“Pradhan Mantri ke vision se suryast suryoday mein badal gaya hai, raat ho rahi hai lekin hum dekh rahe hain Ek Nayi Subah (The Prime Minister’s vision has turned sunset into sunrise, night is falling but we are watching ‘a new dawn’)….”
This is how Doordarshan, the chief public television broadcaster of India chose to describe the advent of a ‘new era’ under the leadership of a prime-minister, who continues to remain new even after the completion of two years of his government.
Replace Pradhan Mantri with Chairman, and the sentence assumes a familiarity, at least for those who are steeped in the Stalinist or Maoist political culture. Everything in Maoist China had to be informed by the vision of the Chairman or was worthless. Similarly, in the Soviet Union, for any idea to be valued it needed to bear the stamp of Stalin.
The sheer obsession with the adjective ‘new’ or ‘historic’ also takes one back to the days of these two ‘greats’ of history, who were red and not saffron. Stalin wanted to engineer the souls of his dear people to carve out a ‘new man’ and a ‘new society’ out of them.
For a new to be created, the old has to be destroyed. The appeal for the new thus becomes the legitimizer of the death of the old. The only problem is that the old lingers on in many forms and threatens to sabotage the project of the new. So, its residuals need to identified through a campaign and destroyed completely. It becomes a popular and democratic project, as the old is also made synonymous with the elite.
When Chairman Mao gave a call to the Chinese people, one should not miss the point that it was the youth he mainly addressed and turned them against the old. The cultural revolution of China started on 16 May fifty years ago, which again in one of the ironies of history, is the date when a ‘new revolution’ started in India two years ago.
Chairman Mao divided his people into two categories: to one belonged the revolutionary masses and to the other the old privileged elite, remnants of the past, the bourgeoisie and their stooges who needed to be weeded out. Mao called for a protracted revolution. It was called ‘cultural’ as it sought to change the way people lived, their notion of relationships and transform them from individuals to soldiers of a great mission.
Such regimes confer the title of the real or true people on one set of the masses, who are then unleashed on the other who are termed enemies of the people or non-people. The Cultural Revolution of Mao or the long purge of Stalin witnessed people voluntarily participating in not only eliminating the ‘enemies’ but also in creating them.
Such non-people ranged from schoolteachers to entrepreneurs, doctors to cultural workers, scientists and researchers, homosexuals and Jews or simply ‘non-productive’ people. Children reported on their parents and teachers and participated in their public humiliation and in many cases organized their killing.
The list of non-people officially sanctioned and promoted by the new regime of India is growing: ‘terrorists’, ‘love-jihadis’, ‘beef-eaters’,‘religious converters’ , ‘infiltrators’ and finally ‘anti-nationals’ or ‘saboteurs’.
A more neat division was suggested on 26 May by the Prime Minister when he said, “But I can say there is development on one side and obstructionism on the other. The people will decide which side to choose, that I firmly believe..” His trust in the intelligence of the people is touching.
The horrifyingly interesting part of the Cultural Revolution was that it gave a sense of agency to people, who were in fact conforming to the orders of the leader. Power is thus handed over to the ordinary masses, who always crave for it and they exercise it against the obstructionists or anti-nationals. People do not have the luxury of not choosing their side. Otherwise, they become suspects themselves.
The rush to join the officially sanctioned category of the people does not have anything to do with a particular ideology. Germans, Russians, Chinese, Americans, Israeli, have been complicit in the crimes unleashed on their fellow-beings by their leaders. Even the persecuted offer themselves. They ‘self-denounce’ and seek purification.
The joy of disempowering your neighbor always pushes human goodness into a dark corner. It is revived only after the departure of the bully from the scene. The narratives of the old red-guards of the Cultural Revolution, or the veterans of the Vietnam war or the Israeli combatants reveal the scale of moral devastation all of them have gone through.
There are people, however, who are in the job of intellection, who can see through the game. They alert the people of the danger of loss of their humanity. Maxim Gorky did it in the heyday of the Bolshevik Revolution when he condemned Lenin for turning the working masses into murderers and immoral morons. Lenin nudged off Gorky to Italy. Others were not so lucky. Ironically, Gorky returned to the Soviet Union to be a collaborator of the heir of Lenin.
Denunciation of intellectuals and disinterested scholarship is thus one of the main features of such drives. Masses are pitted against intellectuals who are portrayed as parasites who must be put to real work.
The May 16 circular of Mao, which became the manifesto of the Cultural Revolution said, “This concept which makes no class distinction on academic matters is also very wrong. The truth on academic questions, the truth of Marxism-Leninism, of Mao Tse-tung’s thought — which the proletariat has grasped — has already far surpassed and beaten the bourgeoisie. The formulation in the outline shows that its authors laud the so-called academic authorities of the bourgeoisie and try to boost their prestige, and that they hate and repress the militant newborn forces representative of the proletariat in academic circles.” There is nothing then that remains as scholarship or professionalism.
China is now the envy of the developed world. But it is a deeply wounded society. A witness of the cultural revolution says that it has been turned into a moral wasteland. It finds it difficult to look into its own eyes.
The memory of the sense of powerlessness of their victims gnaws at the hearts of the former red guards of the Chinese Revolution. Will their lost humanity be ever restored? This question came to me when I read Bandookwala Saheb in this newspaper and felt his sense of helplessness when he says that he forgives to hope. He knows it well that there is no one seeking forgiveness and therefore his offer has no value. But by doing so, he is desperately trying to claim the power of humanity for himself. It is a pathetic sight. How much time would his tormentors need to realize that by making people like Bandookwala powerless they were in fact robbing themselves of their humanity?
Such realization on part of the tormentors is not easy, as journalist John Pilger tells us :”The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened …Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter … “. Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” Let us examine ourselves: are we under a spell of hypnosis?
( Also published in the Indian Express on 31 May,2016)