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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 39, New Delhi, September 12, 2020

Why the Right is Winning | Shiv Visvanathan

Friday 11 September 2020, by Shiv Visvanathan

by Shiv Visvanathan

The Left created a dream of the future while the Right allowed everyman to recreate his own past through an act of video violence.

To ask why is the Right succeeding needs to begin with an essay on the Left but not as an act of breast-beating or nostalgia. It is the self-inflicted injuries of the Left that help the Right consolidate itself. The Left still suffers from a lingering Stalinism which makes it destroy the best of its dissenting imaginations. It needs an Ojha to exorcise itself before it can resume politics. Such an analyst would tell the left that class as a category turned wooden and ethnocentric. The Left had no sense of margins, of ecology of livelihood as its response to the Narmada and fishing struggles in Kerala showed.

The Left created a dream of the future while the Right allowed everyman to recreate his own past through an act of video violence. You murdered a Muslim and felt you had avenged Rana Pratap or Padmini.

While the left was destroying itself, the Right found in the Nation-State and the idea of Youth two aspirational categories. The nation-state allowed the Right to march in uniform while it pretended to create a model the idea of youthful aspiration, the dream of the small town helped create myths of mobility, next to which class as a promise of change looked glacial. The Right could cannibalize democracy with the cunningness that the Left lacked.

In a deep sense, the Right had a better sense of the inventive nature of violence and evil. Violence was used as a historical cleanser but through the lenses of consumption. The rightest sense of violence as a lynch mob squad gives the masses an involvement in history that the left cannot provide. The Left created a dream of the future while the Right allowed everyman to recreate his own past through an act of video violence. You murdered a Muslim and felt you had avenged Rana Pratap or Padmini. The Right, thus, had a more brutal but satisfying theory of violence as exorcism.

The Right’s choice of the nation-state provides a collective sense of machismo, an aesthetic solidarity, a moment of romance which class as a sociological category lacks. Populism earned more weight than class warfare. Modi’s chaiwala for all its hypocrisy earned more connection than any proletarian slogan. Populism has protean flexibility that the Left does not understand. The Right understood that cadres are important but only as an ancillary to the mob. Between mobs and majoritarianism, the Right can brutalize democracy in a way the Left cannot dream of. The symbolic push through the Nation-State and through populism, the Right stirs and captures the imagination while the Left looks inert.

There is an illiteracy to the Left as it gets out of touch with the debates on science, creating the scientific temper, misunderstanding Bernal and Needham. Needham wanted Marxism to speak Welsh, he understood vernacular in a way the left did not, with the exception of Mahashweta. The Right had no interest in science as an ideology. It was purely instrumental. It captured the high ground of ancient science and saw science in instrumental terms. Science was technology and technology was a substitute for politics. With these two shifts, the Right captured science by black-boxing it.

The Right understood that cadres are important but only as an ancillary to the mob. Between mobs and majoritarianism, the Right can brutalize democracy in a way the Left cannot dream of.

The Left, except through liberation theology, was inept about religion. Its secularism is empty and has no sense of dialogue. The Left’s failure to understand religion has cut it off from one of the great civilizing imaginations. As a result, it is crass about superstition and illiterate about science. A dialogue of Left and religious movements would have been transformative, even welding Bhakti and Marxism. But the Left is timid about religion, so it is weak on the communalism of the Right. The Right can make an instrumental use of spirituality and religion while the Left watches inertly and ineptly. The Right has a way of appropriating history that the left does not grasp. Modi’s attempt to join Gandhi in the KVIC Calendar is a move the Left cannot imagine.

Eventually, it is a battle between two mediocrities but the Right as mediocrity blends the second rate with authoritarianism and democracy. It is more instrumental about evil than the Left is. A tactic of appropriation, populism, and machismo has given it power while the Left stands ineptly navel-gazing on its ideological mistakes. Maybe a renewed IPTA could stage a new theatre mirroring the ineptness of the Left. Sadly, the right has a sense of using media in a way the Left cannot dream of. Modi is mediocre but a designer created Karat is outdatedly a taxidermists’ dummy. He is no match for the crassness of Modi.

Shiv Visvanathan is an Indian academic best known for his contributions to developing the field of science and technology studies, and for the concept of cognitive justice a term he coined. He is currently a Professor at O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat.

(Courtesy: Gauri Lankesh News)

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