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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 17, New Delhi, April 10, 2021

‘For a Left Populism’ | Arup Kumar Sen

Saturday 10 April 2021, by Arup Kumar Sen

Recently, the eminent scholar, Chantal Mouffe, wrote a seminal book titled For a Left Populism (Verso, 2018). She argued: “Right-wing populism claims that it will bring back popular sovereignty and restore democracy, but this sovereignty is understood as ‘national sovereignty’ and reserved for those deemed to be true ‘nationals’...Left populism on the contrary wants to recover democracy to deepen and extend it. A left populist strategy aims at federating the democratic demands into a collective will to construct a ‘we’, a ‘people’ confronting a common adversary: the oligarchy”.

Mouffe’s theoretical reading of populism is very much relevant in contemporary India, particularly in States ruled by the Left. The BJP, the dominant right-wing party in India, is trying to build its hegemony by constructing its notions of ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘anti-nationals’. Unfortunately, the Left parties in India have failed to emerge as a counter-hegemonic force by addressing the ‘aspirations of many people’ and connecting their politics with the ‘manifold struggles against subordination’.

The Left in West Bengal failed to ensure the basic rights and meet the legitimate claims of the Muslim community. The Sachar Committee Report (2006) noted that the Muslims in West Bengal (ruled by the Left Front for more than three decades) were worse off on many counts than their counterparts in most other states. A review of the Report carried in Mainstream noted: “The most glaring cases of Muslims’ deprivation in government jobs are found in the States of West Bengal and Kerala where, according to common perception, egalitarianism has been the cherished norm in all walks of life”. (Anees Chishti, April 24, 2007)

 The Left should make critical assessment of their own politics and address the basic rights and needs of different sections of the people, particularly those belonging to the subaltern classes, if they really have the political will to emerge as a counter-hegemonic force.

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