Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lenin in Tripura: The Many Pleasures of ‘Hindu Rashtra'

Pavel Tomar

Nothing reveals the logic of Sangh Parivar better than Goebbels’s quip about culture: ‘When I hear the word “culture”, I reach for my gun’. The standard interpretation makes us read this statement in terms of historical empiricism: in order to defend his ‘pure’ German culture from ‘outsiders’ and ‘enemies’ like Jews, gypsies and communists, Goebbels would use a gun to eradicate them, like he did, as Hitler’s minister, with wars and concentration camps. However, Slavoj Žižek aims at a kind of speculative shift, and proposes that the gun itself is the German culture that Goebbels wants to defend. And a leftist reversal of this statement: ‘When I hear the word “gun”, I reach for culture’, to which we will return in the latter half of this essay.  

The first thing that strikes us is in the destruction of Lenin’s statues in Tripura is the sheer excess of such acts: when electoral power has been already wrested from a communist party which is on retreat elsewhere, why go on an overdrive to destroy the visual cultural icons, attack the cadres (a large number of whom joined either Trinamool Congress or BJP in Bengal), ransack party offices? Furthermore, the upholders of Hindu Rashtra are reported to have also “played football” with broken the pieces of the statues, like bloody-minded characters in Bollywood films who are not content after simply killing their enemies: they must go beyond ordinary killing in a kind of orgy of violence, as if to exorcise the ghosts even after the death. No wonder that Marx compared Communism to a ghost, a spectre in his Communist Manifesto. The words used by Narendra Modi and Ram Madhav reminded closely the words of Uma Bharati after Babri Masjid demolition: ‘Now I can die in peace.’ In other words, it is an act of fascist aesthetic in politics, similar to Goebbels’ reaching for his gun, to lay behind the spectre of communism.

Clearly, the BJP-RSS led right has prioritised the defeat of the left in the country, even at the cost of (maintaining alive) the Congress if needed, over defeating all other political forces, and their parliamentary defeat is just the beginning of a comprehensive defeat. At least the Shiv Sena faction came largely in prominence with its promise of defeating the left, at that time super active in the Bombay cotton mills, which it fulfilled – the same Bombay whose working class movement was first hailed by no one else than Lenin as the harbinger of anti-colonial (and thereby, anti-capitalist) revolution in Asia, much before there was a communist party in India. Today, in Maharashtra not only there is no significant left, but also the Ambedkarite and Phule movement appears in retreat, if not in disarray, some of them like the Republican Party of India are even in alliance with BJP. The excess of the violence is not only a sign of the Sangh’s willingness to go beyond parliamentary democracy, it is also a sign of the fact that at least in the case of Tripura and the left, it is in fight with a political force that has, at least historically, aimed to go beyond the limitations of the capitalist parliamentarism, of which the Sangh wants to keep the capitalism and discard the parliamentary aspect (this notion needs qualification as we will see shortly). It is also a sign that it is entangled with an enemy whose theoretical supremacy it has repeatedly conceded in its acts of violence since its birth nearly a century ago, perhaps, a sign of the fact that only the communist left can realistically tackle or even replace the Sangh. Thus, we can understand Ram Madhav’s euphoria that Modi would be the Reagan of India, in the sense of decimating the left completely: ‘The Tripura election was “battle royale” for us.’ Indeed. The first half of Reagan’s job was done by Manmohan Singh in 1991, by ‘liberalising’ the economy, the second half will be accomplished under the Vikas Purush Narendra Modi, who seems talented enough to appropriate credit for Congress’ works. What better symbolism for this than burying the left, the same left which hindered Manmohan Singh in his second coming so much that it required a BJP with clear majority to perform his role.

Again, it is not Lenin alone who is supposed to be ‘alien’ to the ‘Hindu way of life’, it is also the statutes of Periyar, Ambedkar and Gandhi being demolished, as per the latest reports. So, defeating a party which calls itself Leninist also allows the Sangh to settle its accounts with those who did not give up to its agenda of hatred: ‘Lenin’ in this case is not only the name for a communist politics which succeeded in 1917 and redefined the left worldwide, it is a signifier of the desire for equality and secularism, the act of making ordinary people agents of historical change, of thinking as such – things which the RSS stands totally against. ‘Lenin’ also signifies a political shaping of this desire into a conscious organization, the Communist Party, which has historically been the nemesis of a number of fascist movements in the past. ‘Lenin’ signifies that the fight against the Sangh will not stop without surpassing the capitalist order of which it is today’s supreme guardian, whose ‘Ram Rajya’ is nothing but a highly hierarchal, revanchist and opposition-free neoliberal order. It also exposes Sangh’s recent patronisation of Gandhi and Ambedkar, which it had done so precisely to cover its acts of hatred and casteism with the logos of Gandhi and Ambedkar. In fact, the more cries of Gandhi and Ambedkar we hear from the party in power, the more we can be sure that somewhere a Rohith Vemula is being subjected to institutional murder, a poor Muslim subjected to all kinds of torture, etc.: the cries of “Mother Padamavati” would secretly be holding the archives of the humiliation and rape of thousands of women, Dalits and tribals. ‘Lenin’ stands against all those cultures of cruelty which the rightwing imposes so professionally.

The RSS turns its ire against the perceived enemy that they have taken advantage of ‘Hindu tolerance’. The Hindu Rashtra of the RSS will never ‘restore’ the mythical Hindu tolerance of the ancient Indian past once the question of outsiders is solved: it will forever posit before itself the figure of ‘outsider’ to suit its purpose: if yesterday it was the Muslim, today it is Christian or Sikhs or Dalits, tomorrow it will be communists, or together they will be branded as ‘anti-nationals’, purportedly against a Hindu Rashtra in making. Therefore, the ‘excess’ of violence displayed in RSS’s vandalism is not simply an ‘excess’ in the sense of a force which was applied in a more-than-necessary dosage, but the very core of their character as such. This is effectively what they are: they are like Visigoths to the Roman Empire of parliamentary democracy built by the classical bourgeois party that is Congress. While the violence and exploitation inherent in the Congress system remains palpable, the RSS will not even furnish it even with small make-up.

A Gramscian Blow to the Left and its Solution: Going Beyond (whatever remains of) the Parliamentary System

Two things emerge from this: one, for the RSS and co., parliamentary battle remains the ‘battle royale’ to facilitate their Hindu empire over South Asia. The Hindu Rashtra will not arise despite of but in spite of parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy may have been a sham for bourgeois class rule in much of the left’s scornful condemnations, it nonetheless remains a useful cover. It is not simply a means which will be disposed off when unnecessary, rather, with RSS, it is the mask itself which is the real character: a useful form of advancing one’s positions and when victory is assured, keeping it for the sake of its (Western) audiences, who are also undergoing similar transformations under Trumps, Mays and Putins, or whatever. So the liberals (or even so-called liberals) are out of the game. It is now a game between the right and the left.

This is the starting point of Aijaz Ahmad’s lengthy essay in Socialist Register, ‘India: Liberal Democracy and the Extreme Right’, which has not received the attention it should have, amidst all the debates for a strategy within the left. Ahmad’s point is that while liberal democracy has proved almost unsurpassable for the left, across the globe and especially in India, rightwing organizations like the RSS in India and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have developed a better organizational structure to cope with the relative lack of revolutionary possibilities in a parliamentary system. This they have done with ‘Olympian patience’, the hallmark of which is that while parliamentary defeats and victories remain minor incidents, the onward march towards their goal (in the case of RSS, the Hindu Rashtra) remains forever on course, so much so that the entire polity shifts rightwards even when Sangh is not in direct control of power. This does not make the parliamentary way a roadblock for their rightwing revolution, as in contrast for the left, but an even better facilitator of sorts. This has been accomplished on ‘an uncanny Gramscian principle that enduring political power can arise on the basis of a prior cultural transformation and consent, and this broad-based cultural consent to the extreme right’s doctrines can only be built through a long historical process, from the bottom up.’ While ‘[t]heir (RSS’s) documents are at best turgid and unreadable for the stupidity of their content, their organizational practices, by contrast, have often been frighteningly brilliant.’ The mix of illegal activities with legal one has been achieved by the formula ‘hegemony = consent + coercion’. The RSS has solved the Gramscian puzzle of revolution within a liberal set up organizationally, than theoretically.

Of course, the key correction to be made here is obvious. What Ahmad thinks as the ‘organizational practice’ would also translate as ‘theoretical practice’ (to borrow from Althusser) and would thereby mean that the RSS has also solved the problem theoretically. Perhaps, the ‘turgidity and stupidity’ of the RSS’s texts is a necessary condition, rather than a hindrance, of their ability to solve this problem. The key self-correction that Ahmad makes, in which he cites the precedent of his own positing of the question in the early 1990s (when the RSS made big strides towards power) along with that of Sumit Sarkar and Prabhat Patnaik, is that the RSS-Sangh Parivar do not represent the Nazi experiment in India, Hitler and Mussolini being their inspiration notwithstanding, but rather ‘fascism with Indian characteristics’, that this is how fascism would look like in India, with its own novelties. This should serve as a good starting point for the left in India, than the usual ‘authoritarian-versus-fascist’ debate.

Be that as it may. The corollary of the situation for the left should also be made clear. It is evident that the RSS has steadily grown at the expense of the left, and at an appropriate time, it made a call for ‘Congress-free India’. It never had to give a call for a ‘Left-free India’ because that task had been accomplished earlier, and without many fireworks. The remnants of the left remain either in tribal and mineral-rich belt of Central India, where the Maoists are fighting a military battle, or, apart from Kerala, in the semblances of trade union networks, peasant unions and women’s movements. In Kerala too, even if the Left Front reverses the anti-incumbency factor, this will not pose much of a problem to BJP’s march. Prabhat Patnaik is right in stating that the voters across India, regionally, are beginning to identify one party as the chief anti-BJP party and even then the financial and propaganda power of the BJP makes it very tough for that party to win the election. His solution, therefore, is to create the widest possible anti-BJP front, on the basis of a common minimum programme, as soon as possible. Even while this is not an exclusive call for an truck with Congress alone, it nonetheless counts upon taking advantage of whatever remains of the Congress’ numerical presence within the parliamentary system.

While the intentions behind this suggestion are nothing but salutary, it is also clear that the only time the left could pose a nation-wide challenge to the BJP (in 2004) was when its own parliamentary presence registered its highest mark, which was exceptional within a long-term trend of decline. Another problem is Congress party’s own character, which is even more worryingly trying to mimic the BJP (with Rahul Gandhi posing as Hindu, and visiting temples). The infighting among the various regional kshatraps of Indian polity (Mamata Bannerjees, Akhileshs, Nitish Kumars, Naidus, etc.), apart from their consensus to neoliberalism, also rules out a practical working of this alliance. But the biggest problem with this suggestion is that it will inevitably be indistinguishable from an exclusively parliamentary path of dealing with the RSS, something which the RSS can successfully resist.

On the other hand, the building of the mass movements has also not worked, although it has fared better whenever it has been successful. In recent times, the most formidable challenge to the BJP rule has come from the various peasant movements supported by the left, whose benefit has been reaped by non-left forces, as it happened in the recent Rajasthan by-elections (where the Congress benefitted). So, even where the left can contribute to BJP’s loss is by discounting itself out. The ultimate result is that even where the left gains a foothold in a new territory, this is quickly usurped by its long-term enemy. This is not inconsistent with the Prometheus type role the left has been playing in this country for a long time. Those giving a call for militant mass movements are not few, but they also realize that passion alone does not make history. Passion alone can even help the enemy.

Secondly, the left is no longer the only force organizing mass movements, or even a leader of majority of those. New mass movements, thoroughly reactionary in nature, are also emerging countrywide, mostly waged by the landholding classes against reservation for the lower classes. For a while, new leaders like Jignesh Mewani have managed to keep these reactionary elements against the BJP, but that time is not far when they will show their true character. In Alain Badiou’s terminology, this is the expression of ‘democratic materialism’, rather than ‘materialist dialectic’, and Badiou’s suggestion is that these forces should be internally pitted against one another, but to do that the left also has to have a place to work with. In this respect, we can count Mewani’s position as exceptional, but that also results out from the biggest contradiction in Indian society, the caste divide. In fact, we can even surmise that the final nail in the coffin of RSS will be delivered by the lower castes, because that remains the Achilles’ heel in the fantasy of Hindu Rashtra. For this purpose, the communist left will have to take the leadership of those classes, in addition to others, from the hands of those reactionaries who pay a lip service to the thought of Ambedkar and Periyar while doing exactly the opposite.

It turns out that the immediate future will be a paradox: the more a Marxian analysis of the situation becomes valid, the more Marxian politics will take recourse to the margins. In such times, the left will not be provided with the luxury the RSS has been able to enjoy: to count upon an almost century long change towards Right. The Gramscian path for the left is now foreclosed. It will have to act quickly and correctly, working its way through the cracks in the edifice of the concrete situation. This could not be much different from the situation of 1914, when the old left proved totally inadequate for the situation arising from the First World War, if not downright reactionary (in the hands of Kautsky, etc.). Capitalism’s recent trends also do not offer the possibility of a long-term change, because it has entered a prolonged crisis since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. The Keynesian demand-management is no longer on the agenda, and the imminent environmental crisis has further brought us closer to the apocalyptic moment of wide-scale destruction of habitat and livelihood. The burgeoning unemployment is no relief to the Sangh either, to counter which it can do little and to explode which it can do too much. In short, nothing less than a communist revolution will be enough to save the world.

In Godard’s Le Mépris, Goebbels’ statement is revised to ‘When I hear the word “culture”, I reach for my cheque-book’. The Sangh Parivar has in its one hand the pistol and the cheque-book in another (the effect of Seventh Pay Commission in Tripura).  In such a situation, the left will have to make the first revolution in its own thinking. It will have to undergo a Leninist revolution of the twenty first century before it can take the necessary first step.

The Author is a Ph.D. scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew Delhi

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