Donald Trump and the ritual of shock and awe in American duopoly

(Written for Kindle Magazine)

By Saswat Pattanayak

The shock and clamor surrounding Donald Trump’s ascension to power is entirely unwarranted. The sentimental protests, tearful mournings and fearful disbelief about how to make sense of Trump are self-serving exaggerations. Self-serving, because taking such positions merely distinguishes us from the nastiness that defines Trump. To the mortified, he is the indecency that is impossible to explain and he is the vice we have apparently fought all along. Trump is the worst of humanity, the enemy of the marginalized, the maniac who cannot be trusted with a nuclear button, the groper-in-chief who must not have become the commander-in-chief of the most consequential country in this planet. There is an inversely proportional relationship we share with his moralism. He is the anti-mirror, he is the nightmare personified, he is the friend of Putin, he is the American Modi. He is the enemy of the Muslims. He is the enemy of the women. He is the enemy of the poor. And no wonder, he even dashed our hope of having the first female president in American history. Where do we go from here now? Will our world not end now?

More ridiculous than Trump’s victory is the collective grief prevailing in its aftermath. More irksome than the erratic ignorance of Trump is the irresponsibility of our political memories. More culminating blow is landed to us from our hunky-dory imaginings of the American states of affairs preceding this poll than from the Canadian immigration website crash. It is our luxuriously privileged indulgence in our botoxed worldviews that allows our imagined future tragedies to surpass the reality of our past indifference. We are eager to lament an unseen tomorrow while justifying the legacies that have been harrowing for decades. In fact, keeping with that adulation of our rectitude, we are hoping for our noble old behaviors to be emulated in coming years. Have no fear, Obama assures us, we are all now the cheerleaders for Trump. No matter how disqualified he was, no matter the sexual predator that he was, no matter the tax evader that he was, no matter the racist, Islamophobe, misogynist untrustworthy xenophobe that he was, long live our democracy, which we shall continue to introduce in every land of this world under his leadership.

Lest the energy of dissonance and dissent is channelized differently, Hillary Clinton reminds us that peaceful transition of power is what we not only believe in, but cherish. All our banking institutions and corporations and bosses of both the big parties are not going to be overthrown. We are going to accept the results gracefully like we always have because we have unequivocal faith in the system they own. We must continue to work together with them to relish the American greatness that we have defined in all its past, present and future tense. Hallelujah!

Trump is not a miracle. Trump is culmination of American exceptionalism which has been preached by every president preceding him. Trump is the logical apotheosis of humanized capitalism, where the winners take all, where executive decisions are sacrosanct, where we feel it right to sponsor deaths and tortures and waterboarding and drones and assassinations and weaponization of regions that we consider inferior.

Today liberal America is shaking with moralist rage, in fear and anger. There are protests outside the Trump Tower. There are letters school children are writing to Trump. There are celebrities urging their fans to continue the fight. An unprecedented climate of uncertainty hovers over America. Apprehensive of what the first 100 days of Trump can result in. Will illegals be deported? Will there be wars? Will other countries now be scared of our hooliganism? Will there be visa restrictions on people? Will there now be assaults on women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights? Will black people be safe any longer? Will hardworking people flourish anymore? Will a few elites enjoy concentrated wealth? Will our healthcare industry fail? Will our education become unaffordable? Will there be public protests and police atrocities? Will the rich now manipulate taxation system? Will we ever have a female president? Will we be able to explain our children about what our president should do and what he actually does?

All these and many more questions plague the well-meaning liberals. They are finding everything surreal with Trump’s triumph. The world is no longer the same. The good old days of freedom, respect, dignity, decency, morality, virtues and values are past us. Trump has forced us to wake up from our American dreams.

Maybe it is high time that we did and maybe we owe that to Donald Trump. After all, it is not Trump who stands exposed today. It is the sheer hypocrisy of American liberals that stands exposed. Liberals conveniently forget that it is not Trump who had deported the largest number of people and separated family members in millions within past eight years. It is not Trump that built secret chambers of tortures to round up human beings that have been called “illegals”. It is not Trump that ordered the wars and interventions all around the world that resulted in assassinations of world leaders. It is not Trump who won the Nobel Peace Prize and launched the industry of drones resulting in deaths of thousands of innocent civilians – women and children – in faraway lands. It is not Trump that has made America the biggest rogue nation in history. It is not Trump who privatized healthcare and education and forced people to debt. It is not Trump who bailed out the Wall Street or launched attacks on protesters at Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter. It is not Trump who caused the new Jim Crow and massive incarceration of Blacks and Latinos. It is not Trump who refused to recognize same-sex marriage for decades, or who prevented women candidates from becoming nominees of major political parties. It is not Trump who prevented Shirley Chisholm a nomination, it is not he who stopped Cynthia McKinney’s dream, it is not he who halted Hillary Clinton’s journey to White House when she aimed at it for the first time.

Indeed, Trump shall also be held accountable in coming days. But unlike Modi who had bossed over riots and massacres before being elected head of India, Trump has had no impacts on political landscape of the United States. He is no American Modi. Unlike Putin of Russia, Trump did not have any bureaucratic experience or political support for him to rise to unchecked power. He is no American Putin. Unlike any other president in American history, Trump had no sway over politics or military prior to this. He is no typical American president either.

He is a result of a democracy that the United States takes pride in. It is existential to American identity. This is the democracy that understands only one language – a language of money and competition. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump used this language to their best abilities and only one of them won by a slight margin. To be especially afraid of the newest master of this language is to be afraid of this system itself.

The values that have emboldened this system lie at the foundation of this country. From celebration of Columbus and observation of Thanksgiving to colonization of numerous lands – whether Puerto Rico or Hawaii or dozens more such annexations; from erasure of the indigenous Americans from every stream of public life to judicial killings and systematic disfranchisement of black people, America’s strength has always been its excesses. And this might of American state has constantly been met with resistance of freedom fighters throughout – from Frederick Douglass to Oscar Lopez Rivera, from Paul Robeson to the Black Panthers.

To suddenly lose the good old days flavor, now that a certain Donald Trump has risen to power is to insult the rich histories of struggles that have duly acknowledged and battled against American excesses, one president at a time. This placement of anger on Trump is at the same time an undermining of decades-long organizing efforts by the working class against the ruling elites. United States has never been great, and as long as its plutocracy exists – with support of both the major parties, probably never will become great. Indeed, no country is great because of its ruling class; its greatness is measured by the dignity it amasses despite its ruling class. Whether it be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, their taste of success is not a yardstick to evaluate how much Americans have been liberated. In fact, the ceremony of voting and electoral theatrics are necessary exercises to keep the power-hungry relevant, and more importantly acceptable.

The filthy rich Clintons who run dubious charitable organizations and charge millions of dollars via their political double-speak should ideally be despised. Bill “I-don’t-know-that-woman” Clinton’s assaults on women and his wife’s steadfast support for his misogyny should ideally be abhorred. Hillary Clinton’s views on black youths and gay marriage that took opportunist turns for political gains should have been grounds enough for her disqualification. As the biggest receiver of Big Pharma concerns and Wall Street interests, Hillary Clinton should ideally have been rejected by liberals who espouse progressive values. The manner in which Democratic Party bosses manipulated Bernie Sanders campaign should have distanced every conscientious liberal from her. And yet, under this obligation to hold voting as a sacrosanct exercise, and to elect that candidate who has more probability of winning, regardless of the content of character (which ensured the silencing of Jill Stein from the discourse), the liberals find a pressing need to forgive everything that is wrong about Hillary Clinton. And yet magically, they reserve the same yardstick exclusively for assessment of the Republican candidate. Likewise, Donald Trump should ideally have been disqualified from addressing any nation, considering his history of hate speeches, his admittance of being an assaulter, his tax evasions, and his fear-mongering pleas. And yet, the Republican voters feel compelled to make their candidate win at all cost and pass the yardstick unto Hillary’s.

This is the sort of democracy that Fidel Castro had long ago dismissed as phony. A system which justifies a status quo by means of validation from those it aims to oppress. It nullifies all possibilities of revolutions by using a mandate to justify continuation of a duopoly. The domination of two wealthiest parties is such that not only the presidential debates do not have provisions for third parties, but even the media at large ignore the views of political leaders that challenge both parties at the same time. People who vote for third parties are ridiculed for being spoilsports, and even blamed for all the political mishaps. This year too, it was no different – the Democrats blamed third party voters for the victory of Trump, while over 10% of Obama voters and 9% of registered Democrats did end up voting for Trump this poll – which is way more significant a number than the entire voter population that supported third parties.

The capacity to imagine beyond duopoly is systematically discouraged. In effect, every couple of terms, each party gets a chance to enjoy power with tacit understanding. The outgoing president graciously makes space for the incoming one. The same rogue policies continue to appease big businesses, they further prison-industrial complex, and the presidents outdo each other in aggressions abroad. Whether it be Kennedy or Reagan, Clinton or Bush, Obama or Trump, foreign policies of this hawkish nation rests on the idea of a few enemy states to engage with militarily. Hillary Clinton’s win wouldn’t have changed the course in any way whatsoever. Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan and North Korea were among many enemy states directly envisaged by her. Trump will end up substituting a couple at best. But the same game shall go on without interruptions.

The illusion of freedom to choose a candidate, the desire to elect a winner, the urge to submit to ruling class whims – elections are festivals to celebrate our collective surrender to our exploiters. And in these times of intense inequality, poverty, homelessness, wars and displacements, euphoria surrounding Trump’s victory is an act of political masochism. And more crucially, getting all depressed owing to Clinton’s defeat amounts to political complacency. This was indeed the nastiest battle in recent history – but only a battle between two power-hungry, egotist rich individuals. Both had irreparable flaws and neither exhibited leadership traits that could provide a vision for a better world. If Trump’s pet peeve was China, Clinton’s was Russia. If Trump did not disclose tax returns, Clinton hid her transcripts on corporations. If Trump had a history of assaulting women, Clinton had a history of standing by an assaulter. If Trump was threatening to make America “great” again, Clinton had already aided in making America “great” many times in the past. No matter who among them would have won, the world would still be dreading American intervention and drone strikes and unilateral declarations against regions it deemed helpless.

That said, there are a few critical lessons from this election. Especially for the young people and children who are failing to understand how to look upto a sexual assaulter and a bully as their role model. The answer is, it is not possible to treat Trump as a role model. But it so happens that our children are not told the whole story by the liberals. In the entire history of the United States, there was hardly a single President who had the accomplishments to be a role model. The lesson number one is that winning is not everything and often times, people do not win because they are correct. A president is basically a winner in a race to power, just as there are winners in various other fields. Simply because most people believe in a faith, a party, a person does not mean that makes it alright to unquestioningly adopt the same. Simply because there are authorities in law, politics, academics, religions does not mean the authorities are to be held inviolable. Just because plutocratic systems have been shoved down to us disguised as democracy does not mean this is the system we must protect at all costs even if the victors are assaulters. Secondly, there is no such thing as Karma. Feel-good liberals and conservatives alike tend to believe in such fatalistic theories and pass them on to next generations. If Trump/Clinton are the type of people who dominate the political stage while Stein/Baraka kind of candidates receive less than 2% of votes, it is not because of good/bad karma, but because of our comfortable indifference towards capitalism and willful ignorance of ongoing movements against it.

Finally, the lesson is not in expecting hope to be trickled down from politicians whose source of power is private capital interests, rather to painstakingly gather all the hope that we can, trace its foundations in centuries old aspirations to free the lands and people of greed and monopolies; in not allowing these corporate czars from defining what is a people’s revolution, rather to collect the scattered leaves on the paths of revolutions scarred by the martyrs bloods. The lesson is to use Trump’s rise as an opportunity to look beyond the hype of the two-party system and to reimagine the political landscape. Instead of waiting for any messiah who will “fix” everything for the working class, it is the working poor themselves whose organized efforts need to bring down the power corridors.

Capitalism is inherently ableist, sexist, racist and individualist. Trump is its outcome and White House is its upholder. The eyes need not be set on the prize that devours us all, but on the one that liberates us all. Communism alone can offer that alternative. If we can imagine. As the capitalistic contradictions reach zenith in the citadel following Trump’s rise, the good news is, it is not going to be as difficult to reimagine. It is only inevitable.

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Eurocentrism as Terrorism

The War on Terror has been raging since the hegemony of the West was first challenged, says Saswat Pattanayak.

By Saswat Pattanayak

Let’s not romanticize terrorism. Terrorists blew up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Terrorists organized the White Army to kill over 3 million Russians. Terrorists funded the Nazis and the Fascists, killing nearly 12 million Jews and Communists. Terrorists killed nearly 3 million Koreans in an anticommunist war. Terrorists killed 2 million Vietnamese, half a million Cambodians and Laotians in the name of Cold War. Terrorists killed nearly 200,000 Algerians whom the French colonized. Terrorists infiltrated into Greece and colonized Philippines. Terrorists disrupted lives in Albania and Iran. Terrorists flew into Guatemala and killed Syrians and Costa Ricans. Terrorists targeted Indonesia and Haiti and Ecuador. Terrorists colonized and killed over 8 million people of Congo under Belgian kings. Terrorists introduced death squads in Brazil and went on a rampage in Peru and Dominican Republic. Terrorists threatened Ghana and tortured working poor of Uruguay and killed Che Guevara in Bolivia. Terrorists funded Pinochet in Chile and invaded Grenada. Angola, Zaire, Jamaica, Seychelles, Morocco, Suriname, Nicaragua, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador – terrorists imported their dreaded forms of democracy through murders, rapes and territorial invasions.

All these terrorists have had one religion – Christianity. All of them have had one civilization – Western. All of these terrorists have been upholders of one ideology – Eurocentric colonialism. And they have one common claim – that, they have been fighting terrorism and civilizing the savages, one Thanksgiving at a time.

The so-called “War on Terror” has been going on ever since slavery was challenged by African freedom fighters, feudalism was challenged by the Russian communists, and colonialism was challenged by the nationalists of the Global South. In the latest instance, the War on Terror is a series of targeted attacks on the Arab countries and allies that currently challenge the unipolarity of NATO powers.

Žižek and the spectre of Western Values:

The renewed “war on terror” in the wake of Paris attacks is merely a continuation of the moral argument that the Eurocentric colonialists need to protect the cultural purity of western civilization. Slavoj Žižek’s latest argument decrying the refugees that are threatening the fabrics of “radical western roots” through attacks on the soil of western lands is an intelligent summation of racist justification for colonialism; a nostalgic tribute to the “good old days” when France used to be an apostle of “liberty, equality, fraternity” while it enjoyed brutalizing its colonies (Algeria, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Tahiti, China, Lebanon, Syria).

Advocates of Eurocentrism have not only deemed themselves superior on basis of “Western values” which Žižek pays rich tributes to in his latest essay, they also preempt the possible conjecture, if not an informed critique, that a response/retaliation may be warranted. Take the case of “pitiless” actions of France in Syria, the day after Paris attacks – 10 aircraft dropped 30 bombs hitting among other things, a soccer stadium, a museum and medical facilities and destroying electricity facilities affecting 200,000 people. Most likely, the human casualties in Syria in coming months will not even be counted, let alone mourned.

Just as there were no European tears shed following deaths of 26 in Iraq the very day Paris was attacked. Or, over the killing of 43 in Lebanon the day before, over the deaths of 66 in Pakistan, and of 56 Palestinians, last month. 300,000 have died following the NATO’s “War on Terror” in Syria. Over 4 million Muslims have died world over in the process of reclaiming Western values of liberty and democracy. And there have been no civilized grief over these.

In fact, quite the contrary. Defense expenditures among NATO nations are on an increase. If the United States as leader of the rogue nations spends $1,891 per capita on defence, the allegedly peacenik Norway is not far behind with $1,328 per capita in funding the war on terror. They are able to persist with such military spendings against the interest of working class in those countries, precisely by employing a moral parameter that defines terrorism as the act conducted by the people of Global South, by people not practicing Judeo-Christian faiths.

Scholars like Žižek and Richard Dawkins take pride in rational views, as enlightened Europeans who are clearly not conservative rightwingers. But while at it, they consistently depict the roots of Western civilization to be categorically progressive and advanced. In many ways, they conveniently overlook the subtle contradictions in their preferred narrative by overtly attacking the regressive elements, that are more obvious. A case in point is the way Dawkins refused to acknowledge the slave-owning heritage of his family estate, while attacking Islam as a religion that has produced no Nobel laureates. Likewise, Žižek refuses to attribute centuries of racist wars and genocides to European onslaughts, while riding high on the allegedly “Western legacy” of “egalitarianism and personal freedoms”.

Fanon and the Wretched:

What is the Western legacy that Žižek and Dawkins take pride in? What is this Europe if not a region built upon the sweat and blood of the Third World? As Frantz Fanon wrote on the Violence in the International Context, “Moral reparation for national independence does not fool us and it doesn’t feed us. The wealth of the imperialist nations is also our wealth…Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The riches which are choking it are those plundered from the underdeveloped peoples. The ports of Holland, the docks in Bordeaux and Liverpool owe their importance to the trade and deportation of millions of slaves…..Colonialism and imperialism have not settled their debt to us once they have withdrawn their flag and their police force from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved like real war criminals in the underdeveloped world. Deportation, massacres, forced labor, and slavery were the primary methods used by capitalism to increase its gold and diamond reserves, and establish its wealth and power.”

Fanon is right. Contrary to what Žižek claims, egalitarianism and personal freedoms do not comprise western legacy – their suppression in the name of colonialism is. One cannot rule over and plunder another country for decades if not centuries, and then blame the “backwardness” on the ruled subjects. Has Žižek analyzed the role of French colonialism in treating Algerians and Syrians as little more than animals and forcing them to be refugees in their own lands before equating the issue of terrorism with the issue of “refugee crisis”?

Žižek squarely blames the victims while ridiculing the “anti-Islamophobia” in the following words, “Multiculturalist or anti-colonialist’s defense of different “ways of life” is false. Such defenses cover up the antagonisms within each of these particular ways of life by justifying acts of brutality, sexism and racism as expressions of a particular way of life that we have no right to measure with foreign, i.e. Western values.”

A scholar of Žižek’s repute can indulge in some more word games to create a dialectic therein, but the above postulation as a normative already exists in the mainstream. He merely fuels it by using it as a proposition, no matter what conclusion he derives at the end. For instance, it is already a widespread belief, thanks to the new-age atheists, that Islamic believers are intolerant brutes. This analysis based on Charlie Hebdo shooting is Islamophobic precisely because it does not take into account the hostile pattern in France towards Muslims as a historically gruesome reality. Hebdo incident was a reaction, not an initiation. The denial of Paris massacre of 1961 was for decades not considered an act of Christian terrorism. But come Hebdo, and it was suddenly Islamic terrorism. So much so that 54 people who exercised their free speech rights to defend the attack on Charlie Hebdo were arrested as “apologists for terrorism”.

In India too, we now witness branding of Mani Shankar Iyer, Salman Khurshid, Azam Khan and Shakeel Ahmad as apologists for terrorism, simply for failing to parrot the grand Eurocentric narrative that demands unconditional regrets over acts of terrorists of a specific faith – Islam. Not only one needs to condemn “Islamic terrorism” (Iyer has been criticized for being anti-Islamophobia instead of simply calling Paris attacks as terrorism), but in case of Ahmad’s tweet, one cannot bring in religion into picture to depict a terrorist who is a non-Muslim (Chhota Rajan as a Hindu terrorist is inadmissible because the “Hindu terrorism” is still a misnomer in India, just as “Christian terrorism” finds no usage in Europe/US).

Violence: Whose Prerogative?

As a lazy researcher, Žižek repeats the charges of “brutality, sexism and racism” against the anti-Islamophobes. A closer look at the global situation would reveal that these very features are tools of oppression for the ruling elites precisely everywhere in the world. Žižek does admit to the anti-immigrant racists in power while conceding slightly – but where he fails to discern the all-important distinction is the necessary Marxist critique that is completely absent in his analysis. Who gains from these weapons and who suffers? Islamophobia has been claiming lives world over, just as Eurocentric colonialism had been. Racism/sexism/brutality as state policies are radically different consequential tools compared to those as reactionary mechanisms with the subjects. Anti-colonialism which Žižek mocks, is not an ideology created to profit those who are suffering due to NATO’s Eurocentrism. It is a necessary tool to oppose all too-familiar colonial aggression about which both Fanon and Sarte have extensively written. But it is in no way a shield to protect values of brutality, sexism and racism – whose primary manufacturers and sustainers as such happen to be the former colonial masters.

What are the wars, whether “world war”, “cold war”, or “war on terror” – if not a front to prove who is the bigger champion of brutality, sexism and racism? Imperialist wars in the name of “war on terror” have been notorious in usage of tortures and brutality – sleep deprivation and waterboarding of prisoners; they have wrought nothing if not rapes of women as prized captures, and have achieved nothing if not ethnic cleansing. The “Torture Memos” advising the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques that are otherwise illegal, but are permissible under the pretext of “War on Terror” are revealing in this regard. Let alone, “Western values”, where is humanity in all of this?

Selective Humanity

Was any humanity there when Paris attacks happened? This has an expected answer: of course not, because no matter how ghastly the past maybe, nothing can justify the killing of innocent people who are watching a rock concert. However, this type of feel-good assertions are deeply problematic, in that they assume that violence of any sort is just immoral – when it occurs in France or in the United States. When Facebook activated a “Safety Check” button for folks who have relatives in France, to the exclusion of similar buttons for relatives of victims of terrorist attacks in Palestine, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq or Yemen, then there is something else to the “humanity” question that we subconsciously overlook.

It points directly to the dehumanization of black and brown people. While flags of many countries went half-mast in many countries to honor those who lost lives in France, and many monuments lit up with colors of French flags, there was no such display of official mournings by these countries when terrorist attacks were occurring in countries like Pakistan and Palestine and Lebanon. What explains this is a climate of extreme racism amidst media and their consumers in the world today, which in turn remains entirely Eurocentric. And this invalidates Žižek’s longing for the missing Eurocentric values. Indeed, the Eurocentric values themselves are central to this crisis, not alien.

The Eurocentric tears are in the backdrop of a denial that the countries worst affected by terror attacks are indeed Muslim countries themselves. According to Global Terrorism Index (GTI), in 2014, 82% of those killed in terror attacks were in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. And ever since the “War on Terror” has been launched, the number of deaths from terrorism has in fact increased five-fold: from 3,361 deaths in 2000 to 17,958 in 2013.

Not only NATO member-states have suffered the least from terror attacks so far, more importantly, they have enabled terror organizations through direct funding and military assistance to “rebels” who have subsequently grown beyond their intended purpose (if at all). If Taliban was enabled by Reagan administration to destabilize the secular fabric of Afghanistan in an effort to contain the Soviets, and Al-Qaeda was funded to destroy Libya’s stability under Obama, it was Bush and subsequently Obama administration which were also responsible for funding the hate that produced ISIS at the first place. Thus far, these outfits have been causing significantly more havoc among the Islamic societies than in the NATO countries. It is to the credit of the Islamic countries that they are not only bravely fighting these terrorists who have been emboldened via foreign fundings, but these societies are also retaining a calm that is infinitely more surprising than it is praiseworthy.

The video clips of women and children on the streets of Baghdad beating their chests and cursing the aerial bombardments in search of the mysterious WMDs are not isolated ones. The Abu Gharib torture and Guantanamo Bay abuses are part and parcel of inhuman foreign policies instituted and indeed continued to this day by the NATO member states, principally led by the United States. To assume that there will be retaliations on part of those we have “othered”, is infinitely more prophetic, than it can ever be justified.

Glorification: Gun, bombs and violence

Gandhi did remind us once: “an eye for an eye only ends up making the world world blind”. And he was right. We are headed that way. But if we must take shelter in Gandhian ideals, then we should be in a position to condemn violence in all its manifestations. It is wrong when people take up arms and aimlessly shoot others. And it is all the more evil when the state uses military force to strategically eliminate innocent people of foreign lands under the pretext of killing a select few terrorists. Violence needs to be treated as bad each time one violates the principle of non-violence. One cannot endorse political parties that retaliate swiftly with drones and indiscriminate shootings and then blame a handful of terrorists for what was coming. One cannot remain indifferent when people are bombed to deaths in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Libya and then get all teary-eyed at Paris shootings.

ISIS has spared none and has been criticized by all sections and people across all religions. Precisely due to this then it is like the inspector who called in; the conscience gone wrong, horribly wrong. ISIS aside, the deaths of innocent beings in Paris still must be looked within the prism of manifestation of reactions. Waterboarding and torture tactics done by NATO folks are equally evil, more so, because they are carried out in the name of taxpayers. As citizens, we partake in the glorification of militarist exhibitionisms. Our violent-prone culture is such that the decorated war hero of Indian origin in Canada is actually being applauded for being a “badass” defence minister because some reports suggest he is expert at torturing enemies. One Putin meme is circulated widely because it shows Putin saying he can send the terrorists to the God. Killing of human lives whether through capital punishment or via cop “encounters” are cheered by enthused citizenry. Indeed, the foremost patriotic song of India that make us emotional has these lines, “Thi khun se lath path kaaya, phir bhee banduk uthaake // Das das ko ek ne maara, phir gir gaye hosh ganvaake”.

Gandhian/Buddhist/Christian values do not distinguish between people as they do between values. What sort of violent world we are building up for the future generations depend on our endorsements of terror tactics or opposition to them, regardless of who is the perpetrator. As long as we use guns and bombs and drones as tools to resolve crisis, both the state and non-state agencies will take the cues and up their games in the contests within the ambit of conventional warfare/terrorism. When police officers can be awarded in India with medals who torture and sexually abuse women prisoners like Soni Sori, then we have a real lack of humane values. Against the backdrop of violence and flaunting of “license to kill”, from Singham to James Bond, our popular culture overflows with justifications for gory violence to end all ills.

A few months ago, one of my articles opposing death penalty for Yakub Memon had invited the wrath of the lynch mob, one member of whom publicly stated on a Facebook page that I should be handed over to the RAW for torturous interrogation so that I can confess to my ties with terrorist groups of Pakistan. The audacity to make such serious remarks in such casual fashion points to the level of normalization in ourselves regarding the acceptance of terror tactics, and any tool of violence as a legitimate measure to win even an argument.

Unsurprisingly and not entirely unrelated to the issue of terrorism in civilized lands, the gun violence in United States does demand special attention. In this year alone, from gun violence, 11,696 have dies so far, and 23,787 have suffered injuries. There have been 293 incidents of mass shootings within last ten months. 627 children (age 0-11) and 2,329 teenagers (age 12-17) have lost their lives so far. Violence has become not just commonplace, but also the preferred method to reach a resolution.

However, not all violences are condemned and therefore gun violence is not taken as seriously within the United States. That is because, unfortunately in the current world, which of the mass shootings are acts of terrorism indeed depends on the religion of the perpetrator than on the nature of shooting. And the spiraling silence around this prejudice, while pitiless responses await innocent civilians outside the zone of NATO member states, should have been disturbing us even all the more. Alas, thanks to an Eurocentric world, we still need an imperialist narrative to define what should be considered to be terrorizing us today.

(Written for Kindle Magazine)

Roots (and prospects) of Justice

Our justice system has failed to protect the very principles of liberty and equality it was tasked to defend and become a willing participant in the State oppression it was supposed to prevent. Reforming it requires us to revisit what we’ve previously held sacrosanct, says Saswat Pattanayak. (Kindle Magazine)

“I request this House to adopt the same conciliatory attitude to all political minorities and to adopt the same principles as have been adopted by the Soviet Union…I propose my amendment and request Dr. Ambedkar to accept it—That in the Preamble for the words ‘We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Democratic Republic’, the words ‘We The people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a union of Indian Socialistic Republics to be called U.I.S.R. on the lines of U.S.S.R.’ be substituted.”

—Amendment proposed by Maulana Hasrat Mohani, 17 October 1949

Maulana Mohani’s visions were threefold: “Our Constitution must be federal, it must be centrifugal, and the constituent States or Republics should willingly hand over certain central powers to the Centre”. He was highly critical of the draft under consideration and minced no words: “We should take our minorities into our confidence. Instead of doing that, you are going to outcaste them altogether. You are passing anything you like, without the slightest consideration for the interests of even your political minorities.”

The Constituent Assembly of India had quite predictably negatived Maulana Mohani’s proposed amendment. The feelings were reciprocal—Mohani, the man who symbolised religious harmony and coined the phrase “Inquilab Zindabaad” also remained the only voice of dissent in the Assembly and refused to go along with the finally adopted Constitution. His desire for a free voluntary democratic Indian Union of sovereign units never materialised.

Almost seven decades have passed since, and the sole dissenter Maulana Mohani has been vindicated. India has failed on both grounds: our states are constantly at odds with the Centre, and our political minorities are routinely persecuted. Both social justice and individual liberties are duly neglected and travesty has become synonymous with justice.

Social (in)Justice

India’s most devastating failure to tackle social justice started only a year after independence was gained. The Hyderabad massacre of 1948—the deaths of around 40,000 people, mostly Muslims killed by Hindu mobs—was well documented but remained suppressed for decades and no justice was rendered. Two decades later in 1969, the Muslim community was again targeted, this time in Gujarat where Hindu nationalists killed hundreds of Muslims and destroyed nearly 40 mosques and 50 dargahs. Exactly two decades later, Bihar (Bhagalpur) witnessed the worst communal violence until that period, resulting in over 1,000 deaths (900 of them Muslims) and the displacement of over 50,000 people. The Moradabad riots of 1980, the Nellie massacre of 1983, the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the anti-Muslim Bombay riots of 1992–93 and the 2002 Gujarat riots together have resulted in innumerable deaths and massive distrust among minority communities. Add to these the recent Muzaffarnagar riots, the plights of Northeast and Kashmir and we have a region fragmented into different imaginary and competing republics, bound by the law of the land, but not by its spirit.
What can explain the dismissive manner in which the accusations of over a hundred “political” rapes in Kunan Poshpora (among many others in Kashmir) have been handled? What about the justice in caste-based violence resulting in the rape of Dalit women in India (statistically, 21 rapes every week)? So absurdly absent has judicial intervention been that people not only have “taken the law unto their own hands”, but private militias have been established to oppress the Dalits. As a result, the dispossessed are either too often casually disregarded as willful participants in the violence, or are publicly used as case studies carrying Maoist aspirations.

From vilifying insecure communities and terrorising the marginalised, to carrying out broad daylight romanticised “encounters”, the Indian justice system has stoically overlooked communal clashes, rendered selective justice, oppressed political minorities, ignored indigenous peoples and fostered hegemonic nation-building excesses. In the latest instance, the Hashimpura massacre has turned out to be a textbook example of injustice. Even as the police and the military orchestrated the murder of 42 innocent Muslim youth, no one has been found to be guilty. Nearly three decades have passed, and yet not a single member from the military could be brought to the trial for investigational purpose. From entertaining charges of sedition against Arundhati Roy and Geelani, to actually declaring Dr. Binayak Sen guilty, the judicial system is notoriously indifferent to heinous crimes of hateful nature, while it promptly penalises conscientious dissenting citizens who express unpopular political opinions. Even as the sacrosanct wings of democracy in the form of executive-legislative-judiciary-military have long ceased implementing laws that can guarantee a life of dignity for all the citizens of India without discrimination, they have been acutely enthusiastic about reminding people of how serious a charge of “sedition” can be—a remnant of a cruel colonial legacy that has been neatly preserved.

Individual Liberty

Like Maulana Mohani, there was another unsung member of the Constituent Assembly who had predicted the approaching disasters: Mahavir Tyagi. While Mohani was concerned that in our anticommunist quest, we were ignoring an emancipatory USSR Constitution, while heavily borrowing from colonial legacies of oppressive Constitutions of the imperialist world, and that, by doing so, we were facilitating prospects for dangerous communal violence in the coming years, Tyagi was equally emphatic in rejecting the proposals of the Drafting Committee that had introduced the clause of “Preventive Detention”, which curtailed basic individual liberties and in turn made the judiciary system a draconic one.
“What relevancy is there for a detention clause in the Constitution which is meant to guarantee fundamental rights to the citizens? I am afraid the introduction here of a clause of this kind changes the chapter of fundamental rights into a penal code worse than the Defence of India Rules of the old government. I have suffered under the Defence of India Rules long detention“. Tyagi went one step further and proposed that a truly emancipated people must possess the capacity to overthrow a government that acts destructively against the rights of the people: “I would ask Dr. Ambedkar and the Drafting Committee if they are also prepared to arm the people also with the power to overthrow a government which works destructively against the fundamental rights which they have granted to them. Surely the people have got the right to overthrow, abolish or alter such a government and to constitute another government which they think would be more likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

It was not a matter of sheer coincidence that both the divide-and-rule policies resulting in communal violence and curtailment of liberty by means of detention without trial were gifts from British colonialism. R. Palme Dutt cited in India Today (1940) the official policy of the British Raj: “Our endeavour should be to uphold in full force the (for us fortunate) separation which exists between the different religions and races, not to endeavour to amalgamate them. Divide et impera should be the principle of Indian government.”

And yet, despite having an anti-colonial spirit at the forefront of freedom struggle in India, we heavily retained the colonial judicial chapters. Ironically, the British have themselves completely abolished sedition as an offence, but India has zealously guarded the provision, which reads: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law shall be punished with im­prisonment for life, to which fine may be added”.

Let alone entertaining Tyagi’s demands for rights to the citizens to oppose reactionary governments, the Indian injustice system is rife with criminalising citizens without providing them with basic safeguards. Nearly 70 percent of the prison population in India comprises citizens who haven’t been tried (pre-trial detainees or remand prisoners), even as the occupancy level in the prison system is at 118.4 percent. Monthly pending cases in just the Supreme Court amounts to 61,300 (February, 2015). The number of pending cases in the High Courts is 44.5 lakh and in the lower judiciary, the number is 2.6 crore.

Judicial Activism

Even as the pending cases and prison system are depressing indicators, the enthusiasm to encourage judicial activism is a parallel development that is founded upon utter hopelessness. If democracy is meant to reflect the will of the people, then judicial activism/overreach is in reality a legitimate tool to undermine that will. There is no doubt that public interest litigations have done a world of good and that the Supreme Court of India has enormously improved the country’s state of affairs, but at the same time, by essentially violating the separation of powers principle, the courts are setting wrong precedents. Most notably, the manner in which the Chief Justice of India and four other judges get to select and appoint judges clearly sends alarming signals.
Most of the judicial activism is made possible owing to interpretations of our Constitution, which are perfectly legal (naturally), but it will not be a stretch to visualise the courts as the new bureaucracy. Not to mention, considering the social locations of the powers to be within the judiciary, a tad elitist (again, naturally so).

As the recent “Nirbhaya” documentary episode demonstrated, not only was the ban itself rightfully controversial and therefore ignited discussions, but the media interviews with the defense attorneys displayed almost a trend of judicial vigilantism. Whatever be the nature of its content and regardless of how useful to or judgmental of the feminist movements it is, the excuse that the telecast of it can influence the due process of law is open to debate. The vigilantism accompanied the manners in which one attorney threatened a member of the audience with an accusation that he was insulting the Supreme Court if he was going to pose critical questions to the lawyer. The lawyer then went on to boast how his daughter would never do something for which he would have to set her on fire—as he was the custodian of his adult daughter.

As shocking as such revelations appear to be, the truth is the lawyers and judges hail from the same patriarchal society which enables rape culture, the same casteist regions that pervade the entire landscape of the country, and the same corrupt playing fields that separate the commoners from the VIP judges for whom the traffic gets cleared on priority.

Back to the Basics

The same meritocracy, which continues to disadvantage the historically oppressed, finds its greatest manifestation in the country’s judiciary. It is undeniable that the justice system—law enforcement and courts alike—bears great responsibilities, especially during times when the executive and legislative branches have reached the lowest ebb. But it is even all the more important that while judicial activism arms the judges with the unprecedented privileges, they open up to much greater scrutiny.
One of the ways to move forward is to ensure social justice and individual liberty, while at the same time abolishing provisions for seditions and detentions without trials. Constitutional interpretations are necessary, but thanks to amendment provisions, there are greater hopes still. For amendments of course, using the participation of other branches of governance is crucial, so that overreach of any specific unit is contained.

India has multitudes of problems when it comes to issues specifically impacting the women and religious minorities. If we have not been able to adequately safeguard their interests, it is quite possible that we may need new laws in place, employing feminist languages that aim at liberating the oppressed.

For instance, in the past, we might have neglected to consider the USSR Constitution or the idea behind the Soviet of Nationalities or Korenizatsiya. Following Maulana Mohani’s proposal, if we look at 1936 Constitution of the USSR, we shall realise how we could adopt a right to free higher education conducted in the native language, a right to rest and leisure that guarantees a working day to last not more than seven hours. We shall realise how as important it is to provide for a fundamental right in the name of religious worship, it is equally necessary to let people enjoy the freedom to conduct antireligious propaganda. To make sure that citizens are “guaranteed inviolability of the person”. where women are accorded equal rights with men without exploitations, citizens have the “right to maintenance in old age and also in case of sickness or loss of capacity to work. This right is ensured by the extensive development of social insurance of workers and employees at state expense, free medical service…”

Whatever might have been our collective past, the future still shall hold promise if we revisit what we have conventionally considered sacrosanct. We need to improvise upon our own laws, to be more inclusive, to be more sensitive, to be more egalitarian. To do away with capital punishment, to consider marital rape as a crime, to prohibit corporal punishment. To prioritise structural reforms over a penal system. To redefine what constitutes a crime: a petty theft out of hunger owing to failure on part of the State to provide for basic needs, or accumulation of disproportionate private properties no matter how legitimate the means may appear to be.

A justice system’s success does not lie in exceeding the capacity of prison cells, as ours has done. It lies in establishing conditions in such a manner that prison walls will need to be crumbled down. That is the new era we have to work towards, and hope for.

As Sahir Ludhianvi so prophetically wrote:

“Manhoos samaaji dhaancho mein jab julm na paale jaayenge
Jab haath na kaate jaayenge jab sar na uchhale jaayenge
Jailoen ke bina jab duniya ki sarkaar chalaayi jaayegi
Woh subah hum hi se aayegi”

(As crimes cease to be structural givens of societies
Justice no longer served with torture, death penalties
A new world needs no oppressive prison
We shall usher in such a new dawn!)

The need for Political Correctness

Saswat Pattanayak investigates what it means to be politically incorrect in contemporary times. Is it a ploy to maintain the status quo and further the capitalist cause or is it to give a voice to the truly marginalized?
– Kindle Magazine

If the concerns over free speech are due to AIB controversies, then there is a possibility that those are perhaps not valid concerns after all. The problem with free speech is that the freedom to espouse the contents belongs to those who own the means to circulate them. The question then would be if Bollywood celebrities ever lacked their platforms to express politically incorrect statements.

Whereas political incorrectness must be allowed to be expressed without reservations, the idea that it has somehow lacked platforms in India or elsewhere in the world today could be purely hogwash. In fact, the culture industry in capitalistic societies thrives on political incorrectness – both monetarily and spiritually. Usage of sexist slangs, rape jokes, fat-shaming or skin colorism are not exceptions to Bollywood; they are the mainstay. Although what AIB has aired was deliberately orchestrated to come off as controversial, a careful inspection of its content would reveal a mere continuation of dominant on-screen norms.

An enormously fat child as a reject is not an AIB discovery – it is evident in the industry’s obsession with “six-packs”. A dark-skin being the same as illegal money in Swiss banks is not a surprise statement – even male actors like Shah Rukh Khan endorse fairness as key to their successes. Jokes on how someone “ugly” does not deserve to be dated is not a shocking revelation for the majority – as the leading actors have to inevitably exceed the standards of beauty. Alia Bhatt may not take offense to being called ignorant and silly by her male co-stars – but women across the globe are anyway proclaimed as intellectually inferior by the male academic superstars. Deepika Padukone may be used to humors that reduce her to be a “good thing that Ranveer Singh was in” – but commodification of women is among the most profiteering industries today. Parineeti Chopra may have genuinely got scared of getting metaphored into a gang rape victim that night – and yet, rape as a funny metaphor is a constant that refuses to die – from usage by stand up comedians to supreme court judges. Raghu Ram being imagined as a wife-beater, Karan Johar imagined as a casting couch enabler, Ranveer Singh imagined as the pervert photographer of an actress who in her erstwhile feminist standpoint had pleaded the country to stop humiliating her – suddenly all this is good humor now, because the industry bigwigs are expecting us to get matured. Shouldn’t we have also matured into accepting Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “boys will be boys” statement regarding rape, if it is alright to laugh at the manly Ranveer Singh getting a hard-on from pepper spray by his next conquest?

What is amiss in the mature argument is that, none of these are objectionable because they are simply politically incorrect or because a society lacks a sense of humor. They are objectionable because a bunch of elitists continue to find these funny at the expense of those who are victimized by actual acts of domestic violence, sex discriminations and standards of beauty that effectively and unjustly exclude majority of people from the mainstream culture industry. AIB is no big deal though, only because it was not a breakthrough – it was just more of the same. It was just as objectionable as was Yo Yo Honey Singh’s poetry in his “Choot” volumes; little surprise that the rapper was instantly embraced by the industry that met its match in avowedly celebrating misogyny.

Roots of Roast:

Political correctness and political incorrectness are different shades of the same spectrum. They are not rigid, fixed unchangeable notions – indeed quite the contrary. Like culture itself, they form an unending line. What used to be politically incorrect a few decades ago is perhaps politically correct today, and vice versa. It is the content, the impact, and most importantly in the Marxist sense – the beneficiaries of certain consciousness that should determine what is to be considered politically correct or politically incorrect. It is upto the artists themselves to decide their directions, and to that extent raising hue and cry over AIB is redundant at one extreme and reactionary on the other. But to surmise that AIB discourse is in a victimized state crying out to be heard by the people, lest artistic freedoms will meet untimely deaths, is a ridiculous exaggeration.

Contents aside, the form also needs to be reexamined. Roasting might be a new phenomenon to hit Indian consciousness, but so has been rap. The tragedy is we perhaps have imported the worst of both forms while showcasing them to be the best we can be, that we need to the urge to defend what went for roasting on AIB. What was on display without anyone paying tribute to the roots of it (Bollywood surprise!) has been historically called “signifying”, “joining”, “snapping” and “playing the dozens” – deeply rooted in African-American heritage. Actively participated by the enslaved to amuse and distract themselves, they have accumulated political coinage and unique underground significance over the decades among the oppressed of America. Just like the use of N-word, some of the snaps may have derogatory feel to them, but the cultural usages by the specific groups of people lend them the context that needs to be respected, especially if the media are all agog over the novelty of this art form.

Consider rapper Biz Markie’s snap: “Your mother’s hair is so nappy, she has to take painkillers to comb her hair”. Or, actor Doug E. Doug’s snap: “Your family is so poor, they go to Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick other people’s fingers.” Or, comedian Nipsey Russell’s: “Your family is so poor, the roaches have to eat out or go hungry.” Not only are these legendary acts by the blacks, they are also reflective of a need to speak to the societal realities in the most cutting-edge manner.. For one “Your father is so poor, he can’t afford to pay attention,” a brilliant joining could be, “Your family is so poor, when I asked your mother if I could use the bathroom she said, ‘Sure, pick a corner’”.

Instead of exploring the historicity of this tradition, or of the underground political hip-hop that are emancipatory for a purpose, we have now started off on a wrong foot, with a bunch of narcissistic celebrities that are misappropriating a subculture to falsely portray themselves as victims of sorts. Strictly from the standpoint of a review (considering an important film reviewer was a panelist), what AIB came up with were just gross. One “roast” that met with laughter was that of a person being so black that a white cop got away with killing him. Another one caricatured Santa Claus giving away gifts to wrong kids only when he is Muslim. Nothing to laugh about racist justice system and Islamophobia unless one is actually a victim of those and chooses to make light of the situation. Sadly, the panelists were not. Certainly not enough to cry for their freedom to be politically incorrect.

It is not the politically incorrect that are tortured in a society like India. It is the political correctness that is still looking for outlets, amidst the prevailing platitudes of glorified incorrectnesses.

Whose Freedom?

The core argument of free speech advocates that art must be allowed to exist for the sake of it – and not as a means to a certain social purpose. But is that really a concern, going by the trends? When was art not existing for the sake of it in India? Barring a few socialist filmmakers, when have the huge majority of directors and producers made anything other than art for the sake of art? Most of the blockbusters celebrate themes that sustain on the absolutely irrational, illogical and impossible. Same is true of the prevailing dominant Hindu festivities across the states, regardless of the political party in power. What is politically correct about Durga Puja celebrations in the land of the Party Line? For all its shocking disclosures, what AIB aired was hardly more than a religious rhetoric that knows quite a few things about the free flowing use of “choots” as a liberating phrase. Did they even utter a fraction of “roasting” that is done while pulling the carts of Lord Jagannath in Puri every year at Rath Yatra? Sexist slangs and rape jokes comprise mainstream religious India’s constant preoccupation – a major factor that contributes to success of Bollywood movies and to the prolonged marital success stories of decent majority Hindu households.

Majoritarian supremacist speeches are so taken for granted in everyday life that we often assume them to be struggling for representation when rarely they are even slightly choked – akin to the predicament of an upper caste student who occasionally does not get what is automatically due, because some new movements are demanding reservations in education and employment. To grasp its scope, we may just need to consider the religious cultural givens and the atmosphere permeated by them. For atheists or minorities in religious beliefs, that climate is neither conducive nor desirable. If one were to raise a child as an atheist, where would that option really be? And yet somehow that lack of possibility is not considered as a systematically stifled right to free speech and expression. Only when the religious folks are not allowed to perform a public ceremony that they have historically been doing, is there a major hue and cry about human freedom being throttled.

When was the last time objections were raised because indigenous peoples of the lands were not allowed to address to a global audience to express how the State has been exploiting them? Let alone that, we even do not let someone from among us – Priya Pillai – board a plane. It is not simply the freedom of speech that is at stake – the question that needs to be asked is, whose freedom? The Solzhenitsyns, Rands, and Nabakovs were perhaps politically incorrect, but the freedoms of those they were representing are what must guide the discourse as to which ideology is inherent in artists’ works. Are they the purveyors of an oppressive status quo, or are they the champions of the underrepresented and the despised. Standing up for the freedom of affluent kulaks, greedy individualists and child rapists are not about desirable ways to justify political incorrectness – they are indeed necessary components of feudal and capitalist societies.

Art for the sake of art is not some unfulfilled remote possibility worth a struggle – it is the status quo in our political economy. The demand to prolong it in the name of “free speech”, where freedom is a byproduct of plutocratic enterprises is a needless lamentation. Most artistic endeavors today are rewarded for gearing towards “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment”; what is perhaps needed is for the politically correct artists to emerge – the ones who according to Ritwik Ghatak have the nature to “bring forth collective feeling…to seek not only to utter the reality but also to learn the cause of it and the remedy of it.” Like Frida Kahlo and Picasso, Guthrie and Seeger, Zinn and Chomsky. Langston Hughes and Neruda. These politically correct figures rooted in struggles for social justice are the marginalized – without a need for corporations and industries to carry forward their works. Yet they are the organisers themselves who have as Robeson once stated, “taken their sides”.

Artists choose their sides through their works. Whether or not they are suppressed, by whom, and for how long – these are not the real questions. The real questions investigate what sides they have taken. Are they using a platform to end religious intolerance or to promote it? Are they using satire to condemn a misogynistic order or to encourage it? Are they glorifying individual liberty at the cost of social equality, or vice versa, in their quest for free speech? Are they refusing to articulate historical privileges of propertied class, or are they exposing the contradictions with a vision to end that culture, instead of perpetuating it in the name of good humor?

Political correctness did not evolve because artists wanted to submit to the whims of some oppressive ruling class; quite the contrary – it emerged out of a need felt by progressive artists to go beyond individualism. It emerged when the duties of an artist prevailed upon the rights. When the idealists turned realists in the face of the “proletarian culture”, which to Lenin was the “result of a natural development of the stores of knowledge which humanity has accumulated under the yoke of capitalist society, landlord society and bureaucratic society.”

Philosophical premises:

Progressive artists are rightfully disdainful of bourgeois art. Even as Robeson and Picasso were themselves victims of censorship and travel restrictions, they were vocally unsympathetic towards reactionary works. The battle of ideologies is a constant where the ruling art form and historical narratives are representative of the ruling order. That point is lost in these times, when bourgeois art is suddenly celebrated as some sort of beacon for human freedom – where liberty and equality are not seen at odds. Thereafter, at the very least, this marketplace of free speech undermines the effects of hate speech and silencing of the religious, racial and sexual minorities.

The advocates of free speech principles employ “pressure valve” argument in justifying the status quo with the assertion that casteists, religious fanatics and misogynists are just blowing off steam that is harmless. It’s a paternalistic justification that overlooks the fact that hate speech indeed harms the minorities more. For instance, rape jokes are not going to make a victim of sexual violence feel empowered because she still has access to that same pool of free speech rights.

“Same pool” argument is also used to project free speech rights as especially beneficial to the minorities – conveniently forgetting that ruling powers do not employ the same set of rules when it comes to the dissenters. For instance, Maoist sympathizers do not enjoy the same level of freedom as do the sympathizers of corporate monopolies – even if it is erroneously assumed for a moment, that both these groups have similar vested interest in exploiting the natural resources of India.

Finally, the argument that more speech is better for democracy rather than regulated speech is also seriously flawed. It is presupposed at the peril of the oppressed that “talking back” will earn them rewards, while that is rarely the realistic scenario. Nonviolent protesters are routinely lathi-charged and imprisoned by the same system that prides itself on right to free speech and expression of the powerful elites.

The censorship argument just as the artistic expressions themselves needs to be politically correct – the position must spring from the point of raised consciousness where the needs of the times – taking into consideration various locations of exploitations and associated struggles for social justice – are well understood and articulated. For the freedom to be equally distributed, the downtrodden should be able to express dissent, while the rights of privileged need to be moderated. What needs to be a matter of concern is not the occasional inconveniences faced by celebrities for being just their usual selves, but what begs an answer is a probe in the Gandhian terms – whether a civilized society passes a test in the degree of protection it affords its most marginalized.

Sovereignty, Unity and The State Of Denial

The self-appointed champions of secular liberalism are decrying the recent electoral triumph of Hindu nationalism as a subversion of the true will of the people. Saswat Pattanayak argues that ‘we the people’ must not be let off the hook so easily…. (Kindle Magazine)

Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. – Albert Einstein

Contrary to dominant media claims, it is not despite divisive politics that Narendra Modi won the resounding mandate; he instead is it’s natural culmination. For, divisiveness is never the result of political assertions by oppressed socio-cultural minorities against militant nationalistic aspirations; rather, it takes concrete shape through the majoritarian identity politics reveling in patriotic overtures. Divisive is not the politics which ideologically identifies and combats fascist tendencies in one’s assumed country; divisiveness in political climate owes itself to sanctimonious imposition of opportunist conceptions as unquestionable national priorities that override specific needs of the oppressed.

One such conception in recent times involves projection of India as emerging superpower that hosts “world’s oldest civilization” – an enduring and endearing myth that unequivocally demands an end to multicultural pluralism within the country, and harbors a deep suspicion towards the world outside.

BJP’s own election manifestos are constantly updated to reflect the party’s aggressive posturing in as many words. In 2009 edition, the manifesto was less vehement in asserting the myth by stating “Indian civilisation is perhaps the most ancient and continuing civilisation of the world. India has a long history and has been recognised by others as a land of great wealth and even greater wisdom.” In 2014, it dropped the word “perhaps” and emphasized on “always” by beginning the manifesto with these words: “India is the most ancient civilization of the world and has always been looked upon by the world as a land of wealth and wisdom.”

Electoral appeals based on nationalistic outbursts are innately divisive – they require enemies before looking for allies, they condemn diversities before celebrating unity, they overlook special needs before harping on equality rights. In India’s context, they shape nationalism as uniquely Hindu. They also sacrifice dignity in the name of development, undermine humanity in the name of religion, revoke “inner vitality” in the name of civilizational march. Modi’s agenda for “Ek Bharat – Shreshtha Bharat” must also resort to depicting rival parties as “foreigners’ parties”. The seduction of patriotism must encompass rejection of entities who cannot impressively elevate their own jingoism. This year the expectations were so high that despite her foreign origin issue apparently laid to rest, Sonia Gandhi still had to make a televised appearance specifically to reassert her patriotism.

To absolve Congress/UPA of its role in resulting political miseries today would be dishonest. Several of its neoliberal policies have indeed landed India in an economic mess which will require nothing short of a fundamental restructuring – which neither the Congress nor the BJP are prepared or willing to undertake. If the Congress has introduced policies of economic liberalization, it is the BJP which has worked towards its greater implementation – rhetorically, both the parties may indulge in patriotic duels, but in reality, they have never been shy of auctioning off the public lands for private interests. Contrary to popular circulations by the nationalist Right, it is not the “inner vitality” of Indian nation that will be rejuvenated following the new electoral results, but perhaps, quite the contrary.

It is only appropriate to recall in these times the words of Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci, who had further theorized Lenin’s use of the term hegemony, while courageously battling the fascists almost a century ago: “The more the immediate economic life of a nation is subordinated to international relations, the more a particular party will come to represent this situation and to exploit it, with the aim of preventing rival parties gaining the upper hand. Often the so-called ‘foreigner’s party’ is not really the one which is commonly so termed, but precisely the most nationalistic party – which, in reality, represents not so much the vital forces of its own country, as that country’s subordination and economic enslavement to the hegemonic nation or to certain of their number.” In Gramscian times, “foreigner’s party” was a term used by the nationalist Right to depict the communist parties in Italy. Prior to that, Mazzini’s Action Party used to be vilified similarly since it was influenced by the idea of the French Revolution. In our times, while BJP tends to be nationalistic party, the Congress Party resembling Action Party of the center-left ideology remains the “foreigner’s party” along with the various communist parties.

What Then?
“Hurricane Modi swept through the heartland and beyond…The Modi typhoon that swept away BJP’s rivals in the Hindi heartland…Modi, who mauled powerful regional satraps in states where the caste narrative marginalised national parties, showed that he has the wherewithal to beat them at their own game…The new social umbrella that Modi has forged—‘upper’ castes, OBCs, MBCs and a sizeable section of Dalits— would give the BJP a lethal support base in any electoral combat. “Modi’s ‘backward caste’ image will not put off the ‘upper caste’ voter. The Modi brand has something for everyone.” (Open Magazine, 16 May, 2014)

It is said that during the period of National Emergency when journalists were asked to bend, they crawled. Under Modi, it appears as though we are doing as much, even without being asked. As if the uncritical adulation and the unabashed defense of a communal politician is not shocking enough, there are terms like “Hinduphobia” floating around these days to portray the new ruling class as a potential victim of an imaginary witch-hunt. One commentator in Huffington Post alludes to “civilizational Hindu point of view” in his depiction of a fictitious battle between India and Hinduphobia – and he surmises that India has voted in favor of India (much as a journalist should, while acting as a “stenographer for the government” to quote I.F. Stone).

For, “India has won” was also the tweet by Modi himself to describe the results. And Modi could be right. This is the India we knew always existed amidst us and thrived over the decades. This India was socio-culturally undeniable a construct, despite occasional rise to influence by a few reformers and revolutionaries who challenged it from time to time. Religious beliefs, superstitions, casteism, nepotism, misogyny, greed, and bullying as core features of this India always preceded our keenness to pursue ideological understanding of political economy.

Gleeful celebrations of Modi over the past few months have merely brought it all to a full circle as it so happens that this robust, vibrant, shining India has now also found a complimenting political outlet. For those of us who desired for a different tally, it is not the victory of Narendra Modi. It is the victory of an India we have always cheered for, consciously or subconsciously; an India viciously right-wing in socio-cultural and, now, political character.

It is important to make distinctions between the socio-cultural and the political in understanding how a secular idea called India has ended up in the hands of the communal voters masquerading as Indians. How does a country that had its Prime Ministers celebrate norms of secularism by invariably recalling Mahatma Gandhi in their first address to the nation end up with Modi, who reminds the nation of the centenary celebrations of rightwing Hindu ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya instead? How does a country prepare itself to be headed by an active member of the RSS – an organization banned thrice on the charges of being communal, then celebrate such an occasion with tearful joys? How do many of the country’s prominent intellectuals and cultural icons express jubilation at the victory of a political party that possibly has its origins through hate-mongering, and prosperity through orchestrated genocides?

Maybe because the trends were always showing culturally, although somewhat limited (or, disallowed) politically. Perhaps the private lives of Indian citizens were not in consonance with the state policies outlined in the constitution. As a reflection of clear dismissal of secular ethos, the National Executive member of BJP Sheshadri Chari recently remarked following his party’s victory: “The jury is out. The constitution does not defend the word secularism and it was added into the Preamble in 1975.” It is almost as though we privately abide by secularism only because it has juridical weight. To quote Gramsci who had proposed two superstructural levels: “the one that can be called ‘civil society’, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private’, and that of ‘political society’ or ‘the State’. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of ‘hegemony’ which the dominant group exercises throughout the society and on the other hand to that of ‘direct domination’ or command exercise through the State and ‘juridical government.’”

Hypothetically speaking, if secularism were to be removed today from the Preamble, how would the private lives be for us Indians? We the people who have historically practiced untouchability as part of our Hindu “way of life”, and still very much do (even BJP in its latest manifesto is “committed to the eradication of untouchability at all levels”). We the people who gleefully demolish shrines and persecute minorities and overwhelmingly participate in communal riots. We the people who authorize the State in sending Kashmiri freedom fighters to gallows – from Maqbool Bhat to Afzal Guru, brushing aside legitimate concerns over prejudiced trials. From slapping sedition charges against students for cheering Pakistani cricket team to imprisoning professors and social workers on grounds of being Maoist sympathizers – considering innumerable such injustices have taken place regardless of who was at the helm of power, can we the people truly become secular, even if we tried?

As Dr. Ambedkar wrote once, “This country has seen the conflict between ecclesiastical law and secular law long before Europeans sought to challenge the authority of the Pope. Kautilya’s Arthshastra lays down the foundation of secular law. In India unfortunately ecclesiastical law triumphed over secular law. In my opinion this was the one of the greatest disasters in the country. The unprogressive nature of the Hindu society was due to the notion that the law cannot be changed.”

Since Hindu society has always remained the dominant group in India, Ambedkar was not averse to discarding the entire identification with Hinduism. He conceptualized an India where there would be no scope for “Hindu nationalists”, no possibility for anyone like Modi to proudly claim as he did in his interview to Reuters last year: “I am nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I am born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So I’m a Hindu nationalist. So yes, you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist because I’m a born Hindu.” Dr. Ambedkar had foreseen such an advent, which is precisely why he had warned the country in the following words, “Personally myself I say openly that I do not believe that there is any place in this country for any particular culture, whether it is Hindu culture, or a Muhammadan culture, or a Kanarese culture or a Gujarati culture. There are things we cannot deny, but they are not to be cultivated as advantages, they are to be treated as disadvantages as something which divides our loyalty and takes away from us our common goal. That common goal is the building up of a feeling that we are all Indians. I do not like what some people say, that we are Indians first and Hindus afterwards or Muslims afterwards. I am not satisfied with that, I frankly say that I am not satisfied with that. I do not want that our loyalty as Indians should be in the slightest way affected by any competitive loyalty whether that loyalty arises out of our religion, out of our culture or out of our language. I want all people to be Indian first, Indian last and nothing else but Indians.”

Nothing else but Indians has been predictably compromised during BJP’s campaigns in various states this season. Amit Shah’s call for “revenge for the insult” in Uttar Pradesh should have resulted in a boycott of the BJP in the state, and yet it landed up with overwhelmingly majority seats. What became worse was how in a unique backlash against minority assertions, Islamic leaders were compared with Hindu supremacists by media and election commission alike. Once the minorities were brought to the level of the Hindu majority in receiving the equal flak, it was just a matter of competitive loyalty then on, in which the majority, quite naturally, had a comfortable victory.

Oppressed minorities in any society are not equal to the oppressive majority. This is a simple proposition which often gets lost amidst modern criticisms of secularism. Whereas it is perfectly alright for various minority groups to organize themselves for cultural promotion, linguistic preservation or even political self-defense to a certain degree, it is absolutely unacceptable for members of the dominant group of a given society to organize themselves accordingly. Whereas what results from minority organizations is a celebration/possibility of diversity and pluralism, what results from majority organizations is blatant display of fascist politics. In other words, whereas it is not hate speech to claim that Muslims have sacrificed themselves in wars against Pakistan, it is clearly hate speech to assume that Muslims are unpatriotic Indians; because in the former instance, minorities speak in their defense in order to doubly attempt to prove their loyalty to the nation, whereas the latter instance would be one where even an irresponsible remark by a member of the majority can further isolate and jeopardize the interests of minorities.

Indian nationalism of Ambedkar, Gandhi and Nehru therefore fundamentally differs from the Hindu nationalism. Rajnath Singh rightly said recently that the dream of Deendayal Upadhyaya was pursued by Advani and Vajpayee, and finally has been fulfilled by Modi. He is right because Indian nationalism has resoundingly departed from Gandhi’s path, and has been replaced by Hindu nationalism – a philosophy that had once succeeded in assassinating Gandhi.

Even as the focus has been identified, the fight for social justice must go beyond Modi government and one’s imaginations for political possibilities must not be surrendered only within the confines of democratic elections. For, this replacement of values did not take place overnight. It did not start with Narendra Modi. It began with the regular Hindu families – of yours, and of mine. It started over the dining table discussions over the evils of reservations. It started with great expectations from our meritorious children to leave others behind in the race for excellence. It started with our charitable cooperation towards the status quo, where giving alms to the beggars took precedence over translating empowering literatures. It started with our collective jubilation at defeating neighboring nations in sports, in distributing ladoos at hanging of “terrorists”, and in remaining ever prepared to lay down our lives in the name of territorial sanctities. It started with our pious denunciation of meat-eaters and needless reverence towards vegetarians – privileged enough to be selective about their diets. Narendra Modi merely provided for a punching bag. For us Indian liberals so committed to thwart Modi’s designs, the real battle must take place inside our own homes, around the textbooks our children unquestionably consume, with our family values that continue to be shaped by Brahminical scriptures, calendars and wisdom. And just because some caste folks eat meat or vote against BJP or unfriend bigots on social media, it has no bearing upon the amount of sustained efforts required to challenge the Hindu supremacist system that has been glorified in India, since well before any modern political party came into existence. Dictatorial Modi may be running a vicious one-man show for BJP. But the well-meaning liberals in India have been running the Hindutva show for several generations now.

BJP’s stellar performance is not the contribution of a failed Rahul Gandhi. It is a mandate by the country ever so in denial of its supremacist potentials. Even in the mammoth defeat of the liberals, we scrounge for figures that would suggest that BJP has received merely one-third vote share. Apparently, that provides us the solace. Before Modi came to power, we continued to reject any Modi-wave whatsoever. And even after he bosses over the parliament, the educated liberal Hindu folks are looking for convenient numbers to absolve ourselves off our responsibilities, if not complicity. Intellectuals not only are able to articulate the direction a country takes, they also lend credence to that. Gramsci said as much about their roles in furthering the prestige of the dominant group in any society, until the group emerges too dangerous to be tackled anymore – “The intellectuals are the dominant group’s ‘deputies’ exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government. These comprise: 1) The ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production. 2) The apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed.”

The spontaneous consent to BJP is in fact caused by India’s historical propensity for Hindu dominance. Until now, barring intermittent sessions, Hindu nationalism was part of the civil society (the private) in India, but now they are dominating the political society (the State) with unprecedented success. Reversal in sight through electoral reconfigurations is merely hogwash, since it changes very little. Let’s take Odisha as an instance, where there has been no Modi wave, and yet Christians are routinely harassed and the Hindu way of life prevents Dalits, Muslims and foreigners from sharing Lord Jagannath’s blessings in the same way the caste Hindus do. “Modi wave” may only legitimize the coercive power of state apparatus, but the privileges of the dominant group that gave rise to Modi, has remained a constant due to our refusal to take a stand on religious absurdities. What Gopalkrishna Gandhi recently hoped for in his open letter to Narendra Modi reinforces once again the hegemonist notion that it is indeed possible for someone “to be Savarkar in the heart and yet Ambedkar in the mind”. The truth is there is no reconciliation among the two. There is no reconciliation between Savarkar’s Hindu and Ambedkar’s India – they stand diametrically opposed. India can never be a Hindu nation and a Hindu nation can never be India.

What Now?

Contradictions abound in the new political landscape. Like Savarkar’s divisive Hindutva excluded other religions, so does Modi’s prescriptions of Hinduism as the way of life for Indians. To reemphasize, Modi did not win the mandate because he opposed divisive politics, but because he profited from it. Not because he spoke against identity politics but because it is the victory of the identity politics – that of the Hindu identity. That of a Hindu nation. A supremacist majoritarian identity has merely triumphed over the stifled oppressed identities. It is not the unity of Indians across caste/religion lines that gave rise to Modi. It is the disunity of people who are divided along various social divisions – thanks to the all pervading Hindu ethos – to distrust each other, rather than to unite as a politically empowered working class to thwart domestic and global capitalists, which has empowered the fascists. BJP is a political vulture (with due apologies to the bird) that aimed to gain the most from a divided working class. And it has amply succeeded, thanks to the virulently anticommunist Indian society.

At the cost of incurring the wrath of the politically correct who must treat the act of voting as sacrosanct, we should be able to denounce a backward society that thrives off feudal values, a nation whose literacy quest remains abysmally apolitical, a country whose ruling class remains emphatically anti-intellectual, a people that remain conflicted based on fictitious religious romanticisms rather than expressing solidarities to foster class interests among the oppressed. If religion is the opium of the masses, the communal politicians remain the drug dealers. In allowing for them to legally operate as cultural peddlers and in ennobling them to take the political centerstage, it is we the people who must bear responsibility and solemnly resolve once again – this time to reconstitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.

Our resolve must be strong enough to prevent encounters of Ishrat Jahans, jail terms for Binayak Sens, sedition charges against Arundhati Roys; our resolve must become strong enough to prevent arrests of G.N. Saibabas, Hem Mishras, Prashant Rahis; our resolve must emerge strong enough to let no politician call Kerala a nursery for terrorism, or to demand Hindu ancestry of religious minorities. Finally, our resolve must be relentless in not forgetting amidst all electoral festivities, that elections are not about personalities or parties – they are about ideas. Idea of India as a sovereign democratic republic needs to be contested on the basis of whether the country surrenders to imperialistic designs – threats from foreign powers or through its own military – or chooses to remain sovereign and therefore respects struggles for sovereignty by lands oppressed by it. Idea of India needs to be contested on the basis of whether it allows capitalistic expansions by private capital, regardless of whether it is global or domestic, or it chooses to pursue socialist economy. Idea of India needs to be contested on the basis of whether the country remains at the disposal of Hindu supremacists or it celebrates secularism by allowing for sufficient reflections and correctional measures to check the growth of majoritarian militancy.

And if we fail at our renewed resolve in safeguarding even the Constitution we once dedicated to ourselves, now that we discover the political crossroads – contrary to what the champions of resurgent nationalism claim, India might even have won, but Indians would eventually lose.