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.
- (Shankaracharya’s bhasya on Chandogya-Upanisad 18.1)
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
The CPI(M) is currently being rocked by an internal ‘debate’ over what has emerged, to put it in somewhat old-style communist speak, the ‘Congress Question’. I put the word ‘debate’ in quotation marks because, there is a touch of innocence to the way positions in support of a possible alliance with the Congress are being expounded by respected, senior intellectuals like Irfan and Sayera Habib in their letter to the party politbureau or Badri Raina in his article in a leading newspaper. These statements follow the dramatic exit of another widely respected Central Committee (CC) member, Jagmati Sangwan, from the party for precisely the opposite reason – of the CC going soft on the Bengal CPM for having gone against the commonly arrived at understanding in allying with the Congress. There is undoubtedly a potential debate here but since the common reference point in both – the Habibs’ letter as well as in Raina’s article – happens to be the recent election in West Bengal, one cannot help feeling that it is either a ‘debate’ over a non-problem or is, at best, a question badly posed.
I say this for two reasons. First, the West Bengal CPI(M) [henceforth CPM-WB] is not really fighting any principled battle – all its exertions in West Bengal, contra Irfan and Sayera Habib, are directed, not against the proto-fascist Modi regime but against the Trinamool Congress whose local party apparatus is substantially what it has inherited from the CPM-WB itself. In the present context of West Bengal, what is urgently required is a different Left platform (with different faces that speak a different language) that can take the place vacated by the CPM-WB. In the absence of any such alternative, nothing can prevent the BJP from emerging as the main opposition party – and if that happens, that will be the end of any kind of Left politics for a very long time to come. A ramshackle CPM-Congress alliance as the opposition to the TMC is the surest way of making the Left (even in name) irrelevant in the state’s politics. The CPM-WB’s desire for an alliance with the Congress is motivated not by the need to defeat the Modi regime’s incursions but rather to return to power any which way. This seemed such a distant dream before the elections that the latter was prepared to go into an alliance with the Congress and entertain the possibility of a joint Congress-CPM-WB ministry, even as junior partner, were electoral fortunes to be reversed by the coming into being of the alliance. Thankfully, this possibility seems ever so remote now, following the election results, despite the alliance that we need not worry about it anymore. Continue reading The ‘Congress Question’ in the CPI(M) and the Problem of Historical Relevance