Abominable Anderson

Dilip Simeon, a well known historian and public intellectual in India, studied in Delhi in the late 1960’s and participated in the first phase of the Naxalite movement. He taught history at Ramjas College from 1974 till 1994. In 1982, he was severely assaulted after a hunger-strike to restore the salary of a college gardener. In 1988 he was elected to the Academic Council. From 1984 onward, he participated in the Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan. He has been a visiting scholar in Surat, Sussex, Chicago, Leiden and Princeton. From 1998 till 2003 he worked on a conflict-mitigation project with Oxfam, and is now chairperson of the Aman Trust, which works to reduce violent conflict. His thesis, ‘The Politics of Labour Under Late Colonialism’, was published in 1995, and his first novel, ‘Revolution Highway’ in September, 2010. Here he comments upon Perry Anderson’s book The Indian Ideology. See this interview of Anderson for reference.

Dilip Simeon

Anderson’s critique has been welcomed by many Indian radicals, as well as the adherents of the ‘secular Muslim League’ doctrine. In his account, the Muslim League & the Empire come out clean, and the villain is Gandhi plus ‘Hinduism’. He even talks about the Hindu war cries of the Gurkhas, forgetting that they used the same war cries fighting for Pax Britannica. Nehru was soft on ‘Hinduism’, Anderson reminds us. What would he have liked to see happen – millions of caste Hindus adopting a Marxist-Leninist world view? They exist, whether or not we children of the Enlightenment like their beliefs. Everyone who criticizes the Brahmanical order and ‘savarna capitalism’ from a democratic standpoint (and I’m one such critic) ought to remember that righteous rhetoric is insufficient to convince anyone. Millions of dalits haven’t converted to Buddhism despite their great respect for Ambedkar. The materialist philosophical critique of religion ought to be wide-ranging – and I daresay there’s an element of millenarian piety in communism as well. The ‘hammer blows’ of WW2 that enabled Indian independence (in PA’s account) might be compared to similar hammer blows that preceded the Russian revolution.

It is my belief that the Indian state has been undergoing a process of criminalisation for decades. It is still gong on. Hence disagreement with Anderson ought not to be dismissed as it often is, as an apologia for the degeneration of the Indian polity. But the entire discourse is stuck in the logic of communal divisiveness. The fate of the partitioned area appears neither Anderson’s account nor in that of his interviewer. Why is it a black hole? (By the way, I’m sure you will be interested in Ishtiaq Ahmads new book on Punjab in 1947). I don’t think we will see a deconstruction of the Pakistan ideology. Since Gandhi & Nehru were responsible for partition, maybe that is a relevant query. But Praful didn’t ask him. It appears that leftists too have succumbed to the fetish of sovereignty. We are marxists, but on sovereignty, our minds stop at Westphalia. We need to reflect on the meaning of the Adhikari resolution of September 1942, which through a mire of stalinist verbiage, conflated the concept of Nation with Community <http://www.unz.org/Pub/LabourMonthly-1943mar-00087?View=PDF> – just as did various communalists, starting with the Hindu Rashtravadis.

What Anderson contemptuously refers to as ‘the Indian ideology’ is – for some of us at any rate – not a celebration of a rotten state of affairs, but an appreciation of the ideal of a democratic republic, the constitution of which was (in major contribution) drafted by none other than Ambedkar, the man whom he deploys (along with Bose) to demolish Gandhi & Nehru. To say that the document has flaws including majoritarian ones, is true. But it is not a communal constitution, although the RSS would like to make it one. Let us not forget the way Gandhi was killed and by whom. These matters may be irrelevant to Anderson, but they are important for those concerned with the fascist potential in the Indian polity. (PA says that Indian fascism is a ‘category mistake’). My argument, for whatever it’s worth: Armies of the Pure: The Question of Indian Fascism <http://dilipsimeon.blogspot.in/2012/09/armies-of-pure-question-of-indian.html>

Be that as it may, here’s a letter written in 1950 by the most ignored Dalit politician in the sub-continent, Jogindranath Mandal, Pakistan’s first law minister, and an acolyte of Ambedkar. We are familiar with the ghastly violence on this side of the border, but here’s an account of the communal devastation in Pakistan, written by its own law minister: <http://dilipsimeon.blogspot.in/2011/11/pakistans-first-law-labour-minister.html> The significance of this is as follows – we stopped thinking about the partitioned territory as if it had disappeared in 1947. This is a symptom of how deeply communalism has affected us all. We did so even when the communal partition exploded in 1971. Mandal’s letter shows what happens under a communal dispensation – in this respect there’s no difference between the fascist potential of Hindu or Muslim communalists. (The East Pakistan Muslim League president was using anti-semitic language to justify the pushing out of Hindus). Apart from the alarming events Mandal relates, his letter was a protest against the Objectives Resolution, that declared that sovereignty belongs to Allah – which now remains a part of both Pakistan and Bangladesh’s constitutions.

I also draw your attention to Ambedkar’s famous book ‘Pakistan, or the Partition of India (1940, 1945) in which he stated: “That the transfer of minorities is the only lasting remedy for communal peace is beyond doubt. If that is so, there is no reason why the Hindus and the Muslims should keep on trading in safeguards which have proved so unsafe. If small countries, with limited resources like Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, were capable of such an undertaking, there is no reason to suppose that what they did cannot be accomplished by Indians. After all, the population involved is inconsiderable and because some obstacles require to be removed, it would be the height of folly to give up so sure a way to communal peace…The only way to make Hindustan homogeneous is to arrange for exchange of population. Until that is done, it must be admitted that even with the creation of Pakistan, the problem of majority vs. minority will remain in Hindustan as before and will continue to produce disharmony in the body politic of Hindustan..(references on pp 53-54, & the book is available here: <http://www.ambedkar.org/pakistan/>

We need to debate these things carefully, and yes, while not sentimentalising Gandhi, we shouldn’t iconise his famous critics either.