23 April 2024 05:00 AM



Dear Opposition, We Have Failed India...

NEW DELHI: LET me convey at the outset that this letter was in the making irrespective of the outcome of the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. It was in the offing because elections come and go every five years (or more frequently), but only at the cost of peril we can remain oblivious of everyday concerns of the social constituencies we are supposed to represent.

Elections at any level — whether the Centre, state or for urban local bodies — shape the contours of democracy. But elections alone do not constitute the idea of democracy. There is much more to democracy and the associated ideas such as inclusion, representation and participation than simply making alliances, distributing tickets, campaigning, and contesting elections.

We have reduced our party organisations simply to mere election-fighting machines. Our social and political engagement with the people begins with the announcement of elections and it ends with the declaration of results. Core ideas which constitute the idea of India — freedom, liberty, social and economic justice, and secularism — gain currency during the elections but only as hollow buzzwords. An observer on a visit to India during elections may pay glowing tributes to our political culture but may not realise that our passionate engagement with these ideals gets over with the end of elections.

I hope not to sound like a cynic to your ears. All of you, including us, are used to living in a make-believe world. However, it is not pessimism which is driving me to share with you all what perturbs me — not only as the spokesperson of a political party which is committed to contest the might of right-wing authoritarianism but also as a citizen of this great country. While the rot is spreading in these dark and difficult times, we are busy looking at the changed context with the old soiled lens. We need to introspect and at least for once take the blame for being passive in the face of right-wing propaganda, aided by some “Leni Riefenstahls” of the media. It denigrated the entire social justice plank as an undesirable instrument which promotes "mediocrity" at the cost of "merit."

In our slumber, we also failed to defend the vilification of secularism to such an extent that a sizeable number of our youth understands secular more as "sick-ular". We also need to reflect that when progressive intellectuals and academics were being presented as anti-national rowdies who wish to see India break into pieces, we did not communicate the issue better and take it to the people. Our engagements were confined and limited to a few public appearances at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jantar Mantar.

So was the case with the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a bright Dalit student whose birth as well as death was a "fatal accident". What did we do apart from symbolic marches and candle-light protests at a few locations in Hyderabad and Delhi? Should we not have taken this case of "institutional murder" to every part of this country to highlight that a youth lost his life because of the oppressive and discriminatory structures?

Politics is a serious vocation and progressive politics has to be all the more earnest. This entails that your engagement with people and the issues affecting their lives cannot be an episodic phenomenon waiting for the declaration of the date of elections by the Election Commission of India. In spite of our avowed commitment to representative democracy and secularism, we have silently watched the "disenfranchisement" of certain minority communities and have practically avoided speaking about it, leave aside making it a broad level issue. Do we seriously ponder over the fact that instead of providing a robust and inclusive alternative vis-à-vis our principal opponent, we tend to become a hazy photocopy of the regime we are supposed to contest?

Can we deny that we have developed our own comfort zones of studied silence and prefer not taking positions even about issues such as human rights violations, particularly if these are in Naxal areas, parts of the North-East and the Kashmir Valley?

Political parties are dynamic and living organisations of people. The people want us to be actively visible in their moments of despair, in their phases of distress. They seek us not always for solution but more often than not for solidarity. Have we done anything beyond hollow symbolism? I know it is very difficult to accept but please remember that people have not failed us rather we have failed the people. All of us, at least on the paper, are committed to the “Idea of India” but what have we done individually or as a collective to protect this beautiful idea against the onslaught of the rightwing?

I know almost all of us are active on social media — particularly on twitter — which demands you to encapsulate everything in 140 characters. I do not grudge this but we do need to acknowledge that the obsession of visibility on these platforms with the handful of characters is taking us away from the real-life characters and real-life issues. Did we even utter a word when significant numbers of civil society organisations were subjected to unprecedented arm-twisting and repressive tactics by the state? Most of these were fighting along with Dalit and tribal communities for their rights against the corporate-state nexus. Our silence only weakened and made these constituencies vulnerable. We conveniently failed to notice that less than 10 per cent of people cannot make decisions about the resource distribution of more than 90 per cent of people. Nearly two years ago the government released "trailer" of Socio-Economic Caste Consensus (SECC) data.

It informed us of a reality we already knew, whether it was about daily-wage earners or homeless people or landlessness. How would we explain not pressing for the complete release in the public domain of this data which speaks about the dark side of the much-touted "New India"?

Ordinary citizens of this country are actually perplexed by this dangerous politics of tele-tubbies being played out every day in the news studios of the corporate media? We have allowed our "ideologies" to be museumised and have preferred to settle with the grand declaration of the end of ideology in politics. The list of our collective failure in reading peoples' mind and disappointing scale of our political impairment is growing longer by the day. My purpose was not to subject ourselves to superfluous self-humiliation but to sound an alarm as to the dangerous direction in which we are heading.

These are indeed post-truth times, wherein a "manufactured belief" can assassinate truth and the celebrations that follow mock all notions of rationality. In these difficult times the least we can do is to acknowledge and understand the times we are in and do everything possible to take politics to people, because it belongs there only and nowhere else.

(Manoj Jha is the National Spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal)

(This article was first carried by The Tribune,Chandigarh)