Fatalism of the Left

It seems that I must contend myself with some dire facts about the Indian Left through a survey of raiot.in, scroll.in and other similar websites. For one, people who share the items that are found on these websites, seem to be thinking and reacting (this is an important word for politics in India – reaction) as a monolithic, homogenous entity. I am very welcoming of any and all objections to this generalising and reductive statement. A simple perusal will show you what is trending at the moment i.e what is trending everywhere i.e everywhere with similar ideologies.

Sharing does not necessarily mean that a post has been viewed or read. If it were the same thing I would not find the trend so frightening. Firstly, I think it is frightening when so many people share posts without even opening them.  And it is equally frightening that people might actually read something critical and engaging but refuse to share it because it makes them question beliefs and/or staves off their clicking fingers. For example, an informative, well-researched article which discusses the crucially important (and neglected) state of agricultural health in the country (a topic that should be the kernel of the Left’s political foundations) is thus less shared than one that repeats the jaded theme of ‘anti-Modism’. He is not worth your time; prioritise people! Lovers of the Left, please deactivate your Facebook accounts today!

The traffic on social media in the last few months, in the aftermath of the JNU, HCU fiascos has weighed favourably to the side of the persecuted. Maybe social media has actually helped in turning things around; perhaps it is social media that has redeemed the persecuted in the eyes of the middle class. But let us not kid ourselves further beyond that point. This is just a war of visibility. The key feat should be moving towards representation. And I am not talking about a “space” – online or imagined – but a physicality that we should work towards. The Left has always and probably will always be powerful in the realm of ideas. But this is not good enough, not now in this global age of hunger and strife. The ground is overrun with Right wing psychos and their close cousins, the Liberal psychos. Where is the Progressive Left in all of this?

Examples like those of Syriza, the POTUS candidature of Jill Stein, the triumph of Kshama Sawant have helped make us less orthodox across the Left spectrum. The realm of ideas is being slowly reclaimed from the Facebook intellectuals and confined academics. It is now becoming truly more democratic. Revolution will only ever occur when we talk less of it. I think enough time has passed now such that the concept has become part of the ideological foundation of many comrades across the spectrum. However, like a bad preacher – merely quoting verses, by hearting psalms – we keep haranguing on it as though we are the only ones who know it or have heard the blessed word.

Meghalaya/India needs a political intervention by a Progressive front. “Struggles” should perhaps give way to “movements”. Why be so masochistic? The very word “struggle” smacks of pessimism. We cannot and never win so we “struggle”. We struggle when we have no floor-plan, no vision of the future, when we are reacting. We glorify the underdog, and it is a fantastic thing because it keeps us honest and alert. But the basic thing about underdogs is: they always win.

Dying with a Little Patience – On the Indian Left

We have heard a variety of opinions from the Left about the events surrounding JNU, Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban, the Patiala House assault etcetera. Our attention was drawn to the hypocrisies of the supposedly radical (the main stream Left parties) who tried to explain away the issues, or did not acknowledge them at all. Then our already ‘weakened’ belief systems were further complicated with the entry of Dalit perspectives on the matter. One writer commented quite eloquently on how the JNU violence was a response by the Hindu Right at the re-assemblage of the Left into a force that was bringing together non-Manuvad and ‘minority’ elements together. This might very well be true. The whole thing was quite a storm but I think our minds are better for it. I was sitting in Shillong, enthralled by the events that occurred in Delhi, like the rest of the country: I empathised with the trio, I railed against Goswami. There was even a small demonstration here in solidarity with the students of JNU and their cause. The ridiculousness of the situation shall be chronicled for our future generations to ponder over.

Then, Kanhaiya came out of custody and wooed the young men and women with his speech. Sadly as my Hindi is very basic (to say the very least), I could not understand him in entirety. In the English translation text, he hit all the right notes and checked all the right boxes. Some people opined that this “Kanhaiya moment” could be seen as the emergence of a New Left – a Left which could bring together Dalit, tribal, Muslim, LGBT, the poor, farmers, rural workers et al in the struggle for a better future. Well, it is optimism which must be appreciated though realities are, of course, difficult.

In 2014, Scotland organised a plebiscite to decide whether it would continue to stay or leave the UK. It was an actual historic event, it was not simply chatter. No one interfered with its decision to hold the plebiscite, none of its actions were considered sedition, and secessionism was not a crime but a right. In India, words like secession are straightaway censored, speakers of such words arrested. It’s just a word! Its articulation does not mean the breakdown of the Indian state. Its articulation does not mean chaos and lawlessness. It’s just a word. What about the way people in the North East feel (or felt) towards the Indian Union? Do the feelings of difference that they have towards the rest of the country count as sedition? In the eventual course of history, do they not have a right to decide what their own aspirations are?

Now, turning our attention elsewhere. I have a problem with many Leftist friends and foes in that I do not think politics (as in the canvassing-winning-elections type) is a bad thing. This is because I cannot imagine a future where we are simultaneously “emancipated” but also bound by helplessness. If anything, it seems like a very selfish liberation: how can I be “free” but cannot change the world? We MUST change it. Some opine that would be a “co-opting of the radicalism of the revolution”; others say something as insipid as “politics is a dirty game”, to which I say “don’t hate the game, hate the players!” I sometimes wonder if this problem is because Left intellectuals are almost always situated in urban centres – in spite of their contestations to be rural or pro-poor. Could it be that the urban solitude and spiritual distance keeps them (in the Left) from fully imagining a political future together? One in which we could all take part in? How can we talk about workers’ rights, labour reforms etc when we do not think seriously about how to bring them about? ‘Movements’ and ‘struggles’ are all well and good but perhaps we must insist on expeditiousness in the face of starvation, abject poverty and horrible livelihoods. People are dying while we debate revolutionary praxis. The CPI, CPI (M) and others like them have apparently failed us, so do we lose steam and faith because of that? Or do we learn from their mistakes?

Judging from what I read of Kanhaiya’s speech, I personally feel that he would be well-suited to formally enter politics, not just remain within the activism which has made him famous. Someone called him an Ambedkarite. That is very high praise. Do we remember that Ambedkar was not just an activist, a gifted lawyer and academic but also that he was a seasoned politician as well? He contested elections and won. He also lost later on but that is not the point. The point is, and it’s a jaded maxim: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. The Right and Neo-libs might not be evil (or maybe they’re all pure evil!) but we have definitely not done enough. In terms of the footwork and organising, the Left is woefully behind. We are always caught “reacting” to situations, events and then we flex our muscles to show that we still have strength. There is a lot of talk in a lot of universities about ‘revolution’ but very little about people – people like the ones I see daily, suffering and struggling in life. Let’s say, tomorrow if Kanhaiya and thousands like him join the AAP or INC, can we get angry at them, would the decision be entirely their own? Are there no lessons to be had from the path of George Fernandes and others like him? History is cyclical, apparently.

I feel terribly apprehensive about the future of Kanhaiya and his comrades. What will happen to these guys? I am not talking only in lieu of the authorities. What support system can we provide for them after this traumatic ordeal? What about their prospects after being tried and vilified in front of millions? I hope that they are not abandoned by those who cheer for them now. I have been going on about the need for a political groundwork which would challenge the current scenario. Before this, people in the Left must decide what they believe in (I realise this is hard). If one is an anarchist, socialist, Maoist (and everything in between) then declare yourself as one. It’s absolutely fine, you have every right to. But having patchwork ideological frameworks, without any teleological commitment, cannot be the stepping stones to a better future. Perhaps the most crucial question that everyone needs to answer is: what is their idea of the future?