All opinion polls put the BJP well in front, within reach of power. So, many opportunists are stampeding to climb onto the BJP bandwagon, not just politicians but generals, business and intellectuals (like the highly mobile Prof MGK Menon). I am amused. To me, this proves that what used to be called a national consensus in the heyday of the Congress was no more than opportunists riding the Congress bandwagon.
However, some others are outraged by the new respectability of the BJP. In this newspaper, a Marxist columnist recently declared that all intellectuals had a duty to warn citizens of the dangers of communalism. There is little more than arrogance to support the notion that Praful Bidwai is an intellectual but KR Malkani is not, or that it is intellectual for Ashok Mitra to advocate Stalinism but not for Ashish Nandy to advocate ‘hindutva’. From my viewpoint, both sides are have intelligent and well-read stalwarts; both are communal (one of the basis of religion and the other on the basis of class); both have blood on their hands; both espouse a special path to salvation on extremely dubious grounds. I dare say their opinion of me is no higher than mine of them. So be it. As a liberal, I espouse the rights of the individual, the right of every person to dissent with dignity from group views, the right to live without fear of being imposed on by group tyrannies parading as moral crusades. All liberals are solidly anti-communal. In this column I wish to drive home the point that Marxism is simply one more form of communalism, one more form of religious extremism, no better or worse than others.
Communalism pits one community against another. Now, communities can be defined not only on the basis of religion but class too (not to mention caste, region and other divides). Religious communalism pits one religion against another, class communalism pits one class against another. Marxists believe their sort of communalism is glorious and the others terrible. They believe killing kulaks in the name of class war is a historic mission while killing people in the name of religion is bad. Those killed will disagree. So will I.
The kulaks were Russian middle-to-large farmers who were murdered in millions by Stalin. This was morally despicable and economically disastrous (Soviet food production plunged). Yet you find left-wing writers in India constantly referring to our own large farmers as kulaks. Why? Because our Marxist intellectuals would love to liquidate such hated class enemies (in the name of historical necessity, you understand). No group of Hindu, Muslim or Christian crusaders has ever killed as many in the name of religion, as Marxists have done in the name of class.
After the communist debacle in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Marxists stand exposed as long-time supporters of murder and torture in the pursuit of a bankrupt ideology. If they believe they are nevertheless respectable, how can they deny this status to other communalists, no matter how discredited?
Worse, Marxism now stands exposed as one more form of religious fanaticism. Religion is the opium of the people, Marxism is the opium of left-wing intellectuals. The Marxists have their own holy trinity (Marx-Lenin-Mao), worshipped as devoutly as the Hindu trinity (Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva) or Christian trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Ghost). The Marxist faith has its own holy book (Das Kapital) and its own Sermon on the Mount (The Manifesto of the Communist Party). Its impassioned call for Marxism to conquer the world and bring salvation to the conquered is a modern ‘jihad’. The Marxist belief that it is ordained by history to triumph is the familiar delusion of all religious crusaders that they are God’s chosen people.
After the Soviet debacle, Marxists can say they had the best intentions. But so did all religious crusades. The grim fact is that all forced circumcision, whether of minds by Marxists or something lower down by Muslim crusaders, has been done in the name of saving mankind.
Don’t be so harsh on the poor Marxists, say some of my friends. Can’t you see they have changed after the Soviet debacle? They may still acknowledge their debt to Marx, but they no longer urge forced conversion, and are willing to bow to the democracy they once dismissed as a bourgeois trap.
Fair enough. But is this very different from Vajpayeesim? If you want to distinguish between old-time Marxists who wanted to skewer class enemies and Jyoti Basu, can you refuse to distinguish between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Atal Behari Vajpayee?
I personally welcome all shifts from extremism towards the centre, whether in relation to a religion, class, caste or region. Maybe the shifts are opportunistic, maybe they hide private agendas, maybe they are tactical rather than strategic. The fact remains that in trying to reposition themselves closer to the centre they begin to transform themselves in ways unanticipated at the time of the shift.
Others are not so sanguine. Don’t be taken in by the BJP’s new face of moderation, they say. Beware of hindutva-minus-Kashi. Remember that, below the Vajpayee veneer, the party remains committed to Hindu domination. The core of the party remains the VHP and RSS, neither of whom has changed its stripes.
Fair enough, again. But cannot the same remarks be made about the conversion of communists to democracy and free choice? Is the new Marxism, a sort of Brezhnevism minus the KGB, really more convincing than hindutva minus Kashi? News reports say the Marxists in Kerala have killed 64 RSS workers in 1997. So is the CPM really a party that now swears by democracy and no longer kills class enemies? When you read articles by left-wing writers, can you not glimpse Lenin and Mao between the lines?
No, it makes little sense to distinguish between one sort of communalism and another, or believe in the sincerity of one sort of convert but not another. I have some hopes for all converts to moderation, while remaining skeptical of the depth of their conversion. And I remain dismayed that virtually every party is vying for votes based on caste, region, religion or class.