Kolkata: More than 1,200 Marxist literature bookstalls have been set up during the ongoing Autumn Festival in West Bengal. The CPI(M), which administers more than 90% of the Marxist literature stalls, will also use them to serve both progressive literature and promote communal peace and harmony.
More than 109 out of the 350-plus bookstalls set up in Kolkata are in the core of the capital and the rest in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation area. If the Kolkata Metropolitan area is taken into account, the number is around 400, according to preliminary estimates. Apart from the CPI(M), other leftist parties, like CPI(ML) Liberation, SUCI(C), RSP, Forward Block and CPI, administer about 10% of the stalls in various areas of the state.
To counter the progressive literature of the Left, the ruling Trinamool Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress too have set up bookstalls mainly in some urban areas.
CPI(M) Politburo member and one of the state’s most senior politicians Biman Bose traced the evolution of the Marxist literature stalls, which have evolved since 1955. Two big stalls were set up at Bagbazaar and Park Circus. In the ’50s and ’60s, more bookstalls were set up at Sealdah, Rajabazaar, Shyambazaar, Ultodanga, Beliaghata, Jadavpur, Dhakuria and before the Ballygunge station, Bose told Newsclick.
“In earlier times, children’s books written by Russian authors were very popular apart from classics by Rabnidranath Tagore and limericks by Sukumar Roy, the father of film maestro Satyajit Ray. In those times, Muzaffar Ahmad, Jyoti Basu, Pramod Dasgupta, Somnath Lahiri and Dr Ranen Sen used to visit the bookstalls regularly and interact with the readers. The number of stalls has grown up considerably,” Bose said.
Bose also recounted setting up a stall which he used to frequent as a bookseller from 1968 till 1970. The stall, on Surya Sen Street, has been continuing for more than 50 years.
“While the TMC bookstalls have more than 40 books containing writings and drawings by party chief Mamata Banerjee, the BJP literature focuses on Modi and Shyama Prasad and the Congress on Gandhian and Nehruvian philosophies. But the progressive bookstalls contain a wide range of titles starting from ideological books to classics and children’s books to ones on science and technology. That’s why these makeshift progressive knowledge houses are the most-favoured destination during the Autumn Festival,” said Bikash De, one of the organisers in Garia Station area.
The bookstalls are also spreading communal harmony and amity to counter any religion- or language-based violence in the state. “This is an added responsibility. We will keep guard against any untoward incident in our respective localities during the festival,” De added.
Interestingly, this year, all the progressive stalls will also double up as facilitation centres for the ongoing voter verification drive, started in the state by the Central Election Commission.
The Jadavpur bookstall, one of the oldest, sold books worth more than Rs 25,000 in two hours after its inauguration by noted film actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty, according to Sudip Sengupta, CPI(M) Kolkata District Secretariat member and one of the prime organisers of the stall for the last two decades. “Last year, we had notched up sales of more than Rs 2,80,000. Despite the economic recession this year, we are getting a good response as we are selling books that are both informative and not costly. Books of writer Buddhadeb Guha on combatting the RSS, on Kashmir and Shyama Prasad’s divisive role, and eminent historian professor Sukumari Bhattacharya’s book Revisiting the Myth of Ram are selling like hotcakes,” Sengupta said.
The Jadavpur 8B stall, which was used as a facilitation centre for voter verification and an informative kiosk about the National Register of Citizens and to combat its divisiveness last year, has also generated a massive response.
More than 2,000 progressive bookstalls used to be set up during the festivals before 2011. However, the number dwindled to around 600 in 2013 as many bookstalls were vandalised by TMC workers. But the stalls reopened within a few hours after they were vandalised.
Senior journalist Aniruddha Chakraborty, director of National Book Agency—the largest progressive book house in the state conceived by communist doyen ‘Kakababu’ (Ahmad), said that “even the Left activists in the Assembly poll violence-hit districts of Goghat, Khanakul, Pursurah, Arambag and Narayanghat (in Hooghly district) will set up Marxist literature stalls.” He added that “the NBA will set up an e-commerce site for the sale of its books after the festival gets over”.
“Books on climate change, traditional folk-based philosophy by eminent philosopher Debiprasad Chattopadhya, Bhagat Singh and the translation of comrade EMS’ [Namboodiripad] book on Adi Shankaracharya published earlier are very much in demand,” Chakraborty said.
“The huge response that progressive literature is getting is directly proportional to the deepening crisis in the state and in the country,” Chakraborty added, recalling that approximately more than crores books were sold during the festival last year.
“Considering the interest in setting up of these stalls despite the recession, sales might increase further. The progressive books of Gorky, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Tagore are in huge demand in even in the age of the Internet. It shows how people prefer to have a permanent source of knowledge and study resources to deal with the difficult situation in the state,” Chakraborty said.
Since 1952, the CPI(M) has been setting up Marxist literature stalls in the vicinity of areas where the Durga Puja is celebrated to spread rationalist progressive ideas throughout the state.