'I should not have entered politics'
In the first part of his interview with rediff.com's Indrani Roy Mitra, the singer, songwriter, musician, performer, journalist, writer, occasional actor, activist and MP spoke about his passion for music, how effortlessly he attracts controversies and why politics is not his cup of tea.
In the second part of the exclusive interview, Suman discusses the struggles with his conscience as a politician, shares his experiences in Parliament, and declares that the government will not be able to win its fight against the Maoists if it keeps ignoring the millions of have-nots of Indian society.
What made you turn to politics? Were you motivated by the developments at Singur and Nandigram? Or was there some other reason?
I have always been an activist. My music too is activistic music. The journalism that I practised, outside the establishments I worked for, too was induced by certain causes. Whatever I wrote, it spoke of some causes or people or even animals.
In Bengal, I have been associated with the Kanoria Jute Mill workers' movement, Paharpur workers' movement and also with the anti-land grabbing movement at Rajarhat. There, 120,000 Bengali peasants were uprooted. Rajarhat is now christened 'New Town'-- we, Kolkatans take such pride in it.
Then came Singur and Nandigram. I was involved with the people's movements at both these places, first as an activist-journalist, though later, I became more of an activist.
At one point of time, I was conducting a live talk show Motamot for a Bengali channel Tara TV five days a week. I used to cover Singur and Nandigram extensively for that show.
One evening, before going on air, I was monitoring the television news. There, I heard a prominent Left Front leader commenting thrice about Mamata Banerjee at a press conference in Kolkata: Or oto bukei ba laage keno (Why does she have to get hurt on her chest so often), with obscene gesticulations.
The Leftist leader was referring to a clash in Singur where Banerjee and her colleagues had been mercilessly beaten up by the police. Meanwhile, Banerjee was on a hunger strike to protest against the state government's land acquisition policy at Singur.
I could not take this vulgarity and cruelty in the Leftist leader's attitude any more. At once, I decided to visit Banerjee's hunger-strike moncho the next day. I even expressed my intent to resign from Tara TV.
I knew that if I went there I might be identified with a particular political party. As a television show anchor, I needed to be neutral, you see.
However, Tara TV officials stated that I did not need to resign. I visited the Trinamool leader's moncho the next day, met her for the first time and also requested her to withdraw her fast.
And to express solidarity, I started going there everyday thereafter. At the moncho, I would sing a few songs for the people who gathered there and occasionally interacted with them. This is how I got involved in the movement.
>Later, when an all-party anti-land grabbing forum, the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee, was formed, Banerjee spontaneously made me a BUPC convenor, probably out of the camaraderie that we shared.
At that time, I was earning Rs 60,000 a month as a newsman. It was big money for me and it got somewhat compromised as soon as I was made the convenor. But I somehow stuck on.
In the meantime, I had covered Nandigram incidents in my attempt to understand the land grabbing issue as a newsperson. Stories of atrocities had hit me hard.
Remember, covering Nandigram was a risky affair then as we could have been nailed by any stray bullet or a bomb. Thus, I was steadily getting drawn into the political situations of Bengal.
Image: Kabir Suman
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
'I cannot sing my songs freely any more'
Shortly after my journey as a BUPC convenor began, the offer to contest the Lok Sabha election came from Mamata Banerjee. I refused immediately. 'I will be a misfit. I don't speak the politician's language', I told her. But she was unwilling to take 'no' for an answer. She is very obstinate, (pauses) in a positive sense I mean.
And then similar requests started pouring in from every corner.
Writer and activist Mahasweta Devi, painter Suvaprasanna, theatre personality Bratya Basu and even some scientists, Dr Kalyan Rudra and Dr Sujoy Basu, who had taken to the streets to oppose the CPI-M atrocities in Singur and Nandigram, were insistent that I should represent them, the civil society, in Parliament.
But I kept saying no vehemently for more than a year. However, one day, Banerjee and I exchanged about 50, 60 mobile text messages on this, and her last SMS read, 'Please don't say no'. Frankly, I did not have the heart to say no this time. I yielded. Maybe, I should not have.
I contested the election and managed to win from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency.
Yes. I should not have entered politics. All my life, I have made enemies -- by singing songs, by making music, by being what I am. Today, I have many more enemies. I don't like this turbulence; I don't like this at all.
When I succumbed to Banerjee's incessant requests, I did not know that by joining politics I would be required to cut my tongue and conscience and put them on a silver platter and offer it to someone.
I want to be an independent songwriter. But I cannot sing my songs freely any more. I am saddened. Today, even some of my friends mistrust me.
Image: Kabir Suman speaking to the people of his constituency
Photographs: Courtesy: Abhijit Kundu
'Belonging to a party is painful'
I met some great personalities in Parliament, people I could have never met otherwise. Honestly, I am enjoying it there.
I met some great personalities like L K Advani, Lalu Prasad (I am a great fan of his) Maneka Gandhi (a wonderful person) Kirti Azad (so full of humour), Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo (he is like my son).
We have created a 'People's Republic of Smokers' at a chamber in the central hall of the Parliament. I wonder why smoking is banned in India and not raping or warfare (smiles).
I won't make a good parliamentarian but I am learning to serve the nation in many a way. However, the problem is my music, my voice, my conscience (sighs).
Belonging to a party or to a particular mindset, I am sorry, is painful./P>
In 1998, before you embraced Islam, you had given out a call for boycotting the election. And now you are an MP.
It was a conscious appeal though I have changed my mind now.
I was born with a class privilege, you see. I went to a school and a college. But having joined politics, I realised how important development issue is for the nation. And that even in order to set up a tube well in a village, we need a Parliament.
Today, I can only look back and smile at that self of mine. As an MP, I have come to realise that though many allegations can be made against the Government of India, it is not stingy. It has thousands of crores of rupees for development.
Therefore, today, I am all for parliamentary democracy.
Image: Kabir Suman at a drawing competition for children
Photographs: Courtesy: Abhijit Kundu
'Why spend so much money on defence when people are starving?'
I think the government is failing to counter the issue completely. To stop this price rise, many radical steps need to be taken.
In fact, all of us have to change our perspective. Why spend so much money on defence when people are starving?
Why can't we have better diplomacy and discourage belligerence?
India is a great country, it has great minds. However, I am not a specialist. The honourable finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is an educated man and I am sure he can find ways to control the price rise.
We need to ask ourselves: what heaven are we looking for? On one hand, we have modernisation and globalisation, on the other hand, we have thousands of people not getting one square meal a day.
I think everything has to be rethought.
Image: Kabir Suman supervises the sinking of a tubewell in a village
Photographs: Courtesy: Abhijit Kundu
'We must remember that Maoists are no terrorists'
The problem that the Republic of India is facing on account of the Maoists at the moment is not unique. We do come across similar situations in other developing countries as well. For instance, in Peru, we hear about the Shining Path guerrillas and in Philippines, there are radical forces.
Even in developed Germany, there was the Rote Armee Faktion (Red Army Faction). In its early stages, it was commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Group. It was one of post World War II Germany's most violent and prominent Left wing groups.
But we must remember that the Maoists are no terrorists.
Today, India is already a superpower for some, whereas one third of the population does not get one square meal a day.
The division between the haves and have-nots is great. In such a country, it is natural for radical ideology to thrive.
The Communist Party of India-Maoist came into being in 2004 through the merger of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist, the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre of India. The merger was announced on October 14 the same year.
The Maoists have their own ideology -- they believe in armed uprising and they owe it to the teachings of Charu Majumdar whose motto was gram diye sohor ghero -- encircle the cities with villages. The Maoists generally operate in and around the most under-developed parts of the country.
If we consider Bengal, wide tracts of land in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore are completely undeveloped. There are no schools, no health centres, no medical facilities, no drainage system. No jobs have been generated there for ages.
People are poor and helpless -- in the horizon they can only see the scorching sun. Isn't it natural, therefore, for them to turn to those whom they feel might show them a way. We may not like that way, nevertheless it is indeed a way.
The Maoists have a definite ideology -- they want to do away with this system, they want to do away with the ruling parties -- they want to create a revolution that will liberate people from their sufferings.
The other day, Dr Sujoy Basu, a scientist working with alternative energy, read me out a poem written by an African poet: Beware of my anger/Beware of my hunger. We have to be aware of this hunger, you know.
We, the so-called elites, try to live in our snug security. But our world is not as secure as we like to think. For, thanks to globalisation, unemployment is rampant and outsourcing is not exactly helping the multitude.
In such a situation, turbulence is natural. Therefore, the Maoists have found their own areas where development has not taken place.
Instead of waging a war against them, it would be a better idea to try to have a dialogue with them. A delegation of members of Parliament could be sent to them to initiate talks.
The process will take time, but let's be patient. After all, India is known for its tolerance.
>We need to have a sympathetic attitude. We must remember that the Maoists need to be rehabilitated as well. Development needs to be initiated in their areas of operation.
How can we forget that Chambal's dacoits, who were once a menace, too did lay down their arms?
Image: Kabir Suman at a concert
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty