In this year of COVID19, the organized ‘working class’ movement completes a hundred years of its history. It was on October 31 1920, that the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the first central trade union organization, came into being. This might be a good occasion to take stock – to look back into history from what can only be described as a very troubled and difficult present – and peer forward into the future.
The year of COVID19 reveals, among other things, the very fragile and unstable nature of this entity called ‘the working class’ in countries like India. The monstrous situation arising out of the pandemic only provides us the window to that long and endless process by which the ‘working class’ is constantly made and remade. In a very important sense, unlike the peasantry which has a far more stable existence (till, for the requirements of Capital, it is uprooted and thrown into urban labour markets), the working class is an inherently structurally unstable social group. Given that its fate is tied to the requirements, caprices and maneouvres of Capital, the working class is not given to us readymade, once and for all. For as long-term changes in industry and technology occur or capital takes flight in the face of worker militancy, the working class too undergoes changes.
Over the last few weeks, the blizzard of news about the Aam Aadmi Party – and the move of many independent intellectuals and some activists into the party – has seemed like a roller coaster ride. One week we were told the world had changed, the following week that it had collapsed, and now we have no idea what next week is going to bring. But the roller coaster should not blind us to the deeper dynamics at work. In particular, there’s one that is uncannily familiar – the role being played by the English media. Those rushing to endorse and celebrate AAP should pause to consider recent events before they do so.
A good place to start is the India Against Corruption protests, which were clearly a media mobilisation. It was the media – particularly the English and Hindi electronic media – that called people on to the streets, that announced the locations and demands of the protests, and that consistently described the movement as being “universal” and about “ordinary people” (for examples, see the paragraph in this article on Times Now’s role in April 2011; or The Hoot’s analysis of TV coverage). Social media, the Sangh Parivar and the IAC’s local committees did so too, but they all jumped in after the mainstream media did, and they continued to rely on it. No other mass mobilisation of recent times, except the anti-rape protests, has received this kind of treatment at the hands of the media. Continue reading The English Media and AAP – Should One Rush to Endorse the Party: Shankar Gopalakrishnan→
Mrs Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, represented the Rai Bareli seat in the Lok Sabha. On 12th June 1975 she was unseated on charges of election fraud and misuse of state machinery in a landmark judgement by Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court. Fakhr-ud-Din Ali Ahmad, the then President of India, declared internal emergency on the 25th of June, on the recommendation of a pliable cabinet presided over by Mrs G. The people of India lost all civil liberties for a period of 21 months.
Trade unions were emasculated, political opponents were arrested, newspapers censored, the only place where a semblance of freedom survived, for a short while, were the universities, most were in turmoil and were being singled out for special attention. Students unions were being banned and activists were being picked up and thrown in jail.
Nothing seems to have changed in the past quarter decade. Past Jhargram, the town in the woods, the metal road connecting Lodhasuli to National Highway No. 6 wraps itself in a shady serenity. At occasional intervals, the artificiality of a clamour, emitted by a motor engine, creates an unquiet irritation, murdering the resonance of the forest and interrupting its slumber. The bus-stops at Kalabani and Boria are as lonely as they used to be; Gar-Salboni, a roadside village, is stuck in its eternal search for a path to survival. The mud road that breaks from the main road to meet the villages Sirsi, Joalbhanga and Lab-Kush, is as tranquil as it had been 25 years ago. Past the lush green rice fields by the road begins the forest that hems the horizon. The leaves that have just had a splash of shower glistens with the brilliance of the sun.
— Last year it was different, whispered the road.
— Yes, I have heard of it – there had been a drought. And it was the same in the year before the last. It used to follow a cycle like this 25 years ago. Rain ensures the crop. Hunger rides free when there is a drought.
[This guest post is by AHILAN KADIRGAMAR who is an activist with the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum. He has written about the international dimension of the conflict and peace process in Sri Lanka and worked on human rights concerns related to the conflict. His current interests include the political economy of state-society relations and attempts at state reform in Sri Lanka.]
I have been travelling between cities, from Kathmandu to Delhi to Calcutta and down south to Madras. Visiting friends, but also trying to understand peoples’ perceptions of Sri Lanka in a time of war. I give talks here and there, but many more meetings over tea and dinner. There is an older tradition of solidarity, but now I am thinking again of the meaning of Southasian solidarity.
In Calcutta, on an activist’s book shelf, I find a book signed and gifted to her in the mid-eighties by Para, my friend from Berlin who passed away last year. Kumaraswamy Pararajasingham, a Marxist and human rights activist in Lanka in his early years, was a pillar of Tamil dissent over the last two decades of exile in Germany. An old Marxist in Calcutta, asks me about Hector Abhayawardhana, the theoretician of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party Continue reading Ahilan Kadirgamar on Southasian Solidarity and Questions of State and Land→