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/)

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The King and his Court gives a new farman: Attendance for JNU teachers

An university where students did not require to register their presence through an attendance system or whether the teaching and examinations will be held in the most unusual manner rather than the mechanised form of examinations and pedagogical transactions prescribed by a centralised examination branch that most universities had. Imagine a class happening not in the typical oppressive, uncreative format but in the most unconventional manner, a teacher asking you to maintain a daily diary of whatever you do in the class and then reflect on each lecture. These nature of assignments , or unusual questions posed to students could happen because there was no centralisation. And guess what – it produced some of the best intellectuals, bureaucrats and politicians proving that such an academic transaction could also be compatible with the dominant social order apart from producing critical, thinking students and human beings.

But look what they have done in a few years towards destroying that model of an university. Obviously, it has not been done a single person who comes as the Vice-Chancellor but with the help of a host of faculty members who are either in positions of power such as Rector’s and Chairpersons and Deans but also without any visible power. The agenda has been very clear: let there be uniformity, let all universities resemble each other – mechanised, uncreative, corporatised places which produces unthinking, subservient citizenry and workers for this auhtorian system to run with public support (!) So they issued another set of rules today after an Academic Council, which does talk much about academics but more about administration : the extremely prim and proper looking intellectual administrator issued th following press note after the Academic Council meeting:

Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi

Press Note 13-07-2018

The 146th Academic Council Meeting held on 13 July 2018 took a series of decisions on a host of critical issues that would bring about major improvements in academic and research activities of the University.

In addition, the AC also adopted certain rules and regulations which will improve governance and accountability of all the stakeholders of the university, such as students, teachers and staff.

While JNU had already implemented the rules of attendance for students and administrative staff, the 146th AC meeting through its resolution has made attendance mandatory for the teaching community as well, JNU faculty need to give attendance at least once in a day. Moreover, the AC also approved a rule that during the registration process at the beginning of every semester, all the incoming and continuing students are required to give an undertaking that they will abide by the attendance rules.

Secondly, an important decision has been taken by the AC to make JNU Entrance Examinations completely computer-based, i.e. online mode. Many members pointed out during an hour long discussion on this issue that the admission process in JNU will now be fairer, efficient, secure and bias-free.

The third important decision of AC was to approve the introduction of a two-year M.Sc. Degree Programme in Mathematics in the School of Physical Sciences.

The fourth decision was related to a University level time-table to be in place which will enable the student community to make choices for taking up courses in various schools and also lead to proper time management, and better utilization of available class room space.

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector I

I am reiterating what I have written earlier the plan is to do away with alternative ways of thinking and working. The Indian state wants every building, to put it figuratively, to be painted in the same colour. One should not be surprised if they implement biometric attendance for faculty members. Next step will be fee hike, which has already started under different pretext. But there will be raise in entrance fee as well admission fee soon.

The student as well as teachers politics will also not remain the same unless serious battles are fought. It seems like a fight to save the institution from it’s death. Will the teachers realise their position as workers and fight as them or do we still think that such serious battles will be won through lobbying and judiciary . Will JNU go back to the same status quo as it was even in 2013? If not, the battle is lost.

HECI: Inevitable Product of the Corporatised Capitalist Education

BJP regime still needs to learn how to frame a document of governance. It messes it up and makes it look unprofessional and infantile. The HECI Act is an example of it, as it is full of contradictions and incomplete facts. Here is an Act, which is clear about the intentions of the government but those intentions are badly expressed. As an example it talks of centralisation as well as self-regulation making it difficult to understand how would it implement the two. Anyhow, the most important part is that its intention is clear – concentrate power in the hands of government.

There is great amount of opposition and concern to the newly proposed Higher Education Council of India (HECI) as a replacement for the University Grants Commission. The concern, as far as it could be seen, emerges on the following grounds:

  1. It seeks centralisation of power with the Ministry of Human Resource Development
  2. It has no imagination for an inclusive higher education, which is otherwise constitutionally guaranteed
  3. It will adversely impact financing of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)
  4. It goes against the idea and spirit of federalism
  5. It professes a misplaced notion of autonomy

The concerns seem genuine and well framed if I look at them experientially as a teacher-worker. But then it also raises, to begin with, a methodological question for the critiques: why is a policy measure like HECI seen in isolation when it should be dialectically located within the larger processes that constitute a system grounded in the way how capitalist ‘development’ determines the forms and content of policy in different arenas. None of the analysis or concerns that I have come across till now point to using such a methodology because of which most of them end doing criticism of current regime, which is flawed. Some analysis have pointed out how this is a continuity of the earlier regimes as well. It is within this framework of analysis that one can encounter answer to many of the concerns pointed above.

At the first instance a lay person like me does get baffled at the proposal to do away with bodies like UGC and asks a basic question of what has been the need.

One pragmatic answer can be that with changing times we need to “upgrade” or “redefine” our institutions. And the proposed act seems to be well aware of it at least the way it makes itself relevant. Its preamble recycles the old rhetoric of how central government is concerned about “determination of standards” in HEI. The same preamble reinforces the idea of authority that central government holds through instruments of “systematic monitoring and promotion”. In the same breath it contradicts its commitment to autonomy (read privatisation) by saying that it would promote “uniform development of quality of education in higher educational institutions” because it not only wants to dismantle state control over HEI through autonomy but it also seeks to create an unequal HE scenario with private HEI for those who can pay and the state run HEI with bad infrastructure for the masses who can’t pay. It redefines itself by saying that the “mandate” of UGC needs redefinition because the “priorities of higher education” have changed. Obviously one would ask what are those changes.

The other answer can be that like the present regime undid all symbols and institutions of the past because it wanted to show a clear break from the past (decaying) welfarism into a new world of outright aggressive corporatised social, economic and political order this move is one among many. A new order has set in, a new imagination and new world needs to be showcased. The recent move is merely that. In this sense it is a continuity of the same process which replaced Planning Commission with Niti Aayog.

The UGC is obsolete because given the needs and requirements of the current situation Indian state needed a body that fully liberates education from its management. It is not that UGC was not doing anything towards liberating it. It had been allowing universities to run on guest and adhoc faculty. It had reduced funds, the infrastructure was being squeezed, the authoritarianism evident in any corporate funding was becoming the order of the day, students, faculty and staff were discouraged to unionise and therefore could not become stakeholders in the university system. Scholarships have been cut and teachers were sent letters early this year that if they needed seventh pay commission they must mobilise funds to run the institution. Nobody seems to be talking of the Gazette Notification that created different category of universities? What more is expected in terms of corporatisation except that all this needs to be formalised and institutionalised. Many of the voices of concern have been, in fact, part of the institutions that talked of redefining the institutions because in the changed situation with private universities etc., new institutional frameworks need to be worked out. If a move like this has to be opposed it cannot be opposed as a stand alone event but the whole process has to be opposed but unfortunately many of us have been part of the process at one point or the other.

Within the given mandate UGC had outlived itself. A new mechanism to facilitate a full-fledged overhaul of education system in interests of private capital to allow rampant and uncontrolled profiteering is required. One way to do this is to centralise the working of the system. Decentralisation, which has been critiqued in the past as messy, is a way to counter the invasion of private capital to some extent, till state does not become fully colonised by private capital and the decentralised governance becomes a facilitator of its rule. That process of colonisation is nearing it’s completion. It was started by the Congress regime in the early 1990s and has been carried forward by every successive regime. What BJP has done is that it has loosened the shackles through changing the nature of all institutions. It has defined and implemented the idea of ‘autonomy’, which is a move towards complete integration of HE in the market as it also talks about how HEI in India could have an education and research “in a competitive global environment.” The moment discourses on linking market and educational institutions came up in past, and even Yashpal committee was concerned about it, it implied that one is moving towards erosion of the idea of education in general, which should not have anything to do with whether one gets a job after completing it or not. Once, that becomes the concern the institutions will end up doing what private capital wants it to do – become direct producers of tailor made labour power for the market. It is not surprising then that the discourses on skilling would come up after that and so would emerge discourses on prioritising the disciplines and reframing the courses that are taught. Linked to these would be prioritisation of expenses with institutions. Some of my colleagues get fascinated by how an institution in West is run by only guest faculty but has a lot of other resources Or how the administration academics still look at UK/USA as model without even thinking about how their HEIs are being destroyed. Sometimes it does not seem like myopia of analysis but a comfortable position of how well we can live within capitalism by becoming its best advisors.

Section 15.3 of the proposed Act and its various sub-sections talk about academic standards and how to ensure it. Many provisions such as 15.3.b talks about laying “down standards of teaching / assessment / research or any aspect that has bearing on outcomes of learning in higher educational institutions including curriculum development, training of teachers and skill development.” This is centrally determining what is required as a knowledge or not. What should be an outcome of higher learning – be a good, servile worker and the institutions must be geared towards it or produced a critical knowledge. This new move will not only determine what kind of courses will be taught but also who will teach them and who will not. Provisions on content will be decided by a group of people, which will not have many academicians (02 out of 12). The question that remains is whether the HECI will be capable of going through the courses etc., of such a mammoth system or will a set of courses approved by it be valid throughout India. The way it is proposing the working of HEI across India will it not change the very fact of education being in the concurrent list?

Section 15.4 makes it amply clear that the HE would look like a market place where different enterprises compete to survive, flourish or perish. It talks of (15.4.c) laying down “standards for grant of autonomy for institutions and provide flexibility and freedom to institutions granted autonomy to develop their own curriculum”, (15.4.d) specifying “norms and standards for Graded Autonomy to Universities and Higher Educational Institutions and accordingly prescribe regulatory mechanisms” and; laying down “norms and standards for performance based incentivization to the faculty and the Higher Educational Institutions and the Universities”. It makes its intention amply clear by proposing that universities will be enabled “to become self-regulatory bodies for the maintenance of academic quality in higher education and research and in colleges affiliated to it” (15.4.m). The self-regulation also means that the institutions will not have to constantly go to the Ministry if it does not want money. Once, it fulfils all the formalities of annual reporting (which we know by now how corporates are experts at manipulating). At the first instance it might appear contradicting to the idea of centralisation it may not in longer run. These provisions if read along 15.3 also indicate at the centralisation aspect of the content of HEI. The Government decides what to teach, how to teach and (in other words) what not to teach.

One is surprised to read scholars argue that UGC with all its lacunae has been good whereas the HECI will be very bad. However, I would see HECI, dismantling of UGC, institutions of eminence, autonomy to HEIs, etc., as moves towards liberating the HEIs from clutches of state funding. It, at the same time, also moves towards making Higher Education more unequal, destroying the possibilities of research and teaching. But there is nothing new in this because this was already happening and the concerned analysts have failed to understand the inevitability of this. This would also mean that if a battle is to be waged against this it has to be enmeshed in the larger battle against the system that produces these policies.

Meanings of Bihar Election 2015: Victory of the Local and Popular over the Ignorance of the Others

(Note: This was written immediately after the assembly elections in Bihar in October-November 2015. This was not published anywhere out of laziness and because publishing in magazines/journals also involves many constraints. It is being posted without any alteration. It would be interesting to see how things have moved since then and when the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh would be going to polls very soon.)

The exuberance at the daily labor haat at Kankarbagh the day after Bihar state assembly elections and the reaction of the so-called upper castes at their happiness or the response of some Muslims during elections that this was a fight for their existence when asked about their electoral preference said a lot about who turned the election around for the combine of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad. And there was contribution of women voters from the Other Backward Class (OBC) and Mahadalit castes as well. This was a combination which did the unthinkable in an age when elections are contested through the prism of publicity campaign industry, though the Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance (Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Janata Dal (United) or JD (U)-Congress Party) also could not resist the temptation of hiring the same company that worked for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during 2014 Parliamentary elections. It was the “mother of all elections” as stated by the construction worker in Patna when he said that this was a “battle between CM and PM”.

For Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad it was a question of survival when they had been marginalized by the “national” organized political forces. It is relevant to mention how they always headed formations, which flourished on personalities rather than cadre network. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it was not only about consolidating the march of an aggressive rightward politics in economic as well as socio-cultural sphere but also a necessity to reconstitute the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament where they were consistently facing tough opposition. At the end, the personality cult of the Prime Minister received a drubbing and more and more internal squabbles would come out when this defeat will be analyzed along with the recent defeats in the local body elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The voices of dissent coming from the senior party leaders will be only the beginning.

Trying to get over the Brahmanical Lineage

The BJP has historically been a brahmanical political force, which in a certain sense also substituted the Congress party in Bihar, which earlier represented the landed savarna population. The only way that they could have won was to bring to their side (which had a sizeable portion of Bhumihars, Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas) a little bit of Mahadalit and OBC vote bank. Their politics historically alienated these sections and the effort to get them in this time was through Lok Janshakti Party or LJP, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party or RLSP and Hindustan Awam Morcha or HAM. They could have added at least some votes to the BJP kitty even though their performance in 2010 assembly elections was not great. LJP had only three MLAs, RLSP and HAM were new entrants to politics.

However, the impression generated by the submissiveness of the three parties to the BJP during seat allocation as well as during campaign on issues of communalism and reservation did not go down well among people. The message that went across through press conferences and statements of leaders belonging to these parties was that of “surrender” to the BJP whether it was distribution of seats or expressing their opinions. One would recall how the BJP dictated terms about number of seats each partner would contest as well as gag orders that were imposed on these partners, which they readily agreed to. Their image of “junior partner” did not add any autonomy to their identity. These factors failed to bring those crucial additional votes from oppressed masses to the partners and hence to BJP. In the process, all of them were decimated.

Laloo-Nitish Wave for a Secular Ethos

If the 2014 general elections were termed as “Modi-wave” then the Bihar election was definitely a “Laloo-Nitish wave” evident in the way Congress piggy-rode to victory in 28 constituencies out of the 40 it contested. The 2014 wave was against the Congress-led regime, as historical amnesia did not let people remember that there were BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regimes in between as well. The continuous ten years of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had given an opportunity to the campaign by Modi-led BJP to project the possibility of a complete turn-around of fortune of every Indian. This campaign found resonance among people due to the rising cost of living, declining income and increasing gap between rich and poor. The 2015 wave in Bihar was against a divisive and arrogantly blasphemous politics of elite, brahmanical political forces trying to hegemonize the oppressed castes. This became apparent in the discourse in favour of reservation that was started by Laloo Yadav when he declared that this election was for Mandal-II and later on the RSS Chief – Mohan Bhagawat – talked against reservation.

Except the Left-governed states, Lalu Prasad’s government in Bihar was the only one which established its secular credentials. He not only had the courage to arrest the then aggressive face of Hindutva—L.K. Advani — on October 23, 1990 in Samastipur when his Toyota rath (chariot) was out to change the political history of the BJP by catapulting it to political power subsequently but he ensured that there won’t be religious rioting in the aftermath of Gujarat genocide. In fact, surveys among Muslims post-Gujarat riots termed Bihar as the safest place in India. Even the Left Front government could not stop Advani when he was going around in Purulia in West Bengal state. It is this secular credential which led to consolidation of the Muslim vote behind Laloo Yadav. And the dangers of a rightwing upsurge were quite imminent as rioting in Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Bihar, the cow debate and murders and an overall hegemonistic ideology of dictating food habits and lifestyles showed.

The rightwing propaganda could not work because of the ineffective presence of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadre base in the state though they did begin to expand during the Nitish-BJP regime. Nitish Kumar could manage to emerge as a secular figure due to his anti-Modi rhetoric and furthermore due to straining ties with the BJP. The field-visits in some of the constituencies during elections revealed that BJP was trying to rely on a huge bogey of exported campaigners which was not taken positively by the voters as it strengthened the BJP’s image as an outsider. This image, which led to the rhetorical battle of Bihari versus Bahari (insider versus outsider), had left a negative impression and was visually represented in billboards without any image of local leaders or alliance partners. It was replaced only after the second phase of the elections with images of local BJP leaders and alliance partners.

Aggression Backfired

The campaign by Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah appeared too aggressive for the people to digest. This aggression was also akin to the aggression that the oppressed castes and now the Minorities have faced at the hands of the brahmanical forces. A clear message was sent to this effect by Amit Shah, the BJP Chief when he indicated that if BJP comes to power Pakistanis (meaning Muslims, in fact) will be very happy. There were posters circulated by BJP that blamed communities for killing cows.

It needs to be remembered that in a largely rural society like Bihar, the massive chunk of voters, who voted for Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar are also embedded in local social relations where the aggression of the upper castes has been historically a matter of contention. Presenting this aggression through campaign added to the polarization that was taking a political/electoral form. A good understanding of how historically social relations have unfolded in the state would have taught the BJP campaigners that brahmanical symbolisms embedded in food habits, lifestyles and even verbal communication forms had been consistently challenged by the likes of Karpoori Thakur, Left as well as post-Mandal forces. Laloo Prasad represented the agenda of social justice through his post-mandal rhetoric and politics as well as of secularism. He could connect more with the masses through his calm and quiet rebuttal of whatever the star campaigners spoke against him. The connection between the masses and the leaders of the Mahagathbandhan was becoming the key element, which would consolidate their electoral base. The opposition was not able to establish this connection and could not gauge the level of matured politicization of the masses leading to this reversal.

The Language of Masses: Who Connects Better

The BJP campaign was about taking rhetoric to its optimum level, as a theatrics that sought to draw masses into a conversation with the speaker. Every time the speaker spoke he also prodded the audience to repeat the same in an effort to transfer that rhetoric to the masses but it did not really happen because the socio-cultural and economic realities which masses inhabit is completely different from what the rhetoric represents.

A new style of public speaking where the audience is asked to repeat so as to give an impression that the masses are speaking the same thing as the speaker is superfluous way of assessing the mood of the masses. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah that way are not only new to the field of rhetoric but also belong to a particular genre, which is incapable of connecting to the masses due to the absence of necessary language and voice modulation, which comes from the local culture. Even when it came to exploiting the mythical notions Lalu Yadav outdid Narendra Modi. This was reflected in the spat that occurred over Modi calling Lalu Shaitan and Lalu responding by calling Modi Brahmapishach. Lalu again emerged victorious because he sent a message entrenched in the social relations by using a nomenclature that is used for the spirit of a dead Brahmin who did evil things in his life or misused his knowledge to harm others. This was in bad taste for those sitting in Delhi but while doing rounds in fields backward caste and Dalit villagers understood the meaning of it. In other cases, for instance, one speaker loudly proclaims how Laloo Prasad would force Bihar to a dark, jungle raj while the other retorts that Laloo Prasad is known as a thief who stole fodder. He responded to many such theatrics without any aggression and with a very serious face when he said pointing to the neck “Narendra Modi, speak normally or your veins will burst”. Masses connected to him in Bihar more than to any other politician. Though Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar were calm speakers avoiding any kind of aggressive tenor the former’s aggression became more prominent when he talked of communalism and reservation — two things that masses awaited to hear from their leaders. Aggression on these two issues was seen as positive, as some kind of hope. It is not simply an electoral victory but questions the idea of politics, which bans a convicted leader, but masses send him back with a thumping majority.

The Myth of Jungle Raj

What the BJP did not realize was the level of politicization of masses in Bihar on account of historical factors, unlike the comparatively different nature of politicization in states like Gujarat which Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been more familiar with. This ignorance allowed them to not only have problems mentioned above but also tell masses things that they were not ready to believe, such as the argument of coming back of the Jungle Raj. Laloo Prasad had already indicated his political in the first pre-election rally of the combined alliance when he said that this was a battle for Mandal II. Laloo Yadav is heading a party where forces like his two brother-in-laws, Pappu Yadav or Shahabuddin are either out of party or do not have the same significance as before. It is not the same RJD as the earlier avatar and masses very well knew that. Along with this absence of criminal elements from the party, what also made the alliance sober was the image of Nitish Kumar as the “Vikas Purush” (Development Man). In fact, Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar were able to thwart even this oppositional campaign though their counter-propaganda of development with justice that they stood for.

The Prospects of the New Government

The results of the Bihar elections gave a respite to anybody wanting to check the parochialism and aggression that the contemporary India is experiencing. However, it is not going to be a turn around for the lives of masses in Bihar. If the new government has to prove itself it will have to be on grounds of how well it can further the neoliberal model of development. Mr Kumar has been able to show in past that he could do that. The rhetoric that Mr Prasad used to consolidate his mass base cannot work now. In earlier political avatars he had basic achievements to show to masses — participation of oppressed castes as equals in everyday life. That was achieved when his 15 years of rule gave voice these castes. Now he is confronted with a much more difficult question — that of bringing the fruits of “development” to these masses. Even Mr Kumar could not improve the educational system in the state as the universities remain academically and physically in a state of decay; employment generation and developing agriculture along with expanding manufacturing and service industry will be some major challenges. This challenge is important when construction drives the growth rate and the share of primary sector has been decreasing in economy. Also, any serious effort in any field would drive up the growth rate but that would not necessarily mean that poverty and inequality would be taken care of. The post-electoral developments also cast doubts about how efficiently will the new government perform. It would have been wiser for RJD to have two sons of Lalu Yadav as ministers in the new government rather than making one of them Deputy Chief Minister. They are neither well read nor have any experience in governance or politics. In next five years it will be a challenge for Nitish Kumar to retain his image as Vikas Purush, more so when the hopes generated by the new government will be put to test.

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.

AAP and the Electricity Issue: Absence of an Alternative Imagination

Bourgeois politics in some of its forms employs excess of rhetoric, keeping us trapped in an imagination where the resolution of all problems lie within the system. It consistently reminds us that There Is No Alternative to Capitalism albeit in a slightly different language – a language which invited praise from everyone – from the ‘radical’ left to the not-so-radical left.

It argues that if there is problem of “theft” by private capital the ethics of “competition” will resolve the problem. More players and more competition would not allow the private capital to become unjustly profit-seeking. This is what AAP believes as the solution to the extortion by power companies in name of electricity bills. It would “apparently” offer choice to customers to buy electricity from the company that they wish. What if all the private companies together decide to increase the price because their motive will always be profiteering and hence they would not have a price that fetches them loss. Is is not possible to get out of the privatization of electricity? Why is privatization necessary? Obviously one is not seeking the cliche and bogus argument of private companies being more efficient and better services providers than the public sector.

It announced subsidy for the power companies soon after assuming power and said it is a short term measure and will soon go for some long term measures such as making electricity market more competitive. Why at all give subsidy to the companies? Why should the public money be given to corporate houses even as short-term measure? They could have waited for sometime and thought about first exposing the private companies through a genuine audit and then moved towards establishing an efficient public sector enterprise of electricity distribution. Everybody realizes that in a political system with sword of ouster hanging on their head they want to send messages of their concern to the masses and tell them how interested they were in resolving their problems but for Congress’s greed they could not.

If they have to build a public opinion they need to go beyond the appearances of populist measures and bring out the root cause behind the unnecessary costly electricity. It is because you give it to the private capital and which takes it for one and only one purpose – profiteering. If the root cause of profiteering is addressed one not only gets cheaper electricity but also generates better paid jobs with better service conditions and obviously with a work ethics which thrives on professionalism. But why does not AAP want to think in that direction? And why do not those who see a bright hope in it question these aspects?

Why should one start from the premise that only private capital can provide better services and not the public sector? Why do we imagine that public sector has to be inefficient when there are examples contrary to it as well? Why cannot we have a different imagination which says that it is possible to have an efficient public sector?

None of alternative imaginations even seem to be on horizon for a ‘people’s party’ like AAP and tragedy is that even those who thought that private capital needs to be rooted out find this absence of alternative imagination beautiful. We might need to expand our own horizon of thought and realize that there may be another form of bourgeois politics as well.

More of Anti Working Class Indian Left: Again Moving in the Same Direction

India will go to elections in 2014 and the battlelines are gradually getting drawn (or may be redrawn). And CPI(M) and CPI are once again looking for new allies. They are also planning to go back to what they have been doing all along – mistaking the aim of increasing seats in Parliaments for a working class offensive.

I fear these times because it is these times that would generate weird kind of alliances – unnatural and unthinkable ones. And what I fear most is the move that the Left would make – yes, specifically the two bigger parties – CPI (Communist Party of India) and CPI(M) [Communist Party of India (Marxist)]. They have been going everywhere, literally everywhere, to align with all kinds of forces. The excuse being only one – to safeguard secularism.

I have always wondered how does a party such as JD (U) which was till yesterday an ally of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) would become a secular party the day it leaves the alliance for reasons that we all know – and the reasons which have nothing to do with the secular/fascist credentials of BJP. This has now happened end number of times. It happened when it supported the National Front government from outside along with BJP. The issue for them becoming one (in a certain sense) was dynastic politics of Congress (which it will continue to have because it is not a ‘party’ with mass base but rather a coterie of some leftovers of past and the new messiahs of corporate governance and interests). Then they went with Rashtriya Janata Dal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Telugu Desam Party… and so on and so forth. All in name of secularism. After surrendering whatever they did/had in the name of working class politics to the forces that most brazenly represented the forces of private capital what have they achieved are literally nothing – communal fascism remains a force (it remains, quite naturally, quiet and wakes up whenever it is required); and the Left mass base (even if it is of social democratic character) continues to slide. This obviously raises some questions in my mind:

1. Is it not possible to have rather an all Left alliance? We have seen it has not worked till now – whether agricultural laborers are massacred in hordes or whether the state goes on a declared war against working class – informalising the economy, taking away all benefits, doing away with pensions, privatizing all that is there in public sector, privatizing basic services of education and health, etc. All them – right from the tiniest of them to a relatively bigger one – live in their own world of arrogance as if they would lead the revolution when that day of judgement would arrive. One has seen this from micro-struggles within universities and factories to larger alliances on questions of macro-economy.

2. Is it too difficult to understand that alliances have dealt a blow to the Left politics because through these alliances one knowingly or unknowingly get into a political understanding that destroys the working class unity and the working class organization to resist the designs of private, corporate capital?

3. Is it beyond comprehension of these Left formations that the notions of ‘secularism’ or ‘justice’ can have meanings not necessarily floated by the bourgeois political formations? Is it possible to explicate these concepts from a working class perspective?

Unfortunately, they do not seem to get these questions or they may not be willing to reflect on them because of what they have become – essentially seeking pleasures of parliamentary politics. They are, in fact, now knee deep into it. Hence, constitutive historical processes are of no relevance to them.

These are the times when masses are looking for a Left alternative and not opportunistic alliances. The massive number that throngs to their rallies, which goes beyond even their imagination and expectation as was evident last year in the rallies in Bihar, are an indication of the discontent that is there against a system which is pushing them to last limits of misery and agony. They need a new hope not an alliance where the partners shift their allegiances overnight. What kind of anti-Congress, anti-BJP alliance is this when the partners were voting for privatization and against all working class yesterday in Parliament? Now after two decades of similar politics (since 1991) one should not expecting anything else from them.