Very recently, we got to hear an organic and passionate speech by Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar after his release. The way he slammed at his rightwing opponents and media in his satirical and rustic style, is a treat to ears. My good wishes to the leader who is rising!
I am however specifically heartened by one element in his speech; his acceptance 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 empathizing with them. I am happy that he realized that so soon and this speaks of his political maturity.
In general, people of the modern day world have a sense of antipathy and cringing fear about the Left. And thus, a certain Bernie Sanders in United States trying to build his campaign on Democratic Socialism is immediately feared as a Communist trying to take over the country while people not realizing that any ‘welfare state’ trying to take care of social and economic well-being of its citizens is already close to it.
India is not an exception to this trend either. With an enormous section of people not being able to get 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 in dialectic materialism or classless society would sound Hebrew to most ears. Also, our post-independence nationalism is somehow imbibed in ‘hate thy neighbors’ policy. Much 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 EMS Namboodiripad, Chief Minister of the first democratically elected government by a communist party in India remarked that‘the Chinese had entered territory that they thought was theirs and hence there was no question of aggression. At the same time, the Indians were defending territory that they considered theirs and so they were not committing aggression either.’ , the Communists turned into Chinese sympathizers overnight during Sino-Indian war in 1962. However, the same majority of people didn’t empathize when the Left withdrew their support from the first UPA government in Centre over their concern with India’s sovereignty in face of nuclear deal with US which required the country to submit a list of India’s civilian nuclear reactors to the regulatory agencies and exposing them to inspection on demand. The Centre wasn’t blamed of anti-nationalism and the Left weren’t idolized as patriots and nationalists. Such irony!
Coming back to the question I started with. People are scared of ‘Communists’. And it is not quiet unjustified either, given they had a bad taste in mouth with 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 extremities, be it either far right fascism or centralized socialism with 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 present day world.
The horizon of Left is immense and an essential space in politics. Many feel that the Left have an obsession with victimization of the marginalized. Yes, they do and often they sound rhetorical. But in a political democracy guided by economic authoritarianism where interests of big corporations are prioritized in name of free trade, there needs to be a voice for the oppressed, for the marginalized and for the alienated. There is a need because the conservatives and the right 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 beside her people, didn’t try to integrate the 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 politically degeneration of Left and a ruthless right wing call which builds itself on a majoritarian rhetoric. India needs her Left now, both organized and unorganized, very dearly so. Hope, the Left leadership of the country is lending an ear to one of their young compatriots today and in the process of getting back to the people and forge connections. Sooner, the better.