With normalcy returning to Nandigram, and with the heat
generated over it in intellectual circles somewhat subsiding,
it is time for us to ask the question: why did so many
intellectuals suddenly turn against the Party with such
amazing fury on this issue?
This question is important because joining issue with
them on the basis of facts on the specificities of Nandigram,
which is what we have been doing till now, is not enough.
It is not enough for instance to underscore the fact,
implicitly or explicitly denied by virtually all of
them, that thousands of poor people were driven out
of their homes into refugee camps for the only "crime"
of being CPI(M) supporters; it is not enough to argue
against them that there was no semblance of an excuse
for keeping Nandigram out of bounds for these refugees
and for the civil administration even after the Left
Front government had categorically declared that no
chemical hub would be built there; it is not enough
to point out that the so-called "re-occupation"
of Nandigram in November was an act of desperation which
followed the failure of every other effort at restoring
normalcy and bringing the refugees back to their homes.
All these facts and arguments have been advanced at
length, and are by now passé. But the phenomenon
of several intellectuals who till yesterday were with
the Left in fighting communal fascism but have now turned
against it requires serious analysis.
There is no gainsaying that the Left Front government
made serious mistakes in handling the Nandigram issue;
and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has said so in as many words.
But disagreement with the LF over this could have taken
the form of friendly criticism, articles, and open letters,
and not of such outright hostility that even put the
LF on a par with communal fascism. Likewise disagreements
over the LF’s industrialization policy could have been
aired in a manner that had none of the ferocity which
has been recently displayed. Differences with the LF,
even basic differences, therefore cannot suffice as
an explanation of what we have just witnessed.
Likewise, the fact that most of these intellectuals
are in any case strongly anti-organized Left, especially
anti-Communist (and in particular anti-CPI(M)), belonging
as they do to the erstwhile "socialist" groups,
to NGOs, to the ranks of Naxalite sympathizers, to the
community of "Free Thinkers", and to various
shades of "populism", would not suffice as
an explanation. After all, despite this basic hostility
to the organized Left, they did make common cause with
it on several issues till recently. Why is it suddenly
so different now?
The context clearly has changed. With the perceived
decline in the strength of the communal fascist forces,
a certain fracturing of the anti-communal coalition
was inevitable and has happened, and this no doubt provides
the setting in which it becomes possible for these intellectuals
to express in the open the hostility which they might
have felt all along against the Left. Indeed, this perceived
weakening of the BJP may even encourage attempts, on
the part of intellectuals hostile to the Left but aligned
to it earlier owing to the pressure of circumstances,
at establishing a sort of intellectual hegemony over
society at large at the expense of the Left. But while
the recession of the communal fascist threat certainly
creates the condition for these intellectuals to come
out openly against the Left, the manner of their coming
out cannot be explained only by this fact. It indicates
something more serious, namely the process of destruction
of politics that the phenomenon of globalization has
The crux of political praxis consists at any time in
distinguishing between two camps: the camp of the "people"
and camp hostile to the interests of "the people".
This distinction in turn is based on an analysis of
the prevailing contradictions, and the identification
of the principal contradiction, on the basis of which
the composition of the class alliance that constitutes
the camp of "the people" is determined. And
corresponding to this constellation of classes, there
is a certain constellation of political forces among
whom relations have to be forged. It is obvious that
the relationship between the political forces representing
the classes that constitute the camp of the people at
any time, and the nature of criticism among these forces,
must be different from the relationship and criticism
across camps. Not to distinguish between the camps,
not to distinguish between alternative constellations
of political forces, but to club them together on the
basis of the identical nature of their presumed moral
trespasses, is to withdraw from politics. What is striking
about the attitude of the intellectuals arrayed against
the organized Left at present is their complete withdrawal
from the realm of political praxis to a realm of messianic
Such messianic moralism is not just politically counter-productive.
The withdrawal from the realm of politics that it signifies,
strengthens politically the camp of the "enemies
of the people". (In India for instance the attack
inspired by messianic moralism that has been launched
on the organized Left at a time when the latter is in
the forefront of an extremely crucial but difficult
struggle against the attempt of imperialism to make
India its strategic ally, weakens that struggle, and
thereby plays into the hands of imperialism). But messianic
moralism, quite apart from its palpable political consequences,
is smug, self-righteous, self-adulatory, and, above
all, empty. An attitude that does not distinguish between
types of violence, between the different episodes of
violence, that condemns all violence with equal abhorrence,
that places on a footing of equality all presumed perpetrators
of violence, amounts in fact to a condemnation of nothing.
To say that all are equally bad is not even morally
This messianic moralism, this withdrawal from politics,
is based fundamentally on a disdain of politics, of
the messy world of politics, which is far from being
peopled by angels. It constitutes therefore a mirror
image of the very phenomenon that it seeks to resist,
namely the "cult of development" spawned by
neo-liberalism. Manmohan Singh says: politics is filthy;
rise above politics; detach "development"
from politics. The anti-Left intellectuals say: politics
is filthy; rise above politics; detach the struggle
against "development" from politics.
This disdain for politics, this contempt for the political
process, is what characterizes substantial sections
of the middle class in India today. It is visible in
the absolute opposition of the students of elite institutions
to the legislation on reservations passed unanimously
by parliament. It is visible in the persistent resort
to the judicial process to overturn decisions of legislatures,
and the exhortations to the judiciary to act as a body
superior to the elected representatives of the people.
This middle class contempt for politics and politicians
is apparent in the rise of movements like "Youth
For Equality" that make no secret of it and whose
avowed aim is to combat "affirmative action"
which they consider to be the handiwork of "opportunist"
The rise of messianic moralism is a part of the same
trend, which is nothing else but a process of "destruction
of politics". Middle class moralism upholds causes,
not programmes. It flits from cause to cause. And it
apotheosizes the absence of systematic political alliances.
Some may call it "post-modern politics", but
it amounts to a negation of politics.
Messianic moralism always has a seductive appeal for
intellectuals. To avoid systematic partisanship, to
stand above the messy world of politics, to pronounce
judgements on issues from Olympian moral heights, and
to be applauded for one’s presumed "non-partisanship",
gives one a sense of both comfort and fulfillment. This
seductive appeal is heightened by the contemporary ambience
of middle class disdain for politics which the phenomenon
of globalization, subtly but assiduously, nurtures and
The answer to the question with which we started, namely
why have so many intellectuals turned against the Left
with such fury, lies to a significant extent in the
fact that this fury against the Left is also fed by
a revolt against politics. The revolt against the CPI(M)
is simultaneously a revolt against politics. The combination
of anti-communism with a rejection of politics in general
gives this revolt that added edge, that special anger.
It is the anger of the morality of the "anti-political"
against the morality of the "political", for
Communism, notwithstanding its substitution of the "political"
for the "moral", has nonetheless a moral appeal.
The venom in the anti-Left intellectuals’ attack on
the Left comes from the fact that this struggle, of
the "morality of the anti-political" against
the "morality of the political", takes on
the character of a desperate last struggle, a final
push to destroy the latter, since "our day has
come at last!".
Ironically it was a group of US-based academics led
by Noam Chomsky who sought to introduce a political
perspective to the anti-Left agitation of the intellectuals
on Nandigram. It is they who pointed out that in the
anti-imperialist struggle, which is the defining struggle
of our times (the struggle around the principal contradiction),
the organized Left was an essential component of the
camp of the "people", and that nothing should
be done to disrupt the unity of the camp of the "people".
But the response of the anti-Left intellectuals to the
injection of this political perspective was a barrage
of attacks on Chomsky et al for taking a "pro-CPI(M)"
position. A political position ipso facto was identified
as a "pro-CPI(M)" position. There could be
no clearer proof of the proposition that the revolt
of the intellectuals against the Left was simultaneously
a revolt against politics, a disdain for politics that
has become so prevalent a phenomenon in the era of globalization
that it affects as much the proponents of globalization
as its avowed critics. In fact these critics and the
votaries of imperialist globalization share in this
respect the same terrain of discourse.
The hallmark of the organized Left lies precisely in
the fact it rejects this terrain of discourse, that
it accords centrality to politics, that it does not
substitute an abstract Olympian moralism for concrete
political mobilization. It is for this reason therefore
that the Left’s attitude to these intellectuals must
be informed by politics; it cannot be a mirror image
of their attitude to the Left.