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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 33, New Delhi, July 31, 2021

Some Remarks about Movements | Ravi Sinha

Friday 30 July 2021

by Ravi Sinha

Accountability is foundational to democracy and, ultimately, people are supposed take those in power to account through democratic processes and mechanisms. But, then, we also know what often happens in democracy. Electoral competition gives rise to ‘technologies’ (often religious, cultural and identity-based) which turn citizens into “Bhakts” (devotees) and storm-troopers (remember Hitler’s “Brownshirts”). The dark side of democracy comes on top more often than the other side. India is witnessing that disaster. Trump was a testimony to the same phenomenon in the United States.

But what about movements? Are they also supposed to be accountable to someone or something? One would presume that movements are accountable to their own missions, values, objectives, arguments and strategies. Is anyone taking the movements to account on that score?

One would imagine that the left movement has been taken sufficiently to account all over the world. So much so that, for most people, there is no longer any need to take it to account. In many eyes, it is finished. Why waste time on something that is finished? And yet, a most curious thing is that left remains the favourite whipping boy of most other movements and their intellectual luminaries. Here in India a favourite pre-occupation of Dalit intellectuals is to expose the Savarna (upper caste) hegemony over the left movement and many feminists focus on the misogyny of leftists. As if in a survey of the Indian society leftists have come on top as the most likely and most numerous perpetrators of oppression and violence against Dalits and women! There is no denying that left must be taken to task for all its ills and all its failings. But, should a movement that is often pronounced dead be the prime example when it comes to evaluating movements?

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh has declared that it would be the party that would actually build the Ram temple. This party is openly and loudly appealing to Brahmins as a caste to come into its fold. Babasaheb Ambedkar famously talked about annihilation of caste and declared that there is no scope of Dalit liberation under Hinduism. This irony is not confined to BSP. A Dalit is submissively the President under the current dispensation and an ex-Dalit Panther is a minister. All this can be explained away as pragmatic responses to the demands and rigours of democracy. But what about the movement itself? What about Ambedkar’s mission?

The question goes far deeper. Why is it the case that Hindutva has been able to make such inroads into Dalit communities? In what ways and to what degrees the ‘Hindu civilizational mind’ sits within the ‘Dalit cultural mind’? Why is it the case that in Gujarat carnage and elsewhere Dalits have been as much and as willing a part of the Hindutva “Brownshirts” as any other community? Why is it the case that an occasional Dalit leader who emerges as a fiery meteorite in the aftermath of a gruesome atrocity disappears as fast from the social and political horizon and the masters of the electoral machinations remain as much in control of the actual political arena?

One hopes that the theorists of social movements – from Columbia and Harvard Universities to JNU and Osmania – are earnestly grappling with this puzzle. We all know the simple and common-sense answers, but they do not suffice. The puzzle needs a deeper explanation. How long the intellectual prophets of the social movements remain content with celebrating the history and the survival of these movements? How long will Dalit writers remain content with asking the caste lineage of other (Savarna) writers and denouncing them for the surnames they use? How long will they be content with demanding monopoly over literary depiction and theoretical explanation of Dalit life and experience? Real questions and real challenges remain unattended.

(Author: Ravi Sinha is a leading member of the New Socialist Initiative)

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