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Need for a broader dialogue

An Indian note inspired by the Copenhagen Lexit and Plan-B meetings 

[Vijay Pratap] In November 2016 I attended two important meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first was an informal gathering of group called Lexit that earlier in 2016 wrote a manifesto for leaving or dismantling the common euro currency based on progressive analysis and arguments. The second meeting was for the Plan B initiative of European Left parties left of social democrats. Both can be seen as responses to the Greek crisis and the capitulation of the Syriza party’s government lead by Tsípras to the troika of the EU, IMF and European Central Bank in summer 2015.

The Lexit meeting was the first face to face meeting of a group of Leftists who shared their progressive arguments – not the ‘Rightist and Racist’ – to exit from monetary union and/or European Union. In this meeting I found out that the sense of boundaries and even to an extent cleavage between Democratic Socialists and Marxism inspired Left parties existed in a big way. It was similar to what we have in India. In this meeting also there were couple of isolated and feeble voices pointing out the need to have a larger coalitional strategy to include social democrats, trade unions and potential fellow travellers. 

There seemed no real understanding of the two phenomenon of terrorism and rightist nationalism. In India there is at least some debate about the loss in the meaning of life as a contributing factor to extremism. Such a situation gives the basis for action, which can even be promoted by a conspiracy component of the Euro-American inspired strategies or US establishment’s design which is held responsible for contributing to the rise and strengthening of terrorism. Similarly, there was no deep understanding about the jingoistic nationalist forces or its social genesis. I strongly feel that there is need to deconstruct the genesis and global emergence of ‘Right’ in terms of both global and local causes. 

In both the meetings I attended on 19th November, I found the usual political economy approach in the critic of neo-liberal globalization. There was some good analysis of global financial capitalism also. The concern about emergence of the right and the need to fight it out was also widely shared among the speakers. But, I didn’t get any insight which will enhance our capacity to deconstruct the force and the mind-set of the aggressive right nationalism with its content of narrowing of identity boundaries. Is it something to do with the inability of left to extricate itself from the neo-liberal globalization processes? Has globalization on the planet at any place not excluded majority of people, created new inequalities, new pockets of deprivation and destitution? And we as leftist have not been able to explicate and sustain an alternative politics to counter these negative outcomes of globalization. 

The trend of rightward drift is global. In South America, leftist forces and regimes are on the defensive. In the US Barack Obama is followed by Donald Trump. 

In India there was the victory of 2004, when the first United Progressive Alliance lead by the Indian National Congress Party won with a significant leftist presence. After that we had significant decline of leftist strength in 2009 and now in 2014 we have belligerent right in power at the central level, attempting to institutionalize the aggressive majoritarian socio-political order in place. We have to explore the ‘why’ of our Himalayan failure in India.

What the transformative forces would require?

To reimagine the coalitional strategies for the transformative forces would require that first we analyse reasons of our continuous marginalization and emergence of belligerent nationalist forces preparing the ground for institutionalizing a social-cultural order which the leftists have no other word to describe other than fascist. And we should be clear that this word closes the mind of large number of people who today are on the other side. We have to search for a language and the idiom to analyse the source of energy and motivation in the ‘Enemy Camp’ why have the masses in large number have joined the ‘enemy camp’? How to win them back for a positive transformative agenda?

Is it to do with the ‘dreams’ dished out by the modern project of creating universal inclusive consumer paradise without any concern for ecology and community or is it to do with the subjective failure of the progressive forces? I did not find any inkling of these questions in the debates of Lexit and Plan B meeting. However, preliminary if we are able to reconstruct the Indian debates in an inclusive fashion including the conversations on the margins, I am sure we shall be able to provide some insights into the future of coherent, comprehensive transformative strivings in India. And reconstructing these debates will simultaneously be our contribution to global debates among the progressive circles. The debates of 19th November were quite Euro centric, global trends hardly found any place in the debates. India and China, figured two or three times only as villains stealing the European jobs. 

What would such observations mean for pursuing debates and progressive politics in India? In my view the dissenting imagination among movements, public intellectuals and ‘bold’ party ideologues in India have something important to contribute in the global debates. In my subjective understanding in a peculiar way some marginality from the mainstream western debates will give us the advantage of being able to reconstruct the entire gamut of debates in an inclusive fashion, especially when not seen dogmatically bound to a particular stream of ideological or political formation. 

For one, the debates in Copenhagen did not show any understanding of global ecological crisis, although couple of passing references did come up. The understanding of ecological challenges is weak in the Indian progressive political mainstream also. Our mainstream might not have internalized the debates of environmental and ecological democracy movements. But debates on these issues are quite critical and strategic and need to be brought centrally into the mainstream discourses.

Second issue of global interest is the emergence of new young leaders from the communities of marginalised majorities. The new phenomenon in India of young political personalities, such as Kanhaiya, Jignesh and Rohit Vemula, is significant. It can be a watershed in understanding the possibilities of new composite and to an extent organic leadership of the marginalised majorities for an epochal transformation of this country. Close observation of such young thinking leaders will give us the insight into the future of our emerging movements. Small prerequisite for this will be that we come out of our prejudice against young thinking leaders. After the Copenhagen meetings I spent a week in Helsinki and was pleasantly shocked to find that the widely appreciated, accepted and respected chair of the Left League Party is a woman Li Anderson, only 29 years old. In Indian Socialist, Communist and Sarvodaya-Gandhian circles you need to be at least 60 years old to be recognized as an adult. 

Third, oppressive structures and processes in India are known to be quite pervasive. But the dynamics of discrimination, exclusion and oppression are quite specific among different social segments of marginalised communities, such as ex-untouchable casts, religious minorities, women, tribal, other backward and peasant communities are extreme. Economic marginalization of the vast majority of un-organised working class which is more than 90% of our work force needs to be noted. Describing the specificity of this oppressive-exploitative process in different segments of marginalized majority will hopefully not distract us from re-imagining a comprehensive and inter-connected view of fundamental transformation and struggles to achieve that!

Such multi-layered and diverse strivings for positive transformation in India and South Asia are worth debating internationally. This will inject certain new dimensions of debate for positive social change globally.   

Vijay Pratap, 17.1.2017
The author is a democratic socialist worker associated, among others, with South Asian Dialogues for Ecological Democracy (SADED) and Vasudhaiva Kutumbam Network. SADED is Siemenpuu’s partner organization based in India and Nepal.