Thursday, July 29, 2010

My, My!!

Opinions are often merely worth a dime a dozen(yes, I also write a blog) and those who work for newspapers and write in them ought above all to be conscious of this fact while spouting their infinite wisdom for the benefit of unsuspecting readers. That it does not happen, sadly enough, is yet again proved by an opinion piece that appeared in The Telegraph today which mocks CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat's usage of the term "my party".
Part pop-psychology, part senseless nitpick and all selective citation of history, the article harps on and on about why Karat uses the word my. Now any sane person who has talked to communists from anywhere in India would know that activists from your average SFI enthusiast to hard-core workers use the phrase "my party" without presuming, one hopes, to own the party. But let's take away the personal experience element and refer to the journalist's bible..fact!
A random search on google for 'my party' reveals quite a few uses of the dreaded 'my' with reference to communist parties. There is a John Boyden from Ontario, a candidate for the communist party, who uses the word "my party". An article on socialism in the United States refers to a slogan that went "My Party, right or wrong, my Party!”.
And oops..
"..We have much better historical justification in saying whether it is right or wrong in certain individual concrete cases, it is my party.... And if the Party adopts a decision which one or other of us thinks unjust, he will say, just or unjust, it is my party, and I shall support the consequences of the decision to the end."
That was err...Leon Trotsky and that too at a time when he was losing hold over the organisation. Not Stalin I admit, but still...
But facts aside, what sickens one in the article is the unbelievable smugness that permeates the article which rests on basically..nothing!

For instance:
"Many believe that he forces his own views on the party and often transgresses the party’s injunction to lead a simple life. These are the perceptions, and without access to the secret archives of the CPI(M), I am not even suggesting that they are necessarily true.But Mr Karat’s description of the CPI(M) as “my party” only confirms, in a bizarre way, the general impression about his arrogance and the suspicion that he runs the party according to his own whims and fancies"

"Many believe"? "General impression"? "Secret archives"? And in between, the arrogant "I am not even suggesting.."
There is of course, the typical psycho-analytical babble about illusions of control and so on. I am surprised there was no reference to a Mr. Karat's possible hatred of his father.
Now I am not arguing that Prakash Karat is not an arrogant man or that he is the leader of India's greatest party. All I am wondering is how an individual who gets the opportunity to analyse an issue in a newspaper chooses to do so in such a flimsy, baseless way while trying to give the impression of sounding 'intellectual' and sarcastic(?). I realise opinion journalism(as the name would suggest) ought to give space for opinions but does that mean someone gets to air the journalistic equivalent of a cheap party trick in a nationally respected newspaper? It's something to think about, I guess, while we all(including I myself) whine about the decline of standards of the Indian media.
Funnily enough, the author jeers at Mr. Karat's learning Marxism "at the feet of Victor Kiernan"and his being trained in"the Stalinist school of falsification". Funnily enough, Professor Victor Kiernan left the Communist Party in 1959 apparently disgusted at the 1956 suppression of the riots in Hungary by Soviet Russia, which I think, would qualify in the world of the author, as a Stalinist tactic. But of course, one would have to do a basic fact-check to find that out...Sigh.

P.S. I have deliberately not referred to the identity of the author or his politics or his past record so that I could in an 'anti-postmodern' sort of way, merely focus on the article.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Socialism?? duh

The Supreme Court recently 'dismissed as withdrawn' a petition by an NGO challenging the insertion of the word 'socialist' in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, terming it a mere academic matter. It seems the court used the term 'academic' in the sense of nobody relevant (read political parties) having raised it at this point of time.
Now all we can do is merely speculate the relevance of the term socialism in the Preamble. Ignore the fact that India's largest company, largest bank, largest steel producer etc etc are all state-owned; one could hope that the word would be retained to at least give students a faint glimpse of the time when our national priorities seemed a bit different. But, says the NGO which filed the petition, market reforms mean that expecting political parties to swear to uphold socialism is a mere dichotomy.
Now this implies that a certain vision that animated the use of the word socialism is bankrupt merely because of 20 years of reforms Would such an approach also imply that there should be no ban on child labour simply because we have failed to eradicate it over 63 years? Obviously not. Thus, the point the petition seeks to make is that socialism no longer occupies any place in the 'national consensus'; that we have reached a stage where socialism is no longer one of those goals which we aspire to, despite our innumerable failures to attain it.
The constitution of a country is not a mere rule book. True, it is a site of contestation. But one would hope the contestation is towards a greater aim, a nobler society. Socialism means a lot of things to a lot of people but no one can deny it seeks greater egalitarianism and a greater role for the collective in deciding the future of their labour. That such an aim, no matter the ways to achieve it, would not be part of a constitution seems a very blinkered way of perceiving the future of a county.
On a related note, there has long been a contention that India has lacked a conservative movement on par with those in the west. Two decades after the economic reforms it would seem that what we call civil society, comprising a variety of(though not all) NGOs have emerged as the torch-bearers of conservative ideology. Products of and truly indebted to the LPG wave, favouring the limited role of the state in economic and administrative affairs and against any radical overhaul of the economic and social foundation, they seem to best embody the limited-government principles of the conservative movement. This petition, while insignificant in its own right, is a small pointer to the solid emergence of this movement.

PS. The crowning irony of course, is that legal eagle Fali. S. Nariman, arguing the case for the NGO, cited Ambedkar's opposition to the introduction of socialism. Yes, ignore the rest of that man's voluminous and often beautifully curt writing about a host of issues including caste and pick up that bit about socialism!