There are a lot of anti-BJP intellectuals who have not been writing why people should vote for Kanhaiya Kumar. And I understand the predicament. For them, dilemma emanates from the fact that either of the anti-BJP candidates – RJD or CPI – would work. I also understand why both are put at the same plane – because there is a belief among many that the need is to defeat BJP at all costs, which I may not agree with. Defeating BJP is also an ideological act of defeating a politics that uses communal hatred, hates dissent and neglects the masses to serve a few corporates. Any opposition to right wing must be able to answer why despite alliances of different kinds it has not been able to curtail growth of right-wing in India since 1989. Similarly, it must be able to answer if fighting right wing is only about electoral alliances or is it also a much deeper question of socio-economic transformation. Begusarai to me is an interesting conjuncture to dwell upon these questions.
The elections for the Begusarai constituency have acquired significance because of two reasons: firstly, it has Kanhaiya Kumar, who has been made into a symbol of anti-BJP politics, contesting, and secondly the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are pitted against Kanhaiya Kumar. As usual the politics of caste and religion is being played at its best by the RJD and BJP. In this age of technology driven democracy the social media is flooded with messages on why one should keep community’s interest in mind while voting. For secularism and democracy to exist a more profound battle needs to be waged – a battle that is ideological, a battle that transcends the communitarian politics in an age and time when community’s political allegiances keep shifting. This is also an age and time when identitarian politics shorn of its political economy is debated by journalists and university academics in isolation from what is happening on the ground. This is not a battle about an individual called Kanhaiya Kumar. It is neither a battle of one community’s assertion over another. It is rather a battle about how those political forces, who win in the name of a particular religion or caste, when come to Parliament have the singular agenda of destroying the sense of collective, privatising each and sphere of our lives, transform all of us into precarious wage-workers, destroy any semblance of the public (whether in health or education) and take away from us our rights to express, dissent and disagree.
In a situation when Raj Thackeray supports Congress, when Dalit formations like RPI and Dalit Panthers go with right wing, when RLSP shifts from being a BJP’s partner to being Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) or when Nitish Kumar keeps wavering between secular and communal goal posts it has become difficult to make sense of secular politics or for that matter politics of social justice. What was RLSP, RPI, JD(U) or others doing when Muslims were being lynched, when sectarian food regimes were being put in place or when universities were attacked consistently as they were in the government? Everything that the central government was doing had their tacit acceptance. Their goal posts shift from being secular to being communal and vice-versa. When Sanjay Kumar, a faculty at central university in Motihari was nearly lynched to what extent did the political compatriots talking about communalism and social justice take the battle forward apart from issuing statements? The political battle is turned into a farce by political organisations such as JD (U), which sought vote on an anti-communal plank (as in 2015 assembly elections) but became part of the communal government. In a situation when politics has become farce, when it has been shorn on any ideological commitment to the ideas of justice, equality or transformation and when electoral battles are no longer about ideas but about being in power the discourse of CPI candidate in Begusarai that we do not promise you things that are beyond our control but we promise you that we will not sift sides, that we will fight alongside you, that we will contest the forces that create unemployment, agrarian distress, sectarian violence and so on is a refreshing break. It, then, becomes an electoral battle about ideas and politics of transformation. It ceases to be a rhetoric or typical opportunist bourgeois electoral process. In this kind of situation the battle is not about an individual such as Kanhaiya Kumar. He is merely an embodiment of whatever has transpired in politics in last few years. What brings together so many people in his support is not only his ability to brazenly stand against the powers that are out to destroy the ideas and places that talk of a world where you are not put behind bars for being a dissident but because he symbolises a possibility, a hope that would enkindle a new wave (whose direction will have to be decided soon).
Some journalists went to the extent of wrongly presenting facts about the elections, more so when there is anti-BJP Mahagathbandhan hell bent on ensuring that the CPI candidate should not win. This is not a Battle only about winning or losing. It is more than that. It is about upholding a politics, which is negotiating between the rhetoric of social justice, which didn’t lead to anything more than curtailing the hegemony of savarnas, and the politics of hatred. It is about moving beyond that rhetoric by bringing in the element of redistribution along with recognition while simultaneously countering the menace of the most ugly collaboration of neoliberal and neoconservative forces. Kanhaiya Kumar and Begusarai in that sense must be read as symbols in this Battle.
It has also been seen that once again the onus of putting together an anti-BJP front has been put on the left with questions such as why is it contesting against RJD or Congress. RJD has put up its own candidate against CPI in Begusarai and Rahul Gandhi has contested against a left candidate in Kerala. A close look at the history of India would reveal that the Left has been moreprincipled and consistent in its fight against communalism. Not only that the recent resistance against the right wing in India on the ground has been led by the left be it the farmer mobilisations or the student’s resistance in campuses. The candidature of Kanhaiya Kumar needs to be seen in this light as well – as a person who withstood the onslaught of the repressive state apparatuses of police and criminalised ethos of the right wing student politics. Every time one thinks of what happened to JNU during last five years among many images that conjures in front of our eyes one of them is that of Kanhaiya Kumar resisting the administration, being hounded inside the justice system physically by lawyers while the institution only stood there looking at all this like a helpless entity. Can you recall the image of Kanhaiya Kumar and Vishwajit being assaulted inside court premises by lawyers? It was a blatant statement from the right wing that spaces such as that of even judiciary is not beyond their reach (remember that nothing happened to those assaulting lawyers).
I am yet to see that image of a fighter in the RJD leadership or the candidate from Begusarai. While one would not question Laloo Yadav for stopping the rath of Advani when no one was daring to but the current leadership is not the same. Tejaswi Yadav or Tanveer Hasan do not invoke any imagery in you specially if you have grown up in Bihar and have kept a close watch on its politics. Their names or that of the RJD today invokes an image of a blank canvas, without any concrete thought or action on the issues that confront us today. There is a general lack of ideological tenacity in anti-right wing politics. The Mahagathbandhan is no different – Jeetan Ram Majhi was with Nitish Kumar, RLSP was part of NDA in not so distant past and many other leaders have been part of different set of politics at different points of time. In other words, it is an alliance, which is not so embedded in a politics of anti-conservativism or anti-neoliberalism. Kanhaiya Kumar as of today represents a distinction – of being someone who is fearless, has fought on the streets and will hopefully continue to do that against both the forces and it will be a fight of principles not driven by the temporary electoral interests.
The intellectuals who were talking about defeating communal forces never posed the question to RJD and Congress about its decision to put up candidates against the left even though they were not asking for many seats. What history does Tanvir Hasan symbolises in this fight against the behemoth of an authoritarian state? Or for that matter what are the credentials of Tejaswi Yadav as a political personality to fight the right wing resurgence. If electoral choices are to be made on the basis on contributions of how much individuals have contributed to a fight then Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai or Amarnath Yadav from Siwan for that matter clearly win the case. By putting up candidates against them the other ‘secular’ formations have only played in the hands of the right wing.
This is a defining moment in the history of neoliberal-neoconservative India. It is so not only because the impending direction of politics will consolidate the common sensing of hatred towards minorities but it will also normalise the destruction of universities and schools – their intellectual-ideological structures. Killing someone because you don’t like his way of life, his food habits, his ideas etc., will be the new normal. Differences, debates, disagreements will become pathologies as authoritarianism in institutions of all types increase, surveillance reaches new heights and terminologies such as Justice will lose their presence even in texts. This moment is also defining because it awaits what comes out as an alternative vision to this authoritarianism – an ideological framing of idea of justice entertwined with anti-neoliberalism and anti-neoconservativism is urgently needed. Unless done we will slide down further towards an order that would not allow any space to meaningful opposition. Oppositions would remain only as superficial structures under garb of different names with similar politics. We have seen that in some of the states recently. What is required is a concrete political vision that is being put forth in Begusarai through the CPI candidate. It would need further debate, refinement and concretisation but right now as an electoral process the elections in Begusarai needs our attention as a crucial political statement.