‘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.
[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.”
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→
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→