[The title is inspired by Balachandran Chullikkad’s searing poetry]
I have recently been asked about why I didn’t write anything about the anniversary of the CPM-led government of Kerala. Have also been asked why I don’t write about politics in Kerala anymore. The answer to the first is easy and painless: governments are not organic things. You measure your kid’s height and weight and other things and think about how they have grown in their minds and hearts on their birthdays. There is nothing that proves that anniversaries are the best occasions to reflect on how governments have grown and thrived. The answer to the second question is more conflicted and excruciatingly painful: it is because we have no politics in Kerala, but plenty of anti-politics. therefore, what one needs to do is invest in the silent, unglamorous, unpopular, long-haul intellectual and political labour that may preserve the possibilities of politics in the future, and that may even create internalities capable of courage and responsibility necessary for being political.
Writing this now only because I find unbearable the reports from the horrifying violence against women and children and the fisher community in general, unleashed by a monstrous police force in the protests against the shockingly callous ongoing construction of an LPG terminal at Puthvype island in Vypeen, Kochi, by the Indian Oil Corporation. This construction is continuing in the teeth of the opposition from local people and defying the orders of the National Green Tribunal and the objections of the Elamkunnappuzha panchayat. People there complain not only of the possible consequences of construction but also of how the construction itself is so polluting that normal life around the site is becoming impossible. Indeed, the smug belief that once sanctified as ‘essential to growth’, anything in its name can trample on people’s everyday life is by now common all over in India.
Protest against insensitive, undemocratic growth is not new in Kerala by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, so everyday it is all over Kerala, it is almost normalized. What provoked this mindless violence that leaves the rest of us completely numb with horror? The images of children being pulled and beaten, women dragged and mercilessly pounded, the bleeding, broken bodies; reports of how children were kept for long, long hours in police custody with no water, food, not even allowed to urinate – how to make sense of these? The cruelest terrorist and terrorist states in the world target children. India’s blinding of Kashmir’s children, the attacks on children in Palestine by Israel, make them terrorist states. The dominant Left in Kerala gets all self-righteous when it condemns these attacks. I want to say this to all my friends who are either part of or sympathetic to, the CPM: next time we meet, before anything else, I want to know what you think about these attacks. If you cannot bring yourself to condemn them explicitly and point a finger at the party that hogs the legacy of the struggle for democracy and social justice in Kerala which looks coolly for the most, then, please, let us rethink the label of friendship to describe our relationship. Please tell me why we should not start a state-wide campaign against the butcher of a cop who brutalized so many of our comrades and fellow human beings? Please tell me why we should not put up posters of the khaki-clad monsters there all over Kerala and demand that they are named and shamed constantly, and everywhere they go? Yes, the LDF Minister for Fisheries, Mercykutty Amma and Kanam Rajendran of the CPI condemned the violence, but is that enough?
Yes, true, things are awful in India and especially in North India, the sink of Indo-Gangetic barbarism which now controls us all. Vandals have been invested with power and they systematically dismantle, disempower, render deaf and mute, or mow down every single institution built up by the Indian national movement as we watch helplessly – the Parliament, the courts, the Planning machinery, the RBI, the institutions funding all kinds of research, the universities, and this is just the beginning of a huge list. The values of the national movement – all its different strands alike – are devalued, mocked, and replaced by the values of those who were stooges of British colonialism, the Hindu rightwing fanatics. Indeed, they inaugurate the new imperialism before our own eyes – it is no coincidence that the so-called demonetization and the chaos it is creating resemble the monetary policy decisions of a predatory colonial state with which the British sucked out the very lifeblood of India’s economy. Only cronies of the new imperialism can remain so unmoved by the immense suffering of their own people and spend their time cooking up idiotic rhyming coinages of books and bouquets.
Friends who repose faith in the CPM must realize, however, that we have fought the Indo-Gangetic barbarians and their quislings in Kerala, not with weapons forged exclusively by the party. Beef, for example. True, many upper caste people who entered the communist movement gave up caste-ridden vegetarianism, but the fading of strictly community-based menus happened through much more fundamental humanizing movements that shaped the communist movement itself. The legacy of welfare, which the Sanghis slight and we raise against them, is not of exclusive communist origin either, even though the communists can well claim to have both democratized and extended it. The Kiss of Love protests arose outside the dominant left and though a very large section of the CPM supporters came out in open solidarity, their morally-desiccated leadership could only condemn them. Do not be blinded by megalomaniacs. You are neither the beginning nor the end of our struggle against Indo-Gangetic barbarians.
But let me clarify why I think we have no politics any more worth devoting serious attention to. This would become clear if you think back on the systematic depoliticization that we have experienced in all spheres of life in Kerala over the past couple of decades or so. The media’s transformation in the 1990s was perhaps the earliest of these processes, and by now, the Malayalam mass media is perhaps one of the key sites in which the illogic of Indo-Gangetic barbarians have found the choicest and coziest of spaces in our society. Decentralized governance, which held out the promise of a local state around which people could organize – and which did form such a fulcrum in the earlier years at Placchimada, Vilappilsala, and other places – was systematically cut to size, though the promise is still not completely dead. When the dalit and adivasi political re-awakening of the 1990s and after sought to renew the Kerala Model of public-action-based politics through advancing a new programme for land distribution, neoliberalised welfarism, which was equally a component of decentralization, was brandished in their faces as a weapon of depoliticisation by none other than the CPM leadership. Who can forget the then-CM V S Achutanandan’s sanctimonious advice to the protestors at Chengara who demanded the redistribution of government land from plantation capital to the landless poor, that they return to their respective panchayats and put in applications from three cents of land per family? That this relentless demotion of the CPM’s very own baby, local self-government continues unabashed is evident from the near-invisibility of the Elamkunnappuzha panchayat which raised objections to the IOC’s plans for the LPG unit! It is unbelievable that struggles such as these should break out in a state where local governments were once granted a huge stay in the grant of industrial licenses, where even SEZs could not fully escape their scrutiny according to the letter of the law. But it is utterly believable if one took notice of the inexorable drive to depoliticize the local self-governments, which, sadly enough, was not limited to the Congress-led centre-right governments. The Kudumbashree, another institution that left leaders take credit for, which seemed to be becoming a vehicle of mass democratization and politicization of the lower middle-class women who constituted its massive nearly forty-lakh strong network, was crippled by the last UDF government, and the present LDF government seems quite content to let it stay that way. The CPM’s student movement which could have seized the possibilities for building new networks and repoliticizing itself through critiques of gender, sexuality, youth rights, and of course, advancing the right to higher education for all (by now, totally denied by the venomous private sector’s higher education sweatshops), did not have the courage to defy the malevolent old fuddy-duddies who are however hand-in-glove with private-sector predators. No one knows where the AIDWA in Kerala is, these days.
Going by reports of CPM supporters’ response to the violence at Puthuvype, is there not much evidence of their utter depoliticisation, for instance, in their hypocritical horror at the ‘use’ of children in protests and agitations. How totally sickening! Life in Puthvype is such that none of these children look like having a chance to grow up healthy. That seems a minor problem, I suppose, as long us progressive middle class sheltered by the CPM can hang around the Kochi biennale (that isn’t too far from Puthuvype) next time pretending to be overwhelmed by installations dedicated to the lost refugee children of the world?
And is it not true that the CPM’s own opposition to the Hindutva agenda and practices is cynically instrumental and utterly depoliticized? Today morning, I read that the prominent CPM intellectual and minister T M Thomas Isaac apologized for his visit to that relic of Brahminism the Sringeri Sankaracharya, reportedly saying that he did it because he thought that “people may like it,” but wanted to apologize because they apparently didn’t. Now, I am hoping this was a case of stupid reporting, and that is pretty common these days, but I won’t be surprised if it is sensible reporting after all.
Indeed, during this very period, Kerala has advanced steadily on the path towards the security state in the way in which it hounded the ‘bad subjects’ of the new economic order as ‘Maoists’ and ‘Muslim terrorists’. Our political parties have been vying with each other to please Adani, the beloved of the leaders of the Indo-Gangetic barbarians, as was so clear in their passion for handing over Vizhinjam to him on a platter for his real-estate-cum-port-building venture. It was there that we saw the dominant left and the Congress-led government both sing paeans to a port project that would affect many thousands of fish workers and wreak unimaginable disaster on the coast. The CPM claims that its support for the project was not support for crony capitalism. Yes, perhaps, but that does not mean that the CPM paid any attention to long-term consequences on people and Nature. No surprise then, why the vulgar celebration around the inauguration of the Kochi Metro coinciding with the violence against Kerala’s most disempowered people, and not some vapid anniversary day, became the exact moment in which the hollowness of the CPM’s claims to politics rose to a deafening crescendo. Perhaps the signals left by this monsoon on the coast of Thiruvananthapuram in the vicinity of Adani’s port-building site – of massive and unprecedented sea-erosion of prime fishing villages and beaches – and the possibility that this may provoke massive resistance to further irresponsible, utterly greedy, unscrupulous and opaque ‘growth adventures’ has a role in precipitating the dastardly attack on protestors : after all, they were mostly coastal people, and maybe the government wanted to teach resisting coastal people a grim lesson and leave a message for other coastal people for the future? Or, equally plausible, to teach the people to behave during a Prime Minister’s visit? Or both? Some commentators even see the IOC and Adani’s joint projects as a possible reason for this unprecedented attack.
But even the critics of the dominant left who demand redistribution and claim to be agents of democratization are not really interested in a new hegemonic politics of social dignity, political equality, and economic redistribution. There is no complex political analysis available that would throw some light on the political challenges of our times and collective ways of repoliticizing ourselves, beyong endless sermonizing about intersectionality. There is plenty of moralism, identity-policing, ontological passport checking, frequent use of public forums to air and display utterly personal grudges, lots of swearing, name-calling, shit-swinging, shrill declarations, proclamations, and exclamations all hurled on the safe terrain of Facebook . For most of the time, the oppositional-millennials can’t stand the sight of each other, to the extent that their Facebook battles begin with the sacrifice of critical thinking as if it were some animal to be necessarily slaughtered by both sides to please their respective Gods of War. And as for the many alternate ‘thinkers’, intellects, ‘public intellectuals’ and others, they first disarm Intersectionality to their ends, set it up as a diety to pay obseience to before pulling off in the direction of their limited, often viciously masculinist and heterosexist, discursive walled gardens. No amount of radical strutting and posturing in front of the already-converted and the foolishly-admiring denizens of these essentially limited circles is going to make any difference to the ongoing headlong rush towards universal catastrophe.
Of course, there are glimmers on the far horizon. Feminism in Kerala is seeing a very promising rebirth in women worker’s unions and women worker-led trade unions, women’s sports clubs and so on, but that is very nascent. Environmental movements are struggling, browbeaten as ‘anti-growth’ irritants by both forces in formal politics and in the anti-political consumerist middle classes, but have definitely not given up. There are possibilities in local self-government we can still fight to preserve and expand. There is that section of youth which is victimized and demonized at the same time, there are the small but vocal and dignified LGBTIQ people who build their movement in the face of tremendous odds. Above all, there are people – of Puthvype, of Mookkunnimala, of Kathikudam, of Eloor, of many other such places, who fight, fight, fight and refuse to back off. I devote my time to supporting these tiny sparks of hope.
And how I wish I could hope I could share the elation of a unique self-declared ‘free Pentecostal believer’, a certain Nair-born-recently-converted autorikshaw driver I met a few months back in Thrissur town! It was soon after the election which emboldened the Indo-Gangetic barbarians in UP and the newspapers were swollen scary with their victorious snarls. This ex-Nair seemed light of heart though. “You heard the news,” he remarked, “so finally the anti-Christ is at our doorstep!” I still looked downcast, so he added, “Did you not notice how we have entered Apolcalypse’s Hall of Mirrors? See how they all resemble each other – Trump, Modi, May, Putin, Erdogan, Adityanath … Hang on, Christ is near!” Yes, indeed, my brother, that mirror has swallowed our politics too, but Christ is within each and every one of us who will not succumb to the temptations and the fears of our times and that Christ needs to be roused.