The Game of Pursuit, Or the Chowkidar-Chor Narrative

अत्तुं वाञ्छति शांभवो गणपतेराखुं क्षुधार्तः फणी
तं च क्रौंचरिपो: शिखी गिरिसुतासिंहोऽपि नागाशनम्।
इत्थं यत्र परिग्रहस्य घटना शंभोरपि स्याद्गृहे
तत्रान्यस्य कथं न भावि जगतो यस्मात्स्वरूपं हि तत्॥

“The snake on the body of Siva, oppressed with hunger, wishes to eat Ganapati’s mouse; him (the snake) Kartikeya’s peacock wishes to devour; while Parvati’s lion (her vehicle) desires to make a meal of the elephant (mouthed Ganapati-mistaken for an elephant): when such is the constitution of Siva’s household even, how can such a state of things be not found in the rest of the world, since such is but the nature of the world?”

Thus Panchatantra takes the game of pursuit as “the nature of the world” and teaches the strategies and tactics to survive and win in the fields of commerce, state affairs and everyday life. If that was true of the ancient centuries of Indian history, what can we say of our own conjuncture. Our daily lives are proof of this, and so is our politics. But Panchatantra’s time had a solace that the plans or evil intentions did not often succeed, and hence the world continued to exist:

सर्पाणां च खलानां च परद्रव्यापहारिणाम् ।
अभिप्राया न सिध्यन्ति तेनेदं वर्तते जगत् ॥

But today there is no escape. We are all chowkidars (security guards), and, therefore, are chors (thieves) – of course, relatively.


Games People Play

The chowkidar-chor narrative is an opportunistic discursive instrument to impress upon the public to garner votes. But why does it have an appeal? Because, it is the folklore (katha) of our times, an articulation of our prevailing common sense, as Gramsci would put. It is so organic that it can be called infantile. Why not, even a child finds a voice in this dialectical narrative. Isn’t it the same game of chor-police that children play, where every child knows that the chor and the police are floating signifiers?

This narrative resonates with the psyche of our times. And thus, instead of simply condemning it we must take it as a symptom of the sickness that afflicts our social body or more correctly, a sign of its (un)healthiness. It is only by accessing the materiality of our social body through a critical understanding of such narratives, that we can access the healthy sections of our social body whose nourishment is our only hope. In other words, this narrative is a key to unlock “the healthy nucleus that exists in ‘common sense’”(Gramsci). Its analysis and critical retelling can trigger a much wanted alienation effect in this hyper-immediate responsive world by providing space-time to objectively understand ourselves – the nature of our world. Only thus can emerge the good sense, and the critical sense. It can be a parable for meditations and to develop mediations to grasp the material element of immediate consciousness and spontaneous philosophies of our times.

The lore reveals the stark nature of the neoliberal conjuncture – a near universal feeling of being hunted, and a universal aspiration of becoming a hunter. This game of pursuit-evasion is at the heart of the political and cultural milieu of our conjuncture. Everybody tries to put herself in a position of the pursuer but must evade other pursuers-evaders. “When such is the constitution of Siva’s household even, how can such a state of things be not found in the rest of the world, since such is but the nature of the world?” She can make sense of her existential crisis through such narratives, and learn to live with it. But then, even to transcend this crisis, its understanding is needed, for which what is the better beginning than these narratives themselves – the expressions of this crisis.

More than any institution and organization, it is this narrative that captures and productivises the anxieties of the (post)modern man. An institution lacks the plasticity that an empty narrative or metaphor like this has. The latter can homogenise all experiences by providing them a minimal, but universal form – it adjusts itself to any situation, while an institution must chisel the experiences to fit them.


The Neoliberal State

As a parable, the chowkidar-chor narrative further reveals in a condensed form two sequential and defining characteristics of the (post) modern state that has emerged throughout the globe – especially with the recent right-wing assertions. Firstly, it reveals the nature of the neoliberal state in its bare form – the state’s reduction to chowkidari. And, secondly, its gradual disembodiment and dispersal. Besides the chowkidar (an agent of the state) everybody is a potential chor. Thus, everybody seeks to become a chowkidar. Hence, the agency of the state expands. The state universalizes itself by dissolving itself into every individual. We are the state unto ourselves and others.

So, capital attains the dissolution of the state, while communists are still fighting over statist or anti-statist paths. However, this dissolution is attained by universalization of the state. You will never be able to pinpoint the presence of the state, but it is always present in every nook and corner of our being. It is present through our anxieties and alertness, and their institutionalisation. A globally extended and internally-intended lean (re)produced state is a post-fordist state based on self-and-peer surveillance.

Following Michael Taussig (The Magic of the State, 1997), we can perhaps assert that the state’s presence expands with its disembodiment. The spirit of the state, freed from any particular form, potentially can possess every form. That’s the Magic of the State in the age of Finance and Information. The state, as a node of capitalist accumulation and regulation, seeps into every societal relationship universally equalising them. They all find their universal articulation in the minimalist relationship of the hunter and the hunted, of the chowkidar and the chor.


Internal Relations

न विना पार्थिवो भृत्यैर्न भृत्याः पार्थिवं विना ।
तेषां च व्यवहारोऽयं परस्परनिबन्धनः ॥
अरैः सन्धार्यते नाभिर्नाभौ चाराः प्रतिष्ठिताः ।
स्वामिसेवकयोरेवं वृत्तिचक्रं प्रवर्तते ॥

According to our ancient wisdom, certain relationships are like that of a nave and spokes in a wheel. अरैः सन्धार्यते नाभिर्नाभौ चाराः प्रतिष्ठिताः. “The nave is supported by the spokes and the spokes are planted into the nave.” The nave and the spokes are mutually dependent. This dependence is not external, but तेषां च व्यवहारोऽयं परस्परनिबन्धनम्॥. They are in the relationship of mutual constitutivity. Panchatantra thus explains the nature of the master-slave dialectic. Similar is the relationship between a chowkidar (security guard) and a chor (thief), they constitute one another. Both identities are meaningful only in their relationship. So a chowkidar is himself only in relation to a chor, and a chor in relation to a chowkidar. Hence, the chowkidar must have a chor to pose himself as a chowkidar.

Even if the wheel of relationship turns, which frequently does, the only change will be that the chor will slide to the spokes and become a chowkidar, and the chowkidar will try to cling to the nave and become a chor. Moreover, as the wheel runs infinitely faster in the age of information and as the time-span for completing a cycle becomes smaller, who knows better than our head chowkidar, the chowkidar and the chor become identical.


Chinese Wisdom

The positive opposition in the cycle is caught up in its grammar and its continuity. It can never transcend the binary from within the narrative. The criticism must destroy the enclosures of the narrative freeing the flow of the negative from the chains of positive productivism. The circularity of power can be ruptured only by first recognising its foundation. The great Chinese sage, Lao Tsu provides a hint:

Thirty spokes will converge
In the hub of a wheel;
But the use of the cart
Will depend on the part
Of the hub that is void.

It is in the emptiness and void of the hub that the reason for the nave, spokes and the wheel is found.

With a wall all around
A clay bowl is molded;
But the use of the bowl
Will depend on the part
Of the bowl that is void.

It is only in that void that the rationale for the existence of a clay bowl resides.

Cut out windows and doors
In the house as you build;
But the use of the house
Will depend on the space
In the walls that is void.

It is the space enclosed by windows, doors and concrete walls that gives meaning to enclosures.

So advantage is had
From whatever is there;
But usefulness rises
From whatever is not.

It is this “whatever is not” that must be grasped to unravel the closed circularity of power, which seeks to absorb the negative therein, to positivise and productivise it, enclose it within the dualism of closed circularity.

[Note: Texts and Translations from Panchatantra have been taken from MR Kale (1912), Pancatantra of Visnusarman, Delhi: MLBD. (Reprint 2015) There are variations both in original texts and interpretations in various published versions of Panchatantra, but the narratival tenor and ideas are more-or-less same.]


Marx, Ambedkar and Indian villages

I used to wonder whether there can be a common explanation for one of the varieties of post-Independence Indian Socialists’ discomfort towards both Marx and Ambedkar (obviously to be politically correct, they have to keep mum on the latter, diverting all their anger towards Marx). I think there is one commonality between them that seem to disturb our champions of village democracy and rural communitarianism – Marx’s and Ambedkar’s powerful indictment of the Indian village system.

While Marx can easily be accused of orientalism for saying the following:

“we must not forget that these idyllic village-communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies… We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindostan. We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman [Hanuman], the monkey, and Sabhala, the cow.”

What accusation can be hurled upon Ambedkar, a sufferer himself?

“It is said that the new Constitution should have been drafted on the ancient Hindu model of a State and that instead of incorporating Western theories the new Constitution should have been raised and built upon village Panchayats and District Panchayats. There are others who have taken a more extreme view. They do not want any Central or Provincial Governments. They just want India to contain so many village Governments.

“I hold that these village republics have been the ruination of India. I am therefore surprised that those who condemn Provincialism and communalism should come forward as champions of the village. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism? I am glad that the Draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit.”

Ambedkar’s view on organisation

Some days back I was in Nagpur for a seminar on the Dalit question. A dalit leader told me an interesting fact (which needs to be verified) that Ambedkar’s slogan for the movement raised during the formation of Bahishkrit Hitakarani Sabha, (Association for the Welfare of the Ostracised) in 1924 was not shika, sanghatit vha va sangharsh kara (“EDUCATE, ORGANISE AND AGITATE”). It was actually shika, sangharsh kara, sanghatit vha (“EDUCATE, AGITATE AND ORGANISE”). And the change, according to him and I agree, was significant since the original slogan perceives an organisation as produced and reproduced (made, unmade and remade) within the process of movement. The change in the slogan leads to the status-quoisation of the movement, as within this changed framework the institutionalised structure of an organisation manipulates the movement for its own reproduction.

The Constituent Assembly for Stable ‘Democracy’ or for uninterrupted Democratisation?

A substantial portion of the following reflections on Nepal was jotted down several days ago, but they seem still relevant.


Stable democracy is the end of democratisation. This statement is ambiguous – on the one hand, it means that democratisation leads to stable democracy, but on the other it also means that the latter actually ends the process of democratisation. Isn’t it true that all stable formal democracies are realisation of particular processes of democratisation? Isn’t it also true that the stability of these democracies depends on how much the ritual of elections and the cacophony of parliamentary halls and senates are able to control the popular assertion on the streets and in every walk of life?


In Nepal, this tussle between democracy and democratisation is very intensive. Till recently especially during the phase of the people’s war the forces representing each of them were easily identifiable since they were generally mutually exclusive, but after April 2006 both are on the same turf trying to overpower one another. The only consistent forces are the royalty and the imperialists – the former is waging an existential struggle, while the latter have to make best out of the worst situation. And all others are inconsistent in varying degrees. The non-communist forces of democracy are evidently still afraid of any drastic break from the past – the royalty and their own past practices. The royal nostalgia looms heavily on the election manifestos of the Nepali Congress and UML, even when they officially declare themselves as republicans. They are afraid of any radical change in the legitimation process. They are unable to give away the ritualism and ceremonialism that characterised the polity which they profess to challenge. They still need a ceremonial patriarch in whose name they will rule.


Everybody knows that it was the mass agitation that forced the royalty and foreign interests on defensive. Even after the restoration of the old parliament it was the continued presence of masses on the streets that coerced the restored leadership to inch forward to further democracy.


By becoming part of the government that is non-committal to any radical change unless forced, the Maoists perhaps became vulnerable to all the pitfalls of power politics in a competitive set-up. However the greatest strength or safeguard for them is their recognition and commitment to two-line struggle within their own ranks – between the tendencies of compromise and of uninterrupted transformation. They are aware that their radicalism lies in intensifying this struggle at every level. If we find today an apparent inconsistency between the Maoists in the government and those on the streets, it is the open realisation of this two-line struggle, which tempers one another not allowing the former to settle with status quoism. Recent statements by Prachanda, Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya, where they stressed on the need for giving “top priority to the street struggle at this juncture”, reflect the Maoists’ resolution to remain as forces of democratisation, rather than a stability factor for a democracy of an elitist minority and the depoliticised majority.


Definitely, this does not go well with the scheme for democracy as visualised by the hegemonic forces. They need stability; democracy too is needed just to have a stable environment, as a scheme to bribe away the representatives of those who shout on the streets. If democracy goes beyond this scheme, it is an aberration and anarchy – if workers assert themselves on their workplace or the landless demand their share on the resources, they are harming the property rights of the individuals. Democracy is a privilege, which must not be practiced everyday and everywhere. It is in this sense we can understand the conflict between the forces of democracy and those of democratisation. Democratisation in this regard can be understood as perpetual expansion of democracy beyond the confines of established institutions.


It was expected that after locking up the arms of the Maoist army, the Maoists would be “disarmed” and locked up in barracks. It is forgotten that a revolutionary army is first and foremost politically armed and always on watch out. The recent controversies on the activities of the Young Communist League are symptomatic of the impossible demands posed by the status quo on the revolutionary forces. Another controversy that has come up is regarding the issue of returning land to the deposed landlords. It is part of the hegemonic expectations, which seek to do away with any impact of the previous parallel revolutionary government on the future political economy of Nepal. Even if the Maoists officially may agree to it, the popular energy that they have unleashed in their decade-long people’s war will obviously reassert itself, despite all odds. This popular energy is evident in various self-determination movements, which have startled all the political forces in the country with their vigour.


Among these movements, the Madheshi (Terai) struggle clearly stands out, not only for its vigour but also for its peculiar constitution. Evidently, the various Madheshi identities have long been oppressed and suppressed in the overall Nepali set-up. But the recent attempt to homogenize Madheshi as a singular regional identity beyond divisions – caste and class – is a phenomenon that can only be understood by revealing the interplay of class, national and international forces behind it.


The Madheshi (Terai) region is agriculturally the most productive region in the country. Historically there has been a strong section of landed and propertied gentry in this region which has continued to oppose any systematic land redistribution efforts. Until now this section has been able to preclude such possibility through their opportunist lobbying and support to various political formations. It has time and again resisted any efforts to decrease the land ceilings. Unsurprisingly, it will see the Maoists with their commitment to radical land reforms as a grave threat. With the genuine federalist self-determination movements rising throughout the country to hasten and shape up the future Nepal, this section along with other Indo-Nepali businessmen with evident backing from the mellowed down monarchy supporters utilized sections of the Terai movement to turn anti-Maoist. In order to homogenise the Madheshi sentiment against the Maoists, the Terai ruling class and political elites have been utilising the apprehension that the radical land reforms might relocate non-Terai landless into the region. The following quote from Sarita Giri of Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandi Devi), one of the political parties claiming to fight for the Madheshi rights reveals much of the class-fear among the leadership of the Madheshis:

“As a consequence of [the] 1990 movement, Communists (led by hill elites) emerged as a formidable new force. [The] Revolutionary land reform agenda has been now their political agenda. But it would be naive to say that it was no more the agenda of Nepali Congress. Prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba ha[d] agreed to reduce the ceiling to 4 to 5 bighas from 11 bighas in Madhesh. It was due to the movement led by Nepal Sadbhawana Party and supported by madheshi elites across parties that the government dropped its agenda. And now in 2007 they are the Maoists who have designed to march ahead with their agenda of revolutionary land reform. It has explicitly been mentioned in the Interim Constitution. This time too, Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandi Devi) has written note of dissent against the revolutionary land reform program. The aim behind such an agenda is obviously to enhance the control of hill centric state over madhesh. This is the context against which the current Madheshi movement and its demands of republicanism, autonomy, self determination and federalism should be understood.”

Even Jwala Singh, a militant Madhesi leader demanded that, “The land of Madheshis captured by Maoists should be given back”.

Obviously these sections of the Terai leadership will be all the more anxious, as the Maoists have already included the demand for ‘land to the tiller’ in their Commitment Document for the Constituent Assembly elections.


Furthermore, the Terai region being geographically, culturally and economically closer to the only immediate imperialist force and agency in the region, India, is also open to various kinds of imperialist manipulation. In recent years, India with its rising economic interests beyond its territory has used all sorts of “identities” to assert a diasporic homogeny under the garb of which it can support its cross-border political economic expansion. It is not very surprising that this expansionist tenor was firmly and vocally established by the Rightist forces in India. It can in fact be comfortably said that the rightists became a legitimate force in India only with the rise of neoliberalism, when Indian capital found Indianness, Hinduism etc to be effective in its “free” market consolidation and operation globally. One needs to cursorily go through the widely circulated weekly of Hindu fascists, Organiser and its chatterbox journalism to grasp the confident obscenity of Indian expansionism in its extreme. Recently it invented “The Western-Christian agenda in Kathmandu” and “the Christian leadership of the Maoists”, lamenting the threat to the “Hindu civilisation”:

“The bells are tolling, not just for the Nepalese monarchy, but also for the Hindu culture and civilisation of the nation.”

It is a known fact that the Hindu rightists in India have been outspoken against the republican and democratisation processes in Nepal, and have been very active recently in the Terai region. It is this transnational unity among Hindu fascists with its base in India, which acts as a major weapon of active imperialist intervention, besides the usual economic threat of the flight of capital and the diplomatic diatribes.


It is evident that delays that marred the implementation of the anti-royalist agenda to which various democratic forces agreed have given a significant time for the reactionary forces to consolidate. It will be interesting to observe the various political realignments before, during and after the Constituent Assembly elections.


The Maoists claim that the main basis of the new constitution will be “the mandate of the 10 years People’s War and 19 days people’s Movement”. They see, as Maoist leader Badal explains, the Constituent Assembly as “the process of building new Nepal. We are advancing through the Constituent Assembly as the process of institutionalising new Nepal by the representatives elected directly in the participation of the people.[sic!] We raised the agenda of the CA through revolt and movement; institutionalized it and we are in the stage of its implementation. The process has been advanced ahead to carry out movement up to conclusion.” Obviously this reinterpretation of the CA as a process, if legitimised through elections and if the Maoists continue to adher to it, will be a death knell for the reactionary forces in and around Nepal.