By Manisit Das:
Very recently, we got to hear a spontaneous and passionate speech by Kanhaiya Kumar (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union President) post his release. The way he slammed his right-wing opponents and media in his satirical and rustic style is a treat for the ears. My good wishes to the leader who is rising!
I am however specifically heartened by one element in his speech. That was his admission that the Left in India had remained largely elitist and that they had failed to strike a chord with masses despite championing their rights and empathising with them. I am happy that he realised that so early in his life. This speaks of his political maturity.
In general, people in today’s world have a sense of antipathy and a cringing fear of the Left. And thus, a certain Bernie Sanders in the United States, trying to build his campaign on the ideas of democratic socialism is immediately feared as a ‘Communist’ trying to take over the country. What people do not realise is that any ‘welfare state’ trying to take care of the social and economic well-being of its citizens is already close to the vision he espouses.
India is not an exception to this trend either. With an enormous section of people not being able to access higher education and alienated by almost unfathomable barriers like caste, religion, sects, social status and regional identity, it is not too difficult to deduce that a discourse on ‘dialectical materialism’ or ‘classless society’ would sound like Hebrew to most ears.
Now, our post-Independence nationalism is somehow a ‘hate thy neighbour’ nationalism. More often than not, it seems that an India-Pakistan cricket match is the greatest unifying force in the country. And for the same reason, the soldiers in the borders are our greatest heroes and the people of the frontier provinces are our biggest traitors. Thus, when E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Chief Minister of the first democratically elected government led by a communist party in India, remarked that neither the Chinese nor the Indians could be accused of aggression since both were defending territory that they thought was theirs, the Communists turned into Chinese sympathisers in the eyes of the people overnight during Sino-Indian war in 1962.
However, the same majority of people didn’t empathise when the Left withdrew their support from the first UPA government at the Centre over their concern for India’s sovereignty in the face of a nuclear deal with the USA. This deal required the country to submit a list of India’s civilian nuclear reactors to the regulatory agencies thereby exposing them to inspection on demand. The Centre wasn’t blamed of anti-nationalism and the Left weren’t idolised as patriots and nationalists. Such irony!
Now, let’s come back to the question I started with. A lot of people are scared of ‘Communists’. And it is not quite unjustified either, given that they have a bad taste in their mouths due to the Communist regimes in central Europe, Russia, North Korea among others. Here, I find a quote by Milan Kundera, an author of Czech origin very significant:
“Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: The criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.”
People essentially forget that their experience with any political extremism, be it far right fascism or centralised socialism with an authoritarian form of government, never turned out pleasant. And this was precisely why people tried to fuse elements from ‘right’ and ‘left’ and hang around the ‘centre’. That is how most of the political systems work in the present day world.
The horizon of the Left is immense. It remains a vital space in politics. Many feel that the Left has an obsession with the ‘victimisation of the marginalised’. Yes, they do and they often sound rhetorical. But in a political democracy guided by economic authoritarianism where interests of big corporations are prioritised in the name of free trade, there needs to be a voice for the oppressed, for the marginalised and for the alienated. There is a need because the conservatives and the right-wing will never speak of inclusion and will not try to protect the interests of disadvantaged groups.
When India experimented with democracy after her Independence, the world watched with cynicism and apprehension and wondered whether the exercise would turn the country into a failed state. But we didn’t fail as a country. The nation state didn’t fall apart because she stood by her people and didn’t try to create a country in the name of a single religion or a monolithic nationalism, and accepted her diversity as intrinsic. However, that very idea of India is now threatened with the political degeneration of the Left and a ruthless right-wing which builds itself on a majoritarian rhetoric. India needs her Left now, very dearly so. Let’s hope the Left leadership of the country lends an ear to one of their young compatriots today and is in the process of getting back to the people and forging connections. The sooner, the better.