We have been told that the vice-president of the Congress Party has taken a leave of absence in order to ‘reflect upon recent events’. This is indeed humorous considering the fact that his party itself seems to have been on an extended vacation for the last five years.
With ‘loser’ attention being drawn by the old and mighty Congress, we have all missed a no less great political tragedy of our times — the practically unnoticed disappearance of the Indian left. Most of the middle and upper-middle class will probably be pleased with this since they have always considered it obstructionist and anti-development. Unfortunately with some of its ideological predispositions, the left has self-created this perception.
But can anyone deny that they have been essential to the wheel of a peoples’ democracy? And hence if they vanish we lose an honest voice. The left is the voice of large sections of the oppressed and marginalised classes of this country. The left represents in spirit the true nature of social activist-politics that allowed for subaltern voices to be heard and helped this country retain a socialist ethic.
Does the left believe in a soul? Its orthodoxy may cavil at that term. But let me use it nonetheless. The soul of the left is in the upliftment of people and in the upholding of their rights. But this ‘soul’ cannot be boxed within a certain dated book. Every one of the left’s ideas need to be reinterpreted within the times that we live in. Unfortunately the left has been unwilling to revisit its beliefs.
This is baffling given the fact that they are probably the only ones among our political parties to have stayed in contact with the common man. They should know where they are relevant and where they are passe! Yet they do not.
Egalitarian living does not mean one does not imagine a more affluent life for oneself. A person on the street side watches cars whiz past and naturally imagines himself in one. If we do not respect that dream there is nothing liberal about us. Yes, the core principle of equality and fairness must govern the idea of liberty but we cannot dictate to the marginalised the type of living they must seek and unfairly judge those who don’t fall in line. I greatly respect the frugal lifestyle of most left-wing politicians and activists but this does not give them the right to be judgmental of the rest. It stifles even those who feel leftist guilty about their own innocuous dreams.
In this age of the Internet and television where every citizen watches the capitalist-market driven affluence it is hypocritical to denounce or judge this aspiration. We have to build this reality within our need for social parity. Not doing so is politically hollow and philosophically flawed.
So the question the left must ask is: How is it to remain the voice of the oppressed yet work with the empowered in a way that makes them change their way of living? In other words, can the left redefine the idea of ‘a better life for all’? Instead, the left has taken the rest to be enemies, opponents and this hurts them.
Even while in power the Left has been unable to make a real difference to the lives of marginalised Dalits and Muslims. Speaking out for them is one thing and changing their lives is something else. In Kerala, the higher social indexes at least in the past were due to the core socialist drive powered by the left.
In Bengal, the left’s handling of Nandigram and Shingur left a huge dent on their pro-poor and pro-farmer stance.
We cannot profess a socio-political position that is primarily about being ‘anti’ something, someone or some country. There is no doubt that a lot the left says about the US for example is accurate yet when this is seen alongside the left’s inability to strongly speak up on human-rights violations in China they lose credibility. The left has to think of itself as being ideologically universal but politically and culturally Indian and not as a member of some ‘international communists society.’ This disassociation will change the way they see themselves.
This is not a political analysis, it is a philosophical distress call. I am deeply saddened by the lack of vision and ingenuity among the left establishments. It is time that the word ‘Left’ is rediscovered and celebrated not just in that cliché ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’, but with the people.