In public life, there comes a moment when an activist becomes a politician. When the fire inside him, that could have destroyed everything around it in true spirit of revolutionary romanticism, is regulated to fit the cold calculations of electoral politics. The moment when, in India's competitive and murky identity politics, a leader becomes another neta.
JNU's Kanhaiya Kumar, riding high as student-scholar David taking on the Goliaths from the government and the Hindutva brigade, has perhaps hit that threshold.
By comparing 1984 with 2002, and calling the massacre of nearly 3,000 Sikhs the handiwork of a crazed mob as opposed to the state-managed Gujarat pogrom, Kanhaiya has displayed not only an ignorance of the relationship between state and violence, but also an unfortunate pandering to India's Muslims as two states, West Bengal and Kerala, with sizeable Muslim voters and where the Left has considerable influence, gear up for elections.
As history becomes the handmaiden of the current government, the worst thing an anti-establishment leader, studying for his doctorate at one of India's premium universities, can do is being economical with it. That he made those remarks while celebrating the memory of historian Bipan Chandra is a huge disservice to the discipline.
|Fascism is an ideology, Emergency one of its many forms.|
To argue that there is difference between Emergency ("goons of only one party engaged in goondaism") and fascism ("entire state machinery resorting to goondaism") is to miss the woods for the trees. Fascism is an ideology, Emergency one of its many forms. Both are characterised by an authoritarian government, denial of constitutional rights, and extreme hostility towards liberalism.
(It is also expected of Kanhaiya to remember that Indira Gandhi was killed almost a decade after the Emergency was imposed in 1975, and that her assassination had little to do with the political realities of the two unfortunate years in the '70s.)
Arun Shourie once defined the BJP as the Congress plus a cow. My corollary to that would be: fascism in India is Emergency plus Hindutva.
While the BJP, and more specifically, its mascot Narendra Modi, gets all the flak he can for 2002, there is no high moral (or political) ground that the Congress can claim as far as 1984 is concerned. How is the massacre of one minority different from another when the killers in both the cases were the respective governments in power?
How is "when a big tree falls, the earth shakes" (Rajiv Gandhi, 1984) different from "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction" (Narendra Modi, 2002)? A pogrom is a pogrom. Period.
For Kanhaiya, the operative difference between 1984 and 2002 lies in Islamophobia, a more contemporary global ideology which paints Islam as antithetical to modernity, and hence a pariah. But by making a special case for 2002 Muslims as bigger victims of state-managed pogrom as opposed to the Sikhs, he is resorting to a version of identity politics already mastered by the secular centrist parties of the Hindi heartland like the RJD, the SP or the JD-U.
That pandering, which refuses to see the victims of violence as a set of abstract "citizens" who must get justice, has only ended up isolating and making a special case for Muslims. The much-maligned phrase for that selection, "minority appeasement", has done the Muslims more harm, and only ended up emboldening the majoritarian victimhood that Hindutva feeds on.
While the fact that India's fascism rides on global Islamophobia is undeniable, the answer perhaps lies in what Kanhaiya espouses most passionately: constitutionalism and rule of law.
Law cannot be subjected to communal realities. Justice is not only blind, it should be colour-blind. If there was heavy censuring of Modi and his party after 2002, there cannot be given any kind of relief to the Congress for 1984. No justice for 2002 is complete without the same justice to 1984.
Kanhaiya may choose to pick his fights, but he should be careful while rejecting others. In solidarity.
PS: It's also funny why Kanhaiya does not realise that Emergency is not a tool now pushed to the archives of governance, and that it has little resonance in contemporary India. The restive University of Hyderabad, which denied him entry last week as students inside faced police brutalities for their protest over Rohith Vemula's suicide, has been called an instance of the many emergencies the Modi government has imposed.