( New Socialist Initiative presents the 2nd Lecture* in the Series on Modernity, 18 th October 6 pm IST)
*Youtube Link to the first lecture : https://youtu.be/J5m7Z-I8jPg
( New Socialist Initiative presents the 2nd Lecture* in the Series on Modernity, 18 th October 6 pm IST)
*Youtube Link to the first lecture : https://youtu.be/J5m7Z-I8jPg
Re-reading Antonio Gramsci lately, in preparation for a webinar organized by the Dean, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad on “Gandhi, Ambedkar, Gramsci”, I was struck by an aspect of his thought that I had not really understood in all its dimensions earlier. This aspect is directly related to the relationship between subalternity and the political party, a lifelong preoccupation for him, linked in turn to the problem of “philosophy” and “thought”. Some of the reflections here on this question were also sparked off also by some questions that were raised during the discussion.
Skhekhar Gupta on Taali-Thaali and Diya
It was while searching for something related to the Indian government’s handling of the Covid-19 situation, that I hit upon this astonishing article by Mr Shekhar Gupta, which is my peg for the discussion that follows. It is an older article (4 April 2020), for I must confess I had stopped reading him long ago given the sheer predictability of what he had to say. But here he seems to have surpassed himself. The title itself first caught my attention: “Poke fun at taali, thaali, diya and mombatti all you want. Modi couldn’t care less“. Shekhar Gupta was one of those who had, in the run up to the 2014 elections, come out with brass band to clear the way for Narendra Modi’s accession to power. But hadn’t he lately – so I had heard – started expressing some criticisms of the regime? Tavleen Sigh certainly had. So what is Gupta saying? Well for one thing, I realized that his deep fascination with the Modi persona continues unabated but that is something I can’t blame him for. We can’t determine what our taste-buds like, can we? I am also not surprised that Gupta’s tone regarding his imagined secular-liberal adversaries is one of derision. What struck me was that all that he is basically saying in the article is that Modi knows who he should speak to and he is able to read the popular mind, but this banality is presented as one great insight of all times!
Yesterday was V. I. Lenin’s 150th birth anniversary and just the other day I read a report of a survey that claimed that 75 percent of Russians think the Soviet era was the best time in the country’s history. A great tribute to Lenin on this occasion, one would imagine, whatever may have been the reasons for socialism’s collapse. If you could put this response in Russia to nostalgia for a time gone by, it comes as an even bigger surpise that a recent poll in the United States of America, conducted by an outfit called YouGov and funded by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (a clearly anti-communist outfit) found that 70 percent of the millennials (between the age of 23 and 38 years in 2019) favoured socialism. Earlier in February 2019, Jochen Bittner, politcal editor of the German weekly Die Zeit wrote in the New York Times on ‘Why Socialism is Coming Back in Germany?’
‘It seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful. The impact of the virus will be cultural and crucial to building an alternative and profoundly different world.’ – Li Edelkoort, trend forecaster and fashion advisor
As large parts of the world reel under the impact of a lockdown that has prompted several people to recall the great lockdowns during the early twentieth century Spanisht flu and even the 14th centry plague, my thoughts in fact strayed in another direction. With international and national air traffic down to the barest minimum, with arenas of conspicuous consumption shut down, zillions of cars of the roads and construction activity to a halt, I was suddenly struck by a not-so-crazy thought: with all the suffering that a lockdown necessarily entails for the poorer sections of the population in particular, there might still be a silver lining here. Perhaps the temperature of the earth will have come down a few notches by the time we are done with this crisis and what is more, it might initiate a different mode of being in the world. It might give the world an opportunity to see what is continuously being denied by climate-deniers (as Naomi Klein recorded, backed by huge funds from right-wing US based foundations and corporations). It might – it just might – reconnect us with what we have long left behind and have been longing for – a different pace of life where slow is beautiful, as it were.
[Beginning this week, ‘Parapolitics’ will be a fortnightly column appearing on the second and fourth Thursday of every month.]
We were never so helpless, never so bereft, never more in need of a platform of struggle. The need for a new political formation is acutely felt today as never before. And by a new formation I do not mean a party of the Left in any traditional sense but a different kind of left-wing formation that can act resolutely in defense of democracy.
Two developments of the past week – the crisis of Yes Bank and the defection of 22 Congress MLAs, led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, to the BJP – signal the deep crisis that we are in today. Reports suggest that each MLA was offered something like Rs 100 crore by the BJP to defect. These developments come close on the heels of a horrendous anti-Muslim carnage in Delhi where we have been witness to the the total collapse of all institutions. From the complete paralysis of the elected AAP government in the state and a Supreme Court that simply pretends not to see what’s going on, to a lapdog ‘media’ actively engaged in promoting violence – this collapse was perhaps never so evident in our history.
The term ‘contemporary’ is often used synonymously with ‘the present’. It is often used to connote ‘newness’. But there is another sense where it refers to the idea of inhabiting the same time (as for example in the statement: ‘Gandhi was a contemporary of Tagore’) or of the industrial revolution being contemporaneous with the emergence of the steam engine. In this sense, it is not newness but ideas of simultaneity, co-presence, coevalness etc that are sought to be invoked through the use of the term ‘contemporary’.
The problem of the contemporary is therefore also a problem of multiplicity, of many different modes of being, and in a sense, can be seen as distinct from the idea of ‘the present’. For the category of ‘the present’, on the other hand, assumes a singularity and lies at the root of all attempts to understand ‘our times’ in relation to some specific characteristic or feature in relation to which others become ‘the past’. Thus ‘our time’ could be defined in terms of the ‘information technology and communications revolution’, ‘the digital revolution’ or the ‘era of post-truth’ and ‘populism’ and so on.
Guest Post by SURAJ JACOB
[Note: This article was written before the ongoing violence in Delhi began and is not about current affairs. It rather engages with the political problem at a broader philosophical level. – AN]
Analysts of Delhi’s recent election note thatAAP imaginatively courted voters on the BJP’s own turf (Shekhar Gupta): welfarism with a dash of nationalism and careful projection around religion. There are several critics of this strategy. Satish Deshpande criticises AAP’s quiescence in ‘mere’ development activities (its campaign “was about municipal matters such as water and electricity and nothing else”). He describes AAP as a “non-ideological management consultancy”, even arguing that its campaign conveyed the message: “Don’t worry, we have no problem with communal politics, but please don’t ask us to say it openly”. Apoorvanand also casts the AAP as “an ideology-agnostic party that does not impede the BJP’s nationalist drive”. Similar points are made by Yogendra Yadav. They castigate AAP for its ideological failure in resisting the BJP’s polarising tactics violating the spirit of the Constitution. AAP voted with the BJP on Article 370, welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya temple and did not sufficiently support protests around the CAA/NRC especially in Shaheen Bagh. Besides ideological failure, Yadav also identifies AAP’s moral failures: choosing consultants and candidates based on winnability “without any moral or ideological hindrance” and undemocratically centralising power.
Deshpande, Apoorvanand and Yadav are scholars and public intellectuals with activist conscience and commitment to the public good. Taking their disquiet seriously, one may ask: How, indeed, should AAP’s campaign have been? Is the party and its dominant leader Kejriwal really “non-ideological” and “ideology-agnostic”, especially when it comes to toxic polarisation? The evidence simply doesn’t stack up for such a sweeping claim (though, according to Suhas Palshikar, “we will probably never know” Kejriwal’s real stand on these issues). Notes Monobina Gupta: “the AAP, within and outside parliament, has opposed the CAA and supported the protests in Shaheen Bagh in different ways. … What his [Kejriwal’s] ideologically-inflected critics mean to say is that he didn’t take the position they wanted him to. Yes, he didn’t run an ideological campaign.”
Guest Post by JAYA SHARMA
This article that explores the enjoyment of violence, epsecially in the social media world, in the wake of the brutal violence perpetrated by the Yogi Adityanath regime in Uttar Pradesh. It should be read as a sequel to Jaya Sharma’s earlier article published in Kafila in June last year.
‘Maza aa gaya Yogiji maza…Lathi aisi lagi ki maza aa gaya…’
Maza is a word used often in tweets in response to police attacks on CAA-NRC protestors in UP. Unlike it’s staid, sanskritized counterpart anand, maza has a charge, a buzz and could translate into English as ‘thrill’. ‘Thrilling Yogiji thrilling’… ‘The way the lathi struck…thrilling’. I’ll return to such tweets to explore the following questions.
Might it be that there is an erotic charge to political violence? Might it be that the erotic charge is not limited to those who perform the violence but also animates the millions who hear, see or read that such violence has been meted out? Well beyond “not caring”, might it be that they “get off” on such violence? Can the proactive, enthusiastic support for political violence be understood only in terms of “ordinary folk” being corrupted by evil leaders? Might we also need to see what within the collective psyche could be pushing them towards a terrible kind of enjoyment of such violence? Continue reading The Yogi and the Erotics of Violence: Jaya Sharma
Guest Post by Ravi Sinha
(Marx Bicentennial lecture – Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur, March 16, 2018)
etaddhastidarshana iva jatyandhah
That is like people blind by birth viewing an elephant.
It was six blind men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The ancient Indian parable of blind men and the elephant, popularized in modern times by John Godfrey Saxe’s nineteenth century poem, has often been deployed in philosophical discourses about the nature of reality and its relationship to sense perception. It has served as a useful metaphor in many an argument about empiricist epistemology, moral relativism, cultural plurality, even religious tolerance. No such usage is intended here. My purpose in starting out with the parable is mostly methodological – how does one put together a vision of the beast based on necessarily partial observations of it. Continue reading To Gain a View of the Elephant – India, History, Modernity, and Marx : Ravi Sinha
( Photo courtesy : The hoot)
(To be published in the special issue of ‘Janata’)
The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled me with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition, exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.
– Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru (1936), pp. 240–241.
If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.
– Ambedkar, ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’, p. 358.
India’s slow ushering into a majoritarian democracy is a matter of concern for every such individual who still believes in pluralism, democracy, equality and a clear separation of religion and politics. The way people are being hounded for raising dissenting opinions, for eating food of their choice or entering into relationships of their own liking or celebrating festivals according to their own faith is unprecedented. The situation has reached such extremes that one can even be publicly lynched for belonging to one of the minority religions or for engaging in an activity which is considered to be ‘suspicious’ by the majority community.
No doubt there is no direct harm to the basic structure of the Constitution, its formal structure remains intact, de jure India does remain a democracy as well as a republic, but de facto democracy has slowly metamorphosed into majoritarianism and the sine qua non of a republic—that its citizens are supreme—is being watered down fast. It does not need underlining that this process has received tremendous boost with the ascent of Hindutva supremacist forces at the centrestage of Indian politics. Continue reading Nehru, Ambedkar and Challenge of Majoritarianism
This is a modified version of the article that was published earlier in The Wire
(T)he economic dialectic is never active in the pure state; in History, these instances, the superstructures etc – are never seen to step respectfully aside when their work is done or, when the Time comes, as his pure phenomena, to scatter before His Majesty the Economy as he strides along the royal road of the Dialectic. From the first moment to the last, the lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes. – Louis Althusser, For Marx, London: Verso 1979, p. 113
The event known to the world as the ‘October’ revolution in Russia – or simply as the ‘Russian revolution’ – took place on 7-8 November, a hundred years ago. But then why call it the October revolution? Thereby hangs a tale – the tale of modernity, myth-making and of a new imagination of Time.
As a matter of fact, the Revolution occurred on 25-26 October, according to the Julian calendar (so called because it had been promulgated by Julius Caesar), which Russia, along with a large part of the Western world, followed at that time. It was only in January 1918 that the Soviet government decreed the shift to the Gregorian calendar. The reason was that Russia should join ‘all cultured nations in counting time’, as a decree cited by historian Mark Steinberg put it. Accordingly, the first anniversary of the revolution was celebrated on 7 November 1918 throughout the Soviet Union.
What is interesting here is not so much the shift but the reason assigned for it – joining other ‘cultured nations’ of the world, which in the language of the early twentieth century meant only one thing – the modern West, which had long been setting the norm for everything desirable. Ways of ‘counting time’ too had to be aligned with Europe, lest one be considered insufficiently modern. Spatially, the Czarist Russian empire straddled both Europe and Asia, which had already, in the new reckoning of Time, been cast as ‘advanced’ and ‘backward’ respectively. The desire to become modern and join the ‘cultured nations’ was to run through the history of the revolution and its consolidation into the new Stalinist state. This desire was to be manifested in its deep distrust of the peasantry and rural life on the one hand, and in the frenetic drive to ‘catch up’ with Western Europe. As Stalin would say, he wanted to accomplish in a couple of decades what Europe had in a few centuries, compressing time, as it were, into one dizzying experience for entire society. The continuing ‘past’ had to be annihilated.
Present day Hindus are probably the strongest opponents of Marxism. They are horrified at its doctrine of class-struggle. But they forget that India has been not merely the land of class struggle but she has been the land of class wars. – B. R. Ambedkar, Philosophy of Hinduism.
I often find myself in a bind over whether or not to respond to supposed RSS ideologues, given that they simply trade in lies and hatred with the supreme arrogance of ignorance. One such is the upcoming star on the RSS horizon, a gentleman called Rakesh Sinha, who like the rest of his pack (led by the supreme leader) is currently engaged in a cheap attack on the outgoing Vice-President, Hamid Ansari. His piece in the Indian Express today (linked above) is an instance of a combination of all these things. So, why should one bother about such a character? Why take him and his discourse seriously? Well, someone had better respond because, because, for one thing they are in power, and are going to teach generations of students that valorous ‘Hindus’ like Maharana Pratap won all the wars, though by some magic, ‘Muslims’ continued to rule for about 8 centuries! For another, there are enough gullible types who really think these people ‘have a point of view’, which should be debated.
As we have repeatedly seen, their ‘having a point of view’ has nothing to do with debate. It is to be enforced by gangs of gorakshaks, anti-romeo squads, hoodlums deciding what will or will not be taught in universities and schools, what will be written, how people should dress and love – and when nothing works, ‘win’ a ‘debate’ like Arun Jaitley claimed they did, by simply arresting the opponents and slapping sedition charges on them. Given this, I do not really address, in person, the ideologue, Rakesh Sinha, who has now made it a fine art to pick up some phrases from the toolkit of what is understood as ‘postmodernism’ by many. Wasn’t it postmodernism, one can hear them say, that said all viewpoints are equally valid and ‘everything goes’? Wasn’t it postmodernism that challenged the hegemony of Western thought, its logocentrism, its Rationalism (with a capital R) from within that very tradition? Wasn’t it postmodernism again, that by decentering West’s logocentrism, actually gave these RSS-type creatures the gumption to claim that their utterly unsubstantiated viewpoint about the past too was as valid as that of historians who struggled with evidence, painstakingly putting together texts, artefacts and procedures of dating in order to produce a plausible account of the past?
Guest Post by SANJAY KUMAR
Ramesh has been working as a daily wager in a Government of India office in Delhi for ten years. He is one of the army of peons, office assistants, security guards, gardeners, and cleaning staff which government offices, city municipalities, hospitals, schools and colleges of the metropolis employ regularly. He is a graduate, but gets the wage of an unskilled worker. He is among the fortunate ones who at least get government mandated minimum wage. Most private employers in the city violate the minimum wage act; either they pay less than the mandated amount, or make daily wagers work more than eight hours without any overtime.
Ramesh was pleasantly surprised this April when he noted a more than 30% increase in his wages. His daily wage that stood at Rs 360/ earlier was now Rs 513/. This was due to a Government of Delhi notification issued on 3rd March, 2017. The news was covered in the inner pages of some newspapers. Most TV news channels ignored it. Hence, it is not surprising that employees like Ramesh who are not associated with any organsiation of workers were not aware of this increase. Continue reading The Elephant in the Room – Silence on Class Issues in Indian Politics : Sanjay Kumar
The Communist Manifesto had, as its object, the proclamation of the inevitable impending dissolution of modern bourgeois property. But in Russia we find, face-to-face with the rapidly flowering capitalist swindle and bourgeois property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land owned in common by the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of Communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first pass through the same process of dissolution such as constitutes the historical evolution of the West?
The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development. [Marx and Engels, ‘Preface’ to the 1882 Russian Edition of The Communist Manifesto; all emphasis added]
The above passage, jointly signed by Marx and Engels, appears at the end of the 1882 ‘Preface’ to the Russian edition of The Communist Manifesto. It also appears, towards the end of a decade-long engagement with the Russian social formation and the social formation of many Eastern societies like India’s. The detailed notes, excerpts and commentaries compiled by Marx, published later as The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, belong precisely to the end of this period, the years 1880-1882. Marx passed away the following year, in 1983. Continue reading Karl Marx in the Times of Climate Change
An earlier version of this essay was published in Outlook magazine
“The young students are not interested in establishing that neoliberalism works – they’re trying to understand where markets fail and what to do about it, with an understanding that the failures are pervasive. That’s true of both micro and macroeconomics. I wouldn’t say it’s everywhere, but I’d say that it’s dominant.
“In policymaking circles I think it’s the same thing. Of course, there are people, say on the right in the United States who don’t recognise this. But even many of the people on the right would say markets don’t work very well, but their problem is governments are unable to correct it.”
Stiglitz went on to argue that one of the central tenets of the neoliberal ideology – the idea that markets function best when left alone and that an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth – has now been pretty much disproved. Read the full report by Will Martin here
One often hears over-zealous warriors of neoliberalism say of Leftists that they live in a time- warp; that the world has long changed and that the disappearance of state-socialism has finally proved that all their beliefs were little more than pipe-dreams. They talk as though history came to an end with the collapse of actually existing socialisms and the global ascendance of neoliberalism in the early 1990s. As though all thought came to an end; as if the distilled essence of everything that could ever be thought, or need be thought, was already encapsulated in the neoliberal dogma.
Guest post by HUZAIFA OMAIR SIDDIQI
It has often been broadcast that we live in a post-truth age. In fact we live in an age better envisioned as one of post-certainty, where everything and every fact is liable to be pronounced uncertain and doubtful. The problem with the mainstream liberal discourse is its inability to catch up to the inevitable demise of certainty in the political sphere. What was most certain, according to Descartes, was the being of one’s own ego. In this age of post-certainty, this is the last certainty which the liberal discourse still seems to stick to, in the name of ‘individual rights’, without ever understanding the real essence of the question of individuality.
Muhammad Iqbal was the public intellectual of the last century who made this question of individuality his very own guiding question. This guiding question, how does individuation happen, was part of his desire to formulate his basic question, how does the community of individuals come into being? Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in his opinion piece in The Indian Express has sought to diagnose the tragedy of Iqbal as one which in its sacrifice of the rights of the individual, attempted to pursue the consolidation of the truly spiritual community. Mehta, one of India’s finest public intellectuals, cannot be questioned within this paradigm of liberal thinking.
This is a GUEST POST by Prasanta Chakravarty
“Slime is the agony of water.”
~ Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
The Birth of Revulsion – Pranabendu Dasgupta
No certainty where each would go —
Suddenly the descent of a cloudburst, rain.
We stood, each where we were,
And stared at one another.
It is not good to be so close
“Revulsion is born” – someone had said
“Revulsion, revulsion, revulsion.”
Then, lighting a cigarette, some man
Muttered abuse at another next to him.
Like an abstract painting, spiralling like a gyre,
In a wee space
We slowly fragmented, dispersed.
Had it not rained, though,
We would have stepped out together.
Perhaps to the cinema, tasting a woman’s
Half-exposed breast with the eye,
Then laughing out loud,
We could head for the maidan!
Someone maybe would sing; someone
Would say, “I am alive”.
But it rained.
(Krittibas, Sharad Sankhya, 1386)
কোথায় কে যাবে ঠিক নেই —
হঠাৎ দুদ্দাড় ক ‘রে বৃষ্টি নেমে এলো।
যেখানে ছিলাম, ঠিক সেইখানে থেকে
আমরা পরস্পরের দিকে তাকিয়ে রইলাম।
এত কাছাকাছি থাকা খুব ভালো নয়।
” ঘৃণার জন্ম হয় ” –কে যেন বললো
” ঘৃণা, ঘৃণা, ঘৃণা। ”
তারপর সিগ্রেট ধরিয়ে, আরো একজন
খুব ফিশফিশ ক ‘রে
পাশের লোককে গাল দিলো।
বিমূর্ত ছবির মতো তালগোল পাকিয়ে পাকিয়ে
ছোট্ট জায়গা জূড়ে
আমরা ক্রমশ ভেঙে, ছড়িয়ে পড়লাম।
বৃষ্টি না নামলে কিন্তু
আমরা একসঙ্গে বেরিয়ে পড়তাম।
হয়তো সিনেমা গিয়ে,রমণীর আধ -খোলা স্তন
চোখ দিয়ে চেখে
তারপর, হো হো ক ‘রে হেসে
ময়দানের দিক যাওয়া যেতো !
কেউ হয়তো গান গাইতো ; কেউ হয়তো
বলতো “বেঁচে আছি “।
কিন্তু বৃষ্টি নেমেছিলো।।
(কৃত্তিবাস, শারদ সংখ্যা ১৩৮৬)
Guest Post by DHEERESH SAINI
“In India today, neither has fascism been established, nor are the conditions present — in political, economic and class terms — for a fascist regime to be established. There is no crisis that threatens a collapse of the capitalist system; the ruling classes of India face no threat to their class rule. No section of the ruling class is currently working for the overthrow of the bourgeois parliamentary system. What the ruling classes seek to do is to use forms of authoritarianism to serve their class interests,”
When CPI(M) was under the stewardship of now deceased, voluntarily or forcefully retired leaders, young leaders-workers would say that when young leaders (who were actually middle aged then) like Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury take over, the party would zoom on to its real revolutionary track. Karat was always considered more principled and genuine between the two. Yechury has now succeeded Karat as the topmost leader. Meanwhile, the situation of the party that prided itself in waging nationwide struggle against the fascist forces went from bad to worse in West Bengal considered as its fort. In the present scenario, any party considered as progressive or secular, would be bound to face such situation. But it is disappointing to see CPI(M) hog the headlines, in such tough times, on account of constant tussle between its two stars considered most resplendent. Continue reading On the Ongoing Debate in CPI(M): Dheeresh Saini
[The following is the ‘Preface’ to AJAY SKARIA’s recent book, Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance by Ajay Skaria. The preface raises interesting questions not only about Gandhi’s politics but also about the idea/s of secularism and religion in what we might call a postsecular world – a world that is, where the naive and uninterrogated binary between the two terms is constantly put into question. Also of interest to readers might be the attempt made by the author to read Gandhi’s writings as a long and ongoing struggle to articulate or ‘understand’ his own politics – a politics that Skaria claims is as much premised on equality among humans as it is on the equality of all being/s.]
Somewhere in the early 2000s, while preparing to teach Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s English translation of Hind Swaraj to my undergraduate class, a passage about history in the text intrigued me. Since I happened to have the Gujarati version of that text at hand, I consulted it. The divergence is striking. The Gujarati text criticizes “history” (the English word occurs in the Gujarati text) and contrasts it to itihaas [usually translated as “history”]. The English text criticizes “history,” but in it there is no equivalent for itihaas; the contrast between history and itihaas is thus obscured. The gap between the Gujarati and English texts, I have since come to realize, is symptomatic of Gandhi’s struggles to think his politics. What this politics involves is by no means clear to him; perhaps he writes so prolifically and indefatigably (his collected works run to ninety-eight volumes in English) precisely in order to try and understand his own politics. This politics becomes even more intriguing when we attend not only to Gandhi as an author or “intending subject,” but to his writing. By dwelling in and on the gaps (between Gujarati and English and also within each of these languages) in his writing, this book tries to draw out his politics.
For me, writing this book has been difficult also because of another gap—that between Gandhi’s insistence that there can be “no politics without religion” and the secular inheritance that I have, as far as I know, no desire to abandon. Gandhi repeatedly describes satyagraha (his most famous neologism, which he coins initially as a translation of “passive resistance”) as his “dharma” or “religion,” even as the religion that stays in all religions. Symptomatic of my difficulty with this religious politics was my inability for long to even recognize it. When Vinay Lal first asked me in 2007 to write an essay on Gandhi’s religion for a volume he was planning on political Hinduism, I protested that I was not interested in this aspect of Gandhi. But with his characteristic persistence, Vinay did not accept my protests, and I ended up writing that essay, which became a precursor of this book.
In the process, my own understanding of dharma and religion as “concepts” has been transformed.
In March this year in a rural hamlet 3 hours by train from New Delhi, the local edition of Hari Bhoomi carried an unusual piece of news: Central University of Haryana (CUH) at Mahendragarh, had filed a police complaint against a Facebook page.
The story was short on specifics, but an email to the university registrar, Ram Dutt, elicited a reply:
“Yes, University has filed a complaint against the CUH Media page (anonymously administered unlawfully using acronym of the University) to trace the identity of the page. As the University is Autonomous Body and has the right to continuous vigil to maintain the reputation of the University on the Internet World …”
What was this page, “anonymously administered”, that had the administration so upset? Who were these students “unlawfully using the acronym of the university” to besmirch the university’s reputation “on the Internet World”?
At first glance, the CUH Media page was just like the millions of pages on Facebook visited by a small band of followers – at last count it had just 174 “Likes” – who trolled each other. But a closer look at the posts, the comments they attracted, and their ripples offline, since the page was started in September 2015, suggested the gradual emergence of a spiky student politics in one of India’s newest central universities. Read More