The Managers Want to Write An Obituary for Higher Education

I remember long long back Avijit Pathak wrote a piece after his interview for promotions in Mainstream and described how the people sitting on the other side of the table behave. He was right and anyone who has appeared in an interview would agree to his observations. The fact is that the two sides of the table in an interview are best instances of how power works within an ‘academic’ realm. Those who have filled up their API forms in Indian universities or other world class places or have filled up Annual Reports to prove their worth would it better today.

It does not matter who knows how much and whether there is a possibility of a dialogic relationship there. Despite all rhetoric of ‘be comfortable’, ‘dont be nervous’, ‘ have some water’ and so on the structure remains that of someone seeking a favour – promotion, job or regularisation – and someone taking a decision whether you should be given that favour or not. It does not matter whether the people on the other side possess even sufficient knowledge on what you are to be tested. (The tragedy is that you are to be ‘tested’; you have to prove your ‘merit’ and ‘ability’ and so on). All this does not begin at the table where many pairs of eyes insatiably await to prove your incompetence with questions like ‘what is sociological about it?; What is the difference between peasant and farmer’; why do you publish from Rawat Publications or Aakar Books because the quality is doubtful and so on? Sometimes they even ask you to explain in a few sentences how Gandhi, Foucault and Marcuse can be critiques of modernity. They might also ask you that ‘why is your article so short in length’? Or ‘ what is the impact factor of the journal you published’? In other words, you can’t escape their predatory nature. They are out there to really ‘test’ you.

It does not start here. It starts with the idea of measuring your capability, which is to be defined by those on the other side of the power hierarchy. It is a different matter they would have been promoted simply because they spent so many years in an institution without any of the measurements that they have introduced to weigh your intellectual capability. It is a different thing that they have no inkling that most of the great works historically in South Asia have not been published by the ‘good quality publishers’ otherwise everyone ranging from Phule, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Maulana Bhasani, D D Kosambi, A R Desai, Yoginder Singh to many more were not published by any of the university presses or corporate houses that denote quality for them. It is a different thing that intellectualism for them meant engagement and dialogue and not insane number crunching of indexes and tables.

The interviews, the process of putting oneself up in the academic labour market is no doubt a compulsion that many academics have to do. However, the interesting part is that we all fall into the trap and reproduce the process which humiliated us, at the cost of killing the intellectual spirit of our work.

As Avijit Pathak quoted Foucault aptly to talk about JNU: “The judges of normality are everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’ judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behaviour, his aptitudes, his achievements. The carceral network, in its compact of disseminated forms, with its system of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support, in the normative society, of the normalising power.”

The judges out there are like vultures prepared to shred the idea of education itself in name of merit, quality, capability, marketability and relevance. Their agenda is obvious – to write an obituary for higher education.

What can Nitish Kumar’s support for demonetisation tell us about his political aspirations?

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 high-value notes would be withdrawn on November 8, the public outrage that followed offered the Opposition parties an opportunity to come together to form an alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party.

But the Opposition failed to grab this opportunity for two reasons. First, because the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party followed a wait-and-watch approach due to the impending Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and second, due to the conflicting aspirations of some regional party leaders.

One of the most vocal Opposition voices in support of demonetisation is that of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. This is despite his alliance partner, Lalu Prasad Yadav, severely criticising the policy.

The detailed article can be read at the Scroll.in

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.

South Asian-ness and Institution Building Across Borders

The recent overtures by India to strengthen neighbourly relations across South Asia have been noted as the hallmark of its foreign relations. Analysts would differ, and not unreasonably, that it is also due to the geopolitics of the region where non-Indian business ‘intrusion’ has been increasing. There is a general hype to this new attitude from India, which is an apparent departure from the patron-client relationship. The Nepali politicians seemed to be hailing Indian Prime Minister’s ‘efforts’ in unison cutting across political lines. But can this building up of a composite and cogent South Asia happen without developing institutional mechanisms that foster deep rooted sharing of intellectual processes across the region? It is only through such a complementing process of institutionalising dialogue across South Asian countries that a more organic evolution of relationships can be imagined. This is a protracted process compared to the signing and conduct of business relations. However, this would contribute to bolstering of business relations in the long run as well if one so wishes.

One way of doing this whole process is to organise an intellectual ambience that encapsulates this organic-ity and functions with the principle kernel that knowledge is non-hierarchical (which will start with the premise that in the process of knowing there is no hierarchy of knowledge) and always contestable. Taking off from this premise it can be a possible project to explore the commonalities, challenges and possibilities across South Asian countries. Once this happens as a common initiative of countries across the region, expressing their willingness to embark on a path that will of revelations narrowed and restricted by the boundaries of nation-state, it will open up possibilities for a dialogic South Asia. This intellectual project, whatever be its history or intention, got initiated in form of one institution – South Asian University. Though diverse institutions of SAARC have existed but an university compared to institutions such as SAARC Cultural Centre etc., involve a completely different process of ethos building – moving beyond bureaucratic detailing into the realm of much open and liberal intellectual sphere. However, amidst the recent emphasis on neighbourliness it does not seem to be occupy the same place of significance as many other issues as the zeal and enthusiasm on this front seem to lack.

Imagine a Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan and Indian sociologist sitting together and deliberating on what should be taught as part of a Sociology post-graduate programme. This exercise takes place even on themes which otherwise seem irreconcilable, for instance, the identity question in Sri Lanka or questions of indigeneity, violence and religion in South Asian context. The same situation might come up while discussing regionalism and nationalism in classroom or in seminar halls. While deciding on curriculum and pedagogy it is also fiercely debated as to how can the courses represent the South Asian context transcending the narrow confines of national sociologies. This was inconceivable four years back and it is a reality in South Asian University, an initiative of the SAARC. Debates within departments such as sociology have seen such moments quite often.

When there are efforts being made to explore the South Asian neighbourliness an institution like SAU provides the platform where the possibilities of a dialogic South Asian ethos can be experimented. The MEA website tells us how unique is this experiment especially as an effort to bring together the different countries concretely – as students and teachers who make the rhetoric of South Asian cooperation a reality in flesh and blood. How far this happens and what can be the conditions to further concretise this, though, remain an issue but as an experiment this has been a major step in re-imagining South Asia in recent past.

The way this university was conceptualised it was kept in mind how the balance of power in administrative matters could be maintained. For instance, it’s rule no. 06 states that “the President will identify up to three Professors working in the University for appointment as Vice-Presidents. Subject to the availability of suitable candidates, the Vice-Presidential candidate should be from SAARC Member States other than that of the President”. Rules mention that the President and the Vice-President of the university should come from different countries. Similarly, the students should ideally come from across South Asia and the Indian students must not dominate the composition because of its sheer physical location in New Delhi. This, as a sociologist, compels one to engage with the challenges of teaching and researching in a situation where the Bangladeshi student brings fresh insights from his location and debates. Even when I think as a pure intellectual endeavour the University opens new possibilities to understand and analyse the South Asian societies, for instance, the identity question with the Afghani, Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan students in a classroom becomes a learning experience for any faculty from any part of South Asia who get exposed the complexities of a subject matter.

Commonalities and absence of dialogue

The South Asian societies share great amount of similarities – ranging from their economies to the social structures and the challenges confronting their societies. Whether it is the changes experienced by the social structures over different points of time under influence of variety of factors or the emergence of new forms of mass resistances or the challenges posed by religious sectarianism a dialogue across the region has been absent. Pakistani scholars working on Hindu temples in Pakistan or historians working on evolution of the region or sociologists grappling with similar issues across region are never institutionally brought together by the states. An effort that transcends the frequent political skirmishes between countries and establishes platforms of sharing would add to bringing out the vast amount of knowledge generated in the region.

This requires a concerted effort that transcends the national frontiers and academia is one such space, which can do that easily. It would create a dialogue that is bereft of enmities and sectarian prejudices. While at one level through research it generates tangible possibilities through pedagogical practices It makes the whole process organic. It evolves as a natural process rather than as a forced practice. In a classroom the academic engagement, in fact, does precisely this when it asks students from different countries to share, analyse and debate the issues that confronts their societies. From classrooms to the hostel rooms to cafeterias it creates a context for a dialogic South Asian ethos.

When students from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India share a room in the hostel, when they deal with questions that may have different national interpretations but they discuss it amicably within the classroom or when they celebrate each other’s independence days it ceases to be a mere pedagogical issue. It rather becomes an organic intellectual process that would produce minds engaged with the South Asian realities.

To have an atmosphere of South Asian-ness the states will have to sensitively get into institution buildings of kind that goes beyond the mere bureaucratic sharing of officials and rhetorical cultural exchanges or business cooperations. It can be done only through imagining a situation where national boundaries become porous and insignificant and when people across these borders start to locate themselves as organic constituents of any agenda, dream or programme. These will also be processes that bring together people to share the developments, concerns and hopes within this region.

The Politics of Anti-Politics: Forms of Expression and Dreams for an Alternative World

One has often wondered what does it mean for an act to be ‘organic’. Is it about invoking the Gramscian notion of the organic or the redefinition of it? Many a times it becomes misplaced. It is shorn of its content. Creating a space of resistance (and ‘resistance’ does not always lead to ‘revolution’) has to be something emanating out of the organic efforts of the the oppressed. Cultural expressions – ranging from the distinctions that one witnessed in the content and form of the Madhubani paintings across caste to the emergence of the form of ‘street theatre’ and its different forms over space and time – have always been deeply rooted in their contexts. These contexts have always emerged out of certain social relations and have always imagined an alternative within them. This alternative could have been to transcend the immediate, without any concrete model for the future, or could have been to substitute the existing system/order of things with a new one that denounces different forms of exploitation.

The fight for an alternative society has often found a resonance in universities because of the spaces of dissent that they have traditionally provided. Ever since collapse of welfare capitalism university as a liberal space has been under constant threat – from the ruling class that seek to disband all forms of art (and expression) that challenges its existence and expansion. Creating a space within the university for dissent is one of the tasks of various cultural expressions that are collective in nature. Individual expressions while becoming sources of inspiration are not always potent enough to create a space because they would be banished due to lack of a collective support base. Secondly, certain forms of expression, by their very nature, are subversive. Hence, one finds experiments happening in street theatre in particular and theatre in general. Extending the argument it would be foolish to equate the expensive stage based productions with the street theatre format in terms of their potential to be subversive. This needs a mention because of the shift towards stage based performances that one has witnessed across universities. Both of the forms, generally, fulfill different functions, cater to different socio-economic constituencies and play different political roles. Similarly, both forms of theatre cannot be performed in all the places and all kinds of audiences. The kind of alternative ideological visions (needed to fight oppressive university environments under neoliberal capitalism) that street theatre present get reified when they go to stage (wherein the constituency of audience changes). Shift from street form also involves reliance on the university institutional support, and then the process of institutionalizing the whole process of art as a form of liberating experience begins. To keep them outside the institutional framework is an important aspect of maintaining the autonomy of these art forms as spaces of dissent.  In the end, it would also amount to absence of organic linkages between the form and the content.

Given this situation then, dissent becomes a political position which will have the potential to be subversive only if it tries to draw into its ideological fold a collective. Within an university, the effort to use expressions such as street theatre, music, or any other cultural space with the aim of generating steam of subversion has to be prodded. However, it loses that potential when it becomes part of the institutional political ideology. It has to be emerge organically out of the larger political struggle that the students, teachers or other workers envision within the university space. It would also become meaningless if it is seen as an isolated space of ‘performance’, disconnected with the reality outside that determine the character of the university all the time.

Growing out of this understanding it is important that one recognizes the need to connect the politics of these cultural expressions. What do they do through their content? If they talk about the celebration of the individual they are definitely there to rupture the collective. And by doing so they are weakening the possibilities of imagining an alternative to the ongoing oppressions. This alternative can be progressive insofar as they seek to destroy the basis of the context that gives rise to oppression or can become limiting insofar as it becomes a celebration of individuality. They are to nurture a dream – a dream that does not stop at being an act of an individual aspiration. The dream has to be shared. The dream would be about imaging that there can be a world beyond the one where one lives. Avatar Singh Pash wrote:

‘Mehnat ki loot sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Police ki maar sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Gaddari, lobh ki mutthi sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.
Baithe bithaye pakde jana bura to hai,
Sahmi si chhup me jakde jana bura to hai,
Par sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.
Sabse khatarnak hota hai murda shanti se bhar jana,
Na hona tadap ka, sab kuch sahan kar jana,
Ghar se nikalna kaam par, aur kaam se loutkar ghar aana, 
Sabse khatarnak hota hai,
Hamare sapno ka mar jana’.

He was positing the individual within a collective context where people are either being trained not to dream or the the dreams are being manufactured. To dream is important but to dream beyond the given – challenging the given, to transcend the system of exploitation by destroying it – is further more important. Dream is about the ability to say that there are alternatives to oppression available. It is about putting posters on a wall where you are not allowed to; it is about contesting what is taught in the classrooms; it is about saying that life is more than following the routine set by those in power; it is about dissenting and saying that the system that YOU put in place is not what the people want; people want something else; the collective needs are beyond the imagination of those in power. Dream is not about fragmenting the collective through practicing an anti-politics agenda which any anti-collective theoretical strand and politics emanating out of it has been doing. A fight has to be waged that spits at the face of anti politics by saying that there politics is the most dangerous one, which betrays the power of collective for radical transformation.

On the Banks of Sabarmati Where Gandhi Once Lived

Standing on the bridge over river Sabarmati in Ahmedabad today gives a completely different feeling than what Gandhi would have felt while living in his Ashram during those days. The river is being tamed by the faithful guards of capital. A seasonal river has been made into a perennial one through diversion of water from Narmada. Why not, a beautiful river bank will always get more buyers, better real estate developers, and in effect an additional space for odyssey of market. As construction continues with the riverbed being transformed into a gigantic concrete slab, one could hardly see any water in the river as the two sides of it resemble an upcoming giant concrete demon that would gobble up the wild, free and liberated of a river. Yes, it symbolises what capital, in its insatiable frenzy of transforming every possible space into a commodity, can do.

But why should one be perturbed by it? There is hardly any resistance to what is being done. And one day one would jump in ecstasy standing on the banks looking at the reflection of huge billboards in water of Sabarmati inviting us to be drenched in the frenzy of market. We would narrate to everybody how beautiful the city of Ahmedabad has become, willfully ignorant of the deep seated religious polarisation in terms of spaces in the city or unaware of ghettoisation of the city along class lines.

After all, the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation is claiming to usher in a new phase in the life of the city. It says that “The riverfront project creates intrinsic value for all residents of Ahmedabad by making the banks of the Sabarmati free and accessible to the public. The river banks will evolve continually, adapting to the diverse interests of a rapidly transforming city”. Think for yourself, how lost we are in the frenzy of market, self absorbed, self-besotted, forgetting what is actually happening in the name of ‘public access’ and ‘public space’.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER – Development, Identity and Violence: Reconfiguring the Debate

THE HEART OF THE MATTER – Development, Identity and Violence: Reconfiguring the Debate Edited by Ravi Kumar (Aakar Books, Delhi, 2010)

Contents

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Introduction – Ravi Kumar
  3. Thinking through Urban Debris: Violence, Terror and the State    – Nandita Badami and Anirban Nigam
  4. Through and Beyond: Identities and Class Struggle – Paresh Chandra
  5. “No Rehabilitation” is ecocide and genocide: Is there possibility of Hope? – Savyasaachi
  6. Ventilating Predicament of Development: New Economic Enclaves and Structural Violence in India – Manisha Tripathy Pandey
  7. The Artifice of Modernity in Nation-building: Analyzing the Case of “Postcolonial” Northeast India – Neikolie Kuotsu
  8. Developing Bastar: The Dandakaranya Project – Saagar Tiwari

 

Excerpts

Introduction
Ravi Kumar
Glancing at the plethora of works produced in this direction over the last decade, displacement and violence seem the most popular characters of a much-debated, possibly over-debated area. Displacement has existed for centuries – for instance, kings would displace people from forests to convert the forests into hunting-grounds. But something about displacement today, makes it starkly different from the kinds that have existed so far. Perhaps, this difference can be understood keeping in mind the nature of modern nations which have emerged from the ashes of colonial empires, and have tried to ground themselves in the legacy of liberal democracy and the various other state-centric (people friendly?) paradigms of governance. The displacement of peoples from their areas of habitation under the garb of “development” can be seen across the history of Independent India; hopes of the people have been buried under the foundations of the “Temples of Modern India” which have been “constructed” one after the other, even as the state has continuously claimed to represent the interests of these very people. Of course, the nature and the degree of pretensions have changed, from the welfarist state to the neoliberal state…

 

Ghetto and Within: Class, Identity, State and Politics of Mobilisation

Ghetto and Within: Class, Identity, State and Politics of Mobilisation by Ravi Kumar (Aakar Books, Delhi, 2010)

http://www.aakarbooks.com/

Contents

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Context of the Study
  3. Secularism, Nationalism and the Problematic of Religious Identity Formation
  4. Identity Formation and the Class Question
  5. Identity Politics and Ghettoisation
  6. Why Study the Ghettos: Some Methodological Considerations
  7. Identity Formation and the Ghetto: Reflections from the Field

Class and the Everyday life State
Control and Identity

8. Collective Identity and the Class Politics – Beyond the Appearances in a Ghetto

Excerpts:

Chapter 1
Context of the Study
A study of the process of ghettoisation acquires relevance when the polity is being defined by identity politics and the politics of class is waning. The primacy of collective identity formation in politics has gained ground with the onslaught of neoliberal politics, laced with the ideas of localisation, difference and autonomy of subjects. Class as a category of analysis has been relegated to the background with a clear intent of marginalising possibilities of resistance to the system. A tendency, which is neither new nor surprising, to sustain the status quo has rejected dialectics as a method and class as the defining category of analysis. This is not to deny the conjunctural significance of identity politics insofar as it rips open subterranean repressions and resists the hegemonic powers and discourses. However, an identity politics, which fails to take cognizance of the balance of forces in class terms fails to transcend the systemic logic of repression and gets accommodated in the system…

The study of the ghetto explicated here makes an attempt to understand how certain physical and socio-economic zones within the city space remain outside the purview of contests to transform the essentially unequal social order. In fact, discourses within ghettos, which are defined by the sharing of a common religious identity and which see subjects as victims of an agenda furthered by the state or other segments of society, do not address inequities of various kinds and fail to locate inequality within the production relations that characterise it. Class is never a part of such discourses. These address extends only religion and caste based inequality (see Appendix I) and base themselves in the context of secularism and communalism, which in turn are analysed mostly in terms of their appearances, divorced from political economy. In the following pages an effort is made to understand how the idea of a collective develops from within the community as well as in relation to the outside world. It is a complex set which comprises of state, people and politics and which is explored to understand this dynamics which cannot be defined or understood without a context…

Corruption, Democratisation and Control

The charges of corruption on the Congress government does not seem to be getting over. Even if one recalls the recent past, after the Commonwealth Games, which looked more of a military exercise than a sporting event, where THEY are suspected to have gobbled up thousands of crores the new one came to light – an estate scam, when THEY built houses over a land allotted to war widows. The CWG scam will be laid to rest by the short-lived public memory which gets replenished everyday by newer excavations into ‘hidden informations’ by the farcically conscientious media. Memory is not only short-lived it is highly selective as well. Everybody is being asked to remember how THEY made money from CWG and how our politicians have lost their sensitivity or how such an upright and honest organisation such as the Defence establishment has also gone corrupt.

But are these really the issues? Are their organisations which are alien to corruption? Is corruption not something un-pathological now? Isn’t it ‘normal’? Is it not part of our everyday life  – look at how formal as well as informal institutions are deep into it? Bureaucracy, corporations, everyday relationships – all of them have an element of corruption built into them today? This is not to argue of a nostalgia – a world from the past which was devoid of it, where it was ‘pathology’ and not something ‘normal’. It is rather about imagining a world which would interrogate certain issues and concepts, which pass over just like a gush of wind disturbing us momentarily, much more deeply. After all, nobody bothers to ponder that corruptions have happened only in places where there has been undemocratic distribution of resources. Democratise control over resources and decision-making, involve those workers who had build the stadiums and buildings into the processes of decision-making and distribution, the possibilities of some bureaucrat, army officer or politician manipulating his/her location in the system will be minimised. Even today the hungama happens largely because some did not get the share. Democratise, disperse, let the controls be redefined.

 

Globalisation and Social Movements in India

Globalisation

Globalisation is a much debated term. Scholars have pointed out how globalization in itself is not anything new but has been there all along – reflected in the interconnectivity of civilizations and their economic/trading relations. However, what makes the current conjuncture interesting is that the present form of globalization is different from the earlier stages. In a context such as India where the process, in its current form, has been a late entrant it is still a major area of concern and interest. The whole of South has been at the receiving end of this new form of globalization, which started off after the failure of Keynsian principles to add up to the expansion of capitalism. Due to this status of being the recipient of whatever came as a package called globalization one finds tremendous opposition to it. It is relevant to note that this package came along with what has been called structural adjustments in the countries of the South – an elaborate programme to significantly restructure priorities and nature of the state itself. It also signified a shift from the welfarist principles to neoliberalism – in Indian terms a shift from what has been popularly called Nehruvian socialism to neoliberalism.

This shift occurs at many levels in different forms, which may not be possible to recount in this session but it will be useful to provide a general overview of how is this phenomenon imagined – its contents as well as forms:

  1. Globalisation of capital was there earlier as well, its extent and the principles which characterise it has become different.
  2. Culturally, globalisation has been opposed by two different camps – the right and the democratic-progressive groups. While the former, in a nationalist tenor, held globalisation to be a cultural invasion by the West, which would destroy the Indian culture, the later looked at it as destroying the existing cultural varieties and its substitution with a homogenous cultural landscape. It will be interesting to think about the reasons leading to unprecedented indentitarian assertions.
  3. Technologically, globalisation rests on the enhanced power of technology – the new technological revolutions that have emerged – which have allowed greater control over human and social spaces and processed. These technologies are more than just means of communication – they have emerged as instruments of control, means of enhancing industrial production and organization and marketing of goods.
  4. Politically, it has raised serious questions about the withering away of nation-states. Do we really need to talk in term of nation-states when vital economic aspects of nations are dispersed globally. There is not one single industrial production centre, in the same way there is not one single consolidated abode of capital.
  5. Economically, globalisation builds a system that ensures free and smooth flow of capital – the lifeline of globalisation phenomenon – the emphasis on free trade, withdrawal of state and other things. However, it puts great amount of restrictions on the mobility of labour.

Hence, globalisation does refer to an increasingly interdependent world, where information flows transcend nation- states, and knowledge of particular kind become valuable resource. But it has been seen that the promise of globalisation – that it would reduce poverty and usher in equity has been belied. There is significant polarisation across nations and within nations today. The South remains the impoverished zone and within countries such as India one finds over half the population living below poverty line. There has been great discontent. However, how does one look at the expressions of this discontent. You rather more modern prison complexes coming up, new – direct and indirect – forms of control mechanisms being developed to curb possibilities of upheaval. This brings us the possible expressions that the discontent takes today when

  • the modes of control act through powerful instruments of influence – the media
  • the popular discourses on the state, economy and society are in fact constructed ones.
  • the mode of operation of the state and capital is such that it devises new methods of generating consensus for what it does

Social Movements

There has been a great shift in the way social movements have progressed in the country during past two decades or so. However, before looking at those shifts it is important to look at the concepts. There is a need to differentiate between mobilisation and movements. Based upon his differentiation it is safe to argue that   Social mobilization over a sustained period of time with a collectivity having consensus to struggle (in terms of ideas as well as action) to achieve certain goals can be defined as a movement. Movements are “characterized by i) some sort of organization, which distinguishes it from spontaneous gatherings of people with similar ideas and values, ii) a common outlook on society, iii) a common set of values” (Gezerlis, 2002). Scholars have differentiated between reformist and anti-systemic movements. Similarly, distinctions have been made between full-fledged movements and quasi-movements based on whether they are about changes within the system or aimed at altering the system as a whole.

Mobilization is a situation when a discontented/affected group gets engaged in action. It is the beginning rather than the end of the movements. A collective of people get together on an issue that affects them but that does not become a movement. Mobilisations become a movement when they get organised and are sustained over a period of time. They are devoid of spontaneity. movements. When people get mobilised to demand justice for somebody killed such as Jessica Lal or Priyadarshini Mattoo, it is not a movement because:

  • It does not have a defined vision of the problematic that they are posing. It is spontaneous and momentary
  • It is not organised
  • It is not sustained
  • It does not know where to begin (because it does not know why to begin) and where to end.

If one looks at the Indian context there has been a paradigmatic shift in the terms of how movements have developed.

  • Classical notions of movements are absent. Hence, the peasant movements, workers movements, students movement are on decline/have declined
  • Instead of big, meta-movements there are smaller pockets of mobilisation/movements that could be seen
  • There has been a shift in the issues that are taken up for mobilisation – there has been a complete absence of mobilisations that are aimed at ant-systemic changes.
  • One finds issues that are completely new being taken up – environment, domestic violence, right to information, etc.

Even these issues are on decline. Farmers suicide happened… there has hardly been any mobilisation that could shake up the system; displacement of millions have happened… there has hardly been anything that has happened that could stop it;

These changes have happened not out of air but can very well be situated in the way discourse on social movements have moved in consonance with the times. They have happened along with development of postmodernism reflected in the whole debate on transition from Old Social Movements to New Social Movements and the attack on categories of universal.