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Kashmir beyond the Child Psychology of Partha Chatterjee

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The argument that Partha Chatterjee peddles in his latest article in Telegraph on the ongoing Kashmir uprising is quite mainstream. It is of course presented in a subalternist language and with a lot of sympathy. But in its assertion of the autonomy of the subaltern masses, the subalternist sympathy becomes generally like that of those parents who find every action of their children to be revelatory about their uniqueness. And if other children seem to show some unique characteristics, these parents always find them resembling their own children.

Being a Bengali historian, Chatterjee reserves this feeling of empathy only for Bengali subalterns. Obviously this allows him to connect with other parents, sympathise and advise them. This is what Chatterjee is doing in this article – imploring other parents (Indian and Kashmiri) to recognise the crossroads in their children’s lives and help them pass them successfully, without sliding to “worst outcomes.”

Chatterjee finds Kashmiris resembling Bengali mourners at the funeral of Kanailal Datta in 1908, who shot at a renegade in the courtroom, and was hanged by the Britishers. He quotes an official report of the time,

“An extraordinary scene was witnessed at Kalighat at the time of the cremation of Kanai… Crowds thronged the road, people pushing past one another to touch the bier… Many women, to all appearances of a highly respectable class, followed the funeral procession wailing, while men and boys thronged around shouting ‘ Jai Kanai’!””

According to Chatterjee, the Kashmiri act of mourning and rioting for an ‘Islamist terrorist’ similarly “perplexed” the officials and others. A proud father is always ready to dispel people’s perplexities towards other kids, by flaunting his own wisdom of parenthood remembering the childhood of his children.

Thus, continues the wiseman’s argument, where patronising eventually takes a more mainstream turn. Subalterns always perplex non-subalterns. Hence, they need specialised experts to interpret their actions and language. Left to themselves, the innocence of subalterns makes them vulnerable to all kinds of manipulations. Actually, they always look for “figures of love and reverence” and “pure selflessness.” Hence, the Kashmiris themselves are innocent and victims of “bad” manipulations by the two neighbouring states and “routine politicians.” What is happening is now an outrage against these manipulations constituting “the crossroads.”

So, Chatterjee asserts, “Kashmiri nationalism stands at the same crossroads where Indian nationalism stood a hundred years ago.” Pure subalterns wanting to be tended with love, care and self-sacrifice are looking for the figures that epitomise them. If “democratic nationalism” is not “given a genuine chance”, there will be a slide –

“Given the bankruptcy of the politics that has tried so far to accommodate Kashmir’s national aspirations within the Indian federal system, there is a tendency now for the young to adopt an Islamist idiom to vent their demands. If this trend gets stronger, the best result might be a new popular movement, Islamist in temper but with deep roots in local communities…The worst outcome would be the burgeoning of jihadi groups that no one will be able to control.”

Hence, as subalterns are bound to be instrumentalised or domesticated, why not channelise their energy for some good cause, which protects them and mobilises them in the interest of progress and democratic nationalism, thus saving them from an uncontrollable jihadi sectarianism?

But that leaves the story twisted – not just in Kashmir, but also that of the early twentieth century Bengal. Chatterjee does not tell us what happened to Indian/Bengali nationalism “beyond the crossroads”, at least not in this piece. In fact, he does not clear the ambience at “the crossroads” too. He talks about outcomes without talking about the processes. And outcomes are explicitly seen as sliding to worse, if they are not short circuited by “democratic nationalism”. “The bankruptcy of the politics” leads “to a tendency …to adopt an Islamist idiom”, which if not saved through “democratic nationalism” would result into “the worst outcome.”

Actually, the Bengali bhadralok has never been able to cope with the partition of his Bengali nation. The year 1971 soothed him but the scar that 1947 gave runs very deep. Historians like Chatterjee do understand it, but dil hai ki maanta nahin. How could the Islamic enticement to integrate with Pakistan ever be stronger than the Bengali brotherhood?

Hence, azadi is fine as it can be variedly interpreted, and one clever interpretation is that of the Indian left, which Chatterjee articulates so well:

“Azaadi is not the name for a blueprint of Kashmir’s future political state. Rather it is a rejection of India’s armed occupation and the declaration of the right of the Kashmiri people to decide its own future.”

It is all due to the intransigence of India and Pakistan that no breakthrough is happening. They see Kashmir as a site for their competition. Chatterjee goes ahead and talks about progressive constitutional options as tried in Canada to resolve the Quebec question. All these must be tried or things will slide to “the worst outcome.”

“To stop that slide, democratic nationalism in Kashmir must be given a genuine chance.”

It is the same Bengali hangover that seems to play its role here – pitting “democratic nationalism” of Sheikh Abdullah against Islamism/Pakistan. Chatterjee seems to judge everything according to tangible historical outcomes and options, rather than in terms of the processes that might lead to multiple outcomes and options. Azaadi is of course “not the name of a blueprint”, but a movement that houses many contesting blueprints.

Why not? It could also be about the redefinition of South Asia – a movement against thinking in terms of established states and institutions. It could be a signal to subsumed nationalities in the region to revolt against internal segmentation of politico-economic agencies, against differential surplusing and inclusion/exclusion of populations. It could be a struggle against the evolving framework of regional political economy that hierarchises peoples, while including some and reserving/surplusing many, to keep the structure under control and “human resources” competitive.

But most importantly, why are we not considering the stone throwing and infinitely resilient, yet defiant Kashmiri youth a sign of the times – the evolution of a popular subjectivity of the precariat leading a real movement that abolishes the present state of things. Why is Chatterjee bringing an example from the Bengali history that seemingly demonstrates innocence and malleability of the masses? Crossroads are about the opening of new horizons too. And definitely, the people’s history of early twentieth century Bengal is extremely rich in this regard. It is unbelievable that Partha Chatterjee is unaware of the complexity of those times. But perhaps the subalternist notion of subalternity doesn’t allow him to render any overt political agency to subalterns except as fodder for the two sides in the Manichaeism of mainstream institutional politics.

There, were far more interesting things happening than a funeral march, which was just a symptom, a temporal spectacle. Beyond spectacularity, while Bengali bhadralok radicals were mired in the voluntarist and masochistic interpretation of Bhagavad Gita, a new Islam was rising in Bengal that gave radical meaning to the everyday struggle of people providing a ground to the evolution of popular subjectivity. In this regard, let me extensively quote from a recent article on MN Roy written by a very astute historian of communism in Bengal, Suchetna Chattopadhyaya, published in the first volume of Communist Histories (Left Word, 2016, pp 45-46), edited by Vijay Prashad:

“The ‘new’ Islam of the early 1910s, in its populist political form, took shape in the backdrop of the ‘new’ plan to sharply alter the physiognomy of the city, the Balkan Wars as a ‘prelude’ to the First World War, and the emergence of a new set of preacher- leaders known for their radical rejection of loyalist positions. One of the aims of pan-Islamist campaigners was to protect Islamic shrines and monuments in the Ottoman Empire, under jeopardy in the climate of Balkan Wars. These efforts by a segment of the intelligentsia resonated, stirring empathetic response among the masses. The immediate material context of this identification was the aggressive and invasive implementation of colonial construction plans that had disturbed conurbations from Kanpur to Calcutta. Though public protests in Calcutta revolved around the issue of mosque demolitions by the authorities, the submerged feelings at a popular level reflected social anxieties and anger over looming evictions. The anti-demolition meetings, including those directed against the Port Trust authorities in Khidirpur, saw large participation of cooks, waiters and small traders. The protestors experienced and envisaged uprooted neighbourhoods, destroyed settlements and forcible expulsions from their dwellings. In the backdrop of such a large-scale offensive from the top, pan-Islam, and popular protests interacted and forged political combinations. With the coming of a major conflict, and British declaration of war against Turkey, the pan-Islamist support for the Ottoman Caliphate came to be echoed in mosques and bazaars, in prayers and conversations and in the texture of everyday life.”

Whatever the limits of historical languages and institutions inherited by the people be, the organic political process (not necessarily around formal state apparatuses) grounded in popular everydayness renews the subjectivity of the multitude, always exploring and exploding the limits that temporally bind it. Subalternisation should be seen as procrustean endeavours of the State apparatuses to depoliticise the everydayness and alienate this subjectivity. However, pure subalternity is never achieved, the multitude accepts new bondages only to master and destroy them. Hence, assuming any innocence on the part of the “subalterns” in Bengal and Kashmir in the process of the “slide” that Chatterjee talks about is not only factually wrong, but politically meaningless and even dangerous. Such assumption autonomises political practices and ideologies from the real political ground and reduces them to mere objects of the elitist and statist operation of naming and shaming.

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

July 28, 2016 at 2:14 am

IoK AND THE ‘PRO-AZADI’ INDIAN LEFT: CHARITY IS NOT SOLIDARITY

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There is something Indian mainlanders outraged by the unspeakable brutalities inflicted on Kashmir by the Indian occupation need to realise. Kashmir’s national liberation struggle needs neither the charity of their teary-eyed pity for the plight of Kashmiris; nor the slightly more honourable philanthropy of directing their self-flagellating anger and outrage, abstractly and impotently, at the Indian state and its brutal occupation. What such mainlanders need to actually give is the non-exchangeable gift of solidarity to the Kashmiri movement. And that is precisely what they have failed to offer. That such solidarity is fundamentally distinct from — nay radically opposed to — patronising sympathy for the suffering victims of Kashmir is something one can hardly overstate. Unfortunately, almost all mainlanders who claim to be in solidarity with the Kashmiri struggle against Indian occupation have the two badly mixed up. (As for the politically correct Indian liberal, who is enraged only and mainly by the human-rights abuses carried out in the Valley, the less said the better.)

 

Sympathy and charity are constitutive of an economy, at once symbolic and political, of exchange and power. And that does not change even if one chooses to construe them, unwittingly or otherwise, as solidarity. If anything, such conflation of solidarity with sympathy and philanthropy amounts to articulating the existing hierarchised socio-political relation between Indian mainland and the IoK (Indian occupied Kashmir) in yet another register. That serves to legitimise and reinforce — admittedly by other, apparently more consensual means — both that relation and the military occupation constitutive of it. It’s time one clearly understood the difference, and learned to disentangle one from the other. Solidarity is not a sentiment to be abstractly expressed and extended. It is a politics that has to be produced as a concrete strategy and materiality. Frantz Fanon, while criticising the ‘solidarity’ extended by “French intellectuals and democrats” to the Algerian struggle against French occupation, underscored precisely that. In an article, ‘French Intellectuals and Democrats and the Algerian Revolution’, he writes:

 

“…French intellectuals and democrats have periodically addressed themselves to the FLN. Most of the time they have proffered either political advice or criticisms concerning this or that aspect of the war of liberation. This attitude of the French intelligentsia must not be interpreted as the consequence of an inner solidarity with the Algerian people. This advice and these criticisms are to be explained by the ill-repressed desire to guide, to direct the very liberation movement of the oppressed.
“Thus can be understood the constant oscillation of the French democrats between a manifest or latent hostility and the wholly unreal aspiration to militate ‘actively to the end.’ Such a confusion indicates a lack of preparation for the facing of concrete problems and a failure on the part of French democrats to immerse themselves in the political life of their own country.”

 

The question that has been driving many mainland Indians in their self-proclaimed solidarity with the Kashmiri national liberation struggle, is the following: what can and should they do for Kashmir and its struggle against occupation? However, in order to produce solidarity as a strategy and materiality of politics they would do well to reverse the question: what is the Kashmiri movement against Indian occupation doing – or can potentially do – for the everyday struggles of the masses in the Indian mainland? The answer to that is something they need to build on. Only then will their sympathy for the suffering people of IoK cease to be the abstract charitable pity it is condemned to be, and become a concretely-grounded empathy for the sufferings of comrades with whom they share a concrete horizon of internationalism of struggles.

 

In other words, one cannot produce such a politics of solidarity unless one recognises that the challenge the Kashmiri movement for national self-determination poses to the geo-political hegemony of the Indian nation-state favours and advances the everyday struggles of the masses in the Indian mainland. Such a challenge, needless to say, tends to concomitantly weaken the Indian nation-state as a concrete historical index of social labour organised into a regime of differentiated or segmented necessity. The Indian nation-state — not unlike every other nation-state constitutive of the capitalist world-system as the basic unit of organising international division of labour — concretely indexes the organisation of social labour into a system or regime of differential (dis-)privilege and differentiated necessity.

 

In such circumstances, unraveling of the Indian nation and its constitutive state is absolutely indispensable for the emancipation of social labour in the Indian mainland from the regime of differentiated necessity it is imprisoned in. Once this is recognised, all the confusion, equivocation and bad faith, which has recently come to the fore, thanks to some stupidly insidious Indian leftists exerting and contorting themselves to distinguish “azadi in India” from “azadi from India”, will vanish like camphor.

 

The everyday struggles of the masses inhabiting the Indian mainland are nothing but struggles of various segments of social labour to emancipate themselves from the necessity constitutive of their different and differentiated quotidian existence. However, the systemic regime within which such struggles emerge to challenge that regime in its concrete mediations tends to register, articulate and situate those struggles as demands for rights placed on the system. That amounts to the fetishisation or mystification of those struggles, and their everydayness, into juridicality. And that is precisely the reason why disaffection with the system often adopts nationalism and other related reactionary ideological forms to represent itself in the everydayness of its experience.

 

For this reason, mainland Indians committed to forging an effective politics of solidarity with the Kashmiri national-liberation struggle must necessarily double up as militants of proletarian-revolutionary politics. They need to intervene in the various everyday struggles of the masses (aka social labour) — including their own — to demonstrate how those struggles are actually system-unravelling, and are rendered juridical only on account of being counted and placed by the system, which in this process of counting and placing recomposes itself. Only through such interventionist demonstrations can those everyday struggles be impelled to generalise what they ontologically are: basic units of a movement that will negate the Indian nation-state as an historically indexed regime of differentiated necessity.

 

Such a movement in the mainland, needless to say, would further undermine the hegemonic might of the Indian nation-state. And that would, in turn, enable the Kashmiri national liberation struggle to advance further. What we would have, in such circumstances, is the dialectical unfolding of the Kashmiri national liberation struggle enabling the everyday struggles of the masses in the Indian mainland, even as the latter enable the former’s advance by being the generalisation of their own revolutionary ontology.

 

This is no flight of fancy. History shows us how this might well be a real possibility. C.L.R. James, for one, tells us in Black Jacobins that struggles for political rights of Mulattoes and abolition of Black slavery in San Domingo could significantly advance only when the working masses of France forged a concrete solidarity with those struggles in the process of enhancing their influence on the course of the French Revolution. James also demonstrates how the revolt of the Black slaves of San Domingo, thanks to it accomplishing its goal of abolition, contributed significantly to the cause of defending the revolution in France from its counter-revolutionary adversaries led by Britain and Spain.

 

Sadly, such lessons are lost not only on the so-called working-class parties and organisations of this country, but also on much of the ‘independent’ Indian left. The moribund Leninism of the former has ensured their politics of competitive sectarianism and left social corporatism is tantamount to no more than building organisations to capture state power, through either parliamentary or supposedly extra-parliamentary means. This is a modality of politics that is the radical inverse of the revolutionary mode of organising politics for the withering away of the state. Not surprisingly, organisation-building as the principal modality of their politics has compelled these moribund Leninist parties, and their mass organisations, to construe everyday struggles of social labour in the Indian mainland as various struggles for socio-economic and/or political rights, which they can then instrumentalise to build and expand their respective organisations.

 

That, not surprisingly, has made these organisations and parties thoroughly complicit in reinforcing the process of systemic subsumption of everyday struggles. The nationalism and Islamophobia that pervades much of their mass base – and which frequently informs the pronouncements of their leadership as well – has been the result. Consequently, the loud claims of solidarity some of these organisations, and their supporters and sympathisers make with regard to the Kashmiri struggle ring ironically, if not cynically, hollow. All that they do – and there is not much more they are capable of – with regard to building such solidarity in the Indian mainland is try to manufacture and manage public perception through abstract propaganda. This, they are inclined to believe, is a perfectly honourable substitute for mass movements in the Indian mainland that could actually and substantively advance the cause of Kashmir’s national liberation. That they manage to muster no more than a few hundred people at their ‘solidarity’ fests, has done little to force them out of their self-satisfied, conscience-assuaging complacency.

 

As for the so-called independent radicals – leftists, Ambedkarites, whatever –, there is not much to distinguish them from the so-called working-class parties on this score. They are basically liberals, who for some inexplicable reason, want to pass off as radicals. The management of public perception – as opposed to striving to build concrete mass movements – is the dominant mainland paradigm of articulating ‘solidarity’ with the struggling people of IoK. On that there is very little to distinguish the ‘pro-aazaadi’ independent radicals from the ‘pro-azaadi’ left organisations. For both these categories of activists/politicians, what matters is who shouts about Kashmir the loudest.

 

Written by Pothik Ghosh

July 17, 2016 at 9:22 pm

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