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JLF 2017: The search for the New Left mired by technical difficulties

A discussion on the future of the Left was sadly mired in the past at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Updated: Jan 20, 2017 16:19 IST
A Mariyam Alavi
JLF 2017

Visitors on the inaugural day of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 on Thursday.(Himanshu Vyas/HT Photo)

The session on the ‘Legacy of the Left’ went much the same way the Left globally did. A session that started on a high note was marred by technical difficulties, and came to an abrupt halt owing to power failure.

It was one of the most looked forward to events at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017, with a speaker list that boasted of the who’s who in political theory and writing with Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Mridula Mukherjee, Maidul Islam, Patrick French and Timothy Garton Ash.

However, many in attendance claimed to have been left disappointed with a discussion that ‘barely scratched the surface’.

“I had hoped they would delve a little deeper into the current situation and also discuss what the future of the Left in India and the world would be like. They were too focused on the past. We spent so much time discussing the Bolsheviks, they did not have time left to venture beyond 2008 in many ways,” said a first year student from Symbiosis in Pune.

The bulk of the session was dedicated to discussing the history of the Left globally; starting with the Russian revolution and how that translated to the Indian political landscape and how the Congress managed to “domesticate the left” in India.

This history has not been pretty either, according to Ash. “Communism works so long as they don’t come to power. I challenge anybody here to find me an example of a communist regime, in the lines of Lenin, that came to power and did not create something flawed,” he argued.

Islam concluded that “the model of the old Communist Left is over.”

Former BBC Correspondent Mark Tully attends the Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy session at Jaipur Literature Festival 2017. (Himanshu Vyas/HT Photo)

While arguing that “there was a theoretical basis for calling Modi right wing,” because of his uber-nationalist rhetoric, Mehta also said there was a blurring of lines between the Left and the Right, especially in economics. He believes that the decline of the Left had more to do with how the regime got trapped in its “economic determinism,” than anything else.

Anybody who observes political landscapes across the world knows that the Left is far from over. It can’t be, as Ash rightly pointed out, when the world’s most populated country and arguably the world’s second most powerful country, China, is being ruled by a party called the ‘Communist Party of China.’

With the wealth disparity growing over the years, Mukherjee said Left principles are now more relevant than ever, and asked the audiences to “imagine a ‘New Left.’”

This ‘New Left’ does not necessarily resemble old school communism, with many being compromised by neo-liberalism. However, it still retains a fundamental and simple meaning in most parts of the world; as put by Ash, they are “on the side of the poor and disadvantaged.”

However, little to nothing of substance was discussed on this ‘New Left,’ and how it has morphed to fit the demands of the present or how they are expected to mould themselves in the future.

Still, one thing was well established; “There is always room for the Left,” said Ash.

Click here for our full coverage of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017

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