Post the JNU-fiasco in 2016, when slogans were allegedly raised against the nation, the university had a series of lectures on nationalism. The lectures seemed like a unique exercise, portraying the supposed dialectic tradition of the university, a place where dissent was the order of the day and where issues were settled through pure reason, debate, and engagement. To a critical outsider, however, it seemed like a ceremony for sermons where a single ideology was propagated by its preachers, who stood narrating identical calamities with a single solution of instilling devotion to the ideology. One had to really look hard for that sought-after dissent that the University had trained its students to protect, seek and struggle for. The institution had, it appeared, never tussled with the possibility of dissent forming a genus fostering numerous species of its expression, depending upon where and how it is expressed. The dissent it sustained on the national foray rather came across as a consensus within the campus.
As the lectures were concluding, we got a taste of actual dissent rather surprisingly and unexpectedly from this thin-framed bespectacled professor of English going by the name of Makarand Paranjape. Lone but fierce in his arguments, it seemed that the campus had something to offer after all, even when he was interrupted frequently and at times with a concern for excessive truth in his arguments. During his lecture, he sought to question the source and the legitimacy of harboring a separatist sentiment inside the high walls of JNU.
Indeed, where did this sentiment came from? And who designated the students to be the representative of these expressions of discontent? The answer seemed to be ideology; it instilled a thought process that analyzed, winnowed news, content, facts, and statistics churned it with sentiment and beliefs, and left a residue of this presumed legitimacy. I say ‘presumed’ because beyond those comfortable and protected walls of JNU, the legitimacy of these beliefs had been rarely tested.
However, we did get to witness an occasion where these beliefs were pitched against everything they condemn in the recently concluded 17th Lok Sabha Assembly results. It gave the left parties in India their worst performances in the past sixty decades. It was only able to secure five seats of which four came from Tamil Nadu and a lone seat from Kerala. In its former bastion of West Bengal, where it once (mis)ruled for 34 tumultuous years, it only got a 7% vote share in comparison to more than 40% of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TNC).
Much worse, its attempts to showcase strength in Begusarai constituency of Bihar, often termed as the Leningrad of Bihar, and remained a dud. This was despite the fact that there was an overwhelming push to showcase that the contest between the JNU-trained Communist Party of India’s candidate Kanhaiya Kumar and the Union Minister Giriraj Singh as a David vs Goliath contest. Even though he was of the same upper caste Bhumihar as the minister, and was assisted in his campaign by a brigade of left-leaning celebrities and politicians such as Swara Bhaskar, Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi Raj Prakash, Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja canvassing the field for him. He witnessed a drubbing of more than 4 lakh votes. This was also after he sought to do Kejriwal-styled crowdfunding, which as Aam Adami Party has in hindsight revealed to be just another exercise of funneling money from unknown sources but with a mirage of integrity.
Democracy humbles you; at least it should, even if it doesn’t. The election results are a wholesale non-acceptance, if not the rejection, of what the Communist parties in India have to offer today. Its economics that has all the problems listed but has no panacea to offer. It seeks to confuse the masses with jargon, scare the industrialists, and terrorize any form of individual endeavors. Its foreign policy hasn’t departed from the 70s, which makes the bureaucracy weary and the establishment panicky of the prospects of having another crypto-communist as defense or external affairs minister. This is coupled with the fact that left today has almost no mass leaders to speak of; their best bet in Beguasari was Kanhaiya Kumar, whose greatest struggle was raising a few slogans behind the walls of the campus, where it is treated as a casual occurrence. Even this, his lot claims to be a product of doctored videos leaving us unsure of his intentions with ‘azaadi’. His greatest struggle, therefore, was getting arrested for something he claims he hasn’t done, in a place where he expected to be safe for even when he did do it. If one takes away the arrest which was offered to him by none other than the ‘treacherous state’, there is nothing to count as activism in his credential. Something a great number of JNU students can relate to, given the obvious lack of exploration and an overreliance on ideology as compensation. This risk aversion is in stark contrast to their ideas of expanding and reaching the masses and uplifting the society by enlightening the masses, making them aware of their exploitation.
A concession, however, can be granted to the extent that the left’s survival in India is a great experiment within a stable and sustaining democracy. If history is the witness, democracy and leftism have shared a precarious relationship. Leftism in its various hydra-headed forms of Marxism, Leninism, Communism, Maoism, Stalinism, and Socialism has had a wobbly past when it came to sustaining democracy. Even if it had democratic beginnings, it couldn’t survive with it. The Indian left too, whenever it had the opportunity of bargaining for something less than a democracy, it expressed its willingness to look at the offer on the table than outright rejection. It is for this reason that the Communist Party of India supported the emergency and was not too unenthusiastic of Chinese aggression in 1962.
This is because democracy often seeks to experiment with theories, ideas, and plans with their outcomes and yearns to re-invent, re-assess, and re-configure. Those JNU lectures are a symptom of a larger disease that plagues the left; it treats its prophets, books, and theories as a constitution, too perfect for being subjected to amendments. It seeks to renounce religion, culture, and traditions but fills the gaps with an ideology that in itself resembles a religion. This election is a great reminder that what is left of leftism lacks legitimacy and cannot be fixed right if it continues to shun change and sticks to dogmas, flawed ideas, policies, and intellectual snobbery.
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