ON THE EDGE
LAST Wednesday an SFI demonstration in Silchar in Assam came under attack by the ABVP members when a small group of the Left students’ organisation was shouting slogans protesting against the unlawful arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of JNU Students’ Association.
Some 10-12 goons came on motor cycles brandishing ABVP flags and began assaulting the SFI boys calling them ‘anti-nationals.’ Being overpowered and having chased away from the demonstration venue, the SFI activists lodged complaints with the nearest police station. Officially, the saffron students’ organisation brushed aside the allegation even though they justified the attack on SFI by the ‘unknown patriots’ because they did not think ‘the anti-nationals had any right to protest.’
This blatantly outrageous role of the students’ front of the ruling dispensation at Centre came under censure from the civil society in Silchar. The citizens’ meet convened by the district committee of SFI and the protest rally evoked sharp reaction against the fascist culture unleashed by the Hindutva outfits in Silchar ~ a town that boasts of its proud legacy of the Language Movement.
Now, a simple question must cross everyone’s mind. Why on earth the youth brigade of BJP considered it important to engage in a street fight with the SFI boys in Silchar? CPI-M is electorally almost a non-existent force in Silchar and Barak Valley. In the Assam Assembly election, which is barely a-month-and-a-half away, even a hardcore Left supporter by any stretch of imagination won’t expect a fair chance for the CPI-M. Amit Shah, Sarbananda Sonowal, Mohan Bhagwat or Nagesh Thakur… you name anyone. They all know this electoral backdrop in Barak Valley.
Why then target SFI in Silchar?
The same question, however, may be put in the national perspective as well. There’s absolutely no ground to consider the main stream Left political parties as the potent electoral adversaries for BJP.
Why then target AISF, SFI, DSU, ISA?
Even if one thinks that ensuing Kerala and West Bengal Assembly polls could be the reason for the sudden spurt in the anti-Left campaigns by the Sangh Parivar, that psephological argument does not hold much water given the fact that the strength of BJP in those two states is just like that of the Left’s hold in Assam or Barak Valley at present.
The current anti-Left tirade then cannot be causally linked to election strategising either in Delhi or Nagpur. The explanation, if any, must lay somewhere else, and which calls for a non-electoral, but a politico-ideological engagement.
The still unfolding JNU incidents, wherein the country is witness to one of the worst kind of state perpetrations in post-Independent India, have brought to the public domain a fundamental question which remained largely dormant under the successive neo-liberal regimes of Congress and other Left-of-centre political parties.
With the adoption of a liberal and accommodative Constitution and giving effect to the same in 1950, and holding of the first general election in 1951-52, there was a tacit social conviction of the fact that the newly acquired sovereignty of the fledgling nation had unambiguously decided in favour of a modern statecraft, where religion would have no role to play.
Even as the pro-Hindutva political ideologies were palpable on the Indian National Congress platform during the days of the Freedom Struggle, and there was quite audible saffron voice in the Constituent Assembly as well, people preferred to be oblivious of those discordant notes. The results of the first Lok Sabha elections were so impressive for Congress ~ 364 seats won out of 489 at stake ~ that the 10 seats and 6 percent vote share managed by the three pro-Hindutva outfits were glossed over by everyone.
Congress continued to confirm its imposing political position even after the Nehruvian era, except in spells till the nineties. The real opposition to the Congress on a national scale appeared a viable and, in fact, a dominant proposition for the first time only during the Emergency and the general elections held immediately thereafter.
The combined opposition put up to resist an autocratic Indira Gandhi did not care to be selective along ideological plane. Left, socialists, and the Hindutva protagonists huddled themselves pretty comfortably because the bigger menace was the attack on the fabric of democracy, which they vowed to fight. The Indira-Sanjay lethal duo was proving so devastating and marauding on the very fundamental rights of the citizens that no one had the time and prudence to sit back and check ideological compatibility at that grave hour of crisis.
A similar ideologically oxymoronic line up was drawn to oust the Bofors-tainted Rajiv Gandhi and install the National Front government in 1989. The front page blowup of L K Advani and Jyoti Basu holding high the hands of V P Singh in solidarity has still not faded from otherwise short public memory.
The birth of Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980 notwithstanding, the first four decades of electoral politics in post-Independent India marked the fight between the Left on the one side and Congress on the other. The battle line was also very clearly drawn ~ market versus state, bourgeois versus proletariat, capitalism versus socialism. In such a formation, the Left was the left and Congress was the right.
The issues mainly consisted of the questions around poverty, unemployment, inequality, exploitation, and, at times, corruption. In the post-1991, under the unipolar geo-politics, newer trans-national issues like globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation surfaced. During the first NDA government, and even thereafter, interestingly, BJP and Congress found themselves in the same bench of the floor when the latter three issues were debated.
Congress and BJP, for all practical purpose, thanks to their uniform economic and foreign policies along with no-different class character, were construed as a combined ‘right wing force’ by the Indian Left. In standard parlance, the Left used to call these two parties ‘the two sides of the same coin’. The only distinction the Left and the progressive forces in the country could discover between the two is that while BJP is communal, Congress is corrupt.
This ‘only distinction’ became an important determiner on some occasion when the Left was required to take a call between the two alternatives, say in situations of hung legislatures. And Congress was chosen as a ‘lesser evil’.
But there was always a subtext to this assessment of the evolving ground condition. And this was that the BJP being an ‘anti-Muslim’ party would always polarise the society along communal lines and thereby, reap political dividend. Such a kind of rather naïve thought process overlooked a greater danger looming large on the horizon.
‘BJP’s communalism’, there was a general understanding among both supporters and detractors of the Party, was taken to be just a weapon of electoral expediency.
A standard syllogism was drawn up that BJP at worst would create Hindu-Muslim divide to win elections. The Ram Mandir Movement of the late eighties and early nineties was also passed for a BJP-ploy to come to power at Delhi. But once in power, they would behave just like any right-wing liberal political party while serving the capitalist class interest.
Unfortunately, in the whole scheme of analysing the modus operandi of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, the question of cultural policy never got to the uppermost layer of intellectual discourse.
Since the NDA-II came to power in June 2014, disturbing developments like Muzaffarnagar and Dadri have taken place. But still those were generalised as communal upsurge masterminded by BJP and its ‘fringe elements’. Even the Rohith Vemula suicide uproar was trivialised as an anti-Dalit highhandedness of the HRD ministry.
But when JNU has happened, and when the government is out in the middle to mercilessly gag any dissenting voice, when responsible BJP functionaries are threatening closure of JNU, the incubator of critical and progressive ideas in the country, when the party’s national spokesperson is fearlessly playing on a doctored video clip on news channels to justify the arrest and public thrashing of Kanhaiya Kumar, and when the Left and the scholarly voices of the country are being sought to be tried in ‘people’s court,’ when the Patiala House Court in the heart of the nation’s capital could not be considered safe by the honourable Supreme Court for production of Kanhaiya Kumar in the fear of threat to his life, we must understand that the reason of such state repression lies beyond the standard explanation of electoral politics.
The phase India is passing through today is a clash of civilisations. It’s not only about the rights of the religious minorities or the freedom of speech and expression, it’s more and actually, obscurantism versus modernity. It’s contestation versus conformity. It’s between the five-thousand-year-old autocratic, Brahminical, caste-ridden, theocratic statehood, and a modern liberal, democratic, secular and scientific statecraft.
Delhi or Silchar, the Left is being feared not for electoral reason, but for ideological resistance, and hence, this ruthless retribution. Even if we oppose Kanhaiya and his brand of politics, let’s all remember Voltaire for once. ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics at Cachar College, Silchar, Assam. To see all his previous articles, click here)
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