UP Elections

Have Dalits and Muslims started voting for BJP in UP? This seems to be one of the conclusions made in much the discussions after the results yesterday, not just by BJP supporters but even by its opponents. What is the basis of this claim?
Consider this. SCs constitute about 21% of the total population of UP according to the last census, while the vote share of BSP is 22.2% according to Election Commission figures. Similarly, Muslims constitute around 19% and Yadavs around 9% of the population, whereas the combined vote share of SP and Congress together is 28%. On the face of it, there seems little basis to suggest any major shift from any of these groups to BJP.
It is important to base any election analysis on data rather than our own perceptions and prejudices. I have lost count of “counterpunches” and “countercurrents” with the ridiculous conclusion that Trump’s victory was a “vote against establishment / elite by working class” despite data clearly showing that working class had consistently voted for Hillary. This story of Dalit / Muslim shifting en masse to BJP (followed by detailed analysis of reasons for doing so) also belongs to similar category!
Of course, there is a major gap between vote shares and actual seats won by any party, which is a peculiarity of our electoral system, and which is further aggravated by triangular contests. But that is another story altogether!

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Vanguard & the Left Elite

How do you resist a right-wing onslaught on liberal values? Of course, solidarity is crucial, but so is an expansion of the liberal space itself. About a year back, a similar right-wing assault led to the “stand-with-JNU” campaign. It enjoyed solidarity from many sections, but the left elite leading the movement decided to abandon it the moment demands for an expansion of its social base came up. What I see from the events unfolding currently in Delhi University is not too different. While the right-wing onslaught has got even more vicious, brazen and outright disgusting, the “resistance” this time is even more firmly entrenched with the left elite. Defense of liberal values is interspersed with classist ridicule of personal characteristics of the opponents – from the way they are dressed, their rustic language (for instance, Haryanvi-accented Hindi) and appearance, their lack of sophistication etc. In short, exactly the things that will ensure that the next kid coming from a small town in Haryana or Western UP to study in Delhi University will join their ranks, and along with the constable from Delhi Police will stand with them and not with the left elite from South Delhi. In any case, the left elite is content with its narrow social base, where it can remain busy appropriating slogans out of their historical context and turning them into meaningless sound bytes in between their annual summer trips to US or Europe. “Azaadi to bunk classes / get up late from bed”, huh? How harmless and cute could it get?

In the post-comintern world, left elite is the new vanguard – just as useless as the old vanguard. So yes, right-wing onslaught is a serious concern, and any resistance against it has my solidarity, but this is not my resistance. Any attempts to expand its social base will expose the farce that it is, just like “stand-with-JNU”. Neither can this meaningfully resist right-wing onslaught, certainly not with its narrow social base.

The vanguard – old or new – needs to be rejected. It is, and has always been, part of the problem, not the solution.

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R.I.P. Kenneth Arrow

Kenneth Arrow has been one of the most brilliant minds in the history of economics who laid the foundations of modern economic theory in areas as diverse as general equilibrium, financial economics, social choice, endogenous growth theory and information economics. Much of the modern economic theory on both when competitive markets work and when markets fail originates from his pioneering work in the 1950s. Similarly, the modern literature on political economy and social choice owes its origin to his famous impossibility theorem. His classic papers in 1950s and 1960s (which include some of my personal favorites) also laid the foundation for the Arrow-Debreu securities on which much of the literature on financial markets is based. But what I personally find particularly inspiring is how academically active he has been right till the end. One of his recent papers (a single-author paper) on financial crisis, building on his early work on financial economics in the context of global financial crisis shows just how brilliant he was even when he was well into his nineties. Even in 2016, he had been publishing quite prolifically on a wide range of topics!
The entire profession of economics as well as social science in general owes a major intellectual debt to him.

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On Jallikattu

An alternative perspective on Jallikattu. For me, though, the most persuasive (among many) argument against a ban would be that state should not take a moral /ethical position on a subjective issue like this, where alternative views / perspectives exist. Those concerned with animal welfare, whatever be the justification, are welcome to campaign for their position. But there must be a red line on where a state can interfere. Without such lines, there is no end to what the state can do to impose the hegemony of certain groups – tomorrow exactly the same argument might be made for the state to decide what one is allowed to eat / wear / read. It will set a precedent for an end of diversity of every kind.

Banning Jallikattu will decimate India’s cattles

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Authoritarians & tyrants unite!

Authoritarians and tyrants of the world are uniting. State power, including price controls and capital controls are part of their standard toolbox. It is for you to decide which side you are on, and your old cold war discourse of unipolar world / anti-imperialism will not help.
Demonetization in India is a disaster, but so it is in “anti-imperialist” dreamland of Venezuela. And so it was with the disastrous experiment of capital controls conducted by Syriza government last year in Greece. We need to recognize that.

Venezuela’s lunatic experiment

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Syria & Mainstream Left

Over the last few years the mainstream left discourse on Syria has remained either irrelevant or ridiculous. From backing the brutal Putin-Assad-Hezbullah to opposing humanitarian intervention it has aligned consistently with oppressors against almost everything it was supposed to stand for. Perhaps this is not very surprising given it’s own 20th century history – after all a genocide is only a logical culmination of the direction in which it has moved over last hundred years or so. But as one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history unfolds at the moment in Aleppo, it is high time for anyone who had ever become a leftist because of what it stands for in terms of equality or liberation of the oppressed to detach and disassociate from this left. This left stands for genocide in the name of opposing “unipolar world order”!

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Another note on left politics in India

It is interesting how “debates” or “disagreements” in traditional Leninist organizations get reduced to frivolities. Perhaps this is because they have grown up in a setup where discussions and debates are stifled and one is taught to parrot a pre-written script, killing their imagination and ability to think freely in the process. I have been watching with amusement how the “internal rift” in the largest left organization in India has shaped up over last few years. The narrative around the recent elections in West Bengal is a very good illustration of exactly how frivolous and meaningless these can get.

So, if some of these “rebels” trained in elite universities of this country are to be believed, the only reason CPM lost the recent elections in West Bengal is because they aligned with Congress. But wait – didn’t the demand for aligning with Congress come from cadres on ground? So what should have been the “correct” strategy for the party bosses sitting in Delhi? To hammer down the views of Marxist experts in elite universities of Delhi down the throats of workers, of course. That is exactly what left organizations have done throughout its (in)glorious twentieth century history since the emergence of Third International. And of course, needless to say, no other problem plagues the grand old “left” party except its alliance with Congress!

Not only is this view misleading (the problems with CPM are much deeper) but also a continuation of the same problem – an attempt to force down a decision from the top headquarters down to the cadres. In the recent WB elections at least the demand for alliance with congress came from the bottom, whether we like it or not. Ironically, even party “rebels” think that the only time the party listened to voices was its only mistake. This only shows that left organizations in India like CPM needs much deeper restructuring, and even some of CPM “rebels” are pretty clueless about this and have little more to offer than more of the same old top-down dogmatic monolith structures.

Does this mean that one should uncritically accept the decision of Party leadership? Of course not, and not just this decision but many other decisions, and not just because they lost an election. Of course, a member (no matter whether he or she is “prominent” or not) should not have been expelled for expressing differing views. Yes, there should be a discussion on differing understandings, in a free and fair atmosphere where a member is not expelled (or worse, physically threatened, as was the case in CPM’s heydays in WB) for differing with leadership. But my point is that in the absence of a fair discussion / debate, you cannot force a “right” decision down the throats of cadres, just because a group of enlightened Marxists from JNU thinks so. Doing so (or demanding to do so) is deeply anti-democratic, in addition to being counter-productive. The fact that not just the Party but even it’s “rebels” seem to think so shows exactly what is fundamentally wrong with the mainstream Indian left.

In fact, this debate is not new. In the history of left movement, this debate actually goes back to the First International, between Marx and Bakunin. Unfortunately, an entire generation of left activists and analysts grew up stifled by the Third International, which practically erased a large part of internal debates within the First and the Second Internationals. Those attempting to break free might do well to take a look at the rich legacy of discussions and debates which happened in the Marxist and anarchist history before the Third International decided to erase it entirely from the collective left memory.

There is, however, a more fundamental problem. Most mainstream left organizations in India are dominated by an elite class of professional politicians who dominate the decision making in these organizations. This elite group, by virtue of its social relations is closer to social elite in their community (which also controls other political organizations in the right and the center) than to workers on ground. Basically most of the Marxist elites in universities come from the same economic and social background (read: Hindu upper castes from privileged backgrounds, having access to education and other resources which other lesser mortals cannot afford) as any other social elite irrespective of their ideological position. So if left organizations have to be restructured, starting point must be an end to this domination by elite academics from universities and a greater decision making role to the workers on ground.

To cut a long story short, there is a need for politicization of workers on ground, which can only happen by disarming the elite professional political class which dominates the political discourse across the ideological spectrum. How can this happen? I can think of two ways. Firstly, a politics around social justice – in North India Kanshi Ram provided a good example of how this could be done. The elite dominated political landscape in states like West Bengal desperately needs this. Secondly, anti-politics, at least in urban areas could be a way forward. Think of Podemos in its initial days.

As an endnote, I am urging everyone in this discourse, both party and “rebels” to watch this excellent speech by Pablo Iglesias of Podemos. I believe I had shared this earlier, but it is certainly worth another watch. (If you want English subtitles, please switch on the subtitles by clicking on the icon for settings).

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