Commissar Karat in October 1917
In his opening passage of the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx attributed to Hegel (somewhat mistakenly) the idea “that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice” and added sardonically that Hegel forgot to add: “First time as tragedy, second time as farce.” He went on to illustrate his comment thus: “Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.”
Marx’s point was simple but profound. The tradition of the dead generations, he claimed, weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living: “Just as they [revolutionaries, ‘men’] seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95.”
Believe it or not, Prakash Karat in his Twenty Second July, is the Lenin and Manmohan Singh his Kerensky. On the 21st, his very own Pravda, The Hindu reported him saying that “the country would revolt if it [the govt] tried to push the India-U.S. nuclear deal in case it lost the trust vote in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.” The country would revolt? On the Indo-US Nuclear Deal? You must be joking. Most Indians, like it or not, couldn’t care less about the deal. If anything they might think, rightly or wrongly, that in the current world scenario, it is best to be on the right side of the USA.
Let us be clear. Our point here is not the deal as such. Others on Kafila have commented on it and related issues like that of nuclear energy itself, on other occasions. My point here is simply of this fantastic assessment of a ‘country rising in revolt’ – almost as dramatic as Karat’s assertion a few days ago that “we are telling the allies that ‘the UPA is a sinking ship’.” (A friend of course remarked: Hmmm, so the rats are deserting the sinking ship). Be that as it may, please do not miss the great Leninist re-enactment here. Remember Lenin: “The people are voting with their feet” – i.e. deserting the war front, just as they are deserting the Kerensky (Manmohan Singh) government (a bit like rats deserting the sinking ship).
So is commissar Karat completely oblivious of the mass mood, unlike the astute politician and revolutionary he is emulating? Does he really think that the country is on the verge of a revolutionary upsurge? In the last sixty-odd years of the Indian republic, despite the best efforts of parties like his – and umpteen others – the most you could get were local revolts. Even the much celebrated Telengana and Tebhaga uprisings were just local revolts. But maybe Karat is not that naïve – maybe he does understand. Despite his complete lack of understanding, both of Indian society as well as the world of politics. From Edinburgh to JNU student politics to the Politburo is not exactly the route that would enable gaining this understanding. Karat never had to discover his India, unlike say Nehru, who after returning from Cambridge had to undergo the rigours of building a mass nationalist movement, as an understudy of Mahatma Gandhi. His own party leader Jyoti Basu too returned from England as a trained lawyer in the 1930s, only to be asked by Muzaffar Ahmed (then leader of the Bengal CPI) to go and work among the railway workers. And you can see the difference. One came up through hard grassroot work of mobilizing and building a movement, while the other just descended from the heights. One student leader of JNU had in fact coined this phrase to describe the trajectory of the likes to Karat: Nothing succeeds like Sussex, he would say. So you can see the difference. Karat can only say anything worth anything on issues that demand neither an understanding of Indian society nor of politics as such – the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, for example. For the rest, his strategy is of staying away from the hurly burly of mass politics and power.
Recall Marx’s profound remarks above, where he comments that in moments of crisis, revolutionaries “anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes”. For the parallels with 1917 do not end here. It is a trifle amusing but nevertheless interesting to read the following from Lenin’s text The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, penned in September 1917. After berating the government for its continuation of the imperialist war in alliance with imperialist powers like Britain, France and others, he goes on to say:
“(T)he new government…has not even published the secret treaties of an obviously predatory character…which as everybody knows, binds Russia (India) to Anglo-French (US) predatory imperialist capital.”
It is as though the entire script of the Karatian drama was lifted straight from the repertoire of the Russian revolution! Truly prophetic was Marx, at least in this respect. First time as tragedy, second time as farce!
And thus the dice was thrown by Karat and his men. My use of this gendered term (‘men’) is intentional, given that Karat and all his little commissars have been aggressively displaying their manhood, promising a scintillating ‘fight to the finish.’ It wasn’t enough to oppose the deal and withdraw support from the government. Like real men, they want a fight to the finish, even if that means ‘traveling in the same railway compartment’ with the fascists who have so long been waiting in the wings. The sinking morale of the BJP has suddenly disappeared. In its stead we saw Advani and his entourage suddenly come alive. Wiser counsels like that of Jyoti Basu’s were of no use. We must teach the UPA a lesson, Moochh ka sawal hai. Many of us could almost hear them say, “We’ll show them who has a bigger youknowhat….”
But all the bluster apart, the Gen Secretary suddenly realized that the game was not going according to plan. There was no mass uprising in evidence anywhere. In fact, even the other parties were not prepared to back this misadventure whose poetry they hardly understood. At last he decided to do the unthinkable. He drove to Mayawati’s place. You don’t have to be especially astute to figure out that at this particular moment, she is really angry with the Congress and the UPA and will be a willing partner in this toppling game. She doesn’t quite care whether the Deal stays or goes. She was clear: Our only purpose is to topple this government. All the while Karat spoke to her about the pros and cons of the N-deal, she was planning her future political moves. After all, Mayawati knows her India, her constituency and her political ground. She knows that ultimately Karat needs her support not she. She knows this because, despite withdrawing support to the UPA, she did not precipitate a crisis. She had neither manhood issues to settle nor was she in any hurry. She knew and knows that the game is hers to play in the long run. And sure enough, commissar Karat must realize, his fortunes started changing the minute he managed to enlist Mayawati’s support. Even within his own party, the alliance with Mayawati has livened up many a depressed soul. He should realize what both the BJP and Mayawati herself know: the game now onwards is hers. We wish her well. After all, all history is unintended consequence. Who would have thought the opposition to the N-deal would catapult Mayawati to the center-stage?