Left paid for ignoring caste issue, says expert

Partha Chatterjee  

While identifying various defects of the mainstream Leftist parties in West Bengal, eminent social scientist Partha Chatterjee has said that the Left parties have failed to understand the caste-based politics and thus distanced themselves consciously from such politics.”

The Left parties had always felt that the identity-driven politics was “regressive,” said the professor of Anthropology, who was ironically critiqued by many for ignoring the caste question by pushing it under the aegis of Subaltern Studies. However, the need of the hour was to blend identity-based politics with “a politics of ideology, which only the Left can provide,” said the professor.

The seminar, attended by hundreds, was organised by a Leftist platform, Left Collective, mainly formed by breakaway members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The Left parties of Bengal “ignored” identity politics and thus moved away from politics driven by caste or religion, said Professor Chatterjee, on Sunday. “Leftists had a formidable clout over electors in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and parts of southern India or Maharashtra, but they [Left] are completely erased from those areas for treating identity politics with contempt,” Professor Chatterjee said. However, the regional parties filled the vacuum by “adapting to caste-based politics” and thus achieved a degree of success in electoral politics.

“In this room, at least 90% of the people are from the upper castes. …no State in the country is as fiercely driven by upper castes as West Bengal is, but surprisingly the Left just refused to address the issue,” Professor Chatterjee said. Explaining how the failure of the mainstream Left to address caste-based orientations has severely affected both the Dalits and the Left, Prof. Chatterjee said that the regional parties failed to work for the people.

“What was required was to engage with the Dalits or talk about the people from various religions and also to blend it with economic compulsions of the people….to blend identity politics with politics of ideology, but the Left retracted,” he said. However, Prof. Chatterjee believes that only the Left could engage in “politics of ideology.”

“People joined the Left not necessarily because it was driven by the organisation, but also because it had a motivational ideology,” said Prof. Chatterjee and added, “…it is time to understand that by engaging party officials to conduct election and thus to stay in power over decades is ultimately of no use. Once you are out of power — and we can see that in Bengal — the organisation is turned into ruins. So now is the time to rethink – if the Left needs ideology or organisation-driven politics,” he said.

According to the Professor, it is not difficult, to engage in “politics of ideology.”

“We can start that today,” he said focussing on the immediate need to defend citizen’s rights. “The situation [in Bengal] reminds me of the time between 1971 till the emergency [1977]. These days, like in 1977, people’s right to live and voice their opinion is muted. We do not need a party to oppose this…we can just engage in a politics of ideology and protest,” he said.

Marxist academic, Shobhan Lal Dutta Gupta, emphasised the need to unite Leftists of various ideologies to “search for a Leftist alternative,” which incidentally was the title of the seminar.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 4:23:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/left-paid-for-ignoring-caste-issue-says-expert/article6256709.ece

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