The Taming of the Shrew: India’s Left in the 2019 Elections


“…the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?”

– Bertolt Brecht

“Procrustes, or the Stretcher …had an iron bedstead, on which he used to tie all travellers who fell into his hands. If they were shorter than the bed, he stretched their limbs to make them fit it; if they were longer than the bed, he lopped off a portion. Theseus served him as he had served others.”
– Bulfinch’s Mythology

1. Elections are procrustean rituals in an institutionalised democracy to contain and channel the social (over)flow and productivise it to manufacture a government and its legitimacy. By recursive re-discretisation of the social flow into manageable units, the citizenry is recomposed. In these elections, it is not the public that elects the government but the state that reassembles the public to produce the government. This reconstituted public gets the government that it deserves.

2. In the elections of 2019, against the right wing politics of communal polarisation, the left liberals in India have been seeking to pose a different sort of polarisation. Either you are on this side or that side. It doesn’t matter even if some who are on this side, earlier they were on the other and next time again they may fall there, whenever the juggling of elections happens and post-electoral alliances are made. For them, the poles are poles, stuck to the ground.

3. Hence, there is more to the 2019 elections for our nationalist left liberals. As they themselves say, it is a historic moment. And it is indeed something historic that liberal manichaeism seeks to achieve. If BJP is, what they say, a fascist party, then the liberals are imagining something unique in these elections – of defeating fascists in the elections. The fascist regimes, classically, might have come through elections, but have never been eliminated in them.

4. Now, the only strategy that seems to achieve this is by ensuring that votes are not divided (for which a Manichean binary is necessary). Marx’s dictum that all such phrases of not splitting votes and that the reactionaries might win because of the split are meant to dupe the proletariat seems outdated for the doomsday New Left. They want to defeat neoliberal authoritarianism through the procrusteanism of liberal democracy, while the right seeks to synchronise them.

5. However, by posing and making these elections as a two party contest, our marginalised left liberals are binding themselves to the dangerous game of attracting the median voter. In a bipolar contest the result is a more and more identity of opposites. And when much of the opposition is already centred on non-oppositional disagreements rather than based on any principled opposition, the difference is internal. You are but an image of your opponent.

6. They identify the hindutva brigade as a fascist pole, against which they want to see everyone else together. However, this ideal has never been realised, perhaps fortunately for the benefit of the left liberals themselves. The divided regional forces whether in NDA or outside are the only respite against homogenised authoritarianism in the country. From within liberal democracy, the intensification of regionalist localism, along with institutionalised parliamentarianism are the only safeguards left against the hindutva brigade. This is what left liberals don’t realise when they indulge in their anti-fascist rhetoric. Anyway, with this rhetoric they don’t impress anyone but themselves. The major regional forces whenever they take up this rhetoric seriously, they use it merely as a bargaining chip against centrism.

7. The right wing forces have been the main agencies to recompose the relationship between state and civil society across the globe – of combining authoritarianism with liberal democracy. Only by a complete profanation of institutions that emerged in earlier regimes of accumulation that capital can reproduce the state in the neoliberal conjuncture. The barriers must be broken time and again to refinancialise the social factory – the neat divisions between different socio-economic spheres, between productive and reproductive regimes are obsolete and costly. These barriers that managed the surplus/ superfluous population through much-acclaimed welfarism are not required now – they must integrate to form a continuous reserve army. The desacralisation of liberal social-administrative spheres is part of this process. In recent years the right wing attack that directly concerned the left liberals has been in academia. The academia is increasingly made market friendly, not allowing any section of population to take perpetual “study leave”. It is not the quality that matters but quantity – production for production’s sake. Ultimately all of us produce data, and are data ourselves.

8. The left in the name of defending the “gains” is caught up in a contradictory position of defending the status quo. The right-wing forces, on the other, by attacking those gains show far more clear understanding of the contradictions that they expose. They defend the status quo by eliminating those contradictions and expose the brutal structure in its naked form. But this naked coercion would need a new regime of legitimation, because a long-term overexposure of its coercive apparatus can be a doom for the whole system. One of the gains of the right wing onslaught is to regiment the progressive forces and make them complicit in preserving the status quo, by bringing legitimation back to the structure. The cover-up of gains and incremental progress provides the structure a long life. ‘Defending the gains’ doesn’t always need to be a defence of the socio-administrative structure that provisioned those gains. They can be a ground to recognise, expand and generate more cracks in the structure, and create more crises for its reproduction. And in this negation develops a new grammar of social relations. But for left liberals there is no alternative (TINA) – Liberal democracy or Fascism!

9. In an interview to New Left Review in 1975, Communist thinker and leader K Damodaran lamented the failure of Indian left to differentiate between state and government, and hence, their inability to understand their relationship too. There are some who confuse between state and government to pose the impossibility of immediate political actions and there are others who find this confusion very productive, when haloed as the relative autonomy of the state and the political, to justify indulgence in bourgeois polity.

10. In fact, this confusion is one of the means through which the state avoids an overexposure. It is how it camouflages itself in the everydayness of governmentality. The state’s mood fluctuations, given a constant reshuffling in the relationship between the political and the economic, emerge as multiple political fetish-forms, as political forces, and even regimes. You can worship the state in whichever form you like – if nothing suits you, you pronounce it, you will get what you need – a new form! The spirit of state is fathomless and boundless – all political forms, their enthronement, dethronement or re-enthronement combine to constitute “the rhythm of the spirit”. The magic of capitalist state works on only one principle, which Prince Tancredi Falconeri pronounced –

“Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi” (“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”) – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo)

Makarand Paranjape – A Re-Brahminised Brahmin?


It seems Prof Makarand Paranjape has taken upon himself the task of eliminating the rightist intellectual vacuum of which left-liberal scholars have recently been talking about. He is actively posing himself both as a rightwing liberal and a genuine scholar, especially with his recently published work on Gandhi’s murder, The Death & Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi. Here, he succeeds as a rightwing intellectual, both in his omissions and commissions.

In this book, Paranjape undoubtedly demonstrates a credible scholarship. However, like any right-winger, he unabashedly displays his inability to comprehend the structure of an event, a conjuncture or a catastrophe – conflating facts and fiction (literary facts), reality and virtuality. The conceptual asyndesis that the right wing discourse suffers from flattens the structure of reality. The analytics of the destructed reality are reinforced at the immediate level of discourse, oblivious of the fact that they are differentially located in the composed structure of the event. In his endeavour to come to terms with Gandhi’s murder, Paranjape literally makes everybody responsible for it, even future generations. He absolutises relative responsibilities and makes the regenerated Oedipal guilt of the empowered Hindutva forces a collective absolute of the history of independent India . Ultimately, Godse emerges merely as an executor.

In the epilogue for the Indian edition of the book, Paranjape has clearly indicated his choice against “hypocritical and cynical” “Congress-style secularism” “pandering to and appeasing minorities”. He is not at all dismissive against the “majoritarian political formation. Of course, he wants some actions to see if “Hindutva-Hinduism [is] a better guarantor of religious and cultural pluralism than pseudo-secularism.” He asks, “will the new realism of pragmatic majoritarianism succeed better?” It seems he got his answers very soon.

Similarly, in his video-graphed “lecture” on nationalism in JNU  before an “openminded” left-liberal audience desperately looking for their own variety of Indian nationalism at the time of neoliberal “post(modern) fascism”, Paranjape, like any right-wing street-fighter, goes on poking the left to make their choice among binaries – constitution or revolution, etc, demonstrating once again his ignorance of the complexity of the question of legitimation.

***

Paranjape continues to display the rashness of anti-left tirade in a recent article in Indian Express too, where he blunders on both levels – of arguments and of facts. However, here, he is engaging in manipulations typical of a conservative intellectual and poltician, to defend his recent activism. He starts with some commonsensical utterances to justify adding his name to a petition against one of the best Sanskritists of our times, Sheldon Pollock.

Paranjape jealously questions the exorbitance of the investment by a ‘Swadeshi’ investor in a project to create Murty Classical Library under the editorship of Pollock. As he admits, he doesn’t seem to know more than home economics, and thinks investment in scholarship as similar to buying underpants and vegetables.

In this era of global capitalism, when Indian rulers are busy playing beggar-beggar with other late capitalist economies to make Make-in-India campaign legible to investors, Paranjape and his herd are trying to contribute in it by selling their cheap intellectual labour. But they don’t know that the economic considerations for big industries in modern capitalism are not those of village sahukars – where buying cheap and selling dear are immediately interlinked, immaterial of the nature of products in consideration. Stooping down to the level of Prof Paranjape’s home economic sensibility, we can merely plead that he should have some sense to know that the long term credibility of the investor also matters at least in the field of academic production.

Reasonably, Paranjape tries to win the argument by complementing his home economics with inciting a nationalist inferiority rage. Here he is in a quite good company, as this provoking of bruised nationalist consciousness has always been a hallmark of jingoists and has once again become rampant – Trump, Berlusconi, Le Pen & c, and of course not to forget our own Modi. It effectively generalises, mobilises and instrumentalises anxieties and precarities produced by dispersed Fordism leading to the emergence of post(modern) fascism.

***

Now, coming to what Paranjape calls “the more controversial demand to sack Pollock”, we find him deliberately misinterpreting Pollock for his academic-political ambitions.

Pollock’s essay which Paranjape and his coterie are misquoting to discredit him and to project him as any Orientalist is one of the finest works on traditional Indian intellectual practices, where he displays his knowledge of not just the hegemonic Shastric tradition but also of oppositional scientific and secular voices, who had to regiment themselves by indulging in ritual nodding to the Shastric authority.

To the extent that Pollock demonstrates the intransigent and transcendent nature of the Shastric tradition in prioritising theory, along with its attempt to homogenise and hegemonise practice, his originality is only in the extent of his scholarship, not in his idea. There have been alternative traditions right from the Upanishadic times that have been questioning such ritualisation, many times in shrill voices, and in recent centuries quite openly as by many late Medieval poets and numerous anti-caste fighters like Phule and Ambedkar. 

Moreover, in the very initial paragraphs of the essay, Pollock declares his thesis, “everywhere civilisation as a whole – and this is especially true of art-making – is constrained by rules of varying strictness, and indeed, may be accurately described by an accounting of such rules.” And then he goes on to compare Manusmriti and Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette (definitely, an outrageous comparision from the perspective of a refounded Brahminism of Hindutva), and concludes, “such cultural grammars exist in every society; they are the code defining a given culture as such.” Of course, he credits Shastras for their unique expanse and influence.

Paranjape must remember if he wants to (though it is difficult given his allegiance to particular political projects in recent days), that orientalism happens not simply when whites exorcise brownies, it is also when whites and brownies combine to exoticise and eternalise the orient. Let me remind Paranjape of his own remorse at the “politics of misreading” in 1991 (Economic & Political Weekly), when he was troubled by what he saw the “tendency to indulge in the commonest argumentative fallacy of irrelevance: ad hominem or name-calling,” At that time, he was accused of having represented himself as a “de-brahminised brahmin” by, as he claimed, his student (it is clear that this fact hurt him the most). That “student” today is himself a well-known literary scholar and activist, K Satyanarayana.

However, in recent days Paranjape himself, along with his less-sophisticated ilk, has mastered this politics and is indulging in “the commonest argumentative fallacy” of name calling. He clearly dislikes them with whom he disagrees. Whether he had actually de-brahminised himself earlier or not is debatable, but it is clear, at least for the time being, he has re-brahminised himself, and he feels empowered.

Affirming poverty, or, how to radically break with fascistic underconsumptionism


“To deny poverty is to deny the absence of the Kingdom in the present system. It is to affirm the existing system as the Kingdom of this world. To affirm the poor, on the other hand, and to serve their eventual liberation, in the structures and in history, is to witness the presence of the Kingdom in the satisfying of the poor and to the absence of the Kingdom in the imperfection of society. The poor are the epiphany of the Kingdom or the infinite exteriority of God.
“It remains to distinguish between the inorganic multitude and the people as the emerging subject of history (Gen. 41:40), and the People of God as Church (Acts 15:14) called to a special role in history:
Come out of her (Babylon), my people, lest you take part in her sins (Revelation 18:4)”
–Enrique Dussel, ‘The Kingdom of God and the Poor’ (Beyond Philosophy: Ethics, History, Marxism, and Liberation Theology)

It must be stated quite explicitly here that the bleeding-heart, underconsumptionist politics of poverty alleviation — something that is preponderant among South Asian radicals, Marxists included — is precisely what we ought to, pace Dussel, characterise as denial of poverty. Such ‘Marxian’ underconsumptionism, and its concomitant ideology and politics of philanthropy and reformism respectively, is no more than the obverse of neoliberalism, which denies poverty in as many words. From a position that is rigorously Marxian, and is thus conceptually premised on overproduction/overaccumulation, poverty must be affirmed; neither denied, nor, for that matter, alleviated. Affirmation of poverty would be constitutive of politics proper — politics as the excess of all that which exists and which will come to exist — because such affirmation would amount to the affirmation of the condition of being unmeasured.

For, what else is poverty other than the condition of being unmeasured in the face of a system of quasi-objective measure (or value). This condition of being unmeasured, thanks to it being the condition of the absence of measure, and thus the condition of the limit of measure, makes measure possible. Hence, it is the limit of measure that is nevertheless constitutive of it. In that context, affirmation of poverty as politics would amount to affirmation of the limit of this system of quasi-objective measure or valorisation so that the latter is destroyed even as the former abolishes itself as the constitutive limit of that system of measure to emerge on its own terms as the immeasurable. In more clear strategic terms, such unsentimental affirmation of poverty would be, in Pasolini’s immortal words, unrelenting antagonism, without a shred of dialectical respite or reconciliation, towards the subsumptive value-relational system of quasi-objective measure in its concrete appearances.

Underconsumptionist ‘radicalism’, on the other hand, seeks to alleviate and thus deny poverty. The denial of poverty and suffering implicit in the apparent radicalism of struggling precisely for the alleviation of poverty and suffering stems from its underconsumptionist theoretical presupposition, wherein poverty and suffering are made sense of not as a crisis of the system of measure, which is precisely produced by this system in order to keep itself going, but as a curse of not being measured; or, not being fully subsumed by the system of measure. Such politics of alleviating poverty and suffering, needless to say, reinforces the system of quasi-objective measure (or valorisation) that produces poverty and suffering — which is the condition of being unmeasured — precisely in mobilising this limit of measure to found and (re)found itself as that system. It is not surprising that Pasolini, who was unflinching and unsentimental in affirming poverty as a revolutionary virtue, would see such underconsumptionist ‘radicalism’ as an unforgiveable handmaiden and ally of “neo-capitalism”.

Pasolini, in his characteristically counter-intuitive manner, repeatedly criticised such politics for undermining the revolutionary project. Here is an excerpt from his Lutheran Letters:
“The sin of the fathers is not only the violence of power, Fascism. It is also this: the dismissal from our consciousness by us anti-Fascists of the old Fascism, the fact that we comfortably freed ourselves from our deep intimacy with it (the fact that we considered the Fascists ‘our idiot brothers’; secondly and above all, the acceptance (all the more guilty because unconscious) of the degrading violence, of the real, immense genocides of the new Fascism.
“Why is there such complicity with the old Fascism and why such an acceptance of the new Fascism? Because there is — and this is the point — a guiding principle common to both, sincerely or insincerely: that is the idea that the greatest ill in the world is poverty and that therefore the culture of the poorer classes must be replaced by the culture of the ruling class.
“In other words, our guilt as fathers could be said to consist in this: that we believe that history is not and cannot be other than bourgeois history.”

Clearly, such politics, if we follow the train of Pasolini’s reasoning and analysis, effects the subjective embourgeoisement of the proletariat even as it not only leaves intact, but also actually reinforces, the proletarian condition in its sheer objectivity. This is arguably what Pasolini sought to argue when he insisted that “neo-capitalism” was a form of fascism more pernicious than political fascism that Europe had already experienced. And that, according to Pasolini, was because the latter was (is) characterised by, among other things, the continuance of “economic class struggle” even as the antagonistic class struggle between bourgeois and proletarian cultures had lapsed and disappeared. Pasolini’s “neo-capitalist” fascism — which he acutely demonstrated as being more insidious and more dangerous than the political fascism of yore — is nothing but our conjuncture of neoliberalism. This conjuncture is characterised by the state of exception having become generalised. So much so that struggles claiming to be anti-fascist are, precisely in asserting those claims, rendered fascistic in their own right. Thanks to ineluctable objective conditions, fascistic politics today is easily – and, as a matter of fact, invariably– operationalised precisely in the very moment of liberal-democratic juridicality, and in its political register.

It is in this context that the following contention of Dussel’s becomes extremely pertinent from the point of view of thinking an effective revolutionary strategy by way of articulating a thorough critique of underconsumptionism:
“It remains to distinguish between the inorganic multitude and the people as the emerging subject of history (Gen. 41:40), and the People of God as Church (Acts 15:14) called to a special role in history:

Come out of her (Babylon), my people, lest you take part in her sins (Revelation 18:4)”