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Shakespeare said, what is past is prologue. A simple-minded rationalist may be contented to assume that past is fixed as it has already gone into the making of the present. Nothing can be done to change it. The truth however is that past is being ‘remade’ every day. Imaginations of ancient glories or of humiliating defeats in the distant past are being deployed in contemporary politics all across the world. This phenomenon has been a key element behind the resurgence of rightwing in many countries. Contemporary India is a calamitous example where a perverse variant of mass-democratic politics has been fashioned through the political ideology of Hindutva resulting in serious damage to democracy and to people’s welfare.
Contemporary politics is driven more pressingly to such ideological re-imaginings in the conditions of vigorously competitive electoral democracies. The phenomenon is far more pronounced in countries with a significant minority (religious, racial, linguistic-cultural etc.) that can be portrayed as a historical villain. The majority can, then, be mobilized through the political process of polarisation in which some historical-civilizational-social tectonic plate is deployed in the service of electoral-political objectives. India is a pre-eminent example of this tragic phenomenon.
Invariably, left and progressive forces find themselves handicapped in these circumstances. Attempts to prove that such polarising strategies based on re-imagining the past are malignant turn out to be politically ineffective. A typical response from such forces has been to counter the emotive with the economic and to challenge cultural nationalism with anti-colonial, anti-imperialist nationalism. These strategies have failed miserably. Other social and resistance movements too have attempted partial re-imagining of India’s past from the standpoint of traditionally oppressed communities (Dalit, feminist, native-ist, etc.). While offering some resources to the respective movements, these efforts have failed equally miserably in challenging the Hindutva’s cultural nationalism. The efforts of some of the liberal bourgeois forces, on the other hand, to gain ground by partly imitating the Hindutva forces (variants of soft hindutva) have been no more than a laughing stock. Continue reading Imagining India for Contemporary Politics- What Should the Left Do? : Ravi Sinha