Modern-day discourse revolves around labels. Political labels. The fundamental issue with such labeling is that one tends to box others into compartments, rigid viewpoints that discourage flexibility in ideologies and viewpoints. Alas, that’s not the subject of this article. The subject is how these labels perpetuate hatred and by extension, violence.
It’s important to quote noted author Devdutt Pattanaik’s tweet in this context.
Both left and right garner votes through hatred.
Left by hating the rich & powerful who are demonised.
Right by hating certain religions, ideologues and castes. Both have a different yardstick for hating. Hating is common.
Hating, not reason, is currency of democracy today.
— Devdutt Pattanaik (@devduttmyth) March 6, 2018
Summed up, Pattanaik suggests that despite divergence in views and ideologies, both the Left and the Right use the same currency of hatred to gather votes and popularity. Let’s examine that, shall we?
Well for starters, Pattanaik makes the mistake of compartmentalizing, of clubbing diverse political ideologies into a select few. In his words, they are Left and Right and zilch. Nothing else. There’s no room for Centrist ideologies which share key aspects of both these ends of the political spectrum or even the extreme populism of both the Left and the Right.
The last point here is crucial. After all, if his argument was that the Left and Right have been dealing and perpetuating hatred and by extension, violence, why would he not label it as left or right-wing extremism, or at the very least, left or right-wing populism?
For argument’s sake, let’s keep that nitpicking aside. Let’s see if his argument that both the Left and the Right Wing have dealt in the currency of hatred, over reasoning holds merit.
Let’s begin with the Left in India
The Left was involved not only in the freedom struggle both from within and outside the Indian National Congress but, its parties were also one of the first to gain the status of a national party in post-independent India.
However, despite such post-independence significance, the Left hasn’t enjoyed much of a national foothold. For the purpose of this article, let’s consider the Left’s history in two states, Kerala and West Bengal.
In the case of Bengal alone, between 1977 (the year when Jyoti Basu came to power for his 23-year old rule) and 1996, 28000 political murders (as admitted by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in response to an assembly question) were committed unde the Left rule. 28000 people. That’s an average of over 125 people every month. For twenty years.
“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution.” So says the last line of the Communist manifesto. What happened under the Left rule in Bengal was no revolution.
The figures for Kerala are bad as well, although not perhaps on the same level. Almost 200 people over 17 years. The district of Kannur especially, has seen political violence rise again since the re-election of the LDF, especially those perpetrated by the cadre of the Left. If not violent, I don’t know what other adjective I can use to describe the Left.
Let’s move on to the Right now, shall we?
Right-wing terror/violence is what a lot of news channels across India been occupied with over the past few years now, more so since the BJP came to power.
Affiliated organizations and other right wing outfits have been found guilty of not only brutal lynching episodes after accusations of cow slaughter and beef hoarding but, have also condemned and even attacked people celebrating Christmas.
It is also suspected that right-wing perpetrators are behind the murders of activists such as Gauri Lankesh, as well as lawyers and atheists across the country. The threat against the life of a Bollywood actress for her role in a popular movie only reinforced the sheer ridiculousness of how brazen right-wing violence has been becoming.
Over the past few years, both the Left and the Right have been at loggerheads with each other. Whether it was over beef in Kerala, or Lenin’s statue in Tripura, the scale of violence between the Left and the Right has been damaging to the inclusive fabric of Indian society.
What Does Devdutt Get Right and Wrong?
What then does one make of Devdutt Pattanaik’s tweet? Was he right? In my opinion, in spirit, yes. As history and recent events suggest, both the Left and the Right have used hatred of the other and violence to drive their political cause. What he is slightly misconceived about is the subject and reasoning of such hate.
For instance, the Left do not hate the rich and the privileged. Not in India at least. The Left in India has moved far past its goal of social utopia where everyone and anyone is socially, politically and economically equal.
Whether it was Bengal or Kerala, despite progress in human development indicators, income and land distribution remains a project half done, a project at the heart of the Left everywhere across the world.
It’s fitting then to quote one of history’s greatest books in Animal Farm, ‘all animals are equal but, some animals are more equal than others.’ The Left don’t hate the rich and privileged because they are so. The Left demonizes the rich because they covet what the rich have. The politics of it all is just a medium, all smoke and mirrors.
Devdutt Pattanaik fares better in his assessment of right-wing hatred and violence. It must be noted here however that right-wing denotes not only Hindu extremism but, included extremism of any kind and religion.
Right-wing extremism largely revolves around the ideas of ethnocentrism and the alien nature of the ‘other,’ ideas present-day extremists have learnt very well.
These have developed into a hatred of alien religions, ideologies and even, caste (An oddity in the case of Hindutva-fueled right-wing hatred as Veer Savarkar, one of their prominent ideologues was always opposed to any discrimination on the basis of caste and was against any Hindu superstition, including the worship of the Cow).
Devdutt Pattanaik’s writing has a lot of critics. However, touches a raw nerve when it suggests that both the Left and Right have used hatred and the resulting violence to pursue their own selfish causes. It’s the truth. Time to acknowledge it.
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