Confrontations And Scope Of Identity Politics: Observations On Left Politics Of JNU And Kerala


Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is the third best university ranked by HRD (Human Resource Development) ministry in India. Apart from its academic contributions, JNU recently got international and national attention due to the trail of incidents related to the arrest of some of its students under sedition charges. JNU has been portrayed by the left inclined writers and the left leaning media as the last hope against the right extremist government and their neoliberal education polices. Movement after the suicide of Rohith Vemula (Dalit scholar in Hyderabad University) also strengthened the massive protest against HRD minister ,which saw the active participation of and dalit and Muslim student organizations. In these resistances, unity of subaltern and left students groups was clearly visible. However in the recently concluded JNU Campus election of 2016, this unity of left and subaltern student groups like Birsa- Ambedkar- Phule Students Association (BAPSA), United Dalit Student front (UDSF) etc. was not visible. Left alliance of SFI (Student Federation of India) and AISA (All India Student Association) won all the seats and ABVP faced massive defeat.

In 2016, in Kerala, left parties under the leadership of CPM (Communist Party of India- Marxist) won the election and it was celebrated as the resistance against Hindu extremist group and was considered as the safeguard of the rights of Dalits and Muslims from the BJP rule. However, left organizations in kerala, has historically taken a conscious position to keep distance with the Muslim organizations and has failed to make any political alliance with the Dalit and Muslim organizations. In Kerala, before the legislative election, left lenient writers, artists conducted a public event called as ‘human gathering’ in the aftermath of Dadri lynching. Beef festivals and other kind cultural protests were conducted continuously by the left lenient activists and artists to resist fascism, mainly against the RSS. However Dalit and Muslim organisations were excluded from the event. As a reactionary outcome, a parallel event named ‘inhuman gathering’ against fascism was organized by the Dalit and Muslim organizations. This incident raised the question of inclusiveness of so called class politics to accommodate identity based organizations. It also indicated the failure of Indian left social-democrats to address the caste dimension over the class interpretation of society. CPM claims to be a champion of Dalit rights and on the other side, they also commit atrocities on Dalits like burning of auto rickshaw of Dalit woman Chitralekha, violence against the Chengara tribal struggle for land. When left is powerful they use violence or force to oppress the Dalit movements. Left dominant campuses, left student wings, especially SFI, uses the violence to oppress the dissents or new campus movements.

In left dominant areas in south Kerala, left parties are not allowing the caste organization to function. Left parties adopt the strategies of breaking up community based organizations and hence create new puppet organizations like SC/ST welfare organization. Among the privileged left intelligentsia, writing of Dalit organic intellectuals is labelled as the result of caste inferiority and they questions the intelligence or qualification to stand in mainstream discourse. Earlier, left parties rejected the role of caste organization in the process of social formation, presently they are using caste icons like Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyankaali, Chattambi Swamy in their party conventions. For claiming the paternity of achievements attained by the Dalits in the process of social reformation through various means, left historians and writers evicted the role of caste organizations and resistance within the various communities. Historically, left parties has opposed caste reservation and favored reservation on the basis of economic condition. During the Mandal agitation time, especially CPM has proposed economic reservation to the poor from higher castes.

In a campus, when left is weak and if there is presence of strong Dalit Bahujan movements, left are opportunistically in solidarity with these movements and raise the slogan of Neel Salaam (Blue salute) with Laal Salaam (Red salute) Left always take the credit of winning by propagating it as a successful resistance of left against right wing groups. It was witnessed in recent conducted Hyderabad Central University election. If left organizations are powerful, they are not initiating any solidarity with identity based groups and hence no place for Neel Salaam. Like left parties in Kerala, JNU leftists are also adopting the same strategy to oppress the subaltern up rise and intelligentsia by calling hate politics of caste and religion in a traditional secular, democratic and liberal campus. Campus without the caste and religious identities is a dream of middle class- urban liberal students. Middle and urban class always claim the agency of oppressed groups and they are reaping the benefits in practical politics by using the images and identity of oppressed groups.

The result of JNU election is the outcome of panic created among the students on RSS and state intervention in campuses. As proclaimed by the left front, resistance against the raising Hindu right fascist rule. Another positive outcome of this election was the mass failure of ABVP. The rise of BAPSA is an equally important point to observe. It shows the rise of the distinct subaltern intelligentsia from the traditional left intellectuals, who are self-proclaimed apostles of subaltern movements; like peasants, Dalits etc. JNU election witnessed the political unity of Muslim and Dalits as it has been witnessed in the Una movement in Gujarat. The failure to capture the political power, rise of BAPSA as the second force may act as a catalyst for subaltern movements on the campuses. It also reveals that class politic suppresses or divides the subaltern movement in a state or campus where left organizations are powerful.

An analysis of the left politics and election in JNU and Kerala, proves that ideology based on class, obstructs the growth of new subaltern movements focus on identity. Urban and middle class intellectuals are patronizing and claiming the agency of Dalit, Muslims and they are making benefits in electoral politics. In the contemporary political atmosphere of right extremists, solidarity between the leftists and new subaltern originations is vital. The Una uprising in Gujarat proved the possibility of groups with similar background and interest coming together for a common cause. Even in the different compartments of class and identity politics, seeking the possibility of solidarity for common Cause is inevitable for the development of subaltern class.

Aneesh T V is a Research Scholar at Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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