Ifs and buts of Elections 2019

I am not a psephologist, neither do I owe the ability to perfectly predict what goes on inside mind of Indians. Social scientists of variety have been at it to tell us who will win, whose winnability is it this time in Indian Parliamentary elections. Facebook’s, WhatsApp and so on, they are all over it. Hats off to their ability.

I got inspired and thought I will also try my hand at this very attractive vocation. So I asked the question to myself: who will win the General Elections 2019? I don’t have a clear cut answer and that is an answer in itself because it does not seem like a wave – a clean sweep that we saw in 2014. Then I went on to see what if

What if SP-BSP alliance wins around 40-45 seats in UP

What if Congress performs a little better in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh following their win in assembly elections thereby preventing 2014 repeat performance for BJP there

What if DMK-Congres combine performs well and takes away at least 75% seats in Tamil Nadu

What if Congress-JD(S) combine manage to get half of seats in Karnataka and Left does the same in Kerala

What if TMC wins around 34-36 seats in Bengal

What if North East does not repeat itself as 2014

With such ifs BJP may not retain the position it held in 2014. This would mean that some other political forces might form the next government. And given that it is all about ifs and buts this may or may not happen. What is important is to think about what will happen if there is a new government – new political forces who claim to represent a counter-narrative to the earlier regime?

The Battle at Begusarai: More than loss and win it is about what kind of politics we want

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.

(Note: Image courtesy https://www.socialnews.xyz/2019/04/12/begusarai-bihar-2019-lok-sabha-elections-cpis-kanhaiya-kumar-during-an-election-campaign-gallery/)

Left and the Organisational Question

The JNU elections 2016 have done what the mobilisation for Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban did. It has sent a message across the whole spectrum of Right that there are possibile spaces where it cannot have it as easy as it expects. The official intervention through a Sangh-subservient Vice-Chancellor to use of all sorts of state machinery – from Police to Judiciary – could not transform it overnight into a Sangh camp. It might over years nobody knows but the different kind of politics that the campus stood for has been blocked for now. It is the student politics in the campus and its historical lineage that has withstood for now the attack that the campus has faced. However, this does not exonerate the Left in campus of many criticisms that it draws.

This reflection is not about the campus politics as such but only one dimension of the Left politics – its inability to strengthen itself even in times when the state goes into crisis. The way that the Kanhaiya Prakaran (Episode is the nearest translation but does not convey the whole meaning, which has a sense of process inbuilt into it) culminated into a politics wherein AISF (All India Students Federation) did not contest the elections needs more than just a passing reference. The episode has also created new discourses within the so-called Left such as the one concerning the significance of caste among other things. This development from arrest of JNUSU President to the non-contestation of AISF is a mere excuse here to understand the larger issue of the myopic handling of the organisational question within the Left or rebuilding of the Left.

Rumours and whatsapp discussions had already informed me about the decision of All India Students Federation to not contest the JNUSU elections. The newspaper report had further  clarified it. The Left Unity in JNU is sans AISF. Reasons are not to be debated – whether it was the lack of organisational ability to put up a candidate or it was the committment of AISF towards Left Unity and it did not want to contest alone when the two other partners tried to treat it as a junior partner. These things are immaterial to the discussion here.

And I am not writing to debate whether they have the ability or not or how far can their ability go as an organisation. I am merely using it as an excuse to raise a larger organisational question because the 2016 saw emergence of a leader who travelled the length and breadth of country and was seen as having the potential to add something to the ‘democratic’ political process.

When Facebook posts about how large audience attended his meetings in Pune or Patna were being posted I asked a student leader a basic intellectual question – when you flaunt these pictures and events do you also see a possibility of your organisational expansion with it? Or how does his travels help your organisation? I didn’t get an answer and I expected none because I had a hunch that using such possible moments as the one thrown up by JNU kind of incidence has never been on the agenda of the Left organisations or they have been incapable of taking it further. The arrest of Kanhaiya had provided sufficient meat to the Left to get this politics of Right out among the masses through a well though out organisational exercise routed through its organisational structure as the Right did across the country using the same incident. This could have been possible where the AISF/CPI claimed to have organisation or where they did not have they could have used it to start the process of organisation building there.

When the situation gives the organisation an opportunity wherein the leader acquires a popular mass appeal (and this has been the case many a times) it generates a lot of energy and momentum even within the non-existent units of the organisation. This can be visible in the way local units are compelled to respond to the tirades against the leader for being anti-national in this case for instance. The cadre prepares defence to the charges and in this process begins to devote time to the organisation which s/he had stopped doing.  The other possibility can be seen in the way the units become proactive and organise programmes to felicitate the leader or listen to him. This also becomes an opportunity to reflect on  the ideas and politics of the organisation.

When the Right-wing government, for all its miscalculations that it has been doing, wanted to make an entry into JNU to destroy the ‘different’ kind of history and politics that the institution has represented in the heart of the national capital it generated a huge reaction to the acts of aggression by the state. While a BJP spokesperson immediately remarked that ‘let these people feel the might of the state’. Now when I retrospect he must be faltering for explanations despite his eloquence on television channels. He along with all his fraternal raucous voices would be compelled to rethink their political strategy because within a period of five years it would be difficult to completely transform the nature of the politics in JNU. It cannot be made into the Delhi University kind of students politics (where money and muscle power is the predominant requirement to participate in elections) despite a subservient administration and all sorts of propaganda. The aftermath of the arrest of student activists led to an unprecedented mobilisation on streets of Delhi as well as within the campus. It led to many developments which shall be discussed separately. My concern here is look at how the JNUSU President acquired  an image of a star politician who would travel to different parts of the country to speak. One could see the reaction of people around when he would attend meetings or travel. In the same way as a people had a sense of awe when big politicians moved around with police protection he also experienced the same, obviously, for no fault of his own. Different people from different places in the country narrated how this image was created.

Communist Party of India (CPI) as well as its students wing tried to use this status of the former JNUSU President inviting him to their meetings as a speaker. As we all know CPI has been on downward slide early 1990s electorally as well as organisationally. Its mass organisations have weakened and its seats in Parliament and assemblies of states have declined. In such a situation it hardly has leaders who would have a standing of their own – intellectually as well as in any charismatic sense. Kanhaiya seemed to fill that void – of a JNU student and a charismatic leader. The over dependence on him also created an image of this leader which became much bigger that the organisation itself, whether the party realised it or not is a different question. This further happened because of organisational inability to deal with this larger than life youth leader.

What happened in this process was that his role in organisation was not redefined (as it should have been done) and the use of his image to strengthen the organisation also did not happen. Sometimes it also seemed whether his understanding of different contemporary as well as historical issues were in line with the politics that the party stood for. The answer to questions like how much has the organisation become stronger in aftermath of this whole episode within JNU and how far has AISF gained organisationally nationally from this whole episode would help one understand how can Left chart a different path than the bourgeois organisations while dealing with situations that has been created in recent past.