Role Of The Left In Punjab
By Jaspal Singh Sidhu
06 Janaury, 2013
It is hardly a matter of debate. It is known to every politically awakened person that the Left has got marginalized in Punjab. The political decline the Left suffered in Punjab, however, can not be taken up as an isolated development, divorced from the all-India phenomenon. In fact, the Left in Punjab is not only closely associated with activities of the Left all over the country but it has also been impacted by the state of International communism and efficacy of Left movements world over. While acknowledging all these facts, this write-up is focused on role of the Left in Punjab for the sake of better understanding. And attempt is being made to analyze the positions taken up by the Left in Punjab when the state underwent cataclysmic developments from late 1970s to early 1990s. Practically, in no other part of the country, positions of the Left have been put to such a hard test as in Punjab, particularly during the troubled period.
The crux of the matter is that, the political positions of the Left --broadly covering the CPI, CPI (M) to various factions of CPI-ML-- did not differ much from those of the Congress, BJP and other bourgeois parties. Politics pursued and implemented by the Indian State and continuing till the date could be summed up as “crush to the pulp with use of force every sort of people’s ( or a section of people’s) dissent that threatens the Indian Nationalism or concept of –Indian Nation State’. Ultra-nationalism of this variety was kicked up to a crescendo and was clothed in ‘sanctimonious religious” clothing by infusion of unadulterated Hindu myths and illusory tales. A large part of the Left rode on to the ‘Indian Unity’ bandwagon and lent intellectual, moral and political support whenever it was required by the ruling elite. In Punjab, the Sikhs dissent was propagated as ‘separatism’ and threat to Unity and Integrity of the county. The Left acquiesced to the ruling elite’s diagnosis of the Sikh dissent or the Punjab problem. And the Left joined hands with the state in decimating the Sikh dissent which was deliberately projected as the one inspired from across the international border. This contrived tilt, no doubt, consolidated Hindu religious and the majority’s communal backing behind the repression unleashed by the state.
The Left hardly attempted to challenge the Congress’s orchestrated propaganda that it had brought independence for the country and Muslim League played a foul game of dividing the country. It failed to expose Congress of its adoption of Hindu ethos and practice with advent of Gandhi on the scene in 1920s. And the Hinduized Congress left no space for accommodating the Indian Muslims, thereby, it became the root cause of Partition. Just after ‘transfer of power’ by the British, Congress began its political journey in the free country with undertaking of repair of Somnath Temple officially with the use government funds for that purpose. Thus, with the repairing of Somnath Temple, vandalized by Mehmud Ghaznavi, a Muslim invader one thousand years ago, Congress reaffirmed its pro-Hindu ethos and dispensation and concertized the Indian citizens ‘Hate’ against the Muslims. Despite all that, the Left continued to visualize and even find the presence of secular elements in Congress.
The Left’s political positioning in Punjab during the troubled period, no doubt, marginalized them fastest than they experienced in any other parts of the country. Even, after the Sikh militancy was stamped out with the state’s brutal might in 1993- two decades ago- the Left is nowhere near its resurrection. The Left seemed to have rarely attempted to review its position even with regard to ‘Indian National Unity’, which has been raised to a parallel of ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
It is fairy known and admitted privately by the activists of Left parties that the chances of them regaining earlier strength and respectability are bleak. And, the political parties engaged in electoral power politics go to extend of dismissing the Left as a ‘spent force’. But it is a matter of serious discussion how the Left’s perception on ‘Indian National Unity’ and ‘Indian Nationalism’ got nearly synchronized with those of Congress and BJP? Hailing of India as growing Strong Nation-State with potential of becoming a leading Super Power of the world are offshoots of Indian Nationalism project. How come the Left, too, got sucked into the well-knit nationalistic propaganda continuing since Nehru-Patel days and which has been overshadowing the attempts for establishing social equality and probity in public life? Or as an outstanding Marxist scholar and historian Perry Anderson observes that the Left in India (relating to Punjab) has internalized the hegemonic version of Indian sub-continent’s mythical past , propagation of ‘India’s unity as stretching back to 6000 years’. And they had ignored the Gandhi’s injection of the religion in independence movement which had rendered Congress virtually ‘ a Hindu party’, thereby, paving a way for Partition and sustenance of hierarchical ignoble caste system and sustaining of a communalized polity of the Indian sub-continent even after 1947.
Less said is better about the role played by CPI leader Jagjit Singh Anand and his ilk who had happily become tools of the state repressive machinery in Punjab. And former CPI(M) general secretary Harkrishan Singh Surjit patronized KPS Gill’s and lent a helping hand to the latter in butchering the Sikh youth. These both parties dittoed the Hindutava-inspired political line pursued by the Congress and BJP in Punjab.
Activists from other communist outfits though dub the CPI and CPI(M) as ‘revisionist’ parties, but chose ‘bullet for bullet’ political line vis-à-vis ‘Sikh militants thereby bucked up the state repression in Punjab. Their vocal opposition to the Sikh struggle and astounding silence towards the government policies at the same time clearly go to affirm their unflinching support the Indian Nationalism- a cocktail of Hindu religious myths and distorted historical facts.
Anyway, it is astonishing that communist leaders are never heard of talking about and never they penned down the Hyderabad massacre of Muslims in 1949 as they are proudly referring to the Telagana armed revolt led by the communists during the same period and in the close vicinity of Nizam’s princely state capital- Hyderabad city. One wonders whether underground communist fighters did not take note of communal killings unleashed against the Muslim minority in Hyderabad after Army action there. No Indian intellectual or historian dared to pen down that massacre which Perry Anderson and Willium Dalrymple have described as more bloody and brutal one than that of the killings of November 1984 in Delhi, 1993 Mumbia riots and Gujarat pogrom of 2002. The inquiry report of the officially instituted Sunderlal commission on the Hyderabad massacre, rape and mayhem has not seen the light of the day till date (Swaminathan’s Sunday column in Times of India November, 2012 which described the Hyderabad killings as touching 2 lakh figure). Interestingly, despite all communal killings on the record, Indian state is still being projected as ‘secular’ one in comparison to neighborly Pakistan.
With least practical work on the ground, the Left ideologues in Punjab are busy rebutting all attempts being made to understand ‘why Indian State manipulated the Punjab developments and resorted to brutalities on the Sikhs’? And why New Delhi never tried to resolve the issue within the democratic parameters? Interestingly, the Left ideologues express their strongest aversion against those who attempt to analyze New Delhi’s handling of the Punjab situation as “ an manifestation of ‘Brahminical hegemony and religious tyranny against a minority which dared disturb ‘Indian Nation Building’ project”.
To voice their staunch opposition (not just disagreement) they organized a seminar at Ludhiana on May 6 (2012) to ‘rebut’ Ajmer’s contention in his three books that “the Punjab bloodshed was a communal aggression of the Indian state on the Sikh minority”. Left thinkers hold Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale and his men (euphemistically described as fountain of Sikh fundamentalism) solely responsible for the trouble. And they go to the extent of saying that the whole trouble that resulted in killings of thousands of innocents and large scale humiliation of the womenfolk in Punjab and outside was instigated by the ‘Bhinderanwale desperadoes who had themselves invited the bloodshed’. Thus, these people in their wisdom exonerate the Indian State and the then ruling Congress led by Indira Gandhi of all those excesses. Some of them go to the extent of saying that "the Indian State was (is) capable of doing much more than what it did in 1980s particularly....... the Indian rulers had acted with some restraint despite enormous provoking by the gun-toting Sikhs". They justify their contention by profusely quoting historical events pertaining to the elimination of a million of Armenians by Turks and genocide of Jews in Holocaust so on --so forth. These Left thinkers could rarely digest such political diagnosis which says “ Indian State rulers had played a 'Hindu Card' and pampered the majority infusing and feeding it with ultra-nationalist slogans of ‘Jai Bharat Mata’ and used the police-military apparatus to suppress minorities and Sikhs particularly during 1980s”.
After more than two decades, these Left thinkers have not budge an inch from their earlier political position which subordinated Marxist ideology to the mandatory requirement of retaining the 'Unity and Integrity of country' at cost of whole-sale suppression and repression on a community. How could they justify in the name of Marxism that land mass of Indian sub-continent is more sanctimonious than the freedom of a MAN inhibiting that area. The MAN (Human beings) with all his/her historical and cultural moorings should be the centre of politics for the Left and not the unity of the Indian sub-continent which, because of political expediencies, has already been divided into three pieces. Ironically each of these territories are now claiming a 'Nation-State'. Now, there are three Nation-States- India, Pakistan and Bangladesh-- are housed in the Indian sub-continent which could have retained as an undivided state and could have avoided blood spilling of 1947 if , as Perry Anderson observes , the Congress had not allowed itself to become a Hindu party. Indian sub-continent is, in fact, composed of a number of 'nationalities' each having been evolved as a distinct political, cultural and historical entity and had distinct standings for centuries. Anyhow, the British integrated them as one administrative unit not using much of force but by manipulating and putting one diverse entity against the other. Eminent historian B.B Mishra says ‘Indians had themselves captured the Indian territory for the British whose presence had never been more than one person to 736 Indians at any point of time’. And it is known fact, that amalgamated Indian unit’s power was transferred by the British at their convenience to their lackeys created and propped up for the purpose as political outfits - Congress and Muslim League. Thus, the British colonizers had left the country not only at their own terms and but also by posing themselves as ‘benefactor’ of the Indian people. Contrary to the general perception studiously built and spread by the ruling elite, the British, as Perry Anderson underlines, were rather reluctant to divide the sub-continent in two pieces because they wanted to keep India as a bigger state of sub-continent expanse. The British Empire’s assessment was that the neighborly Soviet Union could easily gobble up the smaller countries but it would find hard to mould and influence a bigger country to its liking. But, Congress’s adamancy against accommodating Muslim League ignoring the latter’s overtures in 1930s, hardened Jinnah’s obduracy and spoilt the British attempts of keeping India as one unit through the implementation of the Cabinet Mission plan. If the British had felt otherwise, they could have divided the Indian sub-continent into several pieces as the imperialist forces did dismembering the African continent into many parts and creating several rulers in the Arabic world.
So, in the above context, what sanctity could be attached to the land mass called India except subscribing to the Indian elite notion of upholding India as a Nation-State based on the Hindu nationalism. The 18th century concept of Nation-State suits the Indian Big Corporate Houses-- Reliance, Tata et al who have a large economic unit called India at their disposal to plunder its resources through the willing and submissive the State establishment and paddlers--- politicians and bureaucratic machinery. Interestingly, those who do not subscribe to such Nationalistic approach, they are being branded as "Separatists ... Khalistanis ....so on".
The Left thinkers conveniently ignore the fact, their nationalistic standing is nothing else but corroboration of political positioning of Congress- BJP (Arya Samaj version). Ultra-nationalism laced with religious pandering and invoking of ‘Great Golden Vedic Era’ is nothing but a 18th century construct of European intellectuals like Max Muller. In fact, the nationalistic positioning of a bigger section of the Left, inadvertently or otherwise, has lent support to Hindutava and upheld the Verna-Ashram, the wretched Indian caste system, since days of S.A Dange, the founder member of the Communist Part of India. Arundhati Roy is right in saying that "despite all the rhetoric about working class solidarity that CPI did not find objectionable that ‘untouchables’ were kept out of the weaving department because the work involved using of saliva on threads, which other classes considered 'polluting’. On this issue, Ambedkar got disillusioned with the Communists and felled out with Dange during textile workers strike in Bombay in 1928. Thus the great majority of Dalits, the backbone of the Indian working class left in lurch or left them for deliverance and dignity to the constitutionalist approach". She further says " The shame as well as a large part of blame for the turn of events goes to India's communist movement whose leaders continue to be predominantly upper caste--- for years it has been tried to force fit the idea of caste into Marxist class analysis, it has failed miserably in theory as well as in practice". A section of the Left who have been supporting the notion of strong Indian nation should realize that their approach is not different from that of pandering of Brahmanism and unpronounced political positioning of the Indian elite which made Jawahar Lal Nehru, an English educated Congress leader to prefix 'Pandit' before his name. Pandit Nehru soft-peddled 'Hindutva' in uniting and subordinating a larger land mass under the India elite rulers by deftly using elections and democracy as a convenient tool for perpetuating the Brahimnical hegemony that kept the caste-system and the Hindu nationalism intact . Rather caste-system and religion-soaked ultra-nationalism have lent much required legitimacy to the Indian version of ‘dynastic democracy’ found nowhere in the world.
As noted young historian Ananya Vajpeyi has written,”what Armed Forces Special Powers Act (other such black laws) effectively does is, to create an entirely separate state within India, a sort of second and ‘shadow nation’ that functions as a MILITARY STATE rather than an electoral democracy and only remains hidden because it is not, at least so far, officially ruled by a general or a dictator”. There lies the difference between India and Pakistan –a difference of nuances in administering iron hand policies. This ‘shadow nation’ has always been in operation in the post-Independent India when there has been a case of dissent involving minorities- Sikhs, Christians of north-eastern states and Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian nationalism has, thus, got itself identified with Brahmanical caste system mainly of Vaisnavite Hindu mythological genre. Historically, the Sikhs emerged from lower castes and down-trodden strata of the Indian society, therefore, class and caste mix worked against them.
In fact, as Arundhati Roy points out that Marxist class struggle never practiced as it should have been in India that is why the Left movement could not advance in the country. Yes, a façade of 'class struggle' was always maintained even by the CPI and CPI(M) despite their participation in elections and power politics. In the case of Punjab and for that matter the Sikhs, the Left ideologues always oppose the Sikh struggle in the name of opposing 'Identity Politics' which, according to them, is anti-Marxist and is a negation of ''class struggle". Have they ever realized that their support to the Indian Nationalism is nothing but lending support to the ‘Hindu Identity Politics’. Could the present popular brand of Indian Nationalism as espoused by the ruling elite be sustained without heady cocktail of Hindu religious and mythical trappings? Have they ever realized that their opposition to the Sikh struggle directly take them to the known political position of BJP and its ilk?
Theoretically, the class struggle is ideal as propounded by Marx at the turn of 19th century when he visualized that 'communist revolution' would take place in the industrialized Europe first. But it did not happen, rather, revolutions took place in Soviet Union and China having non-industrialized and backward agriculture based societies. To sum up, the world has now changed to such an extent that 'class struggle' in strict Marxian sense is not seen taking place anywhere rather the world is rife with "identity based struggles". Hence, turning a blind eye to Indian state excesses, accepting that those who pursued identity struggle squarely deserved to be shabbily treated, can not be justified at all. If the Sikh struggle was identity politics which, according to them, cannot produce or herald social and economic justice, how Indian nationalism or Indian nation state which too is an Identity Politics (for a bigger Indian majority) could bring about social and economic equality? Why they never tired of supporting the Indian unity and integrity? And why a large section of the Left is mum on the Indian State sponsored butchery and killing. If they are not vocal against the Blue Star Operation and Army rule in Punjab then they, end up supporting the Sikh genocide in November 1984 in Delhi and in other Indian cities because they take the anti-Sikh riots as natural corollary of what Bhinderanwale and his men did.
That section of the Left, particularly those in Punjab are not open-minded and are dogmatic in their approach towards Marxism. But, it is strange enough that Left thinkers in Delhi and other parts of country are ready to debate on the ‘nationality issue’ and identity politics spectrum.
So, it looks like that their opposition to the Sikh struggle is emanating from their ingraining of Indian Nationalism as an ideological plank and wittingly or unwittingly accepting of the hegemony of the ideology of the Indian state that made them internalize Indian Unity narrative. But they should remember words of Perry Anderson that the “fundamental reason for the relative political weakness of the Indian Left lay in fusion of NATION with RELIGION in the struggle for independence…. passive accommodation to the myths of Indian Ideology as propounded by Gandhi –Nehru and (remaining mum) on the crimes of the Indian State committed in their name (in name of Indian Unity). Less respect for the pieties (Hindu religious mores) of their age was expressed by Ambedkar or Ramasamy than is accorded those of today by many who conceive of themselves as politically more advanced. The Left would do well to recapture something of their insolence.”
The Left base in Punjab has already shrunk leaving communists as a ‘political non-entity’. And they should ponder over why this happened?
Jaspal Singh Sidhu retired as a Special Correspondent with United News of India (UNI) at its New Delhi Headquarters in 2008. Since then, have been working as free-lance journalist and writing on Agriculture, Human rights and political affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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