The heat and anger of JNU’s campus politics and Karat’s recent column on fascism reveal the Left’s strategy.

Whipping up fears against right-wing helps savarna liberals retain powerImage: Youtube
Voices Opinion Saturday, September 10, 2016 - 18:07

Comrade Prakash Karat’s recent column in the Indian Express explaining the nature of Modi government came as an unpleasant surprise to many, especially those who make up their minds from headlines. Perhaps like Kanhaiya Kumar, and Modi bhakts.

Fascist or right-wing authoritarian?

Comrade Karat’s intelligent argument was simply this – Modi is not technically ‘fascist’, because ‘fascism’ is not driven by financial capital. “There is no crisis that threatens a collapse of the capitalist system; the ruling classes of India face no threat to their class rule.”

He further wrote, “India today confronts the advance of an authoritarianism that is fueled by a potent mix of neo-liberalism and communalism. Apart from Hindutva communalism, the other major source of authoritarianism is the right-wing neo-liberal drive.”

What he was getting at, essentially, is that by calling Modi ‘fascist’, you are taking neo-liberalism out of the equation, when that should also be on the hit list. And if it indeed should be on the hit list, you cannot fight the battle against Modi with the Congress party in tow, because, “Since the two major parties — the BJP and the Congress — are alternately managing the neo-liberal order for the ruling classes, the political struggle against the BJP cannot be conducted in alliance with the other major party of the ruling classes. Unlike in the fight against a fascist order, where elections in a democratic system become redundant, the electoral battle is also important in India.”

This goes to an old disagreement between Karat and Yechury, on whether the Left should join hands with the Congress to fight Modi and the Sangh.

Come to think of it, apart from the disagreement over Congress, there should be no problem in the two leaders accepting that Modi’s government is not ‘fascist’, for I’m sure Yechury too believes neo-liberalism and capitalism have to be fought.

Fear mongering and elitist opportunism

But here’s the thing. The word ‘fascism’ is powerful. It creates the fear of dictatorship – throwing up images of Mussolini and Hitler. And the most potent strategy of the anti-Modi brigade so far has been to create fear. And when you replace a simple word like ‘fascism’ with the complex phrase ‘right-wing authoritarianism’, as Karat wants, you are giving up on an important tool which helps whip up the fear against Modi. Nope, neither the Congress nor their buddy Comrade Yechury will have that.

Which is why, JNUSU President and Yechury flunky Kanhaiya Kumar threw a barb at “uncle” Karat, asking him to go to “New York” if he “doesn’t want to fight”.

The alarming refusal by Karat to call Modi ‘fascist’ could also harm Kanhaiya’s own political future if he agrees with him. There is a reason why Kanhaiya has not completely jumped onto the Left bandwagon – Congress is always an option. And that isn’t just speculation. Since 1992, at least 3 JNUSU presidents have deserted the SFI (affiliated to the CPI(M)) for better political futures in the Congress. Nothing stops Kanhaiya from leaving the AISF for the same. Modi - or the Sangh - has to remain the enemy, and Congress a friendly ally.

While Karat opposes Yechury over political differences, all of them – Kanhaiya, Yechury and Karat – or Shehla Rashid and Omar Khalid for that matter - are part of the same savarna, Muslim-elite, Delhi-centric, left-liberal cabal which has run this country for decades, and they have done so by making sure that there is just one enemy the eyes of their people – the ‘fascist’ Sangh, and more recently, ‘fascist’ Modi. With this, they ensured that no leader would emerge from the oppressed communities, at least not without their patronage.

What else do we then make of the Left's attack on Pembilai Orumai and Dalit auto-driver Chandralekha in Kerala?

For decades now, ironically, the oppressed have been forcefully led by the oppressors in their fight against the oppressors. It is this realization, and subsequent fallout, that we are seeing in the JNU polls.

There is no doubt that the coverage the JNU students’ union polls get is highly disproportional to their real importance. But the campus is a nice little petri dish to test what could later be replicated in actual democracy. So bear with me as I try to make sense of what’s happening there.

The JNU saga

The JNU polls this time, were different. “Many Dalits and Muslims on the campus traditionally considered to be the vote bank of All India Student Association confessed to this writer in one-to-one conversation that this time they will vote for BAPSA and not Left parties as they believe the struggle of oppressed can be led by the oppressed itself,” reports Asad Ashraf.

BAPSA – Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association – is an Ambedkarite outfit which denounces both the Left and the Right in India, calling out both for being Savarna – which they are. Not just that, even Muslim students have called out the elitist Muslims in JNU’s Leftist cabal.

There has of course been the usual fear-mongering from the Left, which you can read here, and the response to that here.

BAPSA has also been criticized for being political opportunistic (here, and here) and of not being considerate on the issues of gender (here, and here). They have also been questioned as to why BAPSA is seeking a form of “pure” politics from others, like the Left.

The #WeAreJNU movement floated by the Left has also been called out by supporters of BAPSA here.

I am no expert on JNU politics, so forgive me if I am wrong, but what’s happening seems to be this – a bunch of elitist and privileged politicians are calling out politicians from underprivileged sections for being hypocritical and opportunist.

That’s hilarious. No doubt there are flaws with BAPSA, but what is politics if not opportunism? Is the Rohith Vemula movement also opportunistic then? And what standard of hypocrisy is allowed, and not allowed? Is calling out BAPSA for demanding “purity”, and also expecting them also to be “pure” and flawless, not hypocrisy? What kind of gatekeeping is this?

Now the analysis of JNUSU may look futile, but this is a great illustration of what plays out in the larger political arena in India. Every political movement has flaws, but the Savarnas and elites get away with all of them and more, but the oppressed, avarnas and poor Muslims, are nailed for their flaws.

That the BAPSA is losing JNU polls perhaps buttresses that fact.

Identity matters

The core challenge of Indian democracy is a clash of identities, between the savarnas and the avarnas, the rich and the poor. And it is about time we had leaders who are from the oppressed communities. We cannot have caste/class elites dictating policy anymore. They cannot possibly understand the experiences of the oppressed. If we are self-aware elites who genuinely want to help, we could do our bit and stand with them as they lead us, help them. But in opposing them for flaws which we too have internalised, we are only keeping the savarna order intact.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

Some errors have been corrected.

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