Excerpts from the book ‘Caste Is Not a Rumour, The Online Diary of Rohith Vemula’ edited by Nikhila Henry

Away from the Red Dye towards a Blue Sky Rohith Vemulas scathing attack on Indian Left
Features Books Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - 12:20

Rohith Vemula’s main target was the Brahminical structures of Indian society and politics represented by the Hindu right-wing, but he also minced no words in taking on the Brahminism of the Left in India, mocking them and fighting them at every opportunity.

Below are some excerpts from the book ‘Caste Is Not a Rumour, The Online Diary of Rohith Vemula’ edited by Nikhila Henry. Chapter introductions written by Nikhila Henry, the dated posts are from Rohith’s Facebook wall.


Chapter 10

The Indian Left or Left of Centre?

‘The Indian Left will regret bypassing social questions one day. And on that day communism of a different kind will reveal itself in our Nation,’ wrote Vemula in 2014. The young man who started with a revolutionary flair in the Students Federation of India (SFI) took his time to break away and form a diametrically opposite stand on the Left. In his writings, he explains clearly why he lost faith – the Left had de-radicalised, falling victim to electoral politics and hypocritical double stands on liberalisation and capitalism.

The Left severed ties with the masses long ago and had no voice in movements for social change because it had ignored the Dalit conscience for decades, Vemula argued. It had become the other side of the Hindu nationalist coin. He questioned the CPI-M caste Hindu leaders of ignoring Dalit communists.

Vemula fumed at the fact that the Indian Left, though it was questioned repeatedly by Ambedkar, never acknowledged caste as an important social question. The lacklustre strategy of Indian Leftists, whom he also called Progressives in the University of Hyderabad, in addressing the caste question reflected in their flaky arguments, he said. Mocking the Left’s demand for reservations in the private sector, he contended that leaders had no moral right to ask for the same as they had not implemented the tenets of constitutional reservation even in their supreme body, the politburo.

Vemula’s dismissal of the Left was not a dismissal of communism, socialism and Maoism. In fact, he regarded Ambedkar a socialist and considered The Communist Manifesto a potent, relevant text. In 2015 he wrote of the rise of a ‘Red sun in a Blue sky’ symbolising the meeting of the twin ideologies. While some called him a Dalit Marxist, Vemula in his writing remained an Ambedkarite who held on to some tenets of Marxism and socialism.

a) The Left, Caste and Dalits: A Triangular Tale

July 8, 2014

Not disregarding the genuine efforts of some eminent communists like Singaravelu, Ramachandra Babaji, Annabhau Sathe, Kalekuri Prasad and Gaddar who questioned the caste system, it is not reductionist to say that the Left in India, at an organisational level, has always given the cold shoulder to the Dalit conscience.

The people who called themselves ‘Dalit-communists’ were never allowed top positions in the Left leadership, which is self-explanatory. They were either suspended, ignored and sometimes even demonised. Dalit thought from its inception was seen as revisionist and even counter-revolutionary by the communist parties in India. Even a person like Ambedkar failed to convince (impress) the Left in this matter. The intelligentsia of Indian Left portrayed Ambedkar as pro-British, separatist and opportunist. But today we know that Ambedkar and Left intellectuals stand poles apart in our current society.

In fact, the whole of Marxist political thought is based on European economy, German philosophy and France’s already tried and collapsed (curbed) idea of the commune. The only novel aspect in Marx’s writings is his way of combining the three of them with scientific reasoning and historical objectivity (forgive me Marxists if I have not mentioned any other important works of Marx). Even while considering this background of Marxism, Indian communism has no excuse in neglecting the caste question as the whole of our history is caste centered. And even during fair economic times (goods exchange times) caste was strong enough to impact social relationships. If Indian society is a monument, caste is its foundation. Without rebuilding from the foundation reshaping of the nation only gives a reversible progression. The actual problem with the organized Left in India is its intellectual lot who always studied hunger without ever experiencing it, studied history of oppression without being oppressed and hoped for societal change without moving their butts from cushioned chairs. They formulated the method of fighting the caste question by coming up with an out-of-box conclusion: ‘Don’t talk about caste. By not talking we are not encouraging caste’.

In reality this stand resulted in covert caste discussions and made Dalit cadre furtive inside the communist parties. Even as they had the world’s largest number of volunteers, the parent, peasant and student wings, communist parties utterly failed to educate their cadres about caste structure. These organizations have deliberately directed the attention of cadres to neo-liberal policies, international affairs and utopian dreams rather than ground realities.

In an article Baba Saheb wrote with sensible dismay that if Lenin was born in India, he would have not have left caste unquestioned. Indian Left will regret bypassing social questions one day. And on that day communism of a different kind will revive itself in our nation. Until then the Left which does not contribute towards bettering the lives of poor sections in the society will continue to be a factory that has as its fuel the same poor sections whom they claim to represent.

Let me conclude by quoting Marx, ‘Nothing prevents us from lining our criticism with a criticism of politics, from taking sides in politics, i.e., from entering into real struggles and identifying ourselves with them. This does not mean that we shall confront the world with new doctrinaire principles and proclaim: Here is truth. It means that we shall develop for the world new principles (needed) from the existing principles of the world. We shall not say: Abandon your struggles, they are mere folly; let us write true campaign-slogans. We show the world why it is struggling, and consciousness of this is a thing it must acquire whether it wishes or not...’ [Letters to Ruge, 1843].

Indian Communists have to acquire the Dalit thought inexorably; if they aim to stand with the progressive spectrum politically, socially or morally.

d) Secular Stagnation of ‘Progressive’ Left

June 28, 2015

Secularism is a great concept, theoretically. The idea to separate state and religion is rational. The concept of secularism was born of Christianity in the west in 15th-16th century. And it came to India in the first half of 20th century. Unlike Marxism which was unfortunately unrefined while it was imported, secularism was ironically modified too much, rendering it meaningless. In a nation like India, where a dominant religion like Hinduism continuously persecutes religious minorities, secularism has indeed become a reason for not supporting the tormented masses. Communist parties today frequently use this particular term as comfort zone to avoid the otherwise inescapable confrontation with Hindutva forces.

In fact, the major problem for these self-styled secularists is in defining the enemy, communalism. The ‘progressive’ left communalises every struggle that is not classy [class-driven –Ed.]. And then they vehemently stick to the idea of ‘secularism’ not because they are serious about it, but because they can thus denounce any caste-based politics as communal. In their red-tinted progressive secular lens, oppression and resistance look same. With a perplexing self-defined ‘secularist’ idea, communists justify their inability to resist Hindutva and to cover it up they cultivate paranoia among their cadre against minority groups. While the Hindu organisations term minority groups as terrorist, the progressive Left abandons them out of mistrust. Moreover, the communist parties’ idea and practice of secularism in India is thoroughly ‘Hindu’.

To be precise, secularism is not just a mere separation of State and religion. It is a utopian social structure where citizens possess the right to exercise their religious freedom without any persecutions, both from State and the society. We believe that communist parties denounced Gods long back. But it has to be noted that they, in turn made ‘different’ Gods for themselves with funny names like Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov [Lenin –Ed.], [Mao –Ed.] Zedong, Stalin and Karl Heinrich Marx among others. And they often get angry when someone questions their God’s divine powers, meaning progressiveness.

The other main drawback of Left’s gross secularism is that it can only address interference of religion in politics. It theoretically is therefore toothless while fighting cultural homogenisation of a religion outside the political arena. If Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a cat and Communist Party of India (Marxist) is a rat, CPI (M) manages to laugh at RSS during [communal –Ed.] atrocities only because it has a hole called ‘Secularism’ nearby [to escape into–Ed.]. There is an Egyptian proverb ‘Either you are a player, or you are a sucker’. The progressives should decide before it is too late.

e) On ‘Progressives’ or the Progressive Left

May 18, 2015

[On Dalit women being stripped and paraded naked in Uttar Pradesh –Ed.]

To all those enlightened progressives who cry caste is a rumour please theorize this attitude in economic terms!

July 23, 2015

Who would explain to the progressives of our campus that Chithralekha [a Dalit auto driver of Kerala who was beaten by CPIM cadre –Ed.] is as courageous and as atrociously treated by the state machinery as Teesta Setalvad!

Gross Double Standards

November 11, 2015

[On Pembulai Orumai’s woman candidate being beaten –Ed.]

While the comrades preach ‘tolerance’ on campuses, other comrades are setting a precedent for it elsewhere! Sure, Communist Party of India-Marxist is an alternative for Bharatiya Janata Party. In some areas it is ‘better’ than BJP, in fact.

Chapter 11

Away from the Red Dye towards a Blue Sky

On September 18, 2014, Vemula wrote as a prelude to the students’ union elections: ‘When nothing is right about the “Right” and nothing comes out of “Left”, I think it’s high time we stop preferring one of these two sides.

We should rather look forward to finding our path to a better future. In the coming campus elections, let us choose an alternate force, an Ambedkarite union to reclaim our rightful entitlements. Resist ABVP. Reject SFI. Vote for ASA.’

And that year with Vemula as vice president, the ASA-led United Democratic Alliance won the campus elections. For perhaps the first time there was now a Dalit– Adivasi–Bahujan–Muslim led students’ union.

For Vemula the UoH campus, where ASA already had strong support, had the potential of turning into an educational space where Dalit and other marginalised students represented themselves and their issues. They needed no saviours, he felt, and the dream came true with the electoral victory in 2014.

From a young man who in 2013 wrote ‘Long Live the Revolution’, Vemula went on to become a staunch critic of not just SFI-HCU but Left-backed student outfits across the country. Just like the ABVP, the SFI and its affiliates posed a threat to the rising Dalit wave, Vemula was certain. For him neither the Left nor the Right could be a political choice for Dalit–Bahujan in universities in the country. The marginalised should represent themselves in electoral politics, he wrote.

a) Caste and the Left Student Outfits

June 24, 2015

SFI started Bhagat Singh study circle and the first event they organised is reading of ‘Why I am an Atheist’ written by Bhagat Singh. But when they started Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle there was no organised reading of either Ambedkar or Periyar. What is the reason? Is it because their writings expose the hypocrisy of communist movement with regard to Dalit empowerment? I dare the APSC-HCU to organize reading of ‘Buddha or Marx’ by Ambedkar or ‘Periyar on Islam’ by G. Aloysius.

b) The Left’s Trysts with the Right

September 6, 2014

Some comrades on our campus are going gaga over Onam, spilling their foolish enthusiasm over this festival on Facebook. Some people are hailing the mythological character ‘Vamana’ as some peace delivering idol… Explain to me why one should subscribe to this Brahmanical festival thought? That too, why should people who claim to be disillusioned rationalists subscribe to this festival? (As per a subaltern take on Onam the festival is a celebration of the killing of a just Asura (Dravidian Dalit) King, Mahabali, at the hands of an Aryan Savarna God, Vishnu) e campus


Excerpted with permission from #CasteIsNotARumour – Online Diary of Rohith Vemula, edited by Nikhila Henry published by Juggernaut Books and available on the Juggernaut app.

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