On Kanhaiya, 1984, 2002 and Fighting Fascism: Ayesha Kidwai

From Ayesha Kidwa’s facebook wall

I have no desire whatsoever to get caught in between the spats on 1984 vs 2002 (CPI vs CPI ML) but I think this has become important because the left really has to find a new way to having a conversation with each other if there is going to be united resistance against fascism (which is of primary concern here). It is absolutely correct that one has to have a proper understanding of the past, and that unity of intent to defeat the fascists cannot be created by agreeing to set aside differences, as such a unity will not last.

In the narrative thus far, it appears that it’s only Kanhaiya who had the wrong characterisation of 1984 vs 2002, then gave a ‘I have been misrepresented’ clarification, which many have not deemed satisfactory by many. I don’t agree, but not because I am rooting for Kanhaiya (I am also rooting for Shehla, for Richa, for Dontha Prashanth, for Kishlay, and the scores of other student leaders emerging across the country). Rather, there are many mistakes all around, as we are increasingly infected by a whataboutery discourse that involves very lazy uses of the term fascism. If we continue down this path, we shall not end up even recognising the monster that is upon us, let alone fighting it.

The corrective that is necessary is to consider critically our understanding of the exceptionalism of 1984 and 2002. In fact, whenever large scale communal violence has been organised, agencies of the state are heavily embedded in organising it. Anis Kidwai writes of the communal violence in Ajmer thus:

“People I met in the city told me of the build-up to the riots of 25 December 1947—the quarrel that began over the gramophone on 5 December, the convention of wealthy and educated insurgents in Kishangarh a few days later, the partisanship of the officials, and then on 14 December, the burning of seven persons alive. The food supply and rationing department played a vital role; information about the city layout, accurate maps of the neighbourhoods where Muslims lived, their population and numbers of their men and women, even their names, were all provided by the rationing officer to the goons. This information proved crucial for the rioters to plan and sustain their assaults on a wider scale than elsewhere.

And then on 25 December, the massacre of 5,000 humans, the plunder of homes and belongings. I was told the mobs were really assault battalions, comprising inhabitants of seven villages each. Here too (like Delhi) was news that cannons had been used, but this time the rioters had pressed them into service. Here too, a wealthy landowner was said to have raised his sword and two large village communities forced to become Hindus. The fervour shown in these attacks by the brave Rajputs on these villages of ‘Mughals’ and ‘Mirzais’ befitted ancient battles. As did the cruelty—a landowner ordered the massacre of unarmed, captive Muslims, which was accomplished in a trice.”

This ‘grammar’, if you will, of pogrom-matic violence (terrifying as it is) in my view, is not fascist in itself, as fascism lies in the goals that such violence is oriented to — the installation of a totalitarian regime that can freely use such violence as necessary to forge ‘national unity’ behind one party, one leader. That’s what differentiates 1947, 1984 from 2002, and not the identity in the suffering of the victims or in the complicity of state machinery. The great betrayal of the Congress is that it has, particularly since Indira Gandhi’s time, cynically created a security machinery that can easily be bent towards the needs of a totalising regime.

I am absolutely sure that all the Left parties make this important distinction between 1947, 1984 and 2002, so the question for me is why in correcting Kanhaiya’s clumsy formulation of this difference, why the Left has not sought to explain to him what the correct understanding of the distinction is? Surely, an understanding of what fascism is essential to our armoury.

If we do not understand what fascism is, we shall just be unable to fathom the connection between the imposition of Presidents rule in state after state, the beef lynchings, the internet trolls, the suspension of Dr. Bhattacharji, the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, the incarceration of student leaders, the attempts to cancel Richa Singh’s admission, and the hundreds of other things we don’t even know are happening. In each of these, there is an unambiguous role of one or the other arm/instrument of the state is being perverted. While such perversion has been ‘normalised’ by decades of Congress misrule, the important point is that all these perversions are now being carried out IN COMPLETE CONCERT, directed to a SINGLE goal of totalitarian control by one leader, one party.

If solidarities are to be achieved in the face of this terrifying reality, they must be built on a common understanding of fascism. I do not think that the Congress is capable of such an understanding at all, and even less so in acting upon it, but I think the Left does, and it MUST engage in a conversation that is deeper than the superficial issues of tactics.