Where Have The Red Flags Gone?

In an apt second part to last month’s ‘X-ray of a Fascist’, Amit Sengupta focuses on the country’s only credible secular, pro-poor force and the doldrums it is in.


If Karl Marx turned the Hegelian dialectic upside down to search for the ‘rational kernel’, and if he thought that philosophers had interpreted the world for far too long and what was really needed was to change it, then, surely, the historical loop of the ‘Official Left’ in India has turned a full stagnant circle yet again. It’s as if an entire party of compulsive sleepwalkers are trapped in the quagmire of an infinite comfort zone and no one wants to really wake up. Surely, they are refusing to learn crucial lessons from history. Surely, the uncanny present continuous and time-future, with obvious apocalyptic signs, seems detached from their political unconscious.

Or, is it that they think the fascists won’t touch them? Do they think they won’t touch them because they are so integral to the power establishment in Indian democracy, so entrenched, even as marginal game players? Do they think that they will still be able to protect their skins, and their souls, and their sprawling party offices, even if other secularists and dissidents are shown the guillotine?

This does not mean that they have lost their ‘rational kernel’, or moral fibre, or social content, or political ideology. “Not yet, not yet…” as an old Kurosawa film might tell us. It only means that there is a terrible lack of imagination, radical commitment and will, and a suspension of self belief and faith. In this prolonged stagnation, almost like the end of ideology, the best of minds become rusted, rented and retired, trapped in one loop after another of self righteous delusion, running away from the consciousness of both self and reality.

So, even the Brechtian notion of hope might sound like sleepwalking; or like colourless dreams wherein you run though unknown corridors chasing soundless screams, basically unable to either run or scream. So, shall we return to the cliché yet again? Will there be a beginning of this end, or an end to this beginning? Will there be a song in the times of darkness, a whistle of sweet melody in the dark, a touch of familiar reassurance in a realm of the strange cacophony of fanatic and blood-thirsty drum beaters and rabble rousers, showcased live on corporate television day in, day out, like electric shock therapy in a condemned mental asylum? Is there a window which reopens light in this dungeon, like an old IPTA song, or is all that remains is the inevitable death wish?

If communism is an ideology of social and political transformation, of great optimism and resurrection, of wings of desire and enlightenment, of heights of struggle and sacrifice – where are the experiments with such things, inside or outside Parliament? In which zones of stark and absolute poverty are they planting red flags of the great leap forward, or the hundred schools of thought? In which over-ground twilight zone of aesthetic or ideological salvation is the Indian Official Left sowing seeds of the great democratic revolution they have promised us since for so long? Is there an iota of secular, radical, liberating fight left inside their ossified self-defeatism?

How many have ever thought it worthwhile to enter Vidarbha’s death zones and count the farmer suicides, or the rosters of debt traps, or the saline waters dried up in the jaundiced eyes of the women who were left to hold drowning straws, even while Monsanto and the bloated political class and sundry contractors sucked the soul out of their tired bodies and bled them to slow death?

Where, on the crowded urban streets and by-lanes and parched, suicidal countryside, in the ravaged and destroyed factories and mills of the old working class movement (like the many historic Bombay workers’ struggles and the red zones stretching across this great working class city) –are the red flags? Where, in the multiple conflict zones of pristine, remote, inaccessible interiors of rural, coastal and tribal India – where the multinational and Indian fat cats are zooming in with the State’s armed forces – are the red cadres of the Indian communist parties?

How many have ever thought it worthwhile to enter Vidarbha’s death zones and count the farmer suicides, or the rosters of debt traps, or the saline waters dried up in the jaundiced eyes of the women who were left to hold drowning straws, even while Monsanto and the bloated political class and sundry contractors sucked the soul out of their tired bodies and bled them to slow death? How many public meetings did the top guns of the CPM in Delhi, two of them ex-JNU student leaders, address in Vidarbha? How many suicidal homes did they visit?  How many barricades did they break?

Where have all the Red flags of Big Brother CPM and the tailists of the CPI, and all the peripherals of the so-called Left Front disappeared? Have they lost the chess game even before the first move? Are they looking for less than the 20 mark in 2014, now that even the panchayats in demoralised West Bengal have gone out of their extra-constitutional domain, while one discredited faction desperately seeks to destroy their only credible mass leader called V.S. Achuthanandan in Kerala?

And why have they left Manik Sarkar to waste and disappear in Tripura, despite his fine track record of impeccable honesty and successive victories? Can the ex-JNU male leaders in CPM even match the mass appeal of Achuthanandan or Sarkar, or Brinda Karat, who works relentlessly around the country fighting for women’s issues?

So what are they waiting for, if the fascists should consolidate and polarise and capture all the minds and souls and public spaces, while other secularists stake their lives and careers fighting the new demi-god monster of cannibalism who rules the selective ‘paid news’ air waves? Where is the Left’s message for the masses? What policy alternatives are they offering? What alternative politics of change or values or belief systems are they articulating? Where is their Communist Manifesto in the time of Fascism?

They have repeated ad nauseum that they will enter the Hindi heartland, shift their focus from Bengal, Tripura and Kerala; while eternally tailing the opportunism of Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is a past master of betrayal; shifting poles and working tacitly with the fascists, like Nitish Kumar and other rump socialists like George Fernandes. Are the Leftists anywhere near UP or elsewhere in that fused lamp post in the arid, backward, feudal landscape of the cow belt while communalists of various hues spill blood on the streets and in the sugar cane fields? Are they in Punjab or Bihar or Andhra Pradesh, with their great legacy of sacrifice, organisation and struggle? Why have they lost their moorings, their mass base, their quest for justice, their dreams, especially the inflexible, arrogant, sectarian, short-sighted, frog-in-the-well CPM? As the fascists beat their drums and the spectre of neo-Nazism stalks the landscape, where have all the communists gone?

Even while activists, filmmakers, and journalists have staked their lives in Gujarat and elsewhere, fighting the state sponsored genocide and the relentless Modi machine, the CPM and its tailists refused to enter Gujarat. In their stupefied zones in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, they think Gujarat is far away, a distant country; they don’t give a damn. But what about the CPM stars in Delhi’s A.K. Gopalan Bhawan? Can’t they see it all?

Surely, no one’s expecting them to go to Dantewada or Bastar or Niyamgiri or Kudankulam. But, surely, there is life beyond pedantic rhetoric in ‘PD’, and insipid press statements?

Surely, they did not waste the mandate in the first part of UPA I, with 60 seats; the best of progressive laws including the Forest Rights Act or NREGA; the fight against disinvestment in various sectors that were enacted because of them, and other progressive forces in the civil society. But, why have they chosen to waste it all since then, year after year, lamenting the paradise lost?

No one doubts that they are secular; that they are, in the hidden depths of their political consciousness, pro-poor and pro-working class; that their hearts bleed for that Marxist manifesto. But where are the scaffoldings, comrades? Where are the barricades? Where are the flags of creative hope and classical struggle and radical defiance? Where are the catalysts of change?

Where, at the very least, are the secular communist lessons from the Holocaust and the war against fascism?

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students' Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people's movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. Till recently he has been a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

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