The Presidential elections of 2007 have illustrated writer Martin Jacques’ famous phrase, “The end of politics”. Politics, wrote Jacques in the Nineties, is fast becoming a “backward sector”. The central purpose of politics, namely the contest of ideas, has been destroyed as all political parties are devoid of new ideas and are only mouthing the views of their political great-grandfathers. The contest between Pratibha patil and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has not only illustrated the abysmal talent pool in our country, it has also shown how the Left, which prides itself on its “ideas,” is now trading only in orthodoxies, snobbishly resistant to the 21st century.
The Left vetoed a series of candidates on the grounds that they lacked “stature”. Sushilkumar Shinde lacked stature. Pranab Mukherjee was acceptable but not “loyal” enough for the Congress. HRD Minister Arjun Singh was only marginally acceptable because of the OBC quota but even he lacked adequate stature. The only individual who satisfied the Left’s craving for stature was Pratibha Patil because her candidature meant “women’s empowerment”. Left-oriented writers poured scorn on the media for being trivial enough to question the towering achievements of a woman who had worked quietly, far away from the evil spell of “Page Three”. For the Left, all flamboyance or high-profile achievement or exceptionality are almost criminal attributes. In the universe of all Leftist critics of the media, all “really talented” people are anonymous, ordinary, unheard of, quiet and good. They look a certain way, they mouth certain set phrases and they are thus Good People. The Bad People are those who appear on “Page Three” or in the media or are high profile or are noted internationally for their achievements. Good People are unnoticed by the media.
Bad People get media attention. The Left’s fatwas on Good and Bad are fast becoming manifestos that argue for nothing but mediocrity.
Interestingly, just a week ago, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee gave an interview where he launched the first Leftist attack on Left intellectuals. Responding to the criticism over Singur and Nandigram, Bhattacharjee said Left intellectuals are unaware of hard realities, their approach is far too academic and they are unable to accept change. Every right thinking citizen of West bengal has now realised that there is no alternative to industrialisation, that in order to create jobs there is no option but to acquire agricultural land and that private capital must be invited. West bengal is already part of a global supply chain in IT. Bhattacharjee has succeeded in transforming the image of the state to some extent and the army of unemployed at last have hope. It is only those, the cm suggested, who do not have the responsibility of creating future jobs and who only want to safeguard their present jobs, who can afford the luxury of “protest”.
Left intellectuals are attacked by the religious right for being “rootless communists” but the fact is that they are strikingly similar to many RSS ideologues. neither the Left nor the RSS believes that the Indian can function in the modern world. The Indian must always be protected, his job safeguarded from the wicked forces of finance capital, his cultural identity is always in danger and must always be protected, his sovereignty must also be protected. From Walmart, to the media, to private investment in higher education, to FDI in retail, the Left loathes everything the people of India seem to love.
Undoubtedly, there is no denying the high personal integrity of almost all members of the Left — both card-carrying CPM and sympathisers. The personal moral fibre is truly exemplary in many Leftists. Yet what is the best purpose of moral authority? Is it to prevent debate and prevent the emergence of new ideas? Is moral authority to be used in constantly and disdainfully dubbing people as “class enemies” or a “sell out” or a “corporate agent” or a “fundamentalist”? Is there not a responsibility to find a meaningful new way? It’s difficult to think of a left leader or intellectual articulate a real paradigm shift. Leftspeak is still about “imperialism” and “sovereignty” and “global capital” and “secular fabric”. All over the world, air travel has become mass travel. It should not cost more than a few hundred rupees to travel from Delhi to Kolkata, just as it is possible to fly from paris to Brussles on very few euros. By advancing arcane arguments against privisatisation of the civil aviation sector, the Left (in actually trying to protect its unions) is only succeeding in keeping air travel as the preserve of the rich. All over the world, airports depend on volume and not high costs to finance their operations. To prevent the privatisation and expansion of airports is to prevent the poor from gaining access to an airport and to air travel. The Left fails to realise that its anti-privatisation campaign is hurting only the poor.
Every Indian city is made up of lakhs of vendors and informal sector workers. Every time there is a bandh or an organised protest by the labour elite led by the Left, it is these unorganised daily wagers who suffer the most as they lose their daily wage. But millions of poor wage earners are of little relevance to the leaders of the “industrial proletariat”. Private investment in education is seen by the Left as an attack on India’s cultural identity, that it will lead to “commercialisation”. Yet as marks cut offs skyrocket across universities it is clear that demand is far outstripping supply when it comes to the urgent need for more centres of higher education. Is Indian cultural identity so fragile that that it will not stand up to the curriculum of a “foreign university?” The Left favours import restrictions, it was opposed to World Trade Organisation, it hates the World Bank and International Monetary Fund because the Indian must be protected from “global finance capital” and western imperialism. Judging by the numbers of Indians fleeing abroad and to financial institutions there, Indians are more terrified of the Left than they are of imperialism. Walmart is the Left’s latest enemy because it will destroy the Indian farmer and the small shopkeeper. Yet the cheap tomatoes that will become available at Walmart’s will certainly benefit the Indian consumer, and who knows there is also the possibility that the Indian farmer will be stimulated to produce more because of rising demand for his cheaper tomatoes. Just as China has persuaded Walmart to allow unions when it, in fact, does not allow them, why does the Left believe it cannot do the same for India?
Many tributes were written when Tony Blair resigned as prime minister of britain. One word cropped up often and that word was “open-ness”. Blair made britain an open country, open to new immigrants, open to reforms, open to the world, so that Britain went from being a gloomy and dour place to a crowded bustling cutting edge country. As our economy opens, perhaps there is need for the Left to open its mind, otherwise the longest-serving Marxist-led state government will make sure that India is soon rid of all its Marxists.
Sagarika Ghose is senior editor, CNN-IBN