An Inverted Satyagraha — Georgy Kuruvila Roy

The eminent English Literary Historian David Daiches, in his Critical History of English Literature, locates heroic poetry as the paradigmatic form enabling us to trace the life-world of the Anglo-Saxons (A period from the withdrawal of the Romans from England in 410 A.D to the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD). In a similar vein, one is almost tempted to ask, if the recent debates surrounding the Supreme Court’s allocation of cases and appointment of judges would enable us to locate the dominant life form or ideology sustaining our own societies.

In this regard the statement of the ex-CJI TS Takur to NDTV clearly hit the mark: “If a Judge rules against government, there will be consequences”. He was pointing to Joseph’s verdict to cancel Central rule in Uttarkhand in 2016. A similar form of governance was located by Sangeeta Kamat in her wonderful study of SHGs in Andhra Pradesh. For Kamat, this SHG mode of governance is based on “absolute consensus”, thereby foreclosing any form of “dissensus or antagonism” between the “State and the people”.

It would not be too much to say that these instances thus point towards a particular form in which the state and its apparatuses addresses/interpellates us in our times. This very form can be characterized as an ideology that addresses us by seeking us to be completely interpellated in it, that is, without any remainder.

It is here that psychoanalysis becomes almost inevitable towards any critique of ideology. For psychoanalysis, as the Slovenian philosopher Mladen Dolar has wonderfully shown, there can be no complete interpellation. In other words, every interpellation is incomplete, resulting in a left-over. Most importantly for psychoanalysis, it is in this left-over that the truth of any ideological edifice resides.

The eminent English satirist Jonathan Swift wonderfully stages this logic in his Gullivers Travels. After Gulliver is captured and imprisoned by the Lilliputtians, he gains the goodwill of the Emperor and asks him for his liberty. However, the Emperor tells him that this involves a long procedure one of which being allowing “proper officers” to search him to see if he carried any dangerous weapons. A rational request considering it might endanger the life of the little Lilliputtians to have such a huge man as Gulliver carrying weapons! However, Gulliver had no objection to this search. Nonetheless, he decided not to reveal “two fobs and another secret pocket” to the search party: not because he was carrying dangerous weapons in them but because “it had some necessaries that were of no consequence to any but myself” like a silver watch and a few gold coins.

In this precise sense, when the current ideology “leaves out” Justice Joseph and “does away” with dissensus/antagonism, is it not precisely saying that these are all insignificant matters that are of no consequence to them? Was not the murders of Kalburgi, Pansare and Lankesh obscene reminders of the same?

Any observer of recent Indian politics cannot miss the new catchword of the establishment whenever a protest happens. It always goes something like, the protestors/opposition is politicizing the issue. This phenomenon reached its pinnacle with the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s “Satyagraha” against farmers’ agitations. The interesting aspect of this Satyagraha was that he was agitating against the farmers who were in turn fighting against his own government’s imposition of a curfew in which six protesting farmers were killed in police firing. Unlike the Gandhian employment of Satyagraha against the ruling colonial power, here we see the ruling power itself employing Satyagraha so as to prevent any sort of politicization of the exploited. In other words, is it not saying that any form of politicization is “insignificant” and of no consequence to them?

A similar vein can also be observed in the contradictory statements that the establishment provided after the Kathua rape case. It ranged from a long silence to the ritualistic issuing of the catchword to an abstract affirmation of justice from the PM to the resignation of two ministers from the J&K Cabinet for participating in a rally demanding the release of the accused.

This ideological melodrama continued and reached its climax right after the reshuffling of the J&K Cabinet. Addressing the media, the new Deputy Chief Minister of J&K called it as a minor incident and the BJP state chief issued a statement saying that the cabinet reshuffling had nothing to do with the Kathua incident. This after the aforementioned resignation of two of its ministers and the inclusion of the Kathua MLA, who himself was part of the rally, into the new Cabinet.

Why this denial even after widespread protests? It is in this context that the New York Times’ Editorial on the Kathua incident hit the mark:

But these cases are not isolated examples of violence. They are part of an organized and systematic campaign by nationalist forces that want to terrorize women, Muslims, Dalits and other underprivileged citizens.

Isn’t this precisely why we feel that something is amiss even after justice was meted upon the criminals of Kathua? What remained undisturbed was the very structure that perpetuates this violence. In this context, a minimal change in the form in which we view these incidents is unavoidable. Rather than seeing such incidents as specific demands for rights and justice which the establishment however considers insignificant we should view each of them as a stand- in for the insignificance that the present ideology gives to democracy, equality and social justice. Such a conception does not negate these particular demands but humbly registers the impossibility of realizing such demands within our present system and turns them against it.

Kathua is thus not just an isolated example but a systemic leftover. The same goes for the farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradhesh, the Long March in Maharashtra, the nurses’ strike in Kerala, the Dalit strike in TISS against fee hike, the protests that were part of metoo, the domestic workers strike in Noida and many more.

A significant question arises here: Can we imagine a new political order that can deal with these issues concretely? This is where we reach the impasse of today’s politics and most precisely the limitation of blaming everything on the nationalist forces.

Two instances that occurred recently point towards the same: one, the violence committed on a couple by Metro commuters in Calcutta for getting “intimate” in public and the other, the upper castes in Uttar Pradesh forcing a Dalit to drink urine and beating him up. Why? Just because he refused to work for free for the landlords. These are not incidents committed under the name of any party, rather, they point towards the everyday social relationships that sustains our life-world or ideology.

It is here that the radical conception of the Communists and anti-caste leaders like Periyar and Ambedkar regain utmost significance. For them, it is not merely political power but radical change in the apolitical social relations that creates actual freedom. With elections getting ever closer, where we will all be plagued by the fantasies (to paraphrase the title of a book by Slavoj Zizek) of the cultural nationalists and the nationalist hataoists, isn’t this a lesson worth holding on to?

Georgy Kuruvila Roy, a PhD student at CSSSC, Kolkata, India.

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