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Fall of Lenin in Tripura transcends hooliganism and becomes an act of catharsis against communist violence

In a democracy where rule of law governs conduct, the wanton destruction of a statue is problematic. It signifies vandalism and hooliganism. To that extent, the razing of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s statue in south Tripura must be condemned. Yet, some political symbolisms are simply too powerful.

Lenin statue being razed in Tripura. PTI

Lenin statue being razed in Tripura.

The bulldozing of Lenin’s statue transcends goonish behaviour and becomes an expression of popular anger. To restrict the act within the paradigm of vandalism and feign outrage — as some commentators and TV debates have done — is to ignore the weight of far and near history and also to pretend that there was a level-playing field between those who erected the statue and those who pulled it down. There was not. And in absence of that power equivalence, moral evaluations miss the point.

In context of Tripura, where power change was the final act in a theatre of violent political upheaval, the demolition becomes almost an act of catharsis.

Here, the fall of Lenin doesn’t just signify the mere pulling down of a statue but the symbolical end of a communist regime that used violence as a tool to wield power and meet political challenges, as communist regimes in the country and around the world have done over the years. When these authoritative regimes fell, their signifiers were subjected to popular backlash.

It could be argued that India is a democracy where leaders are elected by people, not selected at party congress and therefore voting out and not unlawful behaviour is the best expression of anger. Yet the argument doesn’t take into account the fact that though communist regimes in India gain power through democratic means, they subsequently undermine democracy by institutionalising violence and modifying voter behaviour.

They do so by using violence as a mechanism to intimidate and control the masses and creating simultaneously an army of indoctrinated elites who provide intellectual heft to their acts of totalitarianism. This is done in a systematic way by controlling the avenues of soft power and moulding the education system. Early indocrination is the simplest way to prevent independent and critical thinking which the communist regimes perceive as a threat. This model was perfected in Bengal, and replicated elsewhere.

In its three decades of power in Bengal, the Left Front elevated brainwashing to an art form. Left leaders took English off syllabus till Class 6 while their own wards were admitted in English-medium schools. This created an artificial divide. This divide was then reinforced through a devious education policy.

In 2011, soon after Mamata Banerjee ended Left’s 34-year-old uninterrupted reign over Bengal, The Telegraph noted: “The first Left government set a target to establish control on each and every primary and secondary school in Bengal... The government control resulted in recruitment of party cadres in these schools, who became the backbone of the Left’s support base... As the objective was to retain control over educational institutions — from schools to universities — the Left leaders placed emphasis on penetrating the institutes through unions.”

Toon by Manjul

Toon by Manjul

While this took care of the support base, the party unleashed, as scholar Anirban Ganguly wrote, “One of the bloodiest episodes in democratic India’s history.” In his piece for Swarajyamag, the author recollected five such events that symbolise the cult of violence in Bengal: Sainbari killings in 1970, Marichjhanpi massacre in 1979, burning of Ananda Margi monks (1982), Nanoor killings in 2000 and Nandigram firing in 2007. In Sainbari, a widely documented atrocity involved forcing a mother to eat rice soaked in the blood of her murdered sons. She lost her mental balance.

There are many such stories hidden in the killing fields of West Bengal, Kerala and even Tripura. But why are they hidden? “Instances like Marichjhapi are subaltern narratives that are neither acknowledged by elite nationalist historiographies nor even by the existing subaltern schools. They need to be understood to be able to understand the process of nation-building,” wrote Debdatta Chowdhury of University of Westminster, London, in his paper on one of the “most violent massacres in the history of refugee rehabilitation in India.”

These acts of violence are hidden from our official histories because communists are very good at sanitising the past. The most violently murderous communist regimes around the world who have killed millions and millions, have done this so effectively that leaders of this death cult still remain celebrated figures in the world, venerated as much in popular culture as in the hallowed circles of academia.

Adolf Hitler left a trail of bodies so others could easily identify him as the villain, however, Mao Zedong erased large chunks of China’s past to forever alter its DNA and make China, in Louisa Lim’s words, the People’s Republic of Amnesia.

Mao’s “permanent revolution” took “tens of millions of lives”, writes Orville Schell in Foreign Affairs. Yet there are no records, official or unofficial, that chronicle the murder of millions and millions and millions more that were sent to labour camps.

“The Central Propaganda Department — which, along with myriad other state organs, is tasked with censoring the media and making sure that all educational materials toe the party’s line — has sealed off entire areas of China’s past,” wrote the author in China’s Cover Up (When Communists Rewrite History).

The author also quoted dissident Chinese intellectual Fang Lizhi, who wrote in 1990 that the Communist Party’s aim “is to force the whole of society to forget its history, and especially the true history of the Chinese Communist party itself... In an effort to coerce all of society into a continuing forgetfulness, the policy requires that any detail of history that is not in the interests of the Chinese communists cannot be expressed in any speech, book, document, or other medium.”

It is this violent ideology that Vladimir Lenin believed in, his statue represented, and the communist regime in Tripura propagated. The pious outrage that has taken grip since the razing of the statue is completely innocent of communist history and role that Lenin, communism’s poster boy, played in it.

As always, entire swathes of popular history have been sanitised to such an extent that a “maniacal mass murderer”, as Robert Gellatley writes in his book Killers With Ideologies (Lenin, Stalin and Hitler), has been presented to us as a “decent man”. Richard Pipes's Unknown Lenin (1996) and Robert Service's Lenin (2000) chronicle the “real, brutal Lenin”, as Simon Sebag Montefiore writes in Washington Post.

The Black Book of Communism, an anthology, adequately captures the brutality of communist regimes whose combined killings, state the authors citing facts and evidence, would easily surpass the number of murders carried out by Hitler. Robert Fulford writes on Black Book that “communism promised a great step forward in history and instead delivered a return to the darkness of the past, only worse... Kings and tsars were often murderers, but Lenin's revolution killed more people in its first few weeks than the tsars killed in the entire 19th century.”

Part of the problem surrounding the mass murders carried out by Nazi Germany and those committed by communist regimes is that popular discourse considers racial hatred more dangerous than class hatred, as though that would be some consolation for the murdered and their relatives. While Nazi crimes gave way to penitence, penance and expiation of guilt, communist violence is justified as a backlash of the oppressed against the powerful. The communist discourse taps into the human need for virtue-signalling to feel better about themselves.

The razing of Lenin’s statue is significant in other ways as well. Every ideological shift needs a signifier. In Satyajit Ray’s celebrated children’s movie Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Land of the Diamond King) — that can just as well be interpreted as a political satire — commoners bring a symbolical end to the brutal regime of tyrant king by pulling down his statue. Every Bengali knows the lines by heart: Dori dhore maro taan/Raja hobe khan khan (pull the ropes and raze the king’s statue). Bengali-speaking Tripura would know the import of these lines too.

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Updated Date: Mar 07, 2018 11:52 AM

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