Surfeit of Secularism

The Left cannot get back what it has lost, some-what permanently—the leftist image. Today, the CPM-led Left
Front is hardly a progressive entity, having any meaningful agenda even to motivate middle class people—their traditional base—not to speak of workers and peasants. For all practical purposes it is no longer a platform of the aggrieved of the society. They always think in terms of winning elections or losing them. And they have no problem in compromising with communal forces and religious leaders in electoral battle while projecting themselves as the sole selling agents of secularism all the time! Their secular signboard has lost much of its shine. By locating communalism only in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that too vaguely, they are in reality strengthening the communal BJP. They cannot explain why communal forces are on the rise despite 'mushrooming of secular outfits'. Secularism is a misnomer in today's political culture. Very few people believe that the self-styled secularists could hardly thwart the advance of communalism without fighting it in its entirety. Then it is next to impossible to defeat majoritarian communalism by pampering minority communalism. Just on the eve of assembly polls in Bengal, there appears a secular front—'Indian Secular Front' much to the satisfaction of CPM-led Left Front. The so-called secular front has reportedly been promoted by some minority religious leaders of South Bengal to take on the ruling dispensation because they are not happy with them for reasons other than secularism. Rumour has it that this much publicised and yet less understood secular front has patronage of Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The top leader of this ‘secular outfit’ is an influential cleric of the Furfura Darbar Sharif of the Ahle Sunnatul jammat, an Islamic sect, located in Jangipara in Hooghly district, and presently he has a long list of followers in Bengal. CPM and its main poll partner in Bengal, Congress are making electoral alliance with this organisation to stop the saffron march. They are actually day-dreaming. In the hotly contested Bengal elections,   muslim  votes can make or break political fortunes of traditional parties. A minor swing in  the  muslim vote share towards the Left- Congress- ISF combine can make a huge difference in electoral outcome.  Then the swan song of secularism will continue!

For all practical purposes BJP is no longer a traders' party of North India. No doubt once it was. It is now the face of corporate India, both here and abroad. Communalism cannot be fought without fighting its economic base. The BJP administration is implementing Congress-scripted neo-liberal economic policies with all its adverse consequences. The Congress party which is in perpetual decline never questions BJP's economic agenda while half-heartedly criticising Modi's demonetisation and GST, occasionally.

By allying with Congress the Marxist Left thinks they could win a few seats here and there. For one thing CPM has a chequred history making deals with communal forces in Kerala and elsewhere. Once some stalwarts of CPM top leadership allegedly used to help the Akalis of Punjab prepare their programme, manifesto etc. Marxists were acting as secretaries of Akalis, possibly to strengthen secularism! One hopes the allegation was baseless.

Both Congress and BJP are in the same boat when it is the question of making 'Corporate India' the showpiece of India's progress or what they call India's development in terms of Sensex and billionaires. The people used to have faith in left parties so long as they were with the masses, organising mass movements, against oppression and repression. Whatever remains of secular space in rural Bengal is due to mass movements of toiling people organised by the left in yester years. Secularism without its economic content is meaningless. With so many secular parties or groups competing to corner minority votes BJP has nothing to lose as it would be easier for them to polarise majority votes. If more and more 'secularists' are in the fray it will only help BJP in the long run. Tragically enough, more and more supporters of Congress and CPM are switching their allegiance to the saffron camp. The reason is simple: their idea of secularism doesn't cut ice. Why the declared 'secularists' have so far failed to produce a powerful ideological narrative against the BJP remains unanswered.

'Tebhaga' movement is history. So is 'Telengana'. But glorifying Tebhaga or for that matter Telengana is one way to spread secular thinking. Communalism has still very little appeal to people living in areas that once witnessed peasant upsurge. The Left has not yet been able to define or re-define the peasant question, against the backdrop of massive on-going farmers' movement. They just react to spontaneity but spontaneity cannot give birth to lasting resistance. Meanwhile the historic farmers' movement has completed 100 days.

Fight against corporates means fight against communalism. Now peasants will be systemically evicted from their land. Previously, old land lords used crude force to wipe out poor and marginal farmers. And now corporate land lords are armed with laws to destroy them once and for all. They think Modi could deliver despite opposition by the so-called secularists.

Election comes and election goes but the puzzle of secularism remains. The secularists at worst dance to the tune of communalists without really hitting the target. They just play with the gallery to keep the victims of communal polarisation in good humour.


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Vol. 53, No. 38, Mar 21 - 27, 2021