The Left and Communalism

Vijay Singh

In a recent article in Ganashakti of 15th March, 2004 (Nalini Taneja, ‘Hindutva Culture and Electoral Alliances’), it is argued that the collapse of the Nehruvian economy has meant a weakening of the liberal political alternative. At present trade union opposition takes place on service conditions, livelihood, fee hikes but this does not necessarily translate into an uncompromising stand against communalism except on the part of ‘the Left’. It is clearly recognised that both the BJP and the Congress represent the same ruling classes. It is argued that the construction of ‘heavy industry’ with the help of the ‘socialist USSR’ under Nehru co-existed with the prevalence of soft Hindutva personnel in the state cultural institutions. Today it is those who take conservative Hindu positions who are being removed from power by the Sangh Parivar. This is an altogether rosy retrospective of the Nehru period. What is today called ‘Nehruvian socialism’ cohabited comfortably with the Hindu Mahasabha in government. The Nehru era never carried out a radical social transformation of the Indian economy. Imperialist capital was not nationalised, serious land reform never took place and the survivals of feudalism, casteism and tribalism were not ended but merely modified. An industrial revolution did not take place despite the fact that some pre-requisites of industrialisation were built up in the second and third five year ‘plans’ so that due to this today we are probably not far behind the economic level of the Russian economy of 1913. The capital for industrial development in India came from the imperialist countries. The ‘socialism’ in the USSR which is referred to had undergone a neo-liberal counter-revolution between 1953-58 which led to the means of production in the state sector circulating as commodities, labour power thereby became a commodity while the enterprises were required to function on the basis of profit. In the Nehru and Indira Gandhi dispensation there was no reason for the conservative Hindus to be excluded from state cultural institutions as there was no agenda for a democratic state culture.

Does the ‘Left’ alone take an uncompromising stand against communalism as is argued by Nalini Taneja?

The author briefly alludes to the removal of the ‘left’ and ‘secular’ historians from the Indian Council of Historical Research which was set up under the Indira Gandhi regime. It is not clear how and why they are so characterised. It was these historians who carefully preserved colonial-communal periodisation in the state and semi-state institutions. It will be recalled that British imperialist historiography had divided Indian history not in terms of social formation, a concept which originated in Britain prior to Marx, but in terms of the Hindu, Muslim and British periods. Our neo-colonial historians transmogrified these into the Ancient, Medieval and Modern epochs. The challenge to the colonial, neo-colonial and communal periodisation had come from the Marxist-Leninist historians of the USSR after the second world war and this stimulated some of the progressive historians of ancient and early medieval India in this country, who were influenced by Marxism, to argue that in terms of the mode of production the breakthrough in the transition from ancient to medieval society in India came in the 7th century A.D. rather than with the Turkish invasions some centuries later. However, secular periodisation remained a rather platonic affair. Despite the domination of the ‘secular’ historians in the state institutions under Indira Gandhi it was not felt necessary to terminate the colonial, neo-colonial, communal periodisation in the NCERT school textbooks. It has taken an Italian historian, Michelguglielmo Torri, to observe recently that the Indian History Congress, regarded as a fort of ‘secularism’, doggedly preserves the colonial-communal framework which harks back to James Mill. The Department of History of Aligarh Muslim University did not feel the urgency to re-periodise its Indian history courses along secular lines. In the M.A. History syllabus revision in the University of Delhi some twenty years ago the ‘left’ and ‘secular’ historians in the department successfully utilised threats and intimidation of the teachers without permanent appointments in the general body of history teachers to successfully thwart the introduction of secular periodisation. No historian from the university department dissented from this although some currently vociferously strike militant ‘secular’ postures outside the university precincts on questions pertaining to the communalisation of the Indian Council of Historical Research, the NCERT textbooks and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. More recently the ‘left’ history department was party to the arbitrary changes in the B.A. History honours course which deleted a multiplicity of rubrics pertaining to discussion of social formation, the economic relations of Soviet society, the role of the working class, the trade unions and the Stakhanov movement, the question of women and family under socialism, the nature of Soviet democracy in the paper of the History of the USSR. Similarly the role of the communist movement was minimised in modern Indian history and culture, the Telengana movement ‘forgotten’ and the national question made to evaporate – all without dissent. So desperate were the ‘left’, the ‘new left’, subaltern, ex-subaltern and ‘secular’ historians to do all this that the syllabus was illegally printed without the sanction of the Academic Council.

The reformist left is no exception from other streams we would suggest when it comes to combining trade unionism on economic questions with a capitulation to Hindu communal-fascism. It is generally acknowledged that the Delhi University Teachers' Association (DUTA) is the most prominent teachers’ union in the country and the CPI M dominated Democratic Teachers' Front (DTF) is a major player inside it. The CPI M led the DUTA in the period 2001-03 in a period when the Hindu-fascist dominated NDA government was leaning heavily on Delhi University in terms of introducing obscurantist courses, while massacres were conducted in Gujarat by the Hindutvawadi forces and when the Indian state framed a member of the university community in the parliament attack case. These two years thus represent a test case for the democratic forces in terms of evaluating their responses to the communal-fascist offensive in the academic field.

It was during the presidentship of the CPI M in the DUTA that the NDA government through the NCERT began the revision of the school textbooks which incepted a deepening of the process of the communalisation of school education. Through the efforts of the Universities Grants Commission the course of Karmakanda for the training of Hindu priests at the B.A. and M.A. levels was sought to be introduced in the university system. The debate in the DUTA on this question took place in the context of the existence of a secular majority in the DUTA executive and in the general body of teachers. It was the official Congress teacher’s group (INTEC) supported by the rival unofficial Congress known in the university as Action for Academic Development (AAD) which proposed in a general body meeting that the DUTA charter of demands include an amendment to criticise the changes in the contents of the school textbooks and the attempt to impose the Karmakanda courses which were an intrinsic part of the process of talibanisation of education in the country. The teachers associated with the BJP resisted this gambit and proposed that the amendment be referred to the DUTA executive, where they evidently hoped they had a better chance of foiling the Congress’ endeavours. The CPI M president of the DUTA readily acceded to this. A lengthy and vibrant discussion took place in the DUTA in which the INTEC, the AAD, the DTF and the Forum for Democratic Struggle – representing the militant left – conducted valuable detailed critiques of the government’s Hindu communal policies in the field of education. The debate took on marathon proportions as it lasted for several hours each day over four days. As was to be expected the BJP teachers resisted the assault on their ideology and finding themselves in a hopeless minority made appeal after appeal to what they termed the ‘inspiring leadership’ of the CPI M to not divide the teaching community on the question of the talibanisation of education. The CPI M acceded to the BJP request. It did this first by persuading the Congress groups not to press for a criticism of the talibanisation of education in the union charter of demands but to support a separate resolution on the matter by the union executive. Having performed this manoeuvre successfully it then supported the resolution of the sole member of the official Congress who had advocated the spiritualisation and Hinduisation of education, to drop the proposed amendment altogether on the grounds that the talibanisation of education was a divisive issue in the DUTA. The CPI M, despite the existence of a secular majority in the DUTA executive, collapsed in the face of the objections of the BJP. The latter understood very well that had the DUTA roundly assailed the ongoing talibanisation of education it would have sent a strong secular signal to the country at large. What the BJP grasped most clearly was completely lost on the CPI M which abdicated its secular responsibilities and dropped the very agenda on which it had sought support from the teaching community in the elections to the DUTA some months earlier.

The savage state and party organised pogrom of the minority community in Gujarat in the aftermath of the Godhra events galvanised the democratic, secular and Gandhian forces in the country. The West Bengal left front government played a useful role in this and contributed eight lakh rupees from the chief minister’s relief fund for the benefit of the families of the victims of the massacres. The DUTA under the leadership of the CPI M had condemned the state-sponsored communal carnage of the Sikh community in Delhi in 1984, it had organised the collection of funds for the relief of the victims and worked in the relief camps. The CPI M blotted its copybook, however, as a member of the state committee in the university Academic Council declined to second a motion based on the DUTA resolution condemning the massacre. The attitude in 2002 was markedly different. Despite several requests by a member of the union executive the CPI M president of the DUTA gave a ruling refusing to table the matter of collecting funds and organising relief work for the affected on the agenda of the DUTA executive. When pressed time and again for action from the teachers’ union the forthcoming riposte was that teachers who wished to collect funds and conduct relief were free to do so in their individual capacity. It will be readily understood that whatever the internal thinking and rationale of the CPI M, and it is clear that the campus BJP which was in a minority in the union executive would be unenthused by the conducting of relief work for the minority community, that in the absence of the DUTA backing relief work and fund raising on campus was severely retarded. A DUTA mandate would have encouraged the raising of sums of money far surpassing that contributed by the West Bengal chief minister’s relief fund.

The parliament attack case was utilised by the BJP-dominated NDA government to lead the country to the brink of nuclear war on the subcontinent. It was an important event on the model of the Reichstag fire which was utilised to demonise Pakistan, the Kashmir national movement and the Muslim intelligentsia in a manner not fundamentally different from the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria cultivated by the Bush administration on a world scale after 9/11. It was used to overcome the reservations of various political parties in parliament to the passing of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. A teacher of Arabic in Zakir Husain College, University of Delhi, S.A.R. Gilani, was arrested and framed in this case. In tandem with the state-sponsored communal hysteria the Congress Chief Minister of Delhi assured the state assembly that the concerned teacher would be dismissed from his post. In the university the communal forces began a fusillade of intimidation against the militant left through posters, demonstrations and a press campaign. In consonance with this the university unit of the CPI M plunged into action at the very moment that the hapless member of the DUTA was being tortured in Tihar jail. The CPI M president of the DUTA, without holding a meeting of the union executive, thundered in the press that Gilani had to be suspended from his job. Another leading member of the CPI M loudly demanded in the Executive Council of the university that the arrested scholar had to be suspended from his college, later boasting that it was he and not the BJP or the Congress members who had spearheaded the demand for the Gilani’s suspension. The DUTA president belonging to a party which was opposed to the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and calling for the release of prisoners under such draconian measures demanded action against a teacher who was incarcerated under the same legal provision. The CPI M which was heading the DUTA abdicated from its trade union responsibility of ensuring that Gilani was not tortured, that he received a fair trial, that his family got assistance and that his children were able to continue with their education. Indeed the CPI M president of the DUTA adamantly refused to accede to the request of Gilani, then languishing in a cage in Tihar jail, to even meet the office-bearers of his parent trade union. The CPI M lustily partook in the communal offensive, threw Gilani to the wolves and watched with benign equanimity as he fought for his life against a fascist state determined to send him to the gallows.

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