Guest post by SATISH DESHPANDE
[This post responds to the piece by Aditya Nigam on Kafila last week, which was partially in response to pieces by Satish Deshpande and Apoorvanand.]
Thanks for your response, which (despite its tone 😊) helps to underline the seriousness of our broader predicament today.
I readily concede that my article was not sufficiently respectful of AAP’s major achievement in winning a second landslide against heavy odds. But I do not think – as you seem to do – that this lack of respect (even if it was ungenerous) was without any justification whatsoever.
The article expresses my frustration at the fact (yes, this is a fact and not just my opinion) that the most effective and astute non-BJP political party around today chose not to use even a small fraction of its proven on-the-ground capabilities to counter the poison being spewed daily. I have no prescription to offer AAP, and I don’t know why you think I do – where have I said that or even implied it? Though I had no specific acts in mind (such as AK visiting Shaheen Bagh, etc.) I did expect AAP to do something (in its own unique way) to take back at least an inch or two of the political ground that is being ceded every day.
To be fair, the AAP has never claimed that it was about secularism or socialism or anything else other than ‘kaam’. So, my expectations may be misplaced – but how can you expect this not to diminish my respect for them? Even a non-ideological party must be aware that its acts of omission and commission will inevitably have ideological consequences.
This brings me to the core of our disagreement. You argue that what the AAP is doing – providing good governance and refusing to talk about any “political” issues beyond civic services – is the only way to pursue a progressive agenda today (given that both Gandhi and the communists failed in the past). To take this a step further, I read you as arguing that the long-term benefits of a governance-only strategy outweigh the short-term costs of silence on issues like communalism.
I disagree strongly. Firstly, there is nothing intrinsic to service provisioning that prevents it from being appended to regressive political values. Roughly speaking, wasn’t this exactly what the so called “Gujarat model” tried to do? Secondly, and far more importantly, good governance and ideological hegemony are profoundly asymmetrical in the modalities they require and the speed with which they take effect. To practice good governance one must first gain control of the state apparatus. This apparatus consists, ultimately, of human beings (officials at all levels) who are always already steeped in ideologies. To affect dominant ideologies through the governance route takes time but is easily reversible, and always subject to the inbuilt spatial limitations of the state apparatus itself. On the other hand, ideological hegemony (used as rough shorthand here) can be pursued without being in power, is difficult to reverse, is far more stretchable spatially, and can produce electoral victories in quick time.
Just as you think it would be suicidal for the AAP to take up ideological issues, I firmly believe that it is suicidal (for us all) to not take them up today. We (i.e., whoever is repulsed by the ideologically dominant politics of today) must oppose it before it is too late. That means before the very apparatus of the state is constitutionally altered to make the public pursuit of progressive politics (of any variety, including unbiased service provision) practically impossible. We cannot pin our hopes on a double coincidence – a) that those who offer good governance today will not be persuaded (by their electoral calculations) to also join the dominant ideology tomorrow; and b) that those preaching hate today will not be persuaded (by their electoral calculations) to also offer good governance tomorrow.
This does not, of course, change the fact that I don’t have a precise prescription for how to go about this ideological fight. But I am far from convinced – as you seem to be – that a refusal to engage with ideological issues (in any style whatsoever) constitutes a winning strategy.