image of Jamia Nagar as harbouring terrorists. But none of the channels I saw aired the public angst against their portrayal.

To be honest, one shouldn’t deny that the Batla House area has some criminal and anti-social elements, just as Darya Ganj or Shahadra or Govindpuri would have. But most local residents believe that for Jamia to become a haven of such criminal elements, the local police and land-mafia are equally responsible. Jamia area is one of the rare localities of Delhi where the rule of law doesn’t apply in most spheres. The land mafia openly indulges in illegal construction; no rules of traffic apply here, the condition of civic amenities is abysmal. Illegal shops, factories (many with child labour) and businesses operate here actively with police connivance. The local politicians (MLA, councillors) are actually part of the problem rather than the solution. There is a full-scale illegal ISBT (bus stand) running in Batla House’s backyard to bring hundreds of migrants everyday from small towns of UP (you can see the police openly accepting bribe from its operators any day).

There is no question of sealing whatever the heck business you may run here, and most places stink with heaps of garbage everywhere. There are no RWAs or citizen’s initiatives to discuss the problems. It is truly a manufactured ghetto of Delhi – why don’t all these problems happen in Lajpat Nagar or Kalkaji? I am positive that the authorities are aware that criminals (or what they call terrorists) exist here. But they deliberately allow them to thrive here – never to be touched in the normal/peaceful times – keep them for the right time. It is as if Batla House is a laboratory or breeding ground where things are allowed to grow by providing all the required ingredients and safety. The fruits are plucked only when they are ripe (or required). So today, they simply came to gather the fruit they had sown, and made a big exhibition of it by calling the media. The local people, frightened that the next encounter may happen in their house, simply squirm and hide in their personal ghettos.

In all this, a big responsibility lies with the media, and I am yet to come across bold and honest reporters who are ready to go beyond the obvious and investigate the truth – not simply repeat what is told to them by the authorities or their channel bosses.

Media and the Indian State: On the Draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2006

Pothik Ghosh

I am afraid I am going to have to admit that I shall somewhat complicate this discussion. And I begin doing that by asking – would it suffice for the Indian Left – both its communist and non-communist variants alike – to protest against the current government proposal to bring in a broadcasting bill that seeks to limit the ‘free’ media’s operations? If the intended broadcasting bill is an act of state censorship – which it most certainly is – would it do for the Indian Left to simply see it as such and resist it? In other words, shouldn”t we on the Left, before we take a definite political position against the proposal, understand the tension within a system of which both the government and the media are integral parts? Only when we are able to comprehend this systemic tension would our praxis become a really interventionist critique of the political economy of the mass media. To put it broadly, the principal concerns of the proposed bill are regulation of market-share of TV companies to purportedly prevent media monopolies from coming up, so that homogenisation of opinion can be checked. After all, shouldn’t the state in a capitalist democracy like ours be concerned about homogenisation of opinion, and be sensitive to the question of consumer choice? Of course, given the sameness of the content on most of our TV channels, choice is really an illusion. An illusion that is intrinsic to the political economy of the mass media. But more of that later. Coming back to where we were:

The state’s intent, in proposing the bill, is to putatively articulate the wishes, demands and concerns of those social groups, whose concerns either find no reflection in, or are undermined and/or contradicted by, programming on cable TV channels, which articulate the concerns of the hegemonic classes. We can sense in this a dialectical tension between two visions of hegemony: One which considers that the project of hegemonisation is complete. And the other, represented in this case by the government, which thinks that the hegemony of the ruling classes is yet to be conclusively established. So, the current move to bring in the bill is meant to emphasise the fact that the state is as much concerned and bothered about those social groups, which do not ‘identify’ with the interests of the ruling classes, as the ruling classes themselves as also those who have accepted their ideological hegemony despite the fact that their interests do not really converge with those of the ruling classes.

(In fact, when we say that a particular group does or does not identify with the interests of the ruling classes we must qualify that by saying that some groups identify with the interests of the system more than others. For, the political economy of capital excludes identities, commodities, ideas, cultures to the extent that it orders them in a hierarchy of exchange values. But since things higher up in the hierarchy valorise themselves by transferring value from things, different from them occupying the lower tiers, nothing, from the point of view of the total system, is excluded. We can safely say that capitalism creates hierarchical exclusion of difference even as it includes those differences productively! The bourgeois social formation, which is civil society in common parlance, is constituted by a differential hierarchy of social relations or relations of production.)

To come back to the government gesture of proposing the broadcast bill: In this gesture of the state, at any rate a sizeable section of it, lies the will of the ruling ideology – not class since the latter is too internally fragmented and heterogeneous an entity – to hegemonise.

But this tension, or contradiction, between two visions of ideological hegemony of the ruling classes has two possible syntheses, or to borrow from Hegel, ‘aufhebung’. The first unity of opposites is obviously the will to hegemonise. It is positive, present and status-quoist. The second dialectic, and this is our main concern, is critical, absent and revolutionary. That, in this instance, must be seen as a Marxian overturning of the Hegelian dialectic.

It is the will to construct a counter-hegemony, or to be more precise a counter-ideological position. This is the will we on the Left have to extract from the consensus that is being articulated by the government to bring the bill to control the freemarket of the free media. Let’s understand this better. The strand of the government gesture to bring in the broadcast bill, which in what it manifests – as we well truly know – is the will of the ruling classes to hegemonise on the larger political terrain. But it seeks to do so in the name of demand for more choice from among certain social sections lower down in the systemic hierarchy. It is the essence of this demand for more choice from among those social sections, which the Marxists must comprehend. In the Marxist’s revolutionary scheme, this social demand must be first seen, and then articulated, as being inflected with its negative, counter-ideological and autonomously political desire to reject and unravel the law-constituting gesture of the ruling classes to dominate – through ideological hegemony and consensus or direct coercion, or a combination of both.

Of course, if we were to deal with this within the conceptually segmented domain of the mass media the Left should read in this positive demand for certain kind of TV programmes over others, the absent or sedimented desire to disavow, even challenge, the anti-dialogic spirit intrinsic to the mass media, thanks to the larger political economy within which it is situated and, at the same time, facilitates.

Another aspect, which is brought out by this tension between two visions of the ruling classes, is the idea of the autonomization of the executive. That is, when the state ceases to be a mere executive representative of the ruling class, and becomes an independent entity in itself. Virtually a class for itself, whose decisions are often at variance and in conflict with those of the dominant social class. This happens when polity is faced with, what some Marxists have called the “crisis of representation”. This crisis of representation, together with the autonomization of the executive, has been very evident in India and some other post-colonial Asian nation-states for at least the past few decades. That is typical of a fascist conjuncture. This crisis of representation happens when the ruling class, and in fact the entire social formation created by and enabling its political economy, is deeply fractured and becomes too internally differentiated to articulate a single cohesive set of interests and ideologies. In other words, the ideological hegemony of the ruling classes collapses and various contending ideologies, facilitating various sectional interests, come to fore. The state then steps in to fill the hegemonical vacuum by asserting its independent coercive and administrative role. It does so by playing one class against the other – the bourgeoisie against the proletariat; the petty bourgeoisie against the proletariat; the proletariat against the peasantry; and the petty bourgeoisie against the big bourgeoisie.

This means two things:
a. The state’s interests are independent of the interest of all social classes, though it may at times converge with one, at another with the other.

b. Its interests are best served by preserving the current political economy of exchange value and its attendant system of differential inclusion. Consequently, it does everything except unravel the socio-economic origins of the system.

Let us go back to the broadcast bill in the light of this analysis. To the extent that it seeks to curb the power of an influential section of the dominant classes (the media barons); through executive fiat, it indicates the crisis of representation. (1)

I repeat once again that the political economy of the modern state, whatever be its form, is a capitalist political economy of valorisation through value transfer, which creates an anti-dialogic, stratified system of productive inclusion. Given this political economy of the state and its various attendant political and social institutions, it would be too much to expect that this tension would, objectively on its own, have a revolutionary, critical resolution. As a matter of fact, the absence of any progressive subjective political intervention would most likely resolve it in favour of the status quo: a continuous extension of the hegemonic project of the ruling classes and their ruling ideology.

That revolutionary subjectivity will, however, have to be premised on a critical understanding of the political economy and ideological character of the mass media. The Left must understand that this radical subjectivity would be most effectively deployed when the subjectivity is fully seized of the crisis of representation. Mostly, people resist the state, but without any new paradigm of politics that would seek to understand the state as a function of a certain type of political economy; a certain mode of production; and a certain structure of social relations. Such resistance is, therefore, doomed to be plotted in terms of the status quo of social relations. Thus capturing state power inevitably becomes, for them, an end-in-itself. Every such act of resistance, as a result, ends with some sections of those resisting being absorbed into the state. Those who are not absorbed, again align with those who are preparing to launch a fresh assault against the might of the new state. And thus the vicious cycle continues.

The preponderant tendency of the state is to close itself and exclude others, but it can never do so completely because, objectively, there’s a counter-tendency in it to deal with others and include them, if only in a hierarchical fashion and if only to oppress and exploit them in order to transfer value and accumulate capital in all its ‘materialised’ and ‘dematerialised’ forms – cultural capital, social capital, political power, money and so forth. The modern state, as a consequence, remains precariously open to challenge. This tension results in it being forced to reflect the demands of those who are lower down in the systemic hierarchy, and who through resistance are trying to move upwards, or to-wards the centre of it all. But since this demand is articulated by the state; and also because the demand itself is inscribed within the paradigm of modern political power and form of state, even in its resistance it ultimately fails to articulate itself without distorting its counter-ideological, critical essence – the essence, which wants to escape the mediatory appearance of the prevailing political economy and its ideological-ethical framework.

So, the UPA government has, through its gesture of proposing the broadcast bill, articulated the ‘aam aadmi’s’ mandate, which demands of it more choice as a consumer. Something that monopolising media houses would obviously be loath to grant them. But this manifest demand and mandate are distorted by the mediation of the politics of state power, its ideologies and institutions, and, most fundamentally, its political economy. It would be the Marxian Left’s task to cut through the clutter and recover what the appearance of this mandate, or this demand has distorted beyond recognition.

Now let’s see where this approach of unmasking disguised and alienated political-economic/ideological categories can lead us to in the segmented domain of the mass media. Once we accept this approach, media can be seen to be answering affirmatively to only one of these two questions: Is it meant to aid leisure, and ideological indoctrination and/or skilling of workers by purveying programmes that are passively consumed by them as part and parcel of the reified ritual to socially re-produce themselves? Or, is it a zone where pleasure intersects with critique to produce a radical rupture with the prevailing political economy in both its content and form, which are entwined thoroughly with each other? The question that we on the Left should choose to answer in the affirmative is clear.

To understand the fundamental difference between these visions of the media, we need to simply remember what French filmmaker Goddard had once said: “TV transmits, while cinema expresses.” Here, of course, we must also understand that for Goddard TV is the epitome of the bourgeois mass media purveying entertainment, ideologies and skills, while cinema is the supreme expression of what a left-wing cultural-political resistance against such a mass media and its political economy ought to be. For Goddard, TV transmits things as they are, and that transmission is meant to be passively recognised, received and consumed as reality by its intended viewers for entertainment and/or ‘education’. Cinema, on the other hand, is to express that reality. In other words, it is meant to reflect upon and investigate as to how this reality is constituted. Not just that, it also ends up provoking the audience, too, to participate in that reflection and probe. That implies engagement and active participation of the audience. It is this vision of Goddard’s cinema that has to permeate the Left’s cultural-political discourse and its vision of an alternative media.

This kind of cultural politics of resistance has a long and rich legacy.

A. First, of course, is the anti-narrative films of Goddard himself. His cinema is known to suddenly rupture the narrative and take recourse to various devices and tropes that lead to reflection on the reality that the narrative is seeking to capture or depict.

B. And then, of course, there is Brecht, whose debt Goddard has acknowledged time and again, and whose idea and practice of epic theatre did to culture and aesthetics what Marx’s did to politics and political economy. In his epic theatre Brecht sought to alienate the audience from the play, by interrupting its narrative through use of various devices like melodrama, documentary film clips, newspaper cuttings, actual audio recordings of historical events, etc, in order to unearth and foreground the various processes that constitute and contextualise the reality being depicted in his plays. His intention: to destroy the cathartic consumption of theatre, and the reality it represents, by a passive audience; and provoke that audience into thinking about how reality is historically constituted. His didactic approach was meant to provoke audiences into a dialogue with the producer so that they become active participants in the process of producing the plays, and by extension the reality outside theatre itself. Brecht was actually known to have rewritten many of his plays by taking into account the reactions and responses of politically engaged German workers, who were his primary audience.

C. South American Augusto Boal has taken this Brechtian experiment a step further. His plays of the theatre-of-the-oppressed vintage are produced in a fashion that it provokes the audience not just to reflect on how the narrative is constituted but to actually become part of the play and start participating in it.

D. Filmmaker John Abraham’s Odessa film club experiment closer home in Kerala is also another example of how the audiences of cinema can become its producers. Abraham and Odessa made some films successfully with money raised from poor villagers, radical intellectuals and the urban underclass, who often enough also became its cast and supplied their intellectual inputs, too, to the making of those films.

Eventually, however, Odessa has significantly been diminished and it is a pale shadow of its past. There’s, however, a moral to this story of Odessa’s diminution. A moral that the Left, particularly its cultural political practitioners would do good to learn by heart. Odessa succeeded only till that time when there was a certain kind of active, left-wing, anti-systemic consensus at work. As soon as that politics went into retreat there were few if any takers for an experiment like the Odessa. This means that cultural-aesthetic practices, like the ones just mentioned, have radical implications in terms of critiquing the prevalent system and its political economy. But those implications have to be actualised through active political praxis.

In the absence of such praxis, these experiments are doomed to be reified into aesthetic-cultural artefacts or forms, by the market’s Ricardian logic of value ascription through demand and supply. These experiments become yet another commodity/ideology that the bourgeois mass media includes in its hierarchical jungle of commodities, ideologies and brands.

The Delhi-based Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) is a good example of illustrating this. The PSBT’s efforts are geared towards producing short films, both documentaries and features, that the ‘public’ would ‘actually’ want to see. It has even gone so far as to produce films by filmmakers drawn from local communities and with participant-actors taken from those communities for those communities as well as others like them. But then, the PSBT is a kind of an NGO that looks at people’s media and its practices purely in cultural terms, and is completely divorced from a larger anti-systemic political movement and its political-economic critique. As a result, most of its films and programmes are telecast by the Doordarshan. In other words, the PSBT has to depend on government assistance and subsidy to realise and propagate its purportedly progressive cultural-political vision. In the process, the PSBT programmes, too, have willy-nilly fallen prey to the market’s logic of TRP ratings, ad revenue, branding and so forth. Consequently, they are condemned to either survive precariously as government-subsidised arte-facts of good culture, which can disappear any moment, just like the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) of India-sponsored art-house cinema; or they go beyond the pale of lei-sure-driven mass media to become highly prized cultural commodities, which are accessed by a privileged few to indulge their supposedly non-utilitarian pleasures. This, according to Theodor Adorno, is precisely how the culture industry creates the reified domains of mass culture and high culture, in which the latter category absorbs everything that is avant-garde and radical, cutting of larger society’s access to them, completely defanging them in the process.

That is not to say those ‘good cultural’ programmes and art-house movies should not be there. (Albeit one must admit that a lot of those NFDC-sponsored films were ponderous, pretentious, junk with no real cultural-aesthetic merit and political use.) The point is to see how they can thrive even in the bourgeois mass media, whether owned by the state or private players.

Such programming can be made viable only by going beyond the market principle of demand and supply; or, more precisely, the split between the active producer and the passive consumer-audience. That would be possible only when media and art are transformed into a de-commodified zone of political resistance and political-economic critique. For, a media that seeks to transform the passive audience into active participant-producer will have to situate itself within, and simultaneously drive, a larger political movement that critiques and seeks to transform the political economy of exchange value and value transfer, which through creation of differential hierarchies privileges oppressive and pedagogic determination of identities, over an open dialogue.

Only when such larger politics frames our protest against state censorship or our demand for transparent regulation would they be effective in becoming something more than effete editorials written by well-meaning editorial writers in the mainline press.

Such a political approach also implies, and I believe that’s by now clear, the creation of alternative media, and popular cultural-political initiatives that want to change the world, not merely interpret it. Such initiatives, of which the alternative media would be the instrumentality, would be a movement that intends to heal the producer-consumer breach, and turn passive audiences into active participants in the production of politics, and a horizontal, non-hierarchical political economy of non-exploitation.

Such cultural-political initiatives must not, however, be confused with reified models of Soviet-style socialist realism and Proletkult. We already have far too much of useless, status-quoist ‘janwadi’ cultural-political artefacts, like the hoary street theatre, being churned out by various cultural fronts of equally various communist parties. Instead, we would do well to recall Walter Benjamin’s words: “Rather than ask, ‘What is the attitude of a work (of art) to the relations of production of its time?’ I should like to ask, ‘What is its position within them.'” No longer do the cultural-political initiatives of the Indian Left exhibit their original awareness of how their techniques of production, or the forms of representation that resulted from those production processes are in sync with the socialisation of production that this left seeks to establish.

To put it briefly let’s modify a little a maxim of historian E. P. Thompson: “There can be no culture without struggle.” Certainly not for the Marxists.

But this politics of struggle is not just somewhere outside. It is, in fact, situated, on point where the inside inflects with the outside. The inside in this case being people like us: journalists yes, but more importantly media workers.

I’m not very experienced in matters organisational and will, therefore, refrain from trying to come up with an organisational plan. But I will certainly stress the need for a media workers” organisation, which would contemplate its revolutionary politics in terms of struggles within their place of work. These struggles must not focus merely on gaining more wages and/or more time for leisure, but, more importantly in this conjuncture, control over their production process.

Pothik Ghosh is a professional journalist with The Economic Times. He has long been involved with various grassroots organisational efforts and Marxist study circles in India.


(1) The “crisis of representation” has been explicated well by Marx in his ‘The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’; and later by August Thalheimer and Trotsky while theoretically dealing with the ascendancy of Nazism. The resemblance with India of the past, at least, three decades is uncanny.