THE forthcoming assembly elections are likely to lead to a severe restriction of the political presence of the Left in Indian polity. Most observers are convinced that the CPI(M) is going to suffer major setbacks both in West Bengal and in Kerala. It is also generally accepted that this weakening of the political left shall have a positive impact on Indian polity. In particular, it shall help in making the polity bipolar, leaving Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party as the only two national formations.
The numerous parties based in regional and sectoral aspirations and constituencies shall of course continue to remain significant. However, the capacity of such parties to come together and project themselves as a “third” national formation shall be severely depleted. It is the Left that has often provided the ideological anchorage to the so-called “third front” efforts; with the eclipse of the Left, this idea is likely to die a natural death. In order to have a national presence, the regional and sectoral parties shall necessarily have to join one of the two national formations led by the Congress and the BJP.
If this eventuality does come to pass, it shall indeed be a positive development. The periods of ascendance of the “third fronts” have been periods of confusion and disarray in both domestic and foreign policy and have led to the weakening and distortion of polity. However, a word of caution is needed. At a theoretical level, the Congress is supposed to be a Left of Centre formation and the BJP right of centre. But in practice, policies of both parties seem to converge across a wide spectrum of issues. Especially in foreign policy and in economic policy, both at the global and the local levels, there is little difference in the two. There are, of course, differences in articulation and nuances, but these rarely amount to differences in substance.
In social policy, the Congress has indeed tried to present a more radical face, especially through the initiatives of the Left-dominated NAC. But, the state governments led by the BJP and associated parties are also not too far behind in articulating and formulating so-called “inclusive” policies and programmes. In several cases, the BJP governments have indeed proved more adept and successful at projecting such “inclusiveness” than even the Congress.
Such convergence and consensus on national policies among the two main political formations should also be seen as a positive development. It is such consensus that allows the “mature” American and European democracies to vigorously and single-mindedly pursue their national interests and keep the political atmosphere relatively quiet and serene. However, this is possible only when there is an all-round and intense commitment to nation-building and an insistence on a certain level of institutional and personal honesty and integrity. In the absence of these, the political consensus can become a convenient cover for competitive hollowing out of the nation, the enrichment of a narrow elite and impoverishment of the ordinary people.
In a certain economic and historical discourse even such enrichment of narrow elite and impoverishment of the large majority can be presented as a first step towards national prosperity. In ordinary as well as in Marxian economics, such enrichment of the elite goes by the rather innocuous name of “primary accumulation of capital”; and this is said to be the necessary first step towards economic growth and prosperity.
Marxian economics arose in the mid-nineteenth century, when large numbers of people in Europe had already been dispossessed of their meagre assets in land, and the European elites had amassed great wealth through the exploitation of their own masses and even more intense exploitation of the vast colonies they had come to acquire. That was also the time when Darwin’s theory of biological evolution had taken hold of the imagination of Europe, and European thinkers were seeing evidence of evolution everywhere. The idea that societies and economies evolve from lower to higher stages was already there in Western thinking; a hundred years earlier Adam Smith had talked about capitalism as the highest stage of development of economies. Marx used the Darwinian concepts of evolution and the survival of the fittest to give a scientific veneer to the prevailing theories of economic and social evolution. He sought to “scientifically” establish that the dispossession of ordinary people was an inevitable evolutionary process that led to the societies graduating first to the state of industrial capitalism, and then to the utopian state of communism.
This “scientific” understanding of the evolution of societies and economies made Marx arrive at a peculiar understanding of the condition of India. On the basis of his readings of the imperial historians of India, he came to the conclusion that in some strange way the Indian civilisation had arrived at a stable equilibrium that arrested its natural evolution to feudalism, capitalism and communism. By violently breaking this famed equilibrium of India, by destroying Indian economy and society, and by draining India of its wealth, the British, Marx believed, were acting as the handmaidens of history. Though British colonisation involved much exploitation, deprivation and pain for the Indian people, it was still a positive development because, according to him, it put India on the path of “normal” evolution towards feudalism, capitalism, etc. Marxian understanding of India was thus not very different from that of the imperialists, who believed they were performing the historical task of civilising India, except that Marx couched the same belief in his “scientific” terminology.
The nations that took to the path of communism in the twentieth century, took some lessons from the Marxian theory, but they also evolved a strong sense of patriotism and nationalism. Communist Russia and Communist China both developed, perhaps through wrong and violent means, economically and militarily strong and disciplined nations; their elite and their people took and continue to take great pride in their lands and their civilisation.
Indian Marxists on the other hand struck to the original Marxian assessment of India as a civilisation that needed to be smashed before anything good could emerge from it. And in this task of breaking the Indian civilisation and Indian society, even foreign intervention was welcome. Therefore, Indian Marxists could stand against the Indian people in 1942 and could even welcome the Chinese invasion of 1962. They could never evolve any pride in the Indian civilisation and any sense of patriotism towards the land and people of India. They, on the other hand, seemed to nurse a deep sense of hatred towards the Indian civilisation and her ways.
But this sense of alienation from India and Indian civilisation is not limited to the political left alone. In Independent India, the political left has always been a marginal presence except in the two strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal, and now it seems to be receding from there also. But unlike in the political sphere, the Left has a very big footprint in the academic and ideological life of India. The Marxian formulations about the backwardness of Indian civilisation, about the inherent inequities and poverty of Indian society, and the inherent laziness of the Indian people are the staple of Indian academic, political and social discourse. This is what we keep teaching to our young children in our schools.
The political left is receding. But the left inside the academia, inside the civil society and inside all of us seems to be only growing stronger. This left within us shall not be defeated till we learn to take pride in ourselves, in our civilisation, in our history, in our land, in our languages and in our people. We need to learn not only to take pride but also to develop a sense of empathy for our people, our animals, our hills and river, and our lands. Nations are built by people who have such pride, empathy and passion within them. But arousing such passion and empathy who have lost it through centuries of alien indoctrination is not an easy task. Let us hope that the eclipse of the political left makes this task somewhat easier.