The Muslim question and anti-caste engagements with spirituality and conversions that mark a vibrant strand of Ambedkarite discourse seem anathema to the dry rationalist secular world order of the left. The imagination of Dalit-Bahujan-Muslim alliance that blossomed post Babri-Mandal and taking root now in campuses across India has effected a community based imagination of doing politics. But the left often dismisses and delegitimizes such politics, mainly Muslim assertions as ‘communal’ and ‘divisive’ and springing from ‘ruling class’ and not ‘eligible’ for solidarity with any anti-caste movement. One can see such a detestation by left parties like SFI to Muslim groups as seen in the recent SFI JNU reaction to the Madappally college incident.
Soon after the Babri Masjid demolition, EMS Namboothirippad, then communist party leader said that Muslim League should be suspended as it is a ‘communal party’ as it plays a role in strengthening Hindu fundamentalists like RSS .Recently, Sitaram Yechury’s statement on comparing Jama’at and RSS, shows the common propensity of the left to employ modern binary categories of ‘Secularism’ Vs ‘Communalism’ without marking the always-already existing power hierarchies of a Savarna group vis a vis other marginalized .It also shows the structural inadequacy of class based analysis that uses categories like ‘communal’ in a nation like India which is a conglomeration of various communities. This worn out polemic of ‘two sides of the same coin’ to delegitimize Muslim assertions is repeated even today. Left parties continue to use the same rhetoric in constructing a Muslim other to contrast the fascist hindutva forces. Similar contempt can be seen in SFI JNU pamphlet which was framed in response to ‘autonomous’ groups who had come forward in the solidarity extended to the attacked Muslim women in Madappally College. One part of it goes like this:
“….Those marginalized members belonging to SFI easily becomes the primary enemies of those organizations claiming to stand for marginalized. They become ‘chamchas of left’ and ‘Muslims for a day’, thus perpetuating casteism and communal hatred the said organizations apparently is fighting against. There is something about the political conviction and political line of SFI that is so threatening for these student organizations. SFI is the biggest hurdle in many campuses for these organizations to propagate their communal and divisionary hate politics…”
In a response meant to be for the condemnation of SFI violence at Madappally college incident, why is it that SFI is pushed to question the mode of the anti-caste politics shaping in this campuses and brand the larger movement as ‘communal’ and ‘casteist’? This seems to be a bitter response to BAPSA’s invoking of ‘Chamcha’ to many comrades during JNU elections. ‘Chamcha ‘, the idea of being foot soldiers to oppressive ideology coined by Manyavar Kanshiram is part of the anti-caste lexicon and was used by BAPSA during election widely, and that SFI took offense of it is no surprise. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, it is anxious how platforms like facebook now have ‘misinformation’ and false ‘narratives’ peddled by those with allegiance to ‘ruling class'(read Muslim groups). At the heart of such vilification such as ‘casteist’ and brandings of ‘divisionary hate politics’ which was even used by upper castes elite nationalists against Ambedkar, is the revulsion to assertions based on Community/faith related slogans/assertions from groups like BAPSA/SIO/MSF as seen previously in the Insha Allah debate.
For the longest time SFI in Kerala would not make visible the caste of the ‘martyred’ until very recently, thanks to the anti-caste politics taking shape in various campuses. The left who used to campaign against BAPSA for using the word “Brahmanwaad” to consolidate upper caste votes by calling it “reverse casteism” in 2016 is now in 2018 using the slogan “Brahmanwaad par gehri chot, left unity ko panel vote.” In Kerala, the caste of ‘martyrs’ killed from SFI/CPIM would be subsumed within class categories of Working class/farmer etc or in Kannur political murders of RSS/CPIM, caste was always invisible. In fact, the Dalit critique against Left in Kerala is based on the way the left has used the category of the ‘class’ to sidestep the real question of caste that came up with the powerful anti-caste movements, thereby mobilizing the Dalit Bahujans towards furthering a savarna ideology.
In their pamphlet SFI says how its ‘marginalized’ cadre members are targeted and warns its fraternal left organizations to not fall into the trap of such rumour mongers who belong from the ‘ruling class’. It is only recently that caste/community markers began visible in SFI lexicon, like how they have begun to cash in on the Dalit identity of Abhimanyu and seeks to delegitimize Ambedkarite-Muslim assertions by reproducing the category of Dalit as one of voiceless martyrs sacrificed at the altar of progressive politics. Like during JNU elections too, Ambedkarite-Muslim slogans were outshone by ‘Laal hai Laal rahega’ by SFI comrades with white T-Shirts that had stitched to it Abhimanyu’s face.
During the Malabar rebellion in 1920s, the colonial-upper caste nexus branded Mappilas as ‘fanatic’ and ‘communal’ when what was actually feared here was the Dalit-Muslim alliance and uprising and revenge against upper caste feudal landlords. Muslim students’ engagements with caste stems both from an ethical commitment as well as a historical awareness of the complex workings of caste and religion in the Indian Context. The Babri Masjid demolition is a telling incident in the cultural memory of both Dalit Bahujans and Muslims in this regard.
On the demolition of Babri Masjid , various works have shown how the savarna machinations of power positions itself against Bahujan-Minority assertions .The Babri Masjid demolition has been rightly argued to be a fall out of the Mandal debate. In the wake of the Mandal commission recommendation under VP Singh, the challenge mounted by the Dalit Bahujans rattled the savarna elite. Soon the nation witnessed a Hindu resurgence in the Ram Rath and a collective Hindu psyche invoked positioning against despotic Muslim invaders like Babur. On December 6,1992 as the Dalit Bahujans of the nation was observing the death anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Sangh Parivar was brutally demolishing the Babri Majid with axes and hammers under state and police protection. Although the secular left would call this moment a sudden breach on secularism, for the Dalit Bahujan and Muslims it was a paradigmatic moment of violence that marks the structural brahminical core of nation-making itself.
The hegemony of caste Indian modernity is such that, as Babasaheb Ambedkar said in ‘Annihilation of caste’, it is only during Hindu-Muslim riots that an affiliation of castes into a coherent ‘Hindu-fold’ which takes place. In other words, Hindu society as such doesn’t exist as it is just a group of castes and that this collection of castes can probably come together only in the face of the Muslim ‘other’. This is evident in the 1920 cow protection riots. Similarly in Gujarat, the riots for and against caste-based reservations in 1981 was transformed “very quickly into a gratuitous attack on the Muslim community, which had nothing to do with the reservation policy of the government.” One can see that it is only through such a complex intertwining of caste and religion can the reality be understood in India. It is in this historic light that alliances such as UDA in HCU comprising of Dalit-Bahujan-Muslim groups have to be viewed. That SFI decided to stay away from such reclaiming Politics of Oppressed unity and contest against it is of little wonder.
The Muslim political self is always figured as a fearful other in popular imagination and always rendered as Mlechas that have to be kept outside of any semblance of legitimacy, the specter of Maulana Maududi is evoked time and again as a zone of possible terror and fanaticism that can engulf this secular “temple of knowledge”. Many important Muslim leaders (including Abdul Nasar Madani who was one of the early voices of Dalit Muslim unity) have also spent decades in prison tortured by the state for daring to talk about Indian social issues from within the ambit of Islam. The ban of Muslim organizations under UAPA should also be seen in this line, clearly showing how persecuted and marginalized they have been in India. The Muslim theological discontent with caste which informs and effects the attendant alliances with Dalit-Bahujans deeply frustrates the left.
It would be apt to recall the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali here, whose fighter image could be seen in SFI’s wall poster in JNU. But this does not alone define Ali. Mentored by the radical Malcolm X, Black American convert to Islam, Ali’s devout religiosity is divested off in the popular American and thus global imagination just like the SFI poster. In his later life, Muhammad Ali says: “Everything I do now, I do to please Allah…Being a true Muslim is the most important thing in the world to me. It means more to me than being black or being American.”
It is this potential of liberation and melting of oppressive hierarchies like caste- in Islam that ties it with social justice movements across the nation and beyond. And this is precisely what agitates and disgusts the torch bearers of ‘progressiveness’ and ‘revolution’.