Lots of people on social media these days find some solace in laughing at this right-wing trope of “if not Modi then who?”. I suppose we all need an escape from this morbidity, and finding humour is good. But at a deeper level we are witnessing the harrowing results of leaving such questions unaddressed or ambiguous. Alternatives, among the upper-caste intellectual class, seem to be a crisis of the imagination.
Some of the blame for this rests with an emerging West-borrowed, nonsensical discourse that shits on political parties. This carefully inculcated aesthetic performance of “I’m political” or “I’m a political artist”, but “I hate political parties, they’re all corrupt” is rampant across numerous spheres of anglicised civil society. India is neither a two-party system nor a monolingual polity (yet). What will it take for upper caste liberals and leftists to say some actual names without being ironic or roundabout? “Anybody” isn’t an answer. It’s understood that you don’t like saying Mayawati, Stalin, Lalu, Deve Gowda, Jagan, Thackeray etc. Say something at least no? Rahul Gandhi, Mamta Banerjee, Shashi Tharoor, Yechury, somebody?
If you self-identify as “political”, at least have the spine to identify — however loosely — with a party. Complement your sanctimoniousness with a little accountability. Say openly that you like the Communists, that you accept that they have been/are casteists and that you would like to change that. Say that you like the Congress because they are the lesser evil, take the insults to your face, and see how it can be resolved. Proclaim you’re an AAP supporter, and debate us on why they are better for dispossessed people than “caste based parties”. But if you run away from it all, how can I know what you’re actually committed to in the name of “a better world”?
I’m unapologetic about the parties I support. Purely ideologically, they are the DMK and the BSP, in that order. They constructed mass bases by cycling village to village, listening to people’s problems and inspiring them to contribute whatever pennies they could to build an organisation to fight all the righteous upper-caste wokes’ feudal grandparents. Do they have problems? Of course. Today, they are facing endemic and structural crises, precipitated by deeper faultlines in the system: first-past-the-post, clunky administrative categories, skewed federalism, money, media and muscle power. These combined assaults have forced these — and other similar ideological outfits — to transition, as D Shyam Babu writes, from “social justice to caste mobilisation to a sub-caste concern to a family business”. Nonetheless, I find their ideological foundations and premises workable with, and not totally irreconcilable. Further, to abandon a party whose ideology most resembles yours is to concede completely the powerful reins of the state to the hands of genocidaires. To borrow a turn of phrase from the postcolonialists, the power of the state may be terribly inadequate but it remains, for many, hopelessly indispensable.
In the state that I’m registered to vote — Karnataka — I vote for the JDS. They are a party of arrogant, narrow-minded, overripe feudal lords. They are pathetically parochial and I suffer from no delusions about their positions vis-à-vis Karnataka’s dalit, adivasi, or non-Kannada speaking populations. But for me, they can never be as bad as the two “national” parties at the pure level of ideology. In their completely stubborn and borderline idiotic regionalism, they will still, by sheer accident, always be more secular, more anti-caste, more humane, more anti-Brahminical and more progressive a force than the Congress, and by extension, the BJP. From the way I interpret my location, from my limited understanding of history, political geography, identity, class, caste and sectarianism (as well as some consideration on the pragmatism of winning and losing an election), it will never make sense not to vote for them over those two.
Shitting on political parties is part of a global aestheticisation of radicalism, powered by the excessive enrolment of a globalised elite into liberal arts degrees that peddle reductive, unimaginative, West-centred versions of history. It is now simply a trend for a class that has transcended (with the help of their own political parties) the effects of the way capital and power is globally distributed, and have therefore moved on to virtue signalling. The “political” people who are dismissive of parties think politics is a $14.95 Rosa Luxembourg tote bag with a $20 Noam Chomsky book inside. Abandoning political parties is abandoning the only vehicle through with you can express a vision on public policy, infrastructure allocation, the way social services are rationed, the punitive power of the state, the values at the core of public life. All your fave commie poets were, for the most part, card-carrying members of political parties.
Politics, unfortunately, is investment and not aesthetic. If you want to beat the RSS, you have to invest — physically, emotionally, monetarily, mentally, organisationally in a “political” project the way they have. Your existential poetry or sardonic memes are good — even useful in helping us all retain a little humanity — but ultimately limited if not part of a wider commitment. If you signal as “political”, offer some transparency on which parties you think are workable with and why. If you don’t know, then figure. If possible, maybe commit to them.
Stop shitting on parties. It’s easy. Be better.