The great Hindoo despot’s ruling during the pandemic time and a bleeding nation

Siddhartha Kumar Lahiri

‘The Hindoos have no history…no growth expanding into a veritable political condition…the morality which is involved in respect for human life is not found among the Hindoos’ – G.W. Friedrich Hegel in The Philosophy of History, pp. 150-163.
(By ‘Hindoo’ Hegel meant the Indians)

There used to be a great debate among modern historians, political scientists and activists about the societal character of the pre-colonial India. Main issue was whether the way European societies proceeded and were supposed to in the future from one stage to another (five broad stages- primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism and socialism) had validity for the Indian (or India like) societies or not. In the Hegelian scheme, history was essentially an account of progress. Caste structure of the Indian society was so tight-nit that anybody having birth in a particular family was pre-destined to become a person of the trait conforming the caste of that family. Thus, it was a repetitive circular existence (riti and parampara driven society). The land that was being possessed by the father would subsequently be transferred to the son and then to the grandson, so on and so forth. The way a shepherd is supposed to manage the flock of sheep, counting repeatedly, a despot managed the society with the help of his fierce dogs from the top. Marx, from his earlier readings on the Indian society and under the strong influence of Hegelian philosophy in his initial phase of studies on India, extended the idea in the realm of mode of production. For a subsistence economy having hardly any surplus, the forces of production were almost repetitive, generation after generation; relations of production were already having a fixed form due to the strong caste system. Thus, in his famous ‘Tribune’ article dated 22 July 1853, Marx observed, ‘Indian society has no history, at least no known history. What we call its history is but the history of successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society’. Prof. Irfan Habib had to struggle a lot to prove not only the falsity of this argument, he reinstated the universality of Marxism in one hand by showing systematically how Marx subsequently changed his earlier position and on the other hand by showing how medieval Indian society was capable enough to produce surplus, class formation, class struggle and its continuity1. In spite of the valiant effort by Prof. Habib, the concept of Asiatic mode of production and its product, the Asiatic societies did not vanish from the public discourse. Many versions of ‘genuine Indian-ness’, both of left and right shades, had their lineage with the understanding that was propounded within the framework of the Asiatic mode of production.

On 24th March, 2020 the great Hindoo despot said ‘Statue!’ to 1.3 billion people. The entire nation having all kinds of social and economic dynamics was supposed to freeze for the coming 21 days. [Remember what we used to play in our childhood days – one ‘curator’ and rest of the participants ‘Statues’. The curator, turning back, stands at one end of the field and all the statues at the other end of the field. As the game starts, statues run towards the back-faced curator. Once the curator faces the participants, they are supposed to be standstill. Those who cannot freeze instantly are disqualified. Curator can even verify the statues. However, during verification, statues at the back of the curator’s position can run to touch the person. Once that happens, respective positions alter- the earlier curator becomes the statue and the vice versa. For details, see:] The despot was always supervising through the TV screen, maan ki baat etc. and continuous assurances were aired – ‘You need not fear, wherever you are be statue there, maintain social distance, remain healthy and happy wearing a mask…’ That the despot was continuously watching was the most crucial part of the game. To make the monitoring more techno-savvy Arogya Setu App was added along with so many other arsenals of Apps already active. There was echo from the history- Indian society, a conundrum, made immobile by a caste structure, could be governed by only a despot…!! When the despot pleases to announce ‘Run!’, the nation runs; when HE announces ‘Lock-down!’ it freezes. Incidentally, the despot and his cohorts forgot completely the existence of a species called migrant workers who during prime television time remained mostly absent and were hardly considered darlings of the affable hosts. These workers did not evolve from the Asiatic mode of production. They are the basic constituents of the capitalistic mode of production. However, keeping these workers in a dehumanized condition of living, insecure and poor, they were rather forced to believe that they did not belong to the places where they worked. They were continuously reminded by the state apparatus, the administration, courts and police that they belong to the places from where they came and at certain points of time they must go back. This is not the democratic face of capitalism. This is definitely not a liberalized capitalism. It can definitely not be compared with the European or the American type of capitalism. This is a neo-feudal type of capitalism where in spite of its diminishing significance, land and the land-holders decide the fate of majority of the population. Lordship and subordination have a long chain, higher to lower. In this type of societies, even for the skilled industrial workers, the ultimate aspiration is to grab as much land as possible mostly in the villages of the origin of the workers. In their workplaces the supervisors behave like petty feudal lords over their subordinate workers, a cultural subterfuge linked to caste driven values. It happens particularly in those type of assembly line production systems which do not help to innovate; things are done mechanically having a continuous chant from behind – ‘Speed up! Speed up!’ The despot could build up a huge fifty-six inches chest size Mahabali stature among these workers because he promised during the election time everything to everybody. If he was Ram to somebody, he was Hanuman as well and under certain circumstances he could even reinvent himself as Ravana, all avatars in one person. With the help of a chain of bought up and botched up media houses, rigorous yoga and Patanjali made herbal products, he is steadfast in his mission to attain omnipotent-omniscient-omnipresent status. He made friendship with other despots of the world and any damn deals could be finalized by simple tweets.  The first lock down call was a grand success. What nobody in the world could dare, India did it. The second lock down call, in spite of hardships, with few exceptions, was eulogized by the media. The state, in the meantime was targeting all the democratic protesters and raising quarantine centers, the future concentration camps, as fast as possible. When the lock down was extended further, most of the metropolis of the modern India having scintillating shopping malls, neon lit fly-overs, beauty parlors, grand eateries, boozing bars, super-specialty hospitals and other promises of grand hospitality could not assure the large number of workers carrying the ‘migrant’ prefix tag about their minimum basic needs- roti, kapda, makan and some balance in the cellphones. They decided to go back from the promised ‘smart cities’ to the dilapidated dreams of Ram Rajya; from the capitalistic mode of production to the Asiatic mode. It was definitely not a conscious decision. They were in the dire straits. Their throats dried up, stomach empty, feet bleeding but they did not stop walking. After all, some of their ancestors participated in the great long march having of course a diametrically opposite goal and objectives. The question is can history in the reverse gear roll back? What mode of production the future India is supposed to transcend? The despot and his cohorts have declared doles for every worker. No work, no wages but doles for everybody. The workers have started bleeding profusely in all possible ways, internally as well as externally. Sanitizers are for external use only (Though one of the closest friends of the Hindoo despot, the white conservative Christian despot was suggesting to inject sanitizing fluids for the ‘ultimate purification’ of blood which in spite of a good business prospect horrified even the producers of sanitizers!). What about the internal hemorrhage? This is increasingly becoming clear that the despot is essentially a poster boy for a few Gujarat based cronies through which finance capital of the global corporate nexus is fast spreading in all sectors of the Indian economy. This corporate-crony-trader-bureaucrat nexus is in a hurry to usurp land-forest-mountains and all sources of water as quickly as possible. Mortgaging the nation at any price is the new mantra of the present political dispensation. That there is a systemic crisis is being openly said not by the radical political activists rather by those entrepreneurs who in spite of continuous non-cooperation from the red tapes of the bureaucracy are trying their best to produce products ‘Made in India’. A nouveau rich class of traders emboldened by the finance capital are fast entering into super profit-making sectors like drugs, arms and ammunitions, hydropower, diamonds and precious metals. They are also taking over the education sector. Small manufacturers, moderately big size factory owners are clueless. They don’t know how to pay the bank interest, electricity bills, salaries to their regular employees. The whole nation is bleeding like never before.

If the Indian society is essentially constituted of a non-changeable kernel, the Asiatic relations, any progress formula will come from above (Direct foreign investment, import of electronic gadgetries, fashion parades, macaroni, pasta, smart cities and other vista. In exchange, it will export workers having different degrees of skill, the modern slaves and of course the natural raw materials) and it will also be ruled by a despot from above. If the Hindoo despot is replaced by an orange or red monster, it hardly matters. This land, principally a place constituted of its majority people remaining in the villages, remains bonded to Hegelian doctrine. Kernel intact, no progress, no history. Or perhaps the modern India, the future India will only have its ‘history making’ business in the cities.

However, if our research suggests that the fear factor which tries to maintain Asiatic relations in the villages are boosted up by huge foreign grants and loans, a vast network of usury practices to keep the labor forces perennially bonded, the women power curtailed, contained and crushed brutally when situations arise by the same state  machinery which operates in the townships and the cities, then we have no other way but to read Prof. Irfan Habib more carefully. We need to correlate how behind every beautification scheme of cities, hundreds of villages in the periphery are forced to live Asiatic. Behind the colossal growth of every European or American empires, umpteen numbers of peripheral colonies were being forced to remain Asiatic.

When a nation bleeds, we have to be more sensitive towards the chained creative forces struggling every day, every moment in the agrarian relationships. A healthy baby will cry aloud to declare its new existence or it will be a steel borne miscarriage will depend largely on the organic intellectuals whether they are ready to challenge the Asiatic construct and the associated despots or not. The Hindoo despot’s ruling, total lockdown, terrorizing the common people by the police, increasing militarization of the police in the pretext of ensuring the lives of the citizens from a virus, mortgaging country’s natural resources to foreign capital etc. are not fragmented events. These events, in spite of their diverse manifestations are on the same page. The great despot’s ruling can be questioned only by expanding peoples’ democratic space by drastically changing land-holding relations, by generating agrarian surplus managed by incorruptible social institutions, by  developing peoples’ policing, encouraging women to hold the positions of leadership, replacing individual kitchens by community kitchens to ensure that no one remains unfed, develop a robust health care system dedicated to save every life. There is no point to debate whether the body that bleeds have pain or not, how bearable is the pain, can pain transform to anguish, do angry eyes revolt? More the trauma and mass misery, more numbers of colorful balloons will be seen floating in the air. Since time immemorial despots practiced voodoo cult. The days of political symbolism is over. Realpolitik demands confronting Asiatic nationalism from ground zero. The question is not what the real India is but the real issue is what it ought to be.   

  1. Irfan Habib, 1995. Essays in Indian History-Towards a Marxist perception, Tulika Books, New Delhi. See particularly the essays: ‘Problems of Marxist Historiography’(pp.1-13) and ‘Marx’s Perception of India’ (pp. 14-58)

Jul 8, 2020

 Siddhartha Lahiri

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