Not a CIA agent but a Red-Baiter

Ravi Kumar

One can have criticisms of the way Indian Left has not defended the cause of the working class. But such a criticism could come only from someone committed to the working class struggle. However, there are many other forms of criticisms too. One such criticism has recently been forwarded by Ramachandra Guha, a respected intellectual.

A self besotted concluding line that “I run the risk of being labelled a CIA agent” demonstrates how Ramachandra Guha, in an Independence Day special issue of the magazine Outlook, operates within the discourse of labelling and counter-labelling. In the whole article he has not posed anything beyond the commonsensical right-to-centre arguments against the communist left, which we heard during the recent parliamentary discussions on the “Confidence Motion” – because the left and the right were opposing the same motion, hence they are the same.

Critiquing the politics of the Left after understanding its sources – the material conditions which gives rise to a certain form of politics – is another thing and making superficial and immature remarks is something else. His ‘analysis’ finds similarity with the superfluous analysis that we come across in favour of market, and the ideology that sustains and perpetuates the domination of market. He picks up statements and incidences and does a hasty analysis of the ‘apparent’.

In this piece what Guha does is that he makes far-reaching comments on the Indian Left as well as the Right. Often he equates the two by showing them as ultimately sharing similar understanding about the West or on issues such as culture.

He finds the Right and the Left talking in the same language and sums it up by saying that “There are statements issued by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch that could have come straight from the pages of People’s Democracy” (p.64). While commonality of opposition to liberalisation is understood, but one needs to understand the vantage point from which both the political forces approach the issue of liberalisation of Indian economy.

A general comment often made is that Indian left unreasonably attacks the West and it has been seen once again in the recent opposition to the nuclear deal. Guha advances such an argument when he conclusively points out that: “At any rate, the thinkers and activist of the Hindu Right and the Communist Left are united in thinking that the bulk of India’s problems were created or caused by the West”. Once again he fails to locate the analysis put forth by the Left in its opposition to imperialism or rampage by neoliberal capital. He forgets that its opposition, in most of the cases, have emerged against capitalist expansionism.

He tells us that the “for the Left, their political models too are wholly western – Marx and Engels and Lenin were as European as they come. Besides, their political practice has often been tailored to the needs of foreign (if not necessarily western) powers…” One cannot restrain oneself from calling this a slogan-mongering very similar to that of the rabid Right against the “Un-Indian” communist left.

The arguments of Guha emanate from the same place as the justifications for sustaining and expanding the rule of capital. He celebrates the spirit of individualism and fractures the system to pick up analytical categories that would further the idea that it is not the current order of things and its inherent character that creates problems but rather some components of the system. Hence, neoliberal capitalism never becomes responsible for growing inequality or widening income disparity, or it is not the global capitalism’s dynamics operationalised through its various agencies that sustain inequities and design ways and means to sustain capitalism in his argument. Flaws are attributed to individual Indians, individual ministers etc., who are not seen as influenced by others but rather seen as autonomous agents, who carry out actions on their own.

In fact his elitist (school-boyish) trivialization of arguments against neoliberal commodification is very typical – he opposed the Miss World contest because “cricket-illiterate young women” were seen in his favourite cricket ground. Further, “Indian classical music is now more popular than it was before liberalisation. The arrival of kfc has been contemporaneous with a rise in demand for tandoori chicken.” And Guha is satisfied.

Ultimately, Ramachandra Guha runs the risk of being labelled one among many trivial red-baiters, not a CIA agent. But we know he hardly cares…


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