Citizens, Not Subjects

(Ananda Bazaar Patrika interview with CPIML GS Comrade Dipankar, translated from Bengali)

Q. The July 30 convention organised by CPI(ML)(Liberation) in Kolkata appears to have been quite a success. In the wake of the latest Lok Sabha results, do you see some positive signs in the post-poll situation?

A. Before the elections we had seen a series of powerful agitations. The Assembly elections of Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattishgarh and Madhya Pradesh reflected an impact of these agitations. But the Lok Sabha elections told a different story. But we do not think this means the agitations were meaningless or irrelevant. We can clearly see the resentment of the people that is giving rise to mass protests soon after the elections. In a village of Bhojpur in Bihar, we saw that women agricultural labourers who had voted for the BJP in the elections rose in strike for wage increase. It changes the equations. We need to build on it.

Secondly, we wanted to focus on West Bengal. This is a state with a long record of powerful political influence of the Left. But the Left suffered a massive electoral decline in these elections and the lion’s share of the votes that moved away from the Left swelled the BJP’s electoral kitty. We think West Bengal is going to be a key battleground in this second term of the Modi government. Here the BJP is trying to drag us back to the situation of 1947. The rise of communalism was one of the biggest tragedies of our freedom movement which had eventually led to the partition of India. After Independence, India started moving on, keeping the disaster of Partition behind, even if we could not fully overcome it. But now the BJP once again wants to push us back to that point. This is dangerous.

We must understand that the BJP is not just interested in a change of government, it wants to change the political agenda and climate altogether. The fallacy of the Partition has been exposed time and again, especially in the rise of Bangladesh, but for the BJP Partition remains an unfinished project and it wants to take it to its logical conclusion. West Bengal will have to play a key role in resisting this disastrous communal design of the BJP.

We have appealed to the Left minded people of West Bengal who are disturbed by the rise of the BJP, and regret the fact that lot of Left votes have gone over to this rightwing party, to return to the Left stream. Of course, the Left needs a new plot, a new script, in west Bengal. For far too long the CPI(M) has been used to a scheme of things that revolves around power. The Left now has to revive its habit of basing itself again on the struggles of the people. Even if a close unity of the Left parties   does not materialise immediately, we need unity in terms of agitation, and our orientation and ideas.

In recent times, West Bengal has witnessed several instances of communal violence or hate crimes. We have tried to reach out to the people under attack and stand by them.  That’s how we chose the theme of the convention: ‘Unite and Resist’.

Q. Is there any growing connection or convergence among the various struggles that are currently developing?

A. The need and scope of such coordination and convergence, both are growing. Take for example, this united platform formed by more than two hundred farmers’ organisations. The last time they held a farmers’ assembly in Delhi, we saw a great outpouring of popular support for them. Students, workers and employees, doctors from AIIMS, all were there in support of the fighting farmers. It was an unprecedented scene. And such signs of solidarity are growing everywhere.

Secondly, along with economic and political demands we should also focus more on educational and cultural aspects in our struggles. The freedom movement is something very remote for today’s new generation. Recently a student was asked: who had assassinated Gandhi, and the answer was Gandhi’s security guard. Indira Gandhi was killed by her security guards, so that’s how Mahatma Gandhi must have also been killed. This ignorance about history provides a fertile ground for fake news and absolutely concocted and distorted Whatsapp forwards.

Alongside economic demands, this is why we must also pay urgent attention to the realm of ideas and consciousness of the common people. If we look at the history of the 1940s, we had famine and communal violence; we also had the great Tebhaga movement and the united struggles of workers. Just when Kolkata is being rocked by riots, we also had the tram workers with their banner of unity and struggle. Today when we see forces widening the religious and linguistic divisions in the working class areas of Bhatpara, we need to strengthen the class unity of workers. We need to strengthen the class unity of peasants and the rural poor. We need to resurrect the spirit of inclusion and humanism from the days of Chaitanya and Lalan. To resist communalism we need multidimensional efforts, a multipronged resistance.  

Q. To go back to the struggles, you are basically talking about the struggles for rights...

A. Rights and dignity, both are intimately connected. After the setback of the 1970s in West Bengal, when our party grew in Bihar, we realised the importance of the question of human dignity alongside the other core issues of land and wages. We grew up in Bihar fighting for the dignity of the oppressed people in their everyday existence.

If we extend this agenda of rights and dignity we can build a counter-narrative of patriotism. The BJP’s nationalism revolves around ‘Bharat mata’, and now increasingly ‘Gau mata’, Jai Shri Ram and so on. But if we go back to 1857, we find the brilliant anthem of India’s first war of independence by Azimullah Khan: ‘Ham hain iske malik, Hindostan hamara’, this land of Hindostan belongs to us. The Englishmen have come to loot this country, but we are the real owners. It is this sense of ownership that takes us to our Constitution...

Q. The Idea of the Republic...

A. Exactly. The power in the Constitution comes from and resides in ‘We, the People of India’. We, the people of this country, are the source of all power, we build and own this country; this country belongs to us. But today the working people, workers and peasants and common masses are completely excluded and marginalised. There is no right or dignity for the people – they are just seen as recipients of doles. The rulers are doling out favours or alms among the people. The citizen has been reduced to the status of a subject.

Earlier, we did not use to read Ambedkar that much in West Bengal. But Ambedkar was prophetic in pointing to this contradiction between the democracy promised in the Constitution, the principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity highlighted in the Preamble and the real conditions of Indian society. Ambedkar termed it as the contradiction between India’s undemocratic soil and the top dressing of democracy. The promise and potential of democracy in the Constitution cannot be realised without changing the society which is marked by inequality, social oppression and bigotry. So, what’s the way out? The way out is democratisation of the social soil. Today we have a nominal Republic, but it is increasingly looking like a monarchy where the king rules over his subjects, where the society is governed by the Brahminical code of Manusmriti, by the regimentation of caste hierarchy and male domination, where Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis are all being reduced to second-grade citizens.

There are three dangerous signs. One, absolute centralisation of power, concentration of wealth in a few corporate hands, something we have never seen before this brazenly and on this scale. Two, the communal nationalism of RSS. Three, Manusmriti. Ambedkar wanted the society to move forward, guided by the constitutional spirit of democracy, to bring all the hitherto excluded and oppressed sections to the fore. Today we are being pushed back. That is why we need to stand up and fight, consciously and with all our strength, on all these three fronts.