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Is the Indian ‘left’ very different from the ‘right’ in its dealing with marginal communities?

By Jaseem Tirur

In India, how far ‘right’ is ‘left’? In this question, ‘right’ does not only mean ‘true’ but also indicates how different the political standpoint of the leftists is from the right-wing in Indian political arena. These days, political commentators and analysts have started to encounter this question frequently. It is quite tricky to try to differentiate the leftists in India from the right-wing, particularly in the way the state machineries operate in the states they rule in. The key features in the process of Hindu right-wing mobilization can be identified as anti-Muslim narratives and upper caste savarna dominance. Each and every idea of Hindu right-wing has an anti-Muslim and castiest connotation. Many sociologists have elucidated the details of Indian social structure as a caste-based hierarchical one. If we bear this fact in mind, the RSS and the BJP would appear as the fittest political idea to strengthen the existing oppressive structure of Indian society.

The recent ascent of the right-wing to political power has confirmed their traditional bias against Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and other downtrodden communities. The phenomena of mob lynching in the pretext of protecting cow and the preservation of Hindu sentiments have spearheaded brutal violence against Muslims and Dalits across the nation, after the BJP came to power at the centre and many other states. This is consistent with the ideology of the right-wing government, which keeps on targeting the vulnerable communities in India.

When faced with an oppressive situation, the victims always look for alternatives. Here the leftists, a rather comparatively powerful political group, have tried to grab the attention of the downtrodden as an alternative. It’s a fact that the CPI (M)-led ruling party in Kerala, the only left state government in India, came to power with a larger vote share of Muslims, compared to the previous state elections. This was partly because the CPI (M) campaigned on the plank of giving protection to minorities. But the question, “How far ‘right’ is ‘left’?” came back to my mind immediately after two incidents that happened in Kerala and the way the state machinery treated Muslims and Dalits.

Dalits had observed a hartal (shutdown) a couple of days back in Kerala to protest against the Supreme Court ruling in the Prevention of SC/ST Atrocities Act and the murder of nine Dalits during the Bharat Bandh against the court intervention. Even though there was a consensus in the region about the genuineness of the cause, the state machinery had dealt with it in a hostile manner. Hundreds of protesters were arrested by the police to normalize the situation. Many stakeholders came out against the hartal. It was for the first time that Kerala witnessed a visible public outcry against hartal. What comes to my mind here is a comic scene in a popular Malayalam movie, ‘Oru Vadakkan Selfie’, which ridiculed anti-hartal activists. The plot in the film revolves around some youngsters, who want to protest against hartal to show off their social commitment. In the next scene, we see the joyous faces of those who return from their offices to enjoy a lazy holiday. The film visualizes the reality of the normal reaction of Malayalees.

Hartals are usually observed in Kerala without any obstacle. But during the latest hartal called by Dalits, the state transport department itself came out to boycott the hartal. The private bus owners’ association and the retail shop owners took a similar stand. The police force normally helps make every hartal a grand success by assisting the affected with local transport facilities. In my personal experience as a media person, I have often directly witnessed this and reported in the news channel from the capital city of Trivandrum. But this time the police were assisting the anti-hartal activists. This discriminatory approach appeared more glaring when the BJP called for a hartal in a local region, Varrapuzha, in Kerala to protest the murder of its activist. Despite the hartal escalating into violence, the police had taken a stand to escort the hartal activists. Does it not appear like the castiest right-wing influence in the police department? Or does it indicate something sinister from the leftist ruling party in Kerala? Why did the CPI (M)-governed state machinery have such an antagonistic approach towards a genuine demand of the Dalits? The party newspaper was zealous in reporting a manipulated version of the violence of the Dalit protesters. This attitude of the left government in Kerala seems to reiterate the belief that the left is as Brahmanical as the right-wing in its approach. The leftist pampering of the dominant castes is the proverbial elephant in the room, which everyone knows but no one talks about. Such attitude comes at the cost of negating the democratic rights of Dalits and Adivasis.

A similar situation could be seen when a hartal was observed to protest the rape and murder of Asifa, an eight-year-old Muslim girl from a nomadic community in Kashmir. The shutdown, mostly targeted at the Sangh Parivar, was successful. Some villages, which had previously taken an anti-hartal position, came forward to support the hartal unitedly. But the ruling CPI (M) came out with a demonizing propaganda. Despite not knowing who had led the hartal, the CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged that it was held to make communal polarization, since it was widely observed by Muslims. A huge spontaneous public outrage against the right-wing terror has been branded communal. The police have even started a mass arrest a day after the hartal and the ones picked up by the police are mostly Muslims. Some of them have been even charged with non-bailable offences like instigating riots and communal tension, though it wasn’t the case. In this, the attitude of the left government in Kerala is akin to those of the Sangh Parivar, which regularly brands Muslims as communal.

The next incident shows extreme disparity in the law enforcement process of the left government because of their Islamophobic mindset. Many Muslim clerics/scholars/political activists have been subjected to state terrorism only because they either utilized their constitutional right to propagate or profess their religion or challenge the castiest savarnas (upper castes). It normally happens by coding the acts of Muslims as provocative, which instigates the religious sentiments of others. Even if it is an exercise of hermeneutics of Islamic texts, it is interpreted wrongly by the media or the law enforcement authorities or the state ruling party to impose draconian laws upon them. MM Akbar was arrested recently from the transit area of Hyderabad airport even though there wasn’t a single case against him, on the pretext of a textbook controversy. A suo motto case has been registered against a Muslim cleric for criticising the Onam festival on religious grounds, which has already been termed a savarna festival by many other communities in Kerala. Abdunnasar Madani is still a controversial living example of this discrimination. In all these cases, charges have been registered for instigating riots either under Indian penal code or draconian laws like the UAPA.

However, similar or more harmful speeches have been neglected by the law enforcement department. KP Sasikala, the Hindu aikya vedi leader, has been spitting highly provocative fire in her speeches, which have been avoided by the media or the police department. No cases have been registered against her. It is only when this discriminatory approach of the state machinery was exposed after a case was registered against a Muslim cleric, then the authorities were forced to charge Sasikala. It all happened under the left ruling government in Kerala. The CPI (M) spokespersons referred to the protesters in Malappuram, who were fighting against highway development projects to protect their livelihood and residence, as extremists. The state used the police force to disperse the protesters to complete the survey process for the highway. The same method has been followed for the GAIL gas pipeline project.

The police action in Kerala is always prompt when they sniff any trace of supposed extremism.  At the same time, the police have largely ignored the speeches of a Hindu leader and spokesperson of the RSS, TG Mohandas, who made a highly inflammable speech in a public meeting. Mohandas said that Hindus won’t get justice until they organize a riot on the streets. He further added that Hindus don’t have time to waste in Courts seeking justice. In a nutshell, it was obviously a call for riots and incitement to violence. But this speech has been completely ignored by the state police department. Even after the police received a complained for his remark, he is still roaming freely in the state. The police department pays special heed to the speeches of Muslim clerics/scholars/political activists.

The CPI (M) state machinery appears to be a mirror-image of the BJP, when it comes to dealing with Dalits and Muslims. Kerala’s silent support for its savarnas reinforces the state’s Islamophobia and anti-Dalit mentality, along dominant caste lines. But this can only be uncovered when we are ready to see what lies beneath the veneer of secularity and progressive politics of the leftists. It is not an exaggeration to say the left is just the other side of the coin in its close resemblance to the RSS, regarding Islamophobia and caste discrimination.

Bio:
Jaseem Tirur is currently serving as editor-in-chief of The Companion, a semi-academic English magazine, based in Delhi. Earlier he was working as a TV Journalist at MEDIAONE TV.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘The importance of being a flaneur today’, edited by Maitreyee B Chowdhury, author, Bangalore India.

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