Awaiting India’s Corbyn Moment

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How would a Corbyn-like approach pitch the mosque vs temple politics that has dominated much of liberal Indian politics?

LIBERAL politicians in India could speak like Jeremy Corbyn once, and, like him, believe in what they said. Take his speech at the refugees’ rally in London moments after the brilliant win as Labour Party chief. He spoke with conviction about a man-made human plight because he could feel like an ordinary, caring person, a man of reason with a hundred selfless concerns. What he said, in fact, was so straightforward and untangled in its simplicity that he made one wonder why today’s liberal leaders in India can’t be like that.

Refugees are not illegal people, Corbyn said. They are men, women and children rendered homeless, searching for the dignity and warmth which we took away from them. Does it take too much to say it that way? Refugees are made by wars we wage, he said. Indian leaders have said all this, and with conviction too, but much of that is in the past.

A disturbing moment that failed to evince a sound response from Indian liberals came when Prime Minister Modi churlishly welcomed non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh. He was in violation of the constitution, but his opponents were busy not heeding. A Corbyn moment would have found someone speaking up: ‘Every community in India’s neighbourhood, regardless of their faith, in need of refuge from oppressive regimes, or who face threats to their lives from vigilante groups or other terrorists, are welcome in India.’ Indira Gandhi did open the doors to Gen Zia’s Pakistani victims.

Did the Indian left turn a Nelson’s eye to the communally fraught Modi musings because of its own past problems in West Bengal? Did the influx of Muslims from Bangladesh into West Bengal during its 30 years in office influence the left’s silence?

The religious revival we are witnessing worldwide, riding on the upsurge in right-wing politics, has seen upright thinkers and liberal groups wilt under the blow. This luxury could not be allowed to the communists. For years, Indian followers of the dominant Marxist party were led to believe that the annual Durga Puja festival religiously staged by the comrades in West Bengal was a cultural rather than a religious event. Perhaps it was the same cultural quest that saw the comrades in Kerala this time celebrating ‘Krishna Lila’.

Reports say last week’s act of unprecedented public devotion was necessitated by the need to prevent families of communist comrades from joining similar celebrations to Lord Krishna organised by Hindutva groups who are hoping to ease out the left from its oldest bastion in Kerala. With close to half the West Bengal cadre having defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bengal since the recent poll debacles, the left, it seems, has yet to learn the lessons of mixing religion (in the garb of culture) with politics.

How would a Corbyn-like approach pitch the mosque versus temple politics that has dominated much of liberal Indian politics in recent decades? Indian rationalists, including Marxists, have scurried to look for ideological compromises so as not to offend the majority Hindus nor unduly rile the Muslim groups. In playing it safe, India’s liberals are hiding away what would have been their attraction. The much-maligned Indian state offered to rescue the enlightened politicians out of the horrible mess, but they continued to wallow in it.

What did the Indian state do, which was so out of character with its known political inclination, for it to deserve kudos? In the midst of a political controversy over a mythical bridge three years ago, the Manmohan Singh government plainly told the Supreme Court that there was no historical evidence to establish the existence of Lord Ram or the other characters in Ramayana.

In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the Archaeological Survey of India rejected the claim of the existence of the Ram Sethu bridge. It was a bold rejection of Hindutva’s claims.

Referring to the Ramayana, the Indian government’s affidavit said there is no “historical record” to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the character, or the occurrences of the events, depicted therein. This should ideally have been the position of Indian Marxists, not in their closed study circles, but on public platforms. What harm could have befallen the left had they played it straight, instead of deflecting the argument to perhaps woo certain constituencies? They would have lost the polls, perhaps. Did they win by being less than forthright?

India-Pakistan ties were a major issue on which the left and liberal voices counted for much. In recent days, other than an uncharacteristic nationalistic statement about terrorism that came from the Communist Party of India, there was little by way of a nudge much less an argument for peace from the left. They were busy dethroning the foreign minister, unsuccessfully eventually, when they were needed on the streets to stop the consolidation of fascism. They could have put their foot down on the hounding of Teesta Setalvad, the freeing of the accused in Gujarat pogrom cases, the gagging of NGOs.

Now we are watching the left — all five or six communist parties — hurtling into a potentially disastrous election mode in Bihar. They claim they are jointly fighting (which they should have done in Jawaharlal Nehru University) on all the assembly seats to challenge Narendra Modi’s quest to conquer Bihar. In reality, they will be cutting into the votes of Modi’s secular opponents. What would Corbyn have reasoned? ‘Granted that the secular alliance is tainted with corruption and deep-seated anti-Dalit prejudices. This needs to be corrected at the earliest. However, first we have to remove the fascist threat. Else we are all doomed.’ –Dawn

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