Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Soumya Guhathakurta - Frontier Threatened

In these dark times, when "the rebel" who "stood for rebels," Frontier magazine, is desperately needed, its survival is at stake as its offi ce space is sought to be grabbed by real estate sharks.
The article “‘Frontier Magazine’ Faces Threat: Defend ‘Frontier’” by Farooque Chowdhury (Countercurrents.org, 14 March 2015) says it all: “Frontier itself stood as a rebel, and stood for rebels, the rebels of the flaming 70s.” Over the past few months Frontier is being pressurised to vacate the premises in Kolkata where it was born in the summer of 1968 and still exists in the spring of 2015. Towards the end of February 2015, a pack of intruders let themselves loose on the first floor of 61 Mott Lane. They started measuring the office space. In the absence of the editor, two employees of Frontier who were present were threatened and asked to leave the premises. An FIR (first information report) with the New Market Police Station was lodged on 23 February 2015. Earlier, neighbours from an adjacent building had been dumping refuse on to Frontier’s premises and two FIRs, one in 2013 and the other in 2014, were lodged against these proxy predatory acts of the local building mafia.
While the local English press chewed the cud, it was the vernacular press that went for the predator’s jugular and the administration’s throat. After some initial dilly-dallying, amends were made by the administration when the police visited the Mott Lane premises and assured security to the employees by leaving with them with 24×7 contact numbers. The predators acted tough with the reporters, but only over the telephone lines. On being questioned, one of the intruders said that he had been asked by one of the co-owners to repair the premises and so he had come there to measure the place. He then passed on the telephone to a cohort who spoke more toughly. After attributing motives to the reporter and the present editor of Frontier, he threatened that the reporter will be at the receiving of his wrath and that he could not care less for the police. Things have quietened since then and this could be due to delayed but necessary tough talk by the local police. An option of proposing that the premises be included in the list of “Heritage Buildings” is being pursued.
Timir Basu, the editor of Frontier, suspects that the premises at 61 Mott Lane, presently owned by 12 persons, have been sold by one of them to local property developers. This is part of a bigger design in the neighbourhood where building mafias operating in tandem with the administration, appropriate, often with strong arm methods, old properties with tenancy issues. The decrepit buildings are pulled down to make space for swanky commercial centres and upmarket malls. It must be emphasised that building mafias, operating as southpaws of the global financial dispensation, fund electoral politics of every hue. Poet–translator–journalist Samar Sen started publishing Frontier from here in 1968 with a capital of Rs 9,000 that he had managed to source from his friends and relatives. While there may not be too many to man the barricades at Frontier, Farooque Chowdhury’s “Defend Frontier” is a timely call to stir our conscience in “Remembrance of Things Past.”
Frontier and the Naxalite Movement
In an article published after the death of the poet–editor, Ashok Rudra wondered aloud about Samar Sen’s compulsions in keeping Frontier going at a great cost to himself. Frontier supported Naxalbari at its birth and yet the weekly did not ally with any of the factions that the movement later disintegrated into. The Naxalites did not see much virtue in the weekly since, at times, it criticised the excesses of the movement including the leadership’s hyperbole. To a declaration that very soon the “Red army would march along the banks of river Bhagirathi,” Frontier’s judicious refrain was “if faith could move mountains.” In those turbulent times, Samar Sen knew very well that he was risking his head at the stake.
Virtue was made out of necessity when the movement was at its ebb. The strong arm of the state in the form of white terror had come down heavily on the Naxalbari movement. Participants and supporters of the movement were gagged, maimed, killed, externed or thrown into dungeons. All means of communication within the movement and with the outside world had completely broken down and publications had been forced to shut down. Frontier filled the vacuum and from 1970 to 1977 it served as the medium through which incarcerated leaders and cadres could be in touch with each other as well as with the outside world. A cursory perusal of the weekly during this period will reveal a fund of documents that were generated behind prison bars. Samar Sen published these communications at a risk to himself and to the weekly because these were testimony to the fact that the weekly, its employees and the editor were in deep contact with the movement which was then essentially underground.
Farooque Chowdhury’s call to defend Frontier should be taken note of and acted upon because times have not changed for the better. No section of the society is away from the global gaze and global outreach of capital. Capital continues to enrich itself at the cost of impoverishing others and operates with the backing of nuclear arsenal-powered nation states. And yet the battle of attrition with this global onslaught continues at various locations all over the world and in our country. A slim and trim 16-page retrofitted Frontier could very well be the vehicle to battle the crisis when the next time around the strong arm of the state comes calling, if it has not come as of yet.