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Awaiting India’s Corbyn moment

Published Sep 16, 2015, 11:17 am IST
Updated Mar 27, 2019, 7:50 pm IST
Labour Party new leader Jeremy Corbyn. (Photo: AP)
 Labour Party new leader Jeremy Corbyn. (Photo: AP)

Liberal politicians in India could speak like Jeremy Corbyn once, and, like him, believe in what they said. Take his speech at the refugees’ rally in London moments after the brilliant win as Labour Party chief. He spoke with conviction about a man-made human plight because he could feel like an ordinary person. What he said, in fact, was so straightforward that he made one wonder why today’s liberal leaders in India can’t be like that.

Refugees are not illegal people, Mr Corbyn said. They are men, women and children rendered homeless, searching for the dignity which we took away from them. Does it take too much to say it that way? Refugees are made by wars we wage, he said. Indian leaders have said all this, and with conviction too, but that was long ago.


A disturbing moment that failed to evince a sound response from Indian liberals came when Prime Minister Modi welcomed non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Did the Indian Left turn a Nelson’s eye to the communally fraught Modi musings because of its own past problems in West Bengal? Did the influx of Muslims from Bangladesh into West Bengal during its 30 years in office influence the Left’s silence?

The religious revival we are witnessing worldwide, riding on the upsurge in right-wing politics, has seen upright thinkers and liberal groups wilt. This luxury could not be allowed to the Communists. For years, Indian followers of CPM were led to believe that the annual Durga Puja festival religiously staged by the comrades in West Bengal was a cultural rather than a religious event. Perhaps it was the same cultural quest that saw the comrades in Kerala this time celebrating Krishna Lila.


Reports say last week’s public devotion was aimed at preventing families of comrades from joining similar celebrations organised by Hindutva groups who are hoping to ease out the Left from Kerala. With close to half the West Bengal cadre having defected to the BJP since the recent poll debacles, the Left, it seems, has yet to learn the lessons of mixing religion with politics.

How would a Corbyn-like approach pitch the mosque versus temple politics that has dominated much of liberal Indian politics? Indian rationalists, including Marxists, have scurried to look for ideological compromises so as not to offend Hindus or Muslim. In playing it safe, India’s liberals are hiding what would have been their attraction.


What did the Indian state do, which was so out of character with its political inclination, for it to deserve kudos? In the midst of a political controversy over a mythical bridge three years ago, the Manmohan Singh government told the SC that there was no historical evidence to establish the existence of Lord Ram or other characters in Ramayana. In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the ASI rejected the claim of the existence of the Ram Sethu bridge. It was a bold rejection of Hindutva’s claims.

This should ideally have been the position of Indian Marxists. What harm could have befallen the Left had they played it straight, instead of deflecting the argument to perhaps woo certain constituencies? Did they win the polls by being less than forthright?


India-Pakistan ties were a major issue on which the Left and liberal voices counted for much. In recent days, other than a nationalistic statement about terrorism from the CPI, there hasn’t been a nudge much less an argument for peace from the Left. They were busy dethroning the foreign minister, unsuccessfully eventually, when they were needed on the streets to put their foot down on the hounding of Teesta Setalvad, the freeing of the accused in Gujarat pogrom cases, the gagging of NGOs.

Now we are watching the Left hurtling into a potentially disastrous election in Bihar. They claim they are jointly fighting in all the Assembly seats to challenge Modi’s quest to conquer Bihar. In reality, they will be cutting into the votes of Modi’s secular opponents. What would Corbyn have reasoned? “Granted that the secular alliance is tainted with corruption. This needs to be corrected. However, first we have to remove the fascist threat. Else we are all doomed.”

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi
By arrangement with Dawn