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Left-liberals don’t really understand right-wing populism

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By Ajaz Ashraf

India’s left-liberals fume in indignation against right-wing populism, of which the most consummate practitioner is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet, their righteous fury has not enabled them to craft a credible narrative against the Right. Their failing is largely because they are not even listening to what the Right is saying and are unable, therefore, to fathom its attraction.

This is an observation made by political scientist Ajay Gudavarthy in India After Modi: Populism and the Right. The Jawaharlal Nehru University associate professor’s book, published in November, is arguably the first theoretical study of right-wing populism in India from within the left-liberal intellectual tradition.

 

The Right’s rise is reflected in the dramatic changes in India’s political discourse since its economy was liberalised and fastened, as never before, to the global economy. For one, the idea of equality has given way to that of relative mobility, a term describing improvement in the economic position of social groups. This shift has decreased the salience of class struggle in the political discourse.

For the other, the distinction between the Right and Left has been replaced by that between “us” and “them”. This is a feature common to both India and the United States, which are witnessing the triumphant march of populism.

Who constitutes “us” has been best described by American political scientist Jan-Werner Muller, author of What Is Populism? He writes:

“Populism… is a particular moralistic imagination of politics, a way of perceiving the political world which places in opposition a morally pure and fully unified people against small minorities, elites in particular, who are placed outside the authentic people.”

Muller’s definition is applicable to India as well, except that a unified people here implies uniting Hindus across caste and linguistic divides. Muslims and Christians cannot constitute the core of authentic people as they are culturally apart from Hindus. This has always been the quintessential Hindutva brew for the creation of the Hindu Rashtra.

Under Modi, though, the old Hindutva brew has acquired a new headiness because he has added a dash of populism to it. His regime has, to quote Gudavarthy, “appropriated the language of the subaltern and projected itself as essentially an anti-elitist political force”. The project of unifying Hindus has acquired a zip as it has also acquired the goal of displacing or reforming powerful elites.

Gudavarthy lists some of those whom Hindutva considers elites: the urban middle classes, English-speaking professionals, including left-liberals, those with a pedigree, and those who are corrupt due to the social network they have built. It is them the morally pure, unified Hindus must root out to cleanse and strengthen the nation. The left-liberal may think the conflict is illustrative of false consciousness, but it is in fact a manifestation, Gudavarthy says, of India passing through a unique historical moment.

On the one hand, the ideas of equality, dignity, recognition and representation have seeped deep into society. On the other, there is an explosion of aspirations because of neoliberal policies, which has also speeded up the process of individuation and loosened community bonds. Insecurity has gripped Indians because jobs have become insecure, and the phenomenon of jobless growth has made the future seem perilous.

The social schizophrenia has produced Hindus who “feel like subalterns and think like elites”. They comprise what Gudavarthy calls mezzanine elites or those who belong to castes such as Patidar, Maratha, Jat and Kapu as well as the poor among the upper castes. Their declining economic power is not in consonance with their traditional high social status. They are dismayed that the lower castes have taken advantage of reservation to catch up to them.

It is to their hurt pride the Bharatiya Janata Party appeals to bring them into the Hindutva fold. Promises of granting them reservation have been made – and attempted. Their anger and anxiety have been channelised into street mobilisation and violence. Gudavarthy asks, “What is the political agenda for the dominant castes in decline by the left-progressives, except to dismiss these anxieties as signs of backwardness and symbols of feudal remnants?”

Even more tellingly, the Sangh has fragmented the Other Backward Classes and Dalits and glued the fragments to Hindutva. These are social fragments who have not gained representation from parties anchored in the Other Backward Classes and Dalits. The Hindu Right has fielded them in elections and provided them a share in power.
“Fragmentation provided them representation, while fraternity [as part of the unified Hindu community] has provided them recognition,” writes Gudavarthy. “One is a Dalit to gain representation but a Hindu to gain recognition.”

By contrast, the left-liberals believe in sharpening class and caste antagonisms to usher in social change. That such a strategy does not universally appeal to subalterns was underscored by Gudavarthy in a survey he conducted among Dalits of right-wing student bodies in Osmania University, Hyderabad, and Telangana University, Nizamabad. The Dalit students said they felt empowered at not being recognised by their caste and being included in the larger Hindu community.

They also complained that left-wing and Dalit student bodies demand that they must always wear their “caste on their sleeves”. That even though there exists caste antagonism in villages, Dalits face the compulsion of living together with others. Pragmatism has them opt for a non-disruptive change.

Gudavarthy writes, “The [Left’s] idea that differences need to be positively politicised… is a legitimate method, but it should also be recognised that undermining differences in the name of a larger collective, community, and fraternity also holds its own promise.” In other words, the left-liberals need to put as much emphasis on fraternity as they do on liberty and equality.

Right-wing politics has bruised universities, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. The Sangh’s undeniable goal is to control production of knowledge and stifle independent thinking and dissent. Yet, its tactics have an echo among cultural subalterns, a term Gudavarthy has coined to describe those who are distanced from modernity and do not inhabit institutions that require proficiency in English.

It is to secure the consent of cultural subalterns to, in turn, control Jawaharlal Nehru University that the Sangh has projected it as a hub of elites, whose privileges have them adopt a libertine lifestyle and subscribe to anti-nationalist ideas. In this sense, the university becomes the symbolic battlefield for “us” and “them” to slug it out.

Gudavarthy, therefore, advises, “The progressives on and outside the campus need to think about how to reach out and include those at the margins of the educational system, who have remained mediocre, inferior, and therefore anxious to control the system and make it an assemblage of disciplinarian methods.”

In this regard, Gudavarthy refers to the ongoing controversy over the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration’s decision that students must have 75% attendance before they can sit for examinations. The fiat reflects the Right’s idea of education, characterised by discipline, standardisation and a pedagogy that focuses on supplying information without encouraging students to question it.

But a pushback against the imposition of mediocrity cannot also blind the left-liberals to the plummeting standards of universities. Gudavarthy cites his own experience of Jawaharlal Nehru University – a sharp decline in the quality of dissertations of PhD students, theses that are often deemed unfit for publication, inspiration for research proposals that stems from prime-time news. Worse, the university’s enviable reputation has made its students pretentious.

Compulsory attendance is not likely to arrest the university’s academic decline. The administration has not chosen to thrash out the issue with protesting students. Why would it? After all, as Gudavarthy says, “much of the larger society would also fail to make sense of this protest as being anything other than a protest to preserve a privileged unaccountable lifestyle. Even most parents of the students might view it as a self-goal…”

The Right’s attempt to subvert universities is part of the larger story of inaccessible, increasingly dysfunctional institutions. This phenomenon has spawned the desire for a strongman who is decisive, resolute and honest. These are precisely the traits Modi has been projected to posses. The strongman is viewed to have the capacity to reform institutions by making the elites manning them accountable to people.

This social psychology legitimises the recourse to extra-institutional methods, which has been India’s story for over four years. It justifies the curbs on media freedom and independence of the judiciary, encounter killings, the violence of cow protectionists, and tax raids on political rivals. The leader’s intolerance is accepted because he is intolerant of the depraved elites who are the bane of the authentic people.

The left-liberals justifiably howl at the erosion of autonomy of institutions. This produces it own irony. Gudavarthy writes, “The left-liberals get cornered into further justifying the same institutions that are dysfunctional – institutions that they were themselves critical of not being responsive and decaying internally.”
It is possible the Right might be vanquished in the Assembly elections in five states, results for which will be out on December 11, or in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But this ought not to be taken as incontrovertible proof of right-wing populism’s sheen dimming. This is because populism succeeds as a result of a nation’s social psychology, which the left-liberal rarely takes into account, preferring instead to regurgitate old ideas to build a counter-narrative to the Right.


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Opinion

Some baffling decisions of the SC

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By Manini Chatterjee

Of the three pillars of the state, the judiciary has always evoked much greater respect from ordinary citizens than either the legislature or the executive. Since the legislature comprises elected representatives of the people, we — the people who elect them — feel justly entitled to criticize them at will. The executive, similarly, is more often pilloried than praised when it fails to deliver on its many promises.

The judiciary, on the other hand, has usually been treated as a hallowed institution. Judges, unlike politicians, are seen not only as wise but also possessed of thinner skins. The fear of being hauled up for contempt of court (what construes contempt remains a mystery to most of us) acts as a deterrent to commenting on the judiciary.

 

But that silence was broken last year. And not by an irreverent media or crusading activists or outspoken lawmakers. It was members of the highest judiciary who dealt the blow, coming out with home truths whose reverberations have yet to subside.

On January 12, 2018, the then four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court — J. Chelameswar, RanjanGogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — held an unprecedented press conference in the capital. In the course of the press conference, they revealed the letters they had written to the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, questioning his style of administration and the manner in which he allocated cases to difference benches of the court. Expressing dismay at the CJI’s refusal to address their grievances, they said, “Unless the institution of Supreme Court is preserved, democracy won’t survive in the country.”

That press conference, which alluded to government interference in the workings of the court, was not a one-off affair. Soon after, in separate letters to the CJI, J. Chelameswar and Kurian Joseph expressed concerns about the judiciary’s independence in face of the executive’s encroachment.

But what made waves in circles well beyond the judiciary was RanjanGogoi’s speech on July 12 to a packed auditorium in Delhi.Delivering the RamnathGoenka memorial lecture, Gogoi spoke at length on the “Vision of Justice” and the role of the judiciary in upholding constitutional ideals.

In the course of the lecture, he quoted an article from the Economist which said, “…independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence.” Gogoi went on to say, “I agree but will only suggest a slight modification in today’s context — not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges.” Those words made headlines then and have been quoted frequently since.

Pointing out that the judiciary had been endowed with great societal trust, he said, “This very fact gives it its credibility and this very credibility gives it its legitimacy… I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated. And, independent. And, fierce. And, at all times. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So is an institution.”

Gogoi’s speech was remarkable because he was in line to be the next Chief Justice. In fact, many feared that he had risked his career with that speech and the government might not elevate him to the post of the CJI after Dipak Misra retired.

Those fears were belied. Gogoi became the Chief Justice of India in early October. But, truth be told, hopes that a feisty judiciary would force more transparency on opaque and questionable executive decisions have also remained unfulfilled.

Some of the Supreme Court’s decisions, such as in the case relating to the removal of the Central Bureau of Investigation chief, has left even retired judges puzzled.

On October 23, the government conducted a midnight raid on the headquarters of the CBI and seized a whole lot of material related to pending investigations. It then summarily removed the CBI chief, AlokVerma, from his post. Since Verma had been appointed by a three-member selection committee (comprising the prime minister, the leader of the largest Opposition party and the CJI), he contended that only that committee could remove him — and not the central vigilance commissioner. Verma moved the Supreme Court with alacrity against his arbitrary removal.

The apex court chose not to adjudicate on the removal. Instead, it appointed a retired Supreme Court judge, A.K. Patnaik, to supervise a CVC probe into the allegations of corruption levelled against Verma by his bête noire, the then CBI special director, Rakesh Asthana. It directed the probe be completed within two weeks. The three-judge bench of Gogoi, Sanjay KishanKaul, and K.M. Joseph passed no strictures against the manner in which the raids were conducted by the government nor asked why and what materials had been seized.

Although the probe was completed in two weeks and the report presented to the court, it was not till January 8 that the judges delivered their verdict. On the face of it, the verdict was a victory for Verma. It said that only the three-member selection committee could transfer or divest Verma of his powers, and not the CVC or the Centre.

Again, puzzlingly, it passed no strictures against the government for removing him in the manner it did. Instead, it asked the selection committee to go through the contents of the CVC probe report and decide in a week whether Verma should be exonerated or indicted.

The government convened a meeting the very next day and less than 48 hours after he was reinstated as CBI chief, Verma was once again given marching orders. The CJI had recused himself from the panel, and appointed the judge, A.K. Sikri in his stead. Sikri and the prime minister, Narendra Modi, voted to remove Verma while MallikarjunKharge dissented.

What followed has been extremely unflattering for the apex court. A.K. Patnaik, the judge who had supervised the CVC probe, told The Indian Express that “[t]here was no evidence against Verma regarding corruption”, that the decision to remove him was “very very hasty”, and that the committee “should have applied their mind thoroughly, especially as a Supreme Court judge was there.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, two highly respected former Chief Justices of India also expressed misgivings on the way the committee took the decision without giving Verma a chance to present his side of the case. Former CJI, T.S. Thakur, underlined that if a decision was being taken on the basis of an adverse report against an individual, that individual must be given an opportunity to present his point of view. “If that process has not been followed… then any decision based on such adverse findings will be contrary to the principles of natural justice.”

Another former CJI, R.M. Lodha, said much the same thing: “He (Verma) needs to be heard. Ordinarily, he should be heard. Principles of natural justice deserved to be followed.”

In other words, the Supreme Court’s failure to explicitly state that Verma should be given a hearing violated the principles of natural justice.

Similarly, a CJI-headed bench’s verdict on the Rafale deal has also raised eyebrows. While the government, understandably, has hailed the verdict as a “clean chit”, the detailed review petition filed by ArunShourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan points out how the “the government has blatantly misled the Hon’ble Court and the Hon’ble Court has grossly erred in placing reliance on false averments in the note not even supported by an affidavit.” In layman’s language, it questions the touching faith the apex court placed in the assertions of the government in spite of evidence to the contrary.

The Supreme Court collegium’s decision to appoint two judges to the apex court after retracting an earlier selection of two other judges is the latest controversy to hit the judiciary.

The CJI, reportedly, is “very upset” over the “media leaks” on the collegium’s functioning. Last week, he also advised the advocate, Prashant Bhushan — who wanted the government to disclose the names shortlisted by the search committee for the post of Lokpal — not to “look at things from a negative point of view” and to “be positive” instead.

That is fine advice from a spiritual guru. But advocating such a course in today’s India can also be construed as unquestioning faith in a majoritarian government’s intents and actions. The apex court has baffled us on many counts in the last few months. But that someone who spoke in praise of noisy judges and independent journalists should now worry about adverse media reports and negative attitudes to the government is, perhaps, the most bewildering of them all…

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Opinion

Growing menace of corruption

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By Tawfeeq Irshad Mir

“One who listens to truth is not less than one who utters the truth”

With glued memories of my infantile period, hardly I could retrieve the surroundings and the events happening around, Brought up in a very small village “Goripora” in Sopore town of Kashmir, a village with meticulous presence, conscious, a mixture of intellect and a think tank of its own, whenever I revert my memory lane through times, I find myself in the nap of my grandfather, an image of an old man enveloped in “chadar” yet young by mind, he was the then head of village, people of all ages enjoyed his presence, igniting the debate pertaining to different issues, being the head of the village, so mostly revenue matters were discussed and the consistent content of all debates used to be “corruption” the word that recurrently vibrated my neurons and propelled me as to what is this corruption all about, initial understanding was like this, “to get your work down, have a chicken to please” and sometimes “the person inflated the pocket to get the work down” in common Kashmiri language, you might have encountered the word most frequently “channel, like the person has channel,designated to corruption. As being in rural area, the incentives for corruption used to be” chicken “an apple box” sometimes red beans “probably due to lack of money as people used to exchange their daily needs rather than money. As I grew up, exposed myself to the environment, what I found was interesting, now an updated version of corruption :every now, people discussing the scourge of corruption, as like a curse, preferably in revenue department, to have an income certificate, an amount of 2 to 3 hundred rupees was a prerequisite, with the time I found people paying huge amounts to get their land acquisitions settled, even to get a driving licence, driving skill hardly mattered, as the time passed by, now the word “corruption” was a constant encrypted into the minds of people, a peculiar picture of engulfing in corruption was most obvious from electricity department, then it was not digitalized, the new house holder enjoyed the bless even without registration by simply paying a meagre amount to officials in the department. “Not a single institution is prone to corruption” but it’s deleterious effects on education and recruitment system “has perturb and monstrous consequences. As I observed during the years, it was evident during the board exams, every one among us might have witnessed the special privilege being offered to some students in the examination Hall, a corruption of intimate level, eventually with the enlightenment of newspapers, social media, the youth Began to lay their repercussions on corruption pertaining to selection process whether it be for further education or selection of job process, like the ‘x’ person got selected because the said person had paid a huge amount for it, it swept the general consensus of youth, dredging them to denial resorting to premature statements that “now this education is futile as you won’t get any things unless you don’t have enough money, there is no place for poor fellows, we can’t continue with this” and the consequence was such that many talented ones dredged in drug dependency, heralding their further education.

 

Here I am talking about corruption on the local level, attached to the ground where I am the self-observant of this scourge, many a times I have been a part of discussions locally regarding this remorse, but in an alienated elite.

Social networking sites are filled with tons of data regarding corruption, gallons of ink have been spent on news papers to reflect this horror, while everyone apparently and seemingly attacking the subsequent political discourse and the concerned administrative systems,

“I have a virtual opinion, I believe, “every human being has encoded traits, and has a natural tendency to express these traits, both positive and negative as like in all other animals, but the best thing about humans is to differentiate between right and wrong and the ability to direct their energies toward humanity, that’s why called humans, but one’s the person is exacerbated by materialistic influence, the person tends to express the negative trait to fulfil the Ill designed desires, and simply the person who endorses or resorts to such mischievous act of corruption, the person is engulfed my this wild trait “
Now what astonishes me the most,” while everyone seemingly denigrates this scourge, then who supports it, I mean everyone is raising in objection to it, then who constitutes to the corruption.

I would like to prove my content with objective analysis, suppose I am the person, and I am asked to give some amount to secure a place in any govt. department, despite irrelevant educational qualifications and out of any fearful selection procedure, now it’s all about me, would I agree or not, so surely the moment I am in such a position, I will surely opt for it, likewise I believe every single person on the planet not only in the valley, will opt the same, I jus made an analogy and it almost pertains to every aspect. So literally, I mean to say that corruption is from within, not a system is corrupted, in fact the people with this thinking make the system corrupt and that’s how it seems that the whole system is overwhelmed with corruption, it is engrained in the minds of people, “the humans have rbcs, wbcs, and platelets in blood, but I suspect we have one more” corruption cell “in our blood and we have genes encoded with it dominantly.

” We have to deter this menace from within, the moment we object to this greed, it needs to be abolished from within, sanitising the systems won’t yield any results, because it’s already ingrained in the minds of people, so we have to interpret and analyse and suppress this wild trait only then we will get rid of this wild menace infesting our spirituality, ethos”

(The writer is pursuing graduation in Nursing at G M C, Srinagar and can be reached at: [email protected])

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Why the JNU story won’t die

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By Rakesh Batabyal

Not too long ago in the history of the Republic — 1974 to be precise — a large body of students entered the lobby, and later the room of Vice-Chancellor G Parthasarathy, the founding head of Jawaharlal Nehru University, a man charged with the setting up of a world-class university, and announced that they were gheraoing him. They wanted the barriers of gender separating the girls’ and boys’ hostels to be done away with, as it smacked of a feudal society based on patriarchy. They were expressing the most progressive ideas agitating the young mind — the gendered barricades encompassing society. Parthasarathy, who had interacted with the most powerful people in the world, found this group of students, many of whom did not even speak English (the language of the diplomatic elite that he was familiar with), more powerful than all who had come before — they were students, yet their demands were not for their own interests, nor even for something euphemistically called national interest. They were protesting for something which in their minds they thought would make society better all-in-all. He did not ask for the police, did not chide them, neither was he demurred — he talked to them about social, bureaucratic and other miscellaneous issues that would not permit such a great idea to be immediately pursued in a traditional society; it would in fact be harmed through the vicious constrictions of traditional society. Its time would come, though, one fine day, and then the society would remember the pioneers — those JNU students. Such was the spirit embodied in the foundation of the university that is JNU. There are many other instances that reinforced these values and established the spirit of dissent and dialogue that became the signature of this great institution.

In the mid-1980s, a Dean of Students introduced a register for women students/ guests entering the men’s hostel, where the purpose of visit was to be recorded. Many uncharitable remarks made the administration understand its own lack of practical wisdom, and this rule was never strictly enforced.

 

Then, in the late 1980s, an ever-watchful body of students discovered that a senior official was drawing salary from two sources. In the pre-RTI age, they made efforts to get at the source. The Vice-Chancellor, a stickler for rules, had to disown the officer; at no point was a student either issued a show-cause notice or shown the door.

In the early 1990s, students wanted to strike against the administration and they were sitting on a hunger strike when the Vice-Chancellor himself joined them in the strike, saying this was his cause too. Professor Yoginder K Alagh, the Vice-Chancellor, was no mean scholar and knew that the students were not demanding something out of the world.

Thus, through such acts, the young were indicating the new and emerging mores, which led to the university not being ossified. Teachers had their individual political and intellectual predilections and students too had their own, but one saw the campus, like the nation, carry on with the variety and colour of these differences.
There were shouts and slogans to drown the other, but they were more a demonstration of intellectual prowess than threats to physically eliminate the other. When the State imposed Emergency in 1975, JNU students became part of street agitations. Their refusal to allow then prime minister Indira Gandhi into the campus is the stuff of legends.

The story of an institution is a story of shared memories and shared ideals. JNU, as it has grown in the last 50 years, is one such great story. Within this story lay millions of small lives and their careers as they have woven the narrative of this country in the last half century.

A university reflects the character of a nation: its moral self, its confidence and its resolve to face the world. When we sat at the table in our hostel mess, when we all talked about our larger vision and smaller plans — about fighting the capital and its sway, our resolve to finish off shades of Apartheid or the discriminating caste hierarchies — we were speaking of the society and for a future society. The shared memories of those talks, of the politics that gave us the language to express those visions and plans, are small stories in the big world.

As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is these shared memories of the collective self that will keep the beauty of the institution intact. All that is beautiful needs to be cherished and the memories are those beautiful things that direct us towards a great future. It is unfortunate that those who do not cherish the memory and what JNU stands for, are at the helm of affairs today. But memories fortunately cannot be killed, only repressed in some circles.

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