JNU episode and the popular discourse on history (Draft)

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JNU episode and the popular discourse on history (Draft) 
Arup Baisya
The meaning of the present
The recent debate revolving around the programme of JNU students leading to the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and other student leaders on sedition charges raises many questions than answers. Though the central theme of this debate is the constitutional right to speak, the moot question is how the future of India rooted in the present articulates the past. Thus the discourse on Indian historical past in popular political parlance gets constantly constructed and reconstructed with a vision to the future. This is bound to happen because of the fact that history of the Indian past like the socio-historical past of mankind is not fixed, one-dimensional and completely knowable once for all.
The aggressive state intervention to scuttle the effort of the JUN student to open a space for multiple voices and the highhanded approach of the RSS bandwagon to muzzle the voice alternative to their Hindutwbadi nationalist narrative have generated the much-awaited vibrant debate within the educated class. But the reasoned debate which is very much essential for safeguarding and promoting democracy cannot be sustainable without linking it to our Indian past with a view to formulate a future project. In this framework, the participation of the left in this debate appear to be failing to catch the imagination of the popular psyche and leaving space open for obscurantist forces to grab. Whether the progressive or regressive characteristics of the Indian past will be reconstructed is squarely dependent on the future project envisioned in the present. “The meaning of the present is used as a key to unlock the meaning of the past leading to the present, which in its turn unlocks formerly unidentified dimensions of the present leading to the future not in the form of rigid mechanical determinations but as anticipation of aims linked to a set of inner motivations. Thus we are involved in a dialectic movement which leads from the present to the past and from the past to the future. In this movement the past is not somewhere there, in its remote finality and ‘closure’, but right “here”, “open” and situated between the present and the future.....” (Istvan Meszaros : 2013: 68)
  People are disillusioned with present state of affairs. But there cannot be any change without a radical break from the present, without a structural discontinuity. Without a conscious desire for change, a discontinuity within the framework of structural continuity may be projected as a change to misguide the collective unconscious. On this count RSS has a project of change of the state character based on religious nationalism within the crisis-ridden capitalist structure. Mutatis mutandis, left appears to be playing within the same arena without having any alternative project. When the left takes pride from their commitment to secure the idea of “Akhand Bharat”, selectively oppose the neoliberal reform agenda, do not spell out any alternative vision for the future, people find no substance in the project of secular India which is not qualitatively different than old UPA variety about which people are so disillusioned. Participating in the JNU debate, when the CPIM leader Sitaram Yechuri expressed vainglory in his Rajyasabha speech for upholding the concept of ‘Akhand Bharat’ in his JNU days, it becomes difficult to asses whether it’s their deffensive stance or a principled stand. 
The future that articulates the past
The popular perception of our past is always based on a derivative discourse. One always looks back to his past to envision a future.  It was the British who introduced communal historiography in India; this historiography is a way of looking at the historical phenomenon through the lens of religion. The RSS mastered the art of propagating our past that has been derived with the instrument of religious doctrine for a future project of a authoritarian state. Their concept of authoritarian state is projected as mythical “Ramrajya”, a change based on the Hindu Yuga division of time for popular acceptance. This historiography catches the imagination of collective unconscious when the system itself is in deep crisis in absence of a popular discourse on historiography that envisions a future from working class perspective. “It needs to be emphasised that today, for state-of-the-art historical understanding anywhere in the world where South Asia is being studied, the assumption of Savarkar or Golwlajar would appear so absurd as hardly worth refutation or debate. Irrespective of their other differences, historians of all trends, liberal, nationalist, the erstwhile ‘Cambridge’ school, Marxist of diverse kinds, late-subalterns, feminist, post-or anti-modernists --- would all agree that the essentialised assumptions of Hindus and Muslims being homogeneous, continuous blocs across time and subcontinental space, with Muslims as a community ruling Hindus in the medieval centuries, are totally unacceptabe” (Sumit Sarkar : 2004 : 254). Despite this being the fact, the RSS variant of historical interpretation are catching the imagination of the people in this neo-liberal phase of capitalism. Here we have a coincidence in time in the ideologies of ‘globalisation’ and ‘liberalisation’ with the spectacular advance of Hindutwa which requires much further explication. The spectacular advance of Hindutwa is inevitable if the assertion of oppressed caste/class and for that matter the working classs assertion against neo-liberal capitalism is not articulated with a future project. Based on this assertion of the under-previleged in the present milieu of neo-liberal policy regime, our historical past can only be articulated with a vision for future. There lies the real process for the development of ideological and material force to combat the religious bigotry and authoritarian rule. The mainstream left with a doctrinaire mindset believe that the working class is a tabula rasa and they only internalise the content in verbatim what left ideologue preaches. This mindset makes them defensive and compells them to gesticulate within the dominant world view to suppress the future. “As early as the Bernstein Debate it was clear that the opportunists had to take their stand ‘firmly on the facts’ so as to be able to ignore the general trends or else to reduce them to the status of a subjective, ethical imperative.”             (George Lukacs : 1993 : 182). Facts are to be judged in a social context, the static representation of the past in the Hindutwbadi discourse must be contested with a future project that does not invent the past but articulates it.
Democracy and Justice
One of the reason behind the rise of Aam Admi Party to power in Delhi with an overwheming majority in the midst of a countrwide Hindutwbadi wave was the popular perceived notion that the citizens would have the opportunity to participate in the governance and decision making process. On the other hand, the vote base of a section of the oppressed castes/communities adhered to their mentor Lalu Prasad Yadav despite all misdeeds because of his politics of instilling a sense of self respect and empowerment in the real life of daily mundane affairs. But this perceived notion is not sustainable if it is not transcended and institutionalised. The rapidly changing canvass of discontent in the backdrop of neo-liberal onslaought from power-that-be makes the terrain of political discourse complicated. The discourse on comparative advantage of dirigiste Nehruvian model and notional participatory democracy and justice cannot match the changing mental wavelength of the vertically and horzintally disintegrated working class and structurally remoduled castes-communities in the present phase of neo-liberal capitalism. In the context of the present, the past needs to be reconstructed as a project for the future. “B.R. Ambedkar, who chaired the drafting committee that wrote up the new Indian constitution for adoption by the Constituent Assembly shortly after Indian independence in 1947, wrote fairly extensively on the relevance, if any, of India’s ancient experiences in local democracy for the design of a large democracy for the whole of India.” (Amartya Sen 2010 : 330)
But bourgeoisie has no democratic project of its own to ensure justice and participation of all citizens in policy making, because the sole driving force and the motive of capitalism rest on ensuring profit and accumulation. The concept of bourgeois democracy is an offshoot of a compromise between bourgeoisie and working class to guarantee the capitalist hegemonic structure. As the constitutional democracy was articulated in the situation after Indian independence in 1947, it needs to be transcended in the backdrop of the here and the now.  Because the determination from the past and the anticipation of the future converging on the present, all come to life in the synthetic unity of a dialectical totalisation in which subjectivity and objectivity are inextricably fused.
A totalitarian state is a state that suppressed the interplay of state and society, extending the sphere of its exercise to the totality of collective life. This necessitates a vision of history that abuses and hates dissent. On the contrary demand for democracy is carried or concealed by the idea of new society, the elements of which are being formed in the very heart of contemporary society. The Hindutwbadi forces intends to transmit the historical facts taken out of its context with a view to stereotype the name ‘Muslim’ and for that purpose, the education needs to be confined to the deductive logic of Brahminical texts. This self destructive tendency being born in society can be combated only by the process of transmitting the universality of knowledge. It’s not a conflict between your Hindutwbadi ‘Akhand Bharat’ versus our secular ‘Akhand Bharat’. Amartya Sen in his book ‘The Idea of Justice’ emphasized that the excellent record of Athenian democracy of electoral governance had no immediate impact in the countries to the west of Greece and Rome, rather Indian    vis-à-vis the Asian cities had incorporated this democratic practice. He further opined, while Athens certainly had an excellent record in public discussion, open deliberations also flourished in several other civilisations like India. This civilisational trait of democracy finds its resonance in the post independence constitutional democracy. This constitutional democracy was formulated by the bourgeois class to accommodate all diverse interests that were unleashed during the long drawn out freedom struggle. But now in the backdrop of a deep structural crisis of global capitalism, this bourgeois class is trying to roll back the provisions of constitutional democracy which has become anathema to the neo-liberal policy drive. So, content of democracy needs to be reconstructed with a linkage to the past from a working class perspective. That demands inclusion of absolute right to dissent including the right to secede, decentralization of power to the fullest extent so that people can participate in decision making process. Furthermore, the neo-liberal policy doctrine should be opposed in letter and spirit along with an alternative economic policy framework.
German experience and Indian fascism
After careful discussion of social origin, educational background, income differentials, organizational experience, and status consciousness, J. Kocka concludes that American white-collar workers showed a much lower propensity to see themselves as a distinct class or status group superior and hostile to the working class. So while the white-collar workers turned to the Nazis in large numbers, their American counterparts joined with manual workers in support of the New Deal. (Michael N. Dobokowski & Isidor Walliman : 2003 : 75).  In addition to that, the fragmentation of petty bourgeoisie and workers were influenced by religious and ethnic differences in Germany, interventionist state emphasised the collar line and legally cemented the lines of differentiation, and stratified educational system was put in place to restrict the mobility between manual and non-manual jobs. In Germany, the political culture was in deficit in some essential ingredients of a modern bourgeois or civil society that was closely but inversely related to the strength of Germany’s pre-industrial, and pre-bourgeois traditions. In the case of white-collar workers this created much ready support for the fascists. Both Germany and Italy were societies experiencing accelerated capitalist transformation, through which entire regions were being visibly converted from predominantly rural into predominantly urban environment. The pace of social change outstripped the adaptive capabilities of the existing political institutions. In a situation of widespread political uncertainty, the existing political bloc of industrial, agrarian, and military-bureaucratic class took recourse to a new kind of radical nationalism, which stressed the primacy of national allegiances and priorities normally with heavily imperialist or social-imperialist inflection over everything else. The attraction of radical nationalism may be grasped partly from the ideology itself, which was self-confidence, optimistic, and reaffirming. It contained an aggressive belief in the authenticity of German national mission, in the unifying potential of nationalist panacea, and in the popular resonance of the national idea for the struggle against the left. Radical nationalism was a vision of the future, not of the past. The dramatic conjuncture of war and revolution between 1914 and 1923 produced a crisis, and in this time of crisis, which brought the domestic unity, foreign mission, and territorial integrity of the nation all into question, it could achieve popular appeal.
Though in many ways the present India resembles the German phenomena, there are new criteria too. The capitalism is in deep crisis, the neo-liberal policy drive has also failed to mitigate this crisis situation. After the post--independence period of uneven and combined development process and especially after the neo-liberal policy drive post eighties, the relation of production has undergone a drastic change. The pressure group of organised labour in the public sector has been dismantled to a large extent due to privatisation and contracualisation. The rapid urbanisation and conversion of the rural masses into wage labour has also reconstructed the caste/class dynamics. Now the unorganised urban and rural labour constitutes the largest chunk of workforce. The unemployment rate is growing day by day in pursuit of a neoliberal jobless growth model. In absence of a left project to address the contested terrain of popular-democratic aspirations, this working class is amenable to fall prey to the most telling political intervention of fascist right.
The alternative
The proponents of liberal secular democracy are advocating Keynesian economy, but they are confining themselves only within the demand management instead of dwelling on the most radical aspect of Keynesian economy. Keynes foresaw a stage when fiscal and monetary stimuli alone would not suffice to increase investment sufficiently. “Then a somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment will prove the only means of securing an approximation to full employment; though this need not exclude all manners of compromises and of devices by which public authority will co-operate with private initiative.” (Radhika Desai : 2013 : 60).
When the legitimacy of left politics is at its nadir, a new institutional democracy reconstructing the civilisational democratic practices and an alternative economy challenging the neo-liberal policy in to-to need to be projected from a working class perspective to address the popular-democratic aspirations. The rise of fascism can only be stalled on an oppositional unity based on this premise. The UPA variant of rainbow coalition of all oppositional forces conceptualized within the framework of neoliberal policy cannot stop the fascist juggernaut once for all.

  1. Istvan, Meszaros (2013): The Work of Satre, Search for Freedom and the Challenge of History, Delhi : Aakar Books.
  2. Sarkar, Sumit (2004): Beyond Nationalist Frames, Relocating Postmodernism, Hindutwa, History, New Delhi: Permanent Black.
  3. Lukacs, George (1993): History and Class Consciousness, Delhi : Rupa  Co.
  4. Sen Amartya (2010): The Idea of Justice, New Delhi : Penguin Books.
  5. Dobkowski, Michael N & Wallimann, Isidor, Kolkata : Cornerstone Publications.
  6. Desai, Radhika (2013): Geopolitical Economy, After US Hegemony, Globalisation and Empire, London : Pluto Press. 


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