Ifs and buts of Elections 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

What if TMC wins around 34-36 seats in Bengal

What if North East does not repeat itself as 2014

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

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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/)

Begusarai – Has BJP made it a prestige issue?

A thirty two year old is pitched against a senior, seasoned politician in an otherwise non-descript constituency called Begusarai. But it does not seem non-descript at all. Initially, it was RJD’s insistence to not have CPI on its alliance (largely because of this candidate) and now it is because of an interesting battle on cards. The BJP national president had to campaign in this constituency on 24th April. He does not go to each and every constituency and the speakers at the function had to bring back their favourite past time – nation, nationalism, religion – albeit in a hidden tenor but could not refrain from it. Some other star speakers who specialise in the same narrative might follow on. Nobody talked of unemployment, infrastructure, minimum wages, violence again women and so on. Quite naturally, they cannot.

Kanhaiya had other kind of star campaigners – students from nook and corner of India, Javed Akhter, Prakash Raj, Swara Bhaskar and so on. They did not come due to party allegiance but due to the battle that is being waged by Kanhaiya Kumar. He has been made into a symbol of sorts in this fight against the way nation has been run, politics from WhatsApp has been practiced and welfarist institutions have been decimated. One does not know who will win (amidst reports of EVM malfunctions from across country and the effectiveness with which hatred is spread) but it is definitely proving to be a grave concern for BJP for it fears that its candidate may lose to a young turk. BJP is not so concerned at CPI sending another MP to the Parliament but it is concerned at this young man sitting there and blowing apart the rhetoric of the right in the Parliament.

Giriraj Singh did not want to contest from here and had to reluctantly come here – an issue that didn’t make locals very happy. Kanhaiya Kumar, on the other hand, was already in fray for last few months, awaiting a final decision from the party (CPI). The third candidate, Tanvir Hasan, has never won from here and has been a MLC, known to be a quiet person. Begusarai is a prestige seat not so much for Tanvir Hasan or RJD because they do not have to contribute much to the fight against BJP, otherwise they would have not made this a triangular contest putting a candidate without any credentials of anti-right wing struggle against Kanhaiya Kumar who has become a symbol of anti-right struggle today.

The right would go to any extent to ensure that any symbol of resistance against its politics is subdued. The fight for Kanhaiya Kumar is going to be a long one, beyond these elections. The reaction that one gets in Begusarai from the masses cutting across caste and religion is that they would like Kanhaiya Kumar to win and, thereby, shows that the BJP’s prestige seat is not a prestige for the locals. And RJD’s advisors and leaders will never be forgiven for fragmenting a consensus against the right wing politics.

Vote for ‘Change’ is after all not a vote for change

This is historic not because BJP has won the General Elections 2014 but because it decimated Gandhis, Samajwadi Party, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and the Left. Jayalalitha, Mamta Banerjee and Navin Pattnaik have somehow held onto their grounds. The Facebook, at least whose posts were visible to me, went silent once it became evident that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win the General Elections. Maybe gradually they would reappear after introspecting into their arguments. The calculations and counter-calculations about how difficult it was for BJP to win also stopped. Maybe those who were claiming to having their ears to the ground need to concede that they did not have an inkling about the electoral battleground. This is a clean sweep with decimation of all political forces. The Left has been further marginalized and needs to do some serious introspection. As per the logic of representative democracy the nation wants Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and the ‘past’ did not really matter to people who voted. However, it may be argued that the candidate who wins an election, in fact, gets less votes than the combined will of others who do not want him/her to win. Hence, there is a substantial mass which did not want BJP to come to power. But that is all in the realm of speculation.

The vote is no doubt for change, as BJP says. However, what is tricky here is the idea of ‘change’ itself. The need for change appears in any situation when the existing conditions of existence are not satisfactory; when the status quo needs to be altered. Change in electoral democracy is conveyed in many ways – when drains are overflowing and political party in power does nothing people want a change; when farmers commit suicide due to agrarian crisis and the issue remains unaddressed people want change; when industry is not allowed freedom to do what they want to do they want change and so on and so forth. ‘Change’ as an idea, in other words, is used by different people located in different situations and it emerges out of where they locate themselves vis-a-vis the others as well. Hence, there is a movement for radical social change and there is momentary hullabaloo for change; there is a clamor to change the government which stifles the business and there are voices for change against those who take over people’s lands, mountains, forests and rivers. In the representative democracy when RSS or BJP say that it is a vote for change they are not mistaken. People did not vote for others for a reason – they thought BJP will bring about ‘change’ in their lives. Congress and its allies of different kind had led to devastation of people’s lives – their everyday affair was in shambles, from food inflation, to corruption, to unemployment to shamelessness of telling people that they can survive a day with Rs.32 or have food for Rs.12. But then why did BJP become the only alternative for people is something which needs serious rethinking.

Here, notably, what bourgeois politics and its version of democracy represented through electoral exercise does is that it modifies the idea of ‘change’ to not necessarily changing of status quo but to changing of the facade of the existing forms of governance. In other words, like the Parsonian framework they argue that the problems of hunger, poverty, corruption, violence against women, etc., can be resolved by tinkering with the different instruments/units of the system. The system is not wrong or responsible for all these problems but may be a new party or a new Prime Minister will resolve the problems. The effort is always to convince people that the problem is largely because of some mismanagement of the system, it is not because a few want to accumulate as much wealth as possible at the cost of others.

It is important to highlight that if an analysis of representative democracy continues to be done with reference to the cosmetic changes it would always yield erroneous analysis. What has to be understood is the fact that there is discontent with the existing order of things. And this discontent is due to the way the existing system through its aggressive and persistent focus ensures that a few keep getting rich at the cost of most. It is essentially because of how a farmer’s loan if unpaid is a crime but a corporate loan of over Rs.70,000 crore becomes an act of celebration. The discontent is because the system facilitates an easy life for the owners of capital at the cost of others. This discontent is not so much about secularism and communalism, which some political forces treat as if devoid of any politico-economic content. It is the fallacious understanding of ideas of secularism and social justice that has allowed under different garbs the basic questions to be scuttled by the electoral politics. It has failed to bring forth the idea that the oppressed communities need ultimately a politics that radically alters the nature of the existing system; that addresses the profound reasons for the discontent rather than its superficial textures.

It is amply clear that the misdeeds of a regime (Congress in this case) carried the potential of generating sufficient discontent. A situation had to be avoided by the corporate capital wherein an ‘unstable’ government is formed which may not accede to its demands and whimsical desires. Hence, the only option was to supplant Congress with BJP. It is this logic which saw money and resources being pumped into the election campaigns of the BJP and a little less into that of Congress. There is a fear of ‘instability’ because it would upset the existing arrangements whether it is about pricing of natural resources or taking away the benefit of tax waivers or subsidies to corporates. Though, this would also mean ‘change’ but that change has to be avoided in the interests of the corporate capital. Therefore, the vote for ‘change’ would continue to remain a farce. In fact, it is another means to ensure that the corporate capital has a way in dictating how the economy and politics of the nation should be. What this election has done is given a strong hand to the capitalist class to do what they would like to. This is the meaning of a ‘strong and stable’ government.

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.