The shameful ‘progressives’


The recent storm in a Tata teacup over the Noam Chomsky event at the Tata Lit Live festival exposes the shallowness of the Western Left-liberal celebrities’, the Indian institutionalised Left’s and the Indian liberal lit fest establishments commitment to the oppressed in equal measure.

What was Noam Chomsky thinking when he accepted the invitation from the Tata Lit Live Fest whose organisers are oppressive corporates who, as the activists who wrote to him asking him to withdraw put it, have “a long history of forceful displacement, human rights violations and environmental plunder”? Is Chomsky unaware of the long, sordid history of the Tatas?

That would seem unlikely as his interlocutor, CPM diasporic intellectual Vijay Prashad had got Chomsky to sign a letter in 2007 on behalf of his hypocritical party at the height of the Nandigram protests which met with terrible violence from the CPM opposing the protests and accusing the protestors of splitting the Left, among other absurdities. Activists had then written to Chomsky (as they did now) informing him of the ground realities and not the CPM’s version of reality . Once bitten (Chomsky had withdrawn his name from the Nandigram letter), surely he should have not accepted to be part of the Prashad-CPM’s long-standing love affair with the Tatas?

Who did Vijay Prashad (and Chomsky) think they were fooling with their mealy-mouthed response to the activist appeal to Chomsky by claiming that they would go ahead with the event but criticise corporate greed in general and the Tatas in particular at the event? Or adding in their statement later that they agreed because they thought the themes of the book required the widest circulation even though they had reservations about the sponsors

What were Prashad and Chomsky smoking when they expressed doubts about whether their being kicked off the festival once the exchange with the activists came to light was a sign of censorship? What else could it be? Did they actually believe that the Tata Lit Live Fest would allow a panel to trash the Tatas?

Finally, does Anil Dharker think we are as foolish as he is to believe that his lit fest is about the “free expression of ideas, not a free expression of someone’s specific agenda.” . All ideas are agendas, Mr. Dharker, just like your decision to kick Chomsky-Prashad off the programme betrays an agenda, an agenda to protect your sponsors.

Dharker bizarrely claims that he will not comment on Chomsky’s-Prashad’s reasons for criticising the Tatas. These reasons obviously mean nothing to him even as he claims with box-ticking bravado that the festival had panels on Dalits, sexual minorities, rape, democracy, disability and health care, among other things. Clearly, what the Tatas do to Dalits and adivasis and their lands is not the issue, the rape of women by corporate-sponsored goons is not an issue, the democratic rights of tribals is not an issue, adivasi health is not an issue nor is their being rendered disabled by all kinds of violence on their bodies and livelihoods.

It is really difficult to say who is the worst of these three offenders and their constituencies: Chomsky (international, progressive, anarchic Leftism), Prashad (national and international CPM) or Dharker (Liberal Lit fest tossers). What all three betray is a lack of concern with the realities on the ground of the relations between oppressors and the oppressed, a wilful disregard of their complicity with the oppressors, even as all three claim to be speaking for/on behalf of/showcasing the voiceless. As Hannah Arendt reminds us in her famous essay ‘Lying in Politics’, progress is used by the people in power to deny the continuation of oppression.

If this is the state of the ‘progressive’ Left and Liberals, who needs the Right?

Dr. Ashley Tellis is an academic



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