When iron enters the soul:

At the outset, I would like to submit that I am greatly impressed rather than being fascinated by the method of Marxism, for it gives me the key to understanding the world and the people around. I also happen to cherish the values of the communist movement and the contribution communists have made in the cause of our national freedom.  I can perceive many faults in communists of the present as well as bygone years. I do see that Stalin erred as also Mao, then Dange, Ranadive and T. Nagi Reddy, all of them; with the added caveat that this assessment does not negate their valuable contribution to the cause of communism.

With my self-declared affinity to communism, when I am free to pick faults in the actions of communists around the world, who are persons of high integrity and mettle; I am equally free to see the darker side of persons inhabiting entirely different hue zones in the political spectrum opposed to communism.   Evidently it should not strike as surprising to anyone when I find fault with Gandhi and Nehru, not to speak of Modi.

If all this hair-splitting is construed as an attempt to wriggle out of the responsibilities of the present generation in accentuating the perils of this denouement, so be it.  I can always take refuge in Marx, who had said ‘Doubt Everything’….

I am also an ordinary human being, subjected to the vicissitudes of life and events, past and present, and the massive ill winds blowing around me. In keeping with the spirit of the times, I feel some iron ought to have entered my soul.

I have nothing to show as my own contribution to the wellbeing of my fellow human beings or in having not endeavoured to make the best of a possibly grave scenario. This is true in my case as an individual and could be true as well for others of my generation. But I still consider that I have the right to speak or write about the blunders of great men and women who straddled the Earth before me and hold them to account for the miseries of the human condition today.  In my opinion it is the accumulation of their acts of omission and commission, which has willy-nilly brought humanity to the current state of impasse.

Our time is the phase of ascendancy of neoliberalism and right wing xenophobia, but we are still living in the era of some left over freedom. So I have the right to record my say – on my own behalf and on behalf of some men and women of my times.

Gandhi is considered to be the Father of our nation. Gandhi is credited to have led a nonviolent struggle against the mighty British colonialism and won the freedom for our people. In received historical accounts, Gandhi is supposed to have carried to its logical culmination a bloodless anti-colonial revolution, a record of sorts in human history.

Many would prefer to juxtapose Gandhi and Modi on the opposite poles of the political divide.
Both Gandhi and Modi could also inhabit the same grey zone. The only saving grace could be that Modi consciously engineered the Gujarat 2002 genocide, whereas Gandhi was an unwilling, but nevertheless not a mute spectator to the horrendous fratricidal bloodletting that followed the transfer of power and partition.

Briefly put, I consider Modi to be the present day incarnation of Gandhi. I can perceive daggers being drawn for I have written something unholy and unthinkable, but I still say it is very plausible and I have the right to present my case.

There are great similarities in the strategy and tactics adopted by Gandhi and Modi, in substance definitely, although not essentially in form; beside the ignorable fact that they hail from the same region of the subcontinent. Consider the following facts:

  • In 1920, after the passing away of Tilak, Gandhi took over the leadership of the Indian National Congress by disarming all opposition. Then after the Chauri Chaura episode, Gandhi’s word was Congress policy, for all purposes.

Modi just carried out the same exercise within the BJP. In the case of Modi, the process was initiated in 2002 and came to fruition in 2012.

  • After the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh or rather Karachi Congress (1935) Gandhi gained the upper hand the entire spectrum of opposition outside the Congress.

Modi has repeated this feat after his party gained a simple majority, in the first-past-the-pole system, by garnering a 30% of the votes polls in recently conclude elections to the parliament in 2014.

  • Gandhi had his South African experience to speak for his abilities.

Modi had his Gujarat (2002) experiment to showcase his expertise.

  • Gandhi was the Great Helmsman who steered the Indian bourgeois to safety in the turbulent times of mass upheavals in the subcontinent after the closure of the Second World War.

Modi is trying to repeat Gandhi’s feat in neoliberal times, in   the period of retreat of the communist challenge to bourgeois hegemony in the region and imperialist hegemony around the world.

If this is construed as a cynical reading of the past and present, so be it.

It is said history unfold first as a tragedy and then again as a farce. There is a grain of truth in that assessment.

Perhaps this is so because as Ashok Mitra had once aptly remarked that “The tradition of hero worship which is a bane of the Indian psyche.”




However, let me end this on a note of hope for, as Raymond Williams said, “To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing…” The people of this subcontinent also have a tradition of resistance to authoritarianism.  It stands to reason to reiterate here that ‘Everything hinges on the consistency with which our people cherish, promote and strengthen that noble tradition’.

How a cad becomes a peril

He came, he went around,
He saw we were gullible and naive,
He waxed eloquent,
He said make me your servant,
Make me your PM,
For fifty two weeks.

What’s so special,
They wondered,
About fifty two weeks
He said Your shares will soar,
Reach never before highs,
You will grow.

When you grow,
The country grows
We have no shares, they said,
He floated Bubbles in the air
We will give you some shares, he said,
He was a bounder.

He flew around in a copter,
He had a team
He became the PM,
He started flying around in jets,
Across the world,
To far off lands.

He came into the kitchen
To see what was cooking,
He sat at our table,
To taste what we were eating
He peeped into our wardrobe,
To see what we were wearing.

He ripped into our lockers,
To see what we were having,
He poked into our pockets,
To take anything we had.
He even searched the garbage
To see what we were trashing.

Farmers committed suicide,
He said they were out of their minds,
Students committed suicide,
He said they were upto no good,
They deserved to go.
They were anti-nationals

Workers asked for their wages
He said said they were unruly crowds
He spread canards
Spoke ill of them
And intimidated
people who spoke against him

He put innocent people in prisons
When prisoners went missing
He said they had escaped
When they were found dead
He said Join our team
Or you will be ruined

The sorrows of our people
Do not bother him
He keeps stoking fires and let them rage,
His team runs wild as the fires leap
He lets them spread to neighbouring lands,
He says our nation is in peril,

The Emperor stomps around
Without clothes,
His admirers cheer
They keep chanting
He is the best we ever had
There is none better

He missed being tried
For crimes against people
Now he happens to hold the reins of power
He has let loose his troopers
He has become the fountainhead
Of all our peril

Why the Sangh Parivar needs to be resisted

The origins of Sangh Parivar

The forerunners of the present day Hindutvawadi Sangh Parivar – the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha – since their early beginnings in the 1920s, were not part of any stream of anti-colonialism, in the subcontinent; and they chose to pit themselves against the entire spectrum of the anti-colonial front.1 This is evident from their writings, speeches and activities in the pre-Independence period. These outfits put themselves firmly on the side of the British colonial masters and the fact that they remained antagonistic towards reformist movements ranged against upper-caste hegemony, like the those led by Jyotiba Phule (in the then Bombay Presidency – now Maharashtra), starkly revealed their upper caste bias.

It was not the vision of the Sangh Parivar that shaped the writing of  our Republican Constitution and the Sangh Parivar did not share the perspective, the promises and the idea India, enshrined in our Constitution and implicit in the minds of the people who participated in the independent struggle.  The RSS openly flaunted their defiance and rejection of the ‘imagining of India as a nation through their murder of Gandhi; and paid the political price of being pushed to near oblivion. Immediately after the assassination of Gandhi, the RSS was banned; the ban remained in force for a few years and from there on the RSS had to operate clandestinely from within the Congress, following the advice of Vallabhbhai Patel.  The RSS slowly resurfaced in the 1960s as the Congress was losing its appeal in the minds of the people and celebrated their re-entry with a string of communal riots across the country.

What the rule of sangh Parivar implies

The return of the right-wing BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) to power at the pan-India level, through the 2014 parliamentary elections, is the harbinger of a counter- revolution under the aegis of the far Right which has initiated  a rolling back of the continuing ‘long social revolution’ in India.2

While discussing the resistible rise of BJP-Sangh Parivar, it is often argued that ‘the Congress despite being a party of the middle retained a leftist rhetoric and the BJP grew partly in agonised response to this leftism and partly because the rhetoric was empty’. If Congress leftist rhetoric was hollow then it is the ‘left’ (meaning communist movement3) with its true leftism that should have grown.  For various reasons this has not been the case and the left has remained confined to its regional areas of influence.

Congress and the Left

For Congress ‘leftism’ is old hat. In the period of anti-colonial struggle, the Congress deployed leftist rhetoric, given the ascending spirit of the times, to consolidate its hegemony in the struggle for freedom.  This trend in the Congress comes to the fore most glaringly in the period of ‘left moment’ in the 1927-1930s’ and gets more pronounced at the time of the Lahore Congress, during the anti-colonial struggle itself.  It is this Congress session at Lahore (1931) which came out with resolutions outlining the contours of the future India as a nation, placing before the people a ‘social contract’, which later came to be enshrined as the founding principles of our Republic in the Constitution – universal adult suffrage, one person one vote, federal principle et al with the added promise to enable ‘one person one value’ as well in future, spelt out in the Directive Principles.

The Lahore Congress resolutions were fallout of popular upsurge in the wake of Bhagat Singh’s trial; and at the same time an attempt to ward of widespread resentment against the hanging of Bhagat Singh, which the British carried out hurriedly, just before the Congress meet. Gandhi is reported to have said that ‘if they (Bhagat Singh and associates) are to be hanged, let them be hanged before the Congress session (in Lahore) than later’. That is where Gandhi erred against the people, when he refrained from making the commutation of the death sentence on Bhagat Singh and his associates a pre-condition for talks with Lord Irwin. After signing the agreement with Lord Irwin, Gandhi erred again, by insisting that the Congress session should be held after these young men were sent to the gallows. This shows how Gandhi had decided to throw himself against the popular tide in an attempt to test the waters and ride the wave.

Alongside this, the Congress also launched a crusade to counter the left, in line with its links to the bourgeoisie.  This trait gets crystalised in the functioning of the Congress ministries in 1937. While the Lahore Congress resolutions bore the imprimatur of demands of the left, the Congress ministries carried out the demands of the right. This dual thrust of the Congress became the hallmark of Congress rule in the post Independence period without any let up, whether as a policy response by default or as conscious strategy.

In the post-Independence period, it was latent anti-communism that fired many leading congressmen, socialists and even Nehru4; as they only concentrated on corralling the Left. While ignoring the machinations of the Sangh Parivar, the Congress did not think it was necessary to take up the task of deflating the logic of the sangh parivar.

It is apposite to say that the Congress was essentially an anti-communist political formation rather than saying that the communists were anti-Congress, as is often mentioned.  The Left, even with all its reservations vis-a-vis Congress, has always been open to working with the congress on some basic policy issues.5  It is the congress which has been unwilling to walk with the Left.  The United Front ministry of Deve Gowda and IK Gujral and even the National Front Ministry of VP Singh (who came out of the Congress), are all instances of Congress Left Co-operation on specific issues. The UPA-I was also an extension of this trend as the congress was left with no other option then.

In this period (UPA-I) it was the congress that broke ranks with the left and it used the device of Indo-US Nuke deal to cast away the left, with disastrous results for its very relevance in Indian politics.

How the Congress contributed to the rise of Sangh Parivar:

The pursuit of the capitalist path in the post-Independence years by the Congress, their slow but sure turn to neo-liberalism and soft-Hindutva right from the day Indira Gandhi returned to power after the collapse of the polyglot Janata Party on the issue of dual-membership in RSS, in the post-Emergency period, all these factors coupled with the ruling classes gravitating towards the BJP helped ascendancy of the Sangh Parivar in the years of Vajpayee’s regime towards the end of the 20th century and again the Congress goofed up its third chance of sorts for some kind of revival under Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi leadership in the years 2004-2014.

Chiefly the BJP grew because:

  1. the people by and large had lost faith in the Congress and were/are in search of an alternative that will guarantee their basic livelihood aspirations,
  2. the ruling bloc in India shifted its preference to BJP as, in their perception, the Congress had outlived its purpose, given the massive popular repulsion for the Congress evidenced through the results of the successive elections.
  3. the pursuit of ‘neo-liberalism’ necessitates the kind of exclusivist and diversionary rhetoric that hinges on false controversies promoting false consciousness and in promoting fratricidal conflicts among the general populace and the toiling people, in particular.

The sangh Parivar, from operating within the Congress (after Gandhi’s murder and the ban imposed on it) came into its own in the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal phase in the Hindi heartland, cut its teeth in the post Emergency Janata Party regime, tasted blood in the Shilanyas and the Ram Janmabhoomi war of position and romped into the portals of direct executive power in the period of Vajpayee government. From there on the story is simple. After the person touted as the Sangh Parivar Prime Ministerial candidate won the affections of the industrial magnates, the way forward – for a Pracharak of the Sangh Parivar in full control of the executive powers of the central government – without the compulsions of any coalition – was cleared.

Options before the Congress:

  • to co-operate with the sangh parivar as a junior partner – as now sangh parivar has acquired the recognition/acceptance of the corporates and the corporates are uneasy about dynastic domination in the congress; or
  • to push ahead with a soft-Hindutva approach – which it tried without success or
  • take up a left of centre position – which it abandoned in UPA-I post US-Nuke deal – and take it further….

There are many in the congress who will/are itching to join the BJP bandwagon, some bent on going ahead with the soft-Hindutva option and there are rarely any who would toe a centre-left line.  If the congress wants to opt for the third option, it has to do so with greater determination and transparency than hitherto; and when you do take a left of centre position it would, and should necessarily, by its own logic should lead to anti-neoliberal policies, particularly in the current juncture.

The International scene

The hegemony of the US-Anglophile world over the global resources, nations and peoples necessitates that their ideology and world view is suffused with anti-communism. This is the narrative that speaks of Capitalism as the end of history, espouses identity politics and the theory of clash of civilizations as dominating all spheres of human life and activity today.  The neo-colonialism of US-Anglophile world and the Cold War has now brought the world to the current phase of proliferation of neo-liberal regime with various fascist projects springing across the world; and the financial and military hegemony of US-Anglophile caucus tightening up its grip all over the globe, after the dissolution of the Socialist experiment in Soviet Union.

Dark times ahead

The Sangh Parivar tribe feels that it is their ‘Now or Never’ moment which adds to their hubris and brazenness.  The BJP assumes that it has passed the phase of being in the opposition once and for all; and that being the ruling party is the BJP’s privilege forever, they have turned a new leaf and acquired new life, with no memories of previous life or incarnations.

Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva, Hindurashtra, Akhand Bharat, Ram Temple, Cow worship, minority baiting, pitting dalits against the minorities are all the many facets of a single entity – a fascist project with Indian characteristics. In the current global context, the Sangh Parivar has changed gears in the rush to achieve their dream project.  There is a very remote possibility of their realising this goal only as an adjunct of US imperialism entailing disastrous consequences for our nation, the region and the world.  So, the Sangh Parivar now wants to hitch India to the ‘Fateful Triangle’ (US, Israel, Saudi Arabia) to serve its own petty purposes…and then straddle the world as a regional super power under the protective wings of the US and Israel. If anything, US and Israel are only fueling Sangh Parivar’s grandiose illusions. All this will only help to shore up the neo-liberal regime attenuating the agonies of the poor and marginalized toiling people in the region.

The way forward

The present context is one where the fascism of the Sangh Parivar variety has morphed into a mass movement.  This denouement has come to pass through the acts of commission and omission on the part of the Congress Party and the various regional and identify based political organisations.  This is not a passing phase and it is also not merely the work of corporate/financial oligarchies, although undoubtedly they have played their role of facilitator in the ascendancy of sangh parivar.

The ascendancy of Sangh Parivar has opened a can of worms – with the Patels in Gujarat showing the way to Marathas in Maharashtra.  They are all perhaps ranged against the Sangh Parivar but not on the side of ‘social justice’.

To begin with the sangh Parivar needs to be told that a victory in the elections does not absolve the victor of the crimes of the past or the present.

Any meaningful resistance to the sangh parivar ipso facto means straying away from the neo-liberal policies and in search of an alternative policy framework in tune with the aspirations of the people.  There is no other simpler way.  The Left does have a significant role to play particularly in weaving the alternative policy framework and this is seldom recognised and here lies the crux of the matter.  Only when the peoples’ charter (incorporating the basic tenets of the alternative policy framework) becomes an inalienable part of the peoples’ consciousness the left will be grudgingly conceded a leading role in the anti-sangh parivar campaign/movement and without the left’s leading role such movement cannot fire the imagination of the people and move towards the logical unfolding of its fruition.

It is the strength of people’s resistance which will determine the continuance of neo-liberal policies.  The Sangh Parivar has the option of drowning growing peoples’ solidarity in the fires of communal warfare.  If the people truly stand up resolutely against the divisive communal and caste politics, consensus on resistance to neo-liberal policies cannot be far behind.

The current student upsurge on the university campuses and the Dalit resistance in Una signify that ‘We are, in short, on the threshold of major developments’.

What the Left should do

Briefly put, the Left should engage in the task of preparing the ‘resistance’ and abjure undue dependence on spontaneity.  In other words, overcome what Vijay Prashad calls ‘the neo-liberalism’ of the Left’.


Notes and Reference


  1. From the time when India’s struggle for freedom from British colonial rule started gaining momentum in the early 1920s, there was a confluence of different strands:
  • the religious strand (which should include the various terrorist groups in their formative years)
  • the Gandhian strand (from 1920 onwards the Gandhian ethos dominated the Indian National Congress with the Socialists coming within the Gandhian camp) and
  • the radical stream, viz. the Left spearheaded by the nascent communist groups sprouting in various regions of the country and organisations like HSRA(Hindustan Socialist Republican Army) and Bharat Naujavan Sabha led by Bhagat Singh.
  1. The process of ‘the values of democracy, secularism, social justice taking roots in ‘popular consciousness of the people’ during the long years of anti-colonial struggle, has been characterised by Prabhat Patnaik as the ‘long social revolution’ under way ‘in India over the last one hundred years’.
  2. The first central committee of the Communist Party formed in the beginning of 1926 (when the communists were being imprisoned under a series of Conspiracy cases) and then reorganized and became functionable after 1933.
  3. In the post-Independence period, Nehru, in his election speeches is reported to have famously remarked that ‘when it rains in the Soviet Union, the communists open their umbrellas here’, imputing that communists were puppets of the Soviet Union.It is worthwhile to note here Mirajkar’s remarks in his Oral history interview: “We were part of the Communist International as long as it functioned… The general directions for colonial people were laid down in the Colonial Thesis. We worked according to the general directions laid down by the Congress of the Communist International but that does not mean that every day the Communist International used to interfere in our affairs and directed us….we and our central committee were responsible for all the national policies that we pursued in our country and it was so with regard to all other countries and communist parties. After all, it is Prime Minister Nehru’s words against those of a communist trade union functionary.
  4. Just as the United Front Ministry in Bengal of the 1960s (allying with Bangla Congress of Ajoy Mukherjee). It is pertinent to note here that the Congress has many grassroots – one of the Mamata variety, one of the Ajoy Mukherjee variety and another of cozying up to the Sangh Parivar on a soft-Hindutva plank.
  5. Prabhat Patnaik in his article discusses the possibility of the current student upsurge on the university campuses heralding a “cultural revolution” that could be a precursor to a political revolution or preparing the ground for it and says that “We are, in short, on the threshold of major developments”.
  6. Vijay Prashad discussing the book ‘Communist Histories’ in his Interview to Counterpunch, mentions that: ’(the) aspect of political struggle, leadership or preparation, has been largely denigrated. I consider this a kind of neoliberalism of the Left, this rise and promotion of spontaneity above preparation’.

Growing up in the joint family

Ours was a lower middle class, joint family and I was the first child of the eldest son in the family.  As a child everyone in the family loved me whole-heartedly and profusely.  To this day I carry the impression that every antics of mine, all my smiles and laughter filled their hearts with immense pleasure and inner peace.  This was all that they expected from me and nothing else much. My debt to them, for all their love and affection, is incalculable, and therefore unrequitable.

In the joint family, I spent more time with my grandmother and uncle than everyone else. I listened to my grandmother’s stories with rapt attention.

My grandmother introduced me to Ramayana, Mahabharata, Nala-Damayanti, Bhageerath, and other stories from our epics and mythologies. My father introduced me to the tales of Robert Bruce, Androcles and the Lion, the brave boy who saved the city from flooding through the cracks in the dykes, the ignorant Paramartha guru and his mad sishyas (written by Veeramamunivar – the European Tamil scholar), Panchatantra, of Vikramaditya’s question answer sessions with his companion – the ghost, and Aesopian fairy tales, Robin Hood and the like. (to me there appears to be some sort of semblance between Vikramaditya and Sisyphus).  The oral recounting of these stories without any visual promptings left ample scope for my imagination to run wild; and my reactions as a child when I listened to these tales are etched deeply in my mind.

My mother’s parents passed away when she was quite small – before she got married.  My mother as well as her two brothers grew up in the care of her elder cousin sister. It was my mother’s cousin sister who arranged her marriage. My mother it appears nurtured no great ambitions or harboured any great expectations about the people around her; and this trait came to her naturally and wrapped her attitude.  Her life’s experience must surely have added more substance to this strain. The times were such and her gender, the general ambience of upbringing or rather growing up all contributed to towards this denouement. When life turned cruel towards me, at every turn I continued to remember her.

Only after the joint family split irrevocably, after the passing away of my grandfather, when I was around nine years of age; and I moved away with my parents to a separate house that I slowly came to realize in some measure the importance of my parents. I should say here that I have never fully realized the true value of my mother and her significance is only now beginning to dawn upon me some 45 years after her death – she passed away when I was around 19, before I was drawn into the communist movement.

By all accounts, I am sure, I had a very happy period of childhood, till I crossed the age of seven. A happy childhood should give anyone all the energy and the power of resilience to face all the problems in his/her life. As far I am concerned, I believe that this is one of the factors, which surely helped me to bounce back overcoming all hardships and setbacks, including some very catastrophic problems, as my life went through its numerous twists and turns in the subsequent years. The other most significant factor for this outcome being – my ideological orientation towards Marxism/ my efforts to understand the ideology of Marxism; or rather my attempts to comprehend my milieu, my circumstances, the world around in short, through the philosophy of Marxism.

The Communist Manifesto says:

 “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”

Life and events have repeatedly tried to prove to me the veracity of this statement and the message is just sinking more deeply now at this last phase of my life.

Some of the lasting memories of my childhood are:

  • the sounds and images of the old mad woman murmuring her prattles on the street,
  • the strolling violinist playing his tunes on the streets of our locality at night,
  • the railway parcel office clerk opposite to our house offering his morning prayers to the rising Sun with great aplomb and in high decibel,
  • the criminal lawyer shooing me and my friends away whenever we were playing in the vicinity or came anywhere near the compound wall of his house, which happened to be the first RCC two storey bungalow in our vicinity etc.


My early neighbourhood

This entire street – some 200-300 meters or so long with crisscrossing connecting road and back alleys -along with the three other parallel streets formed our neighbourhood.  On one of the next parallel street lived my mother’s elder cousin sister. Many commoners in this area – like the florist, the postman, some cycle shop owners, the laundry owner, the tailor and the barber – were all politically affiliated to the Indian National Congress and you can call this area a Congress stronghold.  The house where we lived was called a wada (which means a big house) a two storied building which housed some five families on the front side, all of them South Indians; and some two non-Brahmin Maharashtrian families on the back side. On the right side of our house, after some two houses, along the same side of the street, there was another wada – there were many big and small wadas in the street, each one housing many families. A civil contractor lived next to our house, on the left side. Just opposite our house was the criminal lawyer’s house and from the goings in his house, he appeared to have a roaring practice. Adjacent to the criminal lawyer was the dilapidated house of the Tonga owner Saiba. Saiba had lost his wife and was known to be a habitual drunkard. He lived with his only son in that crumbling house. Saiba’s rickety horse carriage and his haggard horse remained always parked before his house.  The father-son duo endlessly kept on shouting and quarreling. The next house was that of a sick elderly person, who lived his wife and son lived.  In the house just after the next, lived a cobbler’s family, cobbler only by birth and descent, who now worked as a Clerk in the Railways.  The railwayman’s house was flanked by another lawyer’s single story large house with some tenants on the first floor. This civil lawyer had a modest clientele and his brother worked in the Defence Accounts with my uncle. Next to the house of civil lawyer, a gardner’sfamily had their shop selling flowers and they had their house behind their shop.  Behind our house there was the house of a moustached Brahmin who had his house and the shop selling coal and burning wood.

I saw that the moustached Brahmin moved around in his khaki shorts, flaunting his RSS sympathies. I learnt that when Mahatma Gandhi was killed at the prayer meeting in New Delhi, Congressmen in the neighbourhood had attacked this Brahmin’s house and attempted to set his place and shop on fire.  He had to leave the area and take up residence elsewhere for some years before he could venture back to his own house and his usual business.  The civil contractor and other Congressmen of the area led the mob.  The mob had also threatened and attacked a neighbouring Brahmin family next door, but not our house. In our neighbourhood noting serious ensued and things soon settled down into their routine grooves.

I used to move around with my grandmother in the neighbourhood, as she went about her work buying vegetable, the provisions for the house and other necessities.  My grandmother was not the one to frequent temples, except when she was in utmost distress. I remember my grandmother telling me that the Gods reside within you, you can pray to Gods in your house and you don’t have to go to temples for this purpose. That people go to temples to gossip and politick rather than pray to Gods was my grandmother’s most uncharitable comment about people frequenting temples. These were quite astonishing statements coming from the grand old lady of our Brahmin family. My grandmother’s elder brother was an eye surgeon of repute in Chidambaram and they belonged to a wealthy family, accruing more wealth; and they were much better placed on the economic scale than my grandfather’s family. However, my grandmother had dropped out of school very early but could read, write and count as she could articulate well in Tamil.  She knew a smattering of Hindi too and she could put in with ease some English words at the most appropriate places in her conversations.  My grandmother’s dropping out of school was perhaps in keeping with the social mores of her times, when boys went to schools and then colleges for higher education and girls remained home.

Just near the vegetable market, which I used to frequent with my grandmother, there was this Photo Studio. When my father, along with his younger brother had returned to this town after demobilization from the British Army, there was a memorable family get-together.  This get-together was memorable for the family, which had reunited after many years, for more reasons than one.  It was the first Deepavali, the festival of lights, after my father’s marriage.  My aunt (my father’s only sister) and her husband and her brother-in-law and his wife from distant Tamilnadu also attended this family reunion.  I learnt later that my father spent a good part of the money he had saved while serving in the British Army during this celebration of the family reunion.  A group photo of this extended family was taken to commemorate the occasion at this Photo Studio. A copy of this group photograph was visibly hung on the wall of our house for a long time; even after it was taken off the wall, it was preserved for a very long time.  It was undoubtedly a very precious part of the family heirloom.  For a long time I could never really fathom the reason for my father’s attachment to this family photograph.  That was the period when my father must have felt a real sense of achievement, when his marriage was being decided, when he was at the peak of his youth and career after a long and arduous struggle since childhood. Little did my father know or realize then what difficult times and trials were ahead of him, though he weathered all his adversities bravely and honestly.  The photograph nevertheless brought up to my father memories of a period he cherished. So I grant it to him that it was natural for him to attach great significance to this family photograph.

I also remember seeing my first photograph, taken when I was just a year and plus old, with me sporting my earrings and a well-ironed shirt and half trouser, taken at the same studio.

On the occasion of my grandfather’s 61st birthday, grandfather and grandmother garlanded and posed for a very special and rare photograph at this studio. This photograph was hanging on the wall of our house for a very long time till it was taken away and put into some album.

So this Photo Studio was associated with all the small and great events in our little family, which lasted till the Studio shut the shop soon after the owner died and his sons did not wish to continue their father’s business.

When I was born

I was born and brought up in Maharashtra’s cultural capital, the city of Poona, as it was known then – a laid back town – touted as the haven of pensioners.

We lived in a quiet neighbourhood within a distance of about one mile from the Railway station. Mostly the people working in the Government services inhabited this place and quite a few of them were south Indians. Even some of the Government offices where these people worked were within a radius of one mile, the distance you can conveniently cover by foot.

It is said when people from south India landed at the Railway station they were welcomed by well meaning touts of the house owners from this area offering them a ride in a horse-drawn carriage (called the Tonga) to have a look at the varied choice of houses in the locality. It was rightly presumed that the people coming from south India belonged to the salaried class and were coming on transfers or for taking up jobs in the Government services.

The British ran this Government when my Grandfather came to this place in 1945 just around the time when the World War II was about to end.  Grandfather took up a house on rent in this place, in anticipation of my father returning from service in the British Army. By the time my father returned, got his demobilization papers, took up a job in the Central Railways and got married the whole country was in turmoil and the British were it quite impossible to continue ruling in the old way. I was born just over a month after the British had partitioned the sub continent and left the country. India and Pakistan, both carved out of British India, were now neighbours and Independent countries and the horror of communal carnage was raging in the subcontinent.

The refugees from the western border were presented with some prospect of rebuilding their lives through accretion of left over properties. The refugees from the eastern border, having lost their property and uprooted from their homes, were left to fend for themselves. The people who migrated from their native towns/villages to other places on job transfers or in search of jobs were equally akin to internal refugees tossed around by the recruitment into British Army or Government service or private commercial, industrial or such other establishments.

Celebrating 100 years of October Revolution

The Bolshevik Revolution in Eurasia that erupted in the aftermath of the First World War in October 1917 was not a happenstance, a flash in the pan occurrence. The groundwork for this revolution was laid with the establishment of the International Working Men’s Association (1864–1876), the First International.  The Paris Commune of May 1871 and the Revolution of 1905 in Russia were the precursors to the momentous October Revolution. The Communist Manifesto (1848) and the First volume of Capital (1867) provided the theoretical underpinning for these revolutions.

The success or failure of the Soviet experiment in Eurasia does not invalidate the veracity of Marxism.  Undoubtedly the October Revolution caused the first successful rupture in the hegemony of Capital over the destiny of human civilisation.  The defeat of fascist powers in the Second World War, with the Soviet Union playing a significant role, was followed by the revolution in China (1949) and the dismantling of colonies in the possession of European powers.

DD Kosambi offers a logical reasoning to explainwhy the communist revolution was successful in Russia, but failed in Germany where Marx and Engels expected it to occur first because of greater concentration of productivity’.

“When the contradictions latent in any form of production develop, the form of society will inevitably change.  This is simple enough, but the circumstances that prevail at the critical point need further examination. First, there is a minimum or threshold value below which no transformation can possibly take place. Secondly, this threshold value can be surpassed, sometimes to a surprising extent, if certain conditions, which are otherwise insignificant, do not obtain.”

This has been articulated in a different manner by Vijay Prashad who differentiates between ‘communist times’, when you are preparing for the revolution to come, and ‘revolutionary times’, when you are actually engaging in carrying the revolution – on the basis of your preparations in ‘communist times’ to its logical culmination. The neo-liberal regimes of the present epoch have spawned a network of disarticulated production system, a totally disorganized workforce and middle classes mired in grand illusions.

‘Socialism or Barbarism’ remains as the hard choice before the people and humanity and socialism is truly the future of humanity.  When socialism cannot advance barbarism does rule the roost. In the era of untrammeled power and influence of finance capital, the strength of the communists lies in their ability as well as capacity to engage in patient ‘communist work’, preparing the revolution with hope in the future and faith in the people, endeavoring to make revolution possible and helping people in the meantime to earn their livelihood with dignity, expanding their imagination of future, concentrate on the immediate demands of the people.

The ‘erasure of communists’, the struggles of the toiling and oppressed peoples from history is a part of the war of position engaged by the ruling class and the communists have a duty to negate this erasure.

Trying to comprehend Who am I

Javed Akhtar surely made a point when spoke about the idiosyncratic coexistence in our subcontinent of vernacular and English-medium schools. The linguistic and cultural difference was an existential fact for the ‘migrant’  families – if you can call the ‘other’ linguistic groups living within a particular linguistic state/region in that vein, like those of mine – a fact that was not that vigorously rubbed in the immediate post-Independence period. We were totally cut off from the cultural roots of our native place, although there was an effort recreate that ambiance (quite unsuccessfully) in a limited way within the of the family, the school and the temple. The linguistic minority status added to the complexity of hybrid education handed down to my generation.We were not very proficient neither in Tamil, English, Hindi or Marathi for that matter, although were learning all these languages.

So, I can relate to the undesirable consequences as also some benefits of that system of educating the young minds.  The travails of migrant linguistic minorities a dormant issue earlier,,has in recent years gained much steam with the refurbished ‘sons of the soil’ theory and linguistic identity.

I can also relate to the ‘indignity of circumstances that threads through many of Ray’s movies (wherein he proactively constructed some of his filmic personae as macabre chimeras of the traditional and modern) and is in some sense symptomatic of an insecure society of hierarchies and feudal traditions being dragged foot-first into modern times’.

I can relate to the strength of dignity in the midst of undignified circumstances…

I can relate to the Asad Zaidi’s remark ‘the organic intelligentsia – that much mythicised Gramscian construct – is yet to find its feet and its genius….

Some Notes on the history of the Communist Movement in India

From its emergence in 1920 to the present, the Indian communist movement has had to deal with substantial ideological and organisational debates, to draw its own map from the present to the future. Repression of communism had been the ethos of the British Raj, as it has been throughout the history of the movement. Three major issues tore through the communist movement as the organizers tried to reach out to the people.

a) The relationship of the Indian communists to Moscow and the world communist movement: The entirety of the movement saw the Soviet example as incarnated hope. Within the communist movement emerged a view that the best understanding of the ground realities of their politics could not be found in Kremlin but amongst their own leadership – fraternal ties with Moscow should not become hierarchical. Much the same view would emerge about Beijing in its heyday as the promoter of Maoist rebellion. This sentiment went from 1925 through the split in the communist movement, into each of the communist parties.

b) The relationship of the Indian communists to the Congress Party: Before 1947, the communists had a complex relationship with the Congress – in alliance with it against the British Raj, but diverging from it when it came to the class politics within India. As the Congress began to represent the class interests of the industrial and agrarian bourgeoisie with increasing public confidence, the divide with the communists widened.

c) Participation in Democratic Institutions: Harsh repression by the state against peasant and working class assertion led to the view that no amount of institutional politics would be able to either defend the producing classes or sift the terrain toward transformation.  Over the years, ‘in an odd reversal of roles in ‘the world’s second largest democracy’, when all the political parties representing the liberal order were flouting the basic democratic norms and attempting to subvert the Constitution itself, the Communists were doing their best accepting the obligations and prerogatives laid out in the Constitution, even when the exercise of some of those prerogatives worked against their interests. All this was done with the best of intentions that even the ‘caricature of bourgeois democracy’ that prevails in India could provide some elbow room for struggles within to edge ‘closer to an approximation of what democracy really is’.

These issues played a major role in splitting the communist movement in India. The contradictions of the communist movement exploded outward to create a host of organisations.  The splits in the communist movement developed entirely out of the contradictions faced by the movement. These splits certainly weakened the organizational power of Indian communist, and turned friends against friends. Over time, the CPI and CPI-M found a modus vivendi in the Left Front and drew closer. The gap between these two communist parties and the Maoists – who have landed themselves into the vicious circle of Violence as tactic, strategy, goal; in fact everything – is very wide.  Although here, as far as the above ground Maoists are concerned, things seem to be in flux.  Unity, if it ever does come, will only take place at a higher level – with a more mature sense of the political landscape and with a much more realistic understanding of how to work together.

The communist movement adopted the view that they should work within the confines of multi-party democracy and the main slogan for the period was to ‘govern and mobilize’ to provide relief, run a rational system of administration and use extra-parliamentary means to build power among the working people. Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura are the core areas of the Left, where it has advantage in the electoral arena; in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the ‘Left’ has sizeable influence but is still not a ‘governing option’ for the people. The electoral victories for the Left in its core regions, were rendered possible by several years of sustained ‘communist work’ among the people in building mass organisations of toiling people with ‘revolutionary patience’ and spearheading incessant waves of  mass struggles.   ‘The most obvious material fact about the Left is its overwhelming weakness and its inability to break out of its regional sequestration’; and this not merely an outcome of diverting the party’s priority attention and meagre resources to develop the mass base and the party in ‘compact and contiguous area’ as per the general consensus reached by November 1967.

It was not the use of parliamentary democracy that bothered the CPI or the CPI-M; but the danger of annihilation of a working-class bloc to fight against the very powerful bloc of Property and Privilege. This is precisely what is happening now in the badlands of West Bengal. In West Bengal, The steady commitment to land reform remained undaunted. Land redistribution, in its final years, had become an intense political struggle, rather than an administrative process.  The neo-landlords and the older social classes reasserted themselves through the Trinamul Congress and the BJP in the countryside to drive a hard agenda against the Left.  It helped them that the Left’s industrialization policy alienated many people and provided the basis a new anti-Left coalition.  The industrialization policy was not itself the reason for the undoing of the Left; it was the spur. Violence had ‘cleansed’ the landscape, preparing it for the kind of authoritarian populism of Mamata Banerjee.  It is at a scale comparable to the Congress-led violence of the early 1970s (1972-77). Human rights organisations maintained a studied silence, as hundreds of Left leaders, cadres and supporters were put to death and as thousands were expelled from their homes, with the Left bearing the brunt of the intimidation, the assaults, the expulsions and the murders.  The life and events are once again proving that: The class struggle that is endemic to capitalism cannot be seen merely in the electoral domain.

Today ‘liberalization’ commands a consensus among the bourgeoisie far more absolute than Nehruvianism or anything else of that kind has ever been able to achieve.  Nonetheless, the brutality of neo-liberal policy sets in motion forces of disgruntlement and anger that could erupt at any moment.  The CPI-M’s internal review worried that the communists were not prepared to harness such an upsurge. A new energy is necessary, a new enthusiasm for organizational work, drawing people from new areas. The ‘question of imperialism is central to the communist position vis-à-vis the social democrats and the necessity to transcend capitalism bound up with this issue.’ The bottom-line remains that the Left should be ‘ideologically assertive but a more open and democratic and engage with various forms of social movements against oppression’ more actively.


No Free Left by Vijay Prashad

Sangh Parivar and the Constitution of the Republic of India

From the time when India’s struggle for freedom from British colonial rule started gaining momentum in the early 1920s, there was a confluence of different strands:

  1. a) the religious strand (which should include the various terrorist groups in their formative years)
  2. b) the Gandhian strand (from 1920 onwards the Gandhian ethos dominated the Indian National Congress with the Socialists coming within the Gandhian camp and
  3. c) the radical stream, viz. the Left spearheaded by the nascent communist groups sprouting in various regions of the country and organisations like HSRA and Bharat Naujavan Sabha led by Bhagat Singh

The forerunners of the present day Hindutvawadi Sangh Parivar – the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha – since their early beginnings in the 1920s, were not even part of the religious stream of anti-colonialism as they chose to pit themselves against the entire spectrum of the anti-colonial front; and this is evident from their writings, speeches and activities in the pre-Independence period. These outfits put themselves firmly on the side of the British colonial masters and the fact that they remained antagonistic towards reformist movements ranged against upper-caste hegemony, like the those led by Jyotiba Phule (in the then Bombay Presidency – now Maharashtra), starkly revealed their upper caste bias.

The very fact that the World War-II was fought and won on the slogan of democracy against militarism contributed to a great awakening in the minds of the common people and a better understanding of their rights leading to a global mass upsurge of sorts.  The British saw the writing on the wall and chose to decolonize, i.e. grant independence to their colonies, in order to safeguard their future interests in the colonies and the region. The native elites in the colonies were eager to take hold of the reins of power and the British ‘divide and rule’ dictum flowered into the ‘divide and depart’ policy. In this scenario, the Muslim League led by MA Jinnah was handed over the control of randomly chosen Muslim majority areas in the West and East of the subcontinent, a moth-eaten Pakistan, as Jinnah himself chose to refer to it after the fate accompli. The right to rule the rest of British India minus the 500 odd princely states was ceded to the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi, who was averse to partition but could not overrule his colleagues in the Congress who were eager to accept this offer. This denouement caused untold suffering through massive displacement and relocation of population bartered like cattle as well as immense collateral damage in terms of human lives snuffed out in the ensuing rioting, arson and carnage.

Gandhi tried valiantly but in vain to stem the horrendous fratricide in the aftermath of partition and transfer of power and felled by an assassin’s bullet at point blank range.  This was Gandhi’s last stand and here he remained true to the promises made to the people in the course of freedom struggle. The RSS openly flaunted their defiance and rejection of the ‘imagining of India as a nation’ implicit in the minds of the people participating in the independent struggle through their murder of Gandhi; and paid the political price of being pushed to near oblivion. Immediately after the assassination of Gandhi, the RSS was banned; the ban remained in force for a few years and from there on the RSS had to operate clandestinely from within the Congress, following the advice of Vallabhbhai Patel.  The RSS slowly resurfaced in the 1960s as the Congress was losing its appeal in the minds of the people and celebrated their re-entry with a string of communal riots across the country.

Gandhi had chosen his successors well –Vallabhbhai Patel to unify the scattered princely states and the rest of British India, minus the Pakistan region, Jawaharlal Nehru to guide the destiny of India and BR Ambedkar to draw up the Constitution of Independent India. The aspirations of the people who had participated in the struggle against British rule, the promises that Indian National Congress – as the dominant force within the freedom movement – made to the people in the course of this struggle all came to enshrined in the Constitution, encapsulating the idea of India as a nation.  The Republication Constitution of India ushered in a veritable ‘social revolution’ through universal adult suffrage and the principle of ‘one-person one vote’, and the promise to enable ‘one person one value’ as well in future, in the Directive Principles. Evidently, it was not the vision of the Sangh Parivar that shaped the writing of this Constitution and the Sangh Parivar did not share the perspective, the promises and the idea India, enshrined in our Constitution.