Saturday, March 15, 2014

An advocate for "radical social transformation"

Saroj Giri is passionate about bringing back the blood-red (in a non-pejorative sense) left and is clear that the best way to fight communalism is through "radical social transformation." .But he does not say where lies the magic wand that will drive the masses back into the fold of  the left.

It was a point of pride for the left in India that they are the true secularists as well as above dirty caste politics (the left will at best acknowledge that class is caste). The left was (as usual) mainly ruled by the super-castes - EMS Namboodiripad belonged to the cream of the cream (the Kedarnath shrine in the Himalayas can have only Namboodiri priests. But there were also powerful leaders from so-called backward backgrounds as well, including the formidable VS Achuthanandan, the prince of the Ezhavas.

Good governance in the rule-book of the left used to mean no communal riots and (in earlier times) no corruption. But then the left in India became part of the ruling class and became corrupted. This had been predicted by the left's own theoreticians who preferred to usher in the red revolution. Unfortunately revolutions aka "radical social transformation" is hard work, you have to kill of millions of people, deport others to gulags, and re-educate all the peasants. And after all the hard work they may still dump you for the promise of a nice pair of jeans.Shameful ingratitude indeed.

As the masses have abandoned the left, all one can do now is to cry over split milk and sneer at the "low information" voters. This is the tragedy of the left in India and elsewhere.
A game-changing equation is being suggested here: that even those who do not explicitly endorse majoritarian Hindu sentiments will vote for Hindutva—all thanks to the new agenda of opposing vote bank politics, fighting corruption, what goes around in the name of say good governance.

Here we can do well to recall Praveen Togadia's tweet that Hindutva followers should not be too opposed to Modi ordering the arrest of Bajrang Dal activists (they were arrested on August 20th, 2013, by Gujarat Police after they had vandalized an art exhibition in Ahmedabad which included art exhibits from Pakistani artists). The reason Togadia provided: 'Let him add secular votes'.

The RSS functionary's views assumes a particular understanding of the Indian voter for whom fighting vote bank politics and pitching for good governance becomes more important than fighting the dangers of Hindutva politics. This points to one emerging affinity in Indian politics today: that the wider agenda of good governance and anti-corruption is compatible with Hindutva, that, for example, fighting corruption is in sync with supporting Modi's Hindutva. The mainstream fight against corruption today might deliver itself at the feet of Modi's Hindutva.

How is this possible? How is it possible that Hindutva's communal polarisation often leading to communal riots and breakdown of the rule of law becomes compatible with good governance? We get some answers through a close reading of the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar (Sep 2013) and in fact its (non-) resonance in wider Indian politics.

Muzaffarnagar pointed towards a new kind of riots. The strategy there seems to follow from the 'lessons learned' from what 'went wrong' in Gujarat 2002, where the high number of Muslims killed (790) attracted enormous press and civil society attention around the world, and created a political albatross that dogs Modi to this day.  
Hence keep the number of actual killings low and instead compensate for that by increasing those displaced and uprooted from their land and homes—clearly the pattern in Muzaffarnagar riots, where the thrust was on displacing Muslims (50,000), shattering their economic base and means of livelihood, rather than on killings per se ('only' 37 Muslims killed).
The trick: keep communal polarisation low profile or low intensity and keep chanting the mantra of development and governance!

Now many, among them ardent secularists and leftists, welcome this new agenda of politics while opposing Modi/BJP. They think of good governance as rightly taking us away from divisive issues and communal or vote bank politics and open the way towards a more enlightened, rational politics based on genuine issues of development and governance. A Muslim as much as a Dalit or an upper caste Hindu or a jhuggi dweller all want basic amenities like water, electricity, good schools—they all want good governance, don't they?

So if only we could stop Modi or the BJP from coming to power, this agenda is in itself very positive! It is by dint of this logic that scores of secularist or left-leaning activists and academics have joined AAP which in many ways is spearheading the good governance crusade. And yet in terms of its articulation, effects and ramifications, the new agenda seems already set in its affinity with communal politics. This is reflected in, say, AAP's coyness when it comes to talking about communalism. Their insistence that they are not about vote banks so often seems to be a way to duck communal issues, a hesitation to take on communalism—and definitely overlook its affinity with good governance.

Here we notice a major structural shift in Indian politics. This means that Indian politics' umbilical cord with communal politics and riots is magically rendered invisible by the cunning discourse of good governance, transparency and anti-corruption. Only a politics of radical social transformation can dislodge this bonhomie of good governance and communalism.

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