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 Charge of the Neoliberal Brigade and Higher Education in India

This paper looks at the state of higher education in India – in terms of policies and the trajectory that it has taken in the aftermath of neoliberalisation of the economy. Through studying the discourses that construct the edifice of the educational complex in the country, it unravels the dynamics of how economy, politics and education interact. Lastly, it explores the possibilities of countering the neoliberal offensive of capital and create a more egalitarian higher education system.

Full paper at The Journal of Education Policy Studies

Imagining a Socialist, Democratic and Secular Society through Possibilities of a Common School System in India

Abstract
A Common School System (CSS) had been a long-standing demand in Indian educational discourse since it was recommended in 1966 by the Education Commission. Those who saw the state as an agency of welfarism invoked its implementation on the grounds that it would have allowed equity in education and would have taken care of inequity in the larger society, apart from ensuring a more democratic society and polity. However, recent neoliberal policy changes in the country have demolished even that welfarist imagination of a capitalist state. The article is of the view that it is the rule of capital which is at the heart of injustice and inequality in contemporary Indian education. It also argues that democracy and socialism through a Common School System can be achieved only when there is a radical social transformation, but that it does not allow us to cease efforts towards making education more equitable and accessible for all.

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…

 

Global Neoliberalism and Education and its Consequences

Publication Announcement

Global Neoliberalism and Education and its Consequences, Edited by Dave Hill and Ravi Kumar (Routledge: London and New York, 2009)
http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415957748/

Contents

  • Foreword – NICK GRANT
  • Introduction: Neoliberal Capitalism and Education
 – RAVI KUMAR AND DAVE HILL
  • Neoliberalism and its Impacts
 – DAVE HILL AND RAVI KUMAR
  • Neoliberalism, Youth, and the Leasing of Higher Education – 
HENRY GIROUX
  • Higher Education and the Profit Incentive
 – TRISTAN MCCOWAN
  • Trading Away Human Rights? The GATS and the Right
to Education: A Legal Perspective
 – PIERRIK DEVIDAL
  • Education, Inequality, and Neoliberal Capitalism:
A Classical Marxist Analysis – 
DAVE HILL, NIGEL GREAVES AND ALPESH MAISURIA
  • Brazilian Education, Dependent Capitalism,
and the World Bank
 – ROBERTO LEHER
  • World Bank Discourse and Policy on Education and Cultural
Diversity for Latin America
 – EDUARDO DOMENECH AND CARLOS MORA-NINCI
  • The News Media and the Conservative Heritage Foundation:
Promoting Education Advocacy at the Expense of Authority – 
ERIC HAAS
  • Markets and Education in the Era of Globalized Capitalism
 – NICO HIRTT
  • Education in Cuba: Socialism and the Encroachment
of Capitalism
 – CURRY MALOTT

Neoliberalism, Education and the Politics of Capital: Searching Possibilities of Resistance

That the instruments of imparting education extend beyond the classical notions of classroom learning is a fact few can disagree with today. It is, however, not enough to realise that the process of educating a human being transcends the limited universe of whatever form of formalised institution of teaching-learning transactions and is finally linked to the approach that one adopts to comprehend the processes of knowledge formation. This process of education is also closely linked to the desires of the dominant social structures to limit our view of the complex processes of knowledge creation. A limited and fragmented view of the world not only hides the systemic contradictions but also makes possible a process of regimentation. For instance, one can never fully appreciate the fact that the elite castes of India – not unlike the entrenched hegemonic class interests in any social order – need to segment the processes of education so that it in turn sustains the segmentation of the social order. Not unless one overcomes one’s ideological myopia to grasp the link between the processes of knowledge production in a society and its larger logic of production.  It is this myopia that compels us to explain the teacher-taught relationship through the undemocratic metaphor of teacher as god. It is the intrinsic uncritical appeal of such a metaphor that leads us even today to claim that the teacher reveals the path to the kingdom of god. And it is this belief in the existence of a particular kind of system that celebrates the existence of gods – which bases itself on uncriticality and opposition to dissent, and concomitant subordination to spiritual and/or temporal authorities – that is responsible for our failure to understand how, for example, the Dronacharya-Eklavya relationship, by virtue of it being embedded in class-caste relations, is an expression of the segmentation of society along class lines through segmentation of education. And this holds true as much for ancient India, as for us in our times, wherein a vision of understanding educational processes as going beyond classroom and institutionalised structures is seldom encouraged. Even if it is done the connections between the mode of production and educational systems is rarely explored.

Read the whole article at Radical Notes

Commonwealth Games and the Politics of Capital

The Commonwealth Games apart from providing fodder to the sensationalist media has raised more profound questions, which have not been raised with the required sharpness. There are definitely questions about the working conditions of people employed to make this extravaganza a success which will have to be answered not only by the Indian Government but also by the nations who swear by their better labour laws because by participating in it they have virtually said without uttering a word that it is only the end product which matters and not how that product comes into being. However, there are fundamental questions about the very issue of whether the Games should have been organized or not.

There was a voice of strong dissent within Congress Party, which not only shared the bounty generated by the Games but also played an important role to spread the message of how it was good for the country. But that voice of dissent was stuck within the framework of a welfarist gentleman being uncomfortable with neoliberal inhumanity. His opposition has not even been heard except when the media needed to show that there was some excitement in the whole exercise. In fact, once, one of the key faces of a English channel even told him on a show not to philosophise whatever has been happening because they wanted an objective analysis of the falling down of a footbridge near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. This voice while exposed the farcical priorities of the state, which prefered spending on Games rather than education, health or even seriously addressing the sporting issues. But why such an event, which threw all labour concerns to winds, had to happen now? Why did an expenditure running into thousands of crores had to be spent when over fifty percent of Indian masses live below poverty article?

There have been visible signs of a well thought out process of how cities and economies behave under neoliberal capitalism. A restructuring of the city landscape happened over past one decade or so across the country – eviction of poor, massive investment into infrastructure (meaning massive subsidization of private capital by the state), legislature, executive and judiciary all have been involved in this project of reconfiguring city spaces. The banks of river Yamuna was cleared of slums because, and now one can see that clearly, the spaces under control of poor citizens had to be handed over to the private capital. The slums near Nehru Place or the one near Alaknanda had to be cleared for the same reason. This handing over may not appear direct many a times because the private capital also operates discreetly.

Commonwealth Games has only been another strategy along with many others to strengthen the occupation of public spaces and commons by private capital. This occupation has been dexterously carried out using the social and political identities as well. For instance, the way national identities have been invoked time and again during this whole process need not be repeated. The Games were touted as an event necessary for our national identity and pride. Issue is not about trivialization of national identity through attaching it to organization of an event but it is about showing how the invocation of national identity prevented even the Indian Left from opposing such an initiative. In fact, its leaders were saying that there should have been a more centralized control of the whole process rather than posing questions about whether we needed such an event. All political formations, barring some, were quiet when national identity was being used to promote private capital.