The Left Too Fall Into The Nationalist Trap
By Saswat Pattanayak
05 March, 2016
Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest was unfortunate and so his release on bail is a great relief. But beyond that, to seek revolutionary potential in the hoopla surrounding it, is to miss the point entirely. Competing for authentic nationalism to legitimize an oppressive power structure is not what the Communists do. Quite the opposite.
Sudden excitement and pronouncement of “victory” at the news of a judge granting Kumar’s bail is a betrayal of Kashmiri peoples’ struggles, given the specific contexts of denial of antinationalism on part of these students. It is as if the left-liberals of India were hoping and praying and wishing that the judge found nothing in those tapes that were anti-India. To celebrate Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru and then to hope that nothing is spoken against Indian state is a mockery of social justice ethos. Outside of the campus too, no politician in the parliament condemned capital punishment and everyone hailed the court’s verdicts as eternally just. Their voice in unison across party line was “We will not spare whoever raised anti-India slogans, but Kanhaiya Kumar is innocent.” This eagerness to embrace court verdict to be tagged a nationalist should have appeared disappointing to comrade Kumar himself.
But what is disappointing is that the foremost student leader of the most progressive campus in the country, who personally was assaulted within court premises of Delhi by a group lawyers who received bails much before he did, holds a rally where he time and again reposes faith in the judiciary system and in the dominant interpretations of constitutional framework.
Kumar says he does not want Azaadi from India, but within India. Not from India, but from those who are exploiting India. How did he manage to so brilliantly make such distinctions is a puzzle. India as a nationalist construct belongs to the ruling class exploiters - it does not remain in vacuum. One single political party is not responsible for giving shape to India as a monstrously exploitative machinery that continues to “shine” at the expense of the teeming millions who despair. And if that is so, then the party to hoodwink people into believing in a public relations campaign for India is not the BJP, considering how comparatively new entrant it is into this oppressive domain. Comrade Kumar failed to note how this India came into being - on the murders and suicides of countless people who continue to remain in a state of destitute thanks to the capacity of Indian state to overlook their existence, not due to a few right-wing politicians alone. Instead he continued to shower praises and salutes on men in uniform at the borders while classifying them as working class. Of course they are the working class, but the ideology they safeguard is surely within the purview of a communist as well to critique - an option, that was left deliberately unexplored inside JNU that night, because of Kumar's refusal to speak of Kashmiri crisis, independent of India's crises.
If JNU protest is not about Indian state, then what was precisely the reason for organizing student assemblies on the day to commemorate Afzal Guru? Is the AISF (and CPI by extension) not aware of the collective aspirations of Kashmiri peoples? Aspirations of North-East that remain subjugated militarily? At what point the “within India” and “from India” became distinctly different notions in a freedom struggle?
Comrade Kumar knows quite well that condemning India or any other country is not about wishing ill for people who live in those territories. It is about demanding the gigantic state machinery to stop oppressions, executions, and political prosecutions of people who reside within the geographic territories that are politically demarcated to be India’s. Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest and release are within the ambit of India’s judiciary, but what about the dissenting voices from Kashmir and Nagaland and Manipur that demand fellow Indians to reject their country’s colonial overtures precisely because the same judiciary fails them?
Kanhaiya Kumar sees Modi as his rival, and not enemy - and that is totally fine. That is about political aspirations of student leaders. Let us not mistake that for some communistic engagement with issues of colonialism and imperialism. The struggle for Kashmiri people is not a struggle to be recognized as “nationalists within India”. Indeed, their struggle is defined “without”. And that is the fundamental difference which the mainstream left parties in India have failed to grasp to this day. Sadly, JNU leads this delusion from the front.
Quite evidently, the left parties do not understand or even bother to understand the slogans associated with Kashmiri liberation movement. The official communist parties that claim to represent the oppressed working class and the marginalized, unfortunately take the same imperialist high ground of ultra nationalism when it comes to Kashmir. When it is Palestine, the leftists in India are all about anti-Israel propaganda, but when it comes to Kashmir, they hide under the umbrage of constitutional frameworks and pronounce great faith in their state judiciary, and in case of Kanhaiya Kumar, they take pretense of a student mobilization against forces that want to disintegrate India. No disintegration of India - is this the new communist mantra?
But of course, the Indian leftists also have faith in the judiciary that allows Modi to remain PM while his henchmen Kodnani and Bajrangi get bails. What about the police officer who wins gallantry medals from the Constitutional Head of the country after he tortures Soni Sori with stones? There are thousands more reasons for Indians not to get all worked up about becoming nationalists. And therefore, for progressive folks, it is clearly not sufficient to just cite injustices and sing “humein chahiye azaadi” slogans from this and from that, in order to prove political correctness, if at the same time, we refuse to wear the badge of being antinationals with utmost honor.
First of all the judicial pronouncements on JNU are not worthy of celebrations. They are ultranationalist verdicts in themselves in so many ways. Secondly, so what if Arnab Goswami was telling the truth that indeed there were tapes with anti-India slogans? So fuckin what? A country works either for the people or it works against the people. And the Indian reality is that a significant population remains under the burden of Indian militarist state and to say “Down Down India” is to say “Down with Indian colonialism”, and that condemnation of Indian state is only a right thing that decent people should do anyway. If not, then why shy away from "Bharat Maata Ki Jai" slogans? Why fight with ABVP at all, if we feel ashamed to be “antinationals"? Or is it that we just want to compete with the Savarkarites in the guise of being Marxists?
Are we to simply forget AFSPA, if sedition charges are somehow dropped against all JNU students? Is this what it is all about? People have compared Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech with Nehru’s midnight hour speech, as indicative of a second freedom struggle in India. If it is indeed a freedom struggle, then it is a freedom struggle from what, exactly? Nowhere from Comrade Kumar’s speech did it appear that the freedom struggle was from the Indian state ably represented by its ruling class. Appropriating Rohith Vemula who is no more is gross and sick. Did Rohith die because he could not fight Modi? Or because he could not fight the Indian state? Do we not know the difference? And if freedom struggle should be from Indian state, then who are we to determine the fate of Kashmir vis-a-vis indestructibility of the great Indian republic? Then why all the pretense about freedom struggle? Freedom from rising costs of petrol, maybe, but making slogans about freedom from capitalism, imperialism also entail the need to be inclusive of the most marginalized. And the most marginalized population in India do not dwell inside JNU campus, and the most marginalized residents do not see in Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi their rivals, but in them they see their class enemies. Comrade Kumar surely knew this.
Being a student leader of AISF, if Comrade Kumar rivals PM Modi while looking straight at the cameras, it is his privilege if not arrogance that reveals itself. There is something macho about it too which I find uncomfortable. Sure Burkha Dutt of Kargil fame is all impressed, since Comrade Kumar’s speech sounded oh so nationalist. But misappropriating the “Azaadi” slogans from Kashmiri freedom fighters, using images of their martyrs on special occasions and then when time comes to articulate a political position, bestowing all glory upon the motherland’s judges, police dudes and parliamentary party politics and sending all sympathy waves to D Raja, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal? This is parliamentary politics at best. Not revolutionary student politics which recognize no boundaries and nationalist flags when it comes to fighting for justice.
Sure, ABVP got a beating which it deserved. But that could have been done without unnecessary glorification of JNU campus while using as ideological pawns, some of the most marginalized people militarily subjugated “within” the Indian territory crying freedom “from” Indian state excesses, who do not have any access to top constitutional lawyers to repose their faith in state judiciary and holy parliamentary books.
Azaadi from colonialism, Azaadi from militarism, Azaadi from nationalism, Azaadi from draconic laws, Azaadi from Indian annexations - that is what this freedom struggle is supposed to be about. Condemning anti-people laws passed in the parliament and in the courts of India which have nurtured the Indian state itself. Azaadi from India indeed, because for revolutionaries, it is always people above the nations.
Saswat Pattanayak is a New York-based journalist, atheist, feminist, LGBT ally, black power comrade and academic non-elite.