It is only after the euphoria has died down, and the poll numbers seep into their consciousness, will the students of JNU ask that simple question: did we even need a united Left front to begin with? The ABVP was decisively routed in all the schools and also the central panel, losing even in the science schools which were their stronghold. The victory celebrations have just begun in JNU, starting with the burning of the corpse(not effigy), a Shava Yatra of the ABVP; the rejoicing in this sensuous dance of fiery death, exemplified by the hashtag #DanceWithJNU will perhaps go on for some time. But even while these somewhat morbid celebrations continue, there are people sitting down with a couple of cups of the strongest tea Ganga Dhaba can serve and exchanging enraged whispers about the beautifully engineered, almost poetic fiction that the Left so successfully sold them. We all know, by now, that if not for the beautifully formed Manichean narrative of Good versus Evil, black versus white, Left versus Right we had been indoctrinated by, the BAPSA presidential candidate, Rahul Sonpimple Punaram, might have been the President of JNUSU. He lost by a sum total of almost 400 votes, but the result would have been different if the Left unity Front had not propagated the myth of a resurgent ABVP. Perhaps, some may opine, the Left came together to make sure that they retain some semblance of power in a campus which has changed terribly and decisively since the events of February this year. This article does not aim to pillory the Left Alliance, or bring down its well-earned victory through idle speculation. Rather, at this moment of victory, we must attempt to thrash out a problem that the victorious Left in JNU has not been able to even imagine, much less resolve. It is a simple problem, but with many complex ramifications. We know that the progressive Left is at this moment engaged in imagining an alternative to the current world order(capitalism, fascism, Hindutva, terrorism, Eurocentrism, imperialism, jihadism, whatever you may call it). Its project must not be belittled; it is a highly laudable one, not just politically, but also in philosophical and poetic terms. It takes as its opponent a highly contagious form of common-sense, which states that it is impossible to think of alternative, working systems for liberal-secular democracy. The progressive Left’s main effort is in the sphere of the imagination; extracting the pure form of possibility from a world where politics is just the art of the possible. To imagine an alternative system of politics can be said to be its avowed agenda.
The political can briefly be supposed to be the realm of the flow and passage of power, especially for those involved in its games. But for those excluded from the political machinery and buried under the monumental piles of debris deposited in the name of progress, what matters is not simply power, but ever more importantly justice. A justice which is essentially divorced from power, a non-potent justice, an impotent justice if you will. It is the fundamental antagonism between justice without power and the structures of power that is at the heart of whatever we may call the political, divorced from the pretty games and spectacles of the political machinery.
This call for justice transcends the mere Manichean politics of left/right, black/white, vote for us or the Bhaktman will come knocking. The Left was united in this campus, in the form of the two major parties, AISA and SFI. But the truth is that they were not united because of a real threat from the saffron party. The ABVP were never seriously a threat to the united left, as the Presidential candidate from BAPSA, Rahul Sonpimple pointed out during the Presidential Debate. Rather, the ABVP were actually the bogey (Gabbar, in Rahul’s words) the Left needed to minimise the political imagination of the campus and make it a fight of almost Manichean principles, of Good versus Evil. The Left did not put a foot wrong in the process of winning this election, but sadly its victory was won the Right way.
Before it be claimed that I am saying that the Left United Front stifled the creation of the alternative space by the BAPSA and others, I would like to clarify that this is not what I am implying in any way. On the contrary, its entire narrative was premised on championing, fostering and imagining an alternative space. In this vision of the alternative university, it was the Left which was the real alternative to the Right. It was the Left which generated this logic of the alternative, and quite sadly, it was this alternate logic which generated the Left. This alternative logic will always generate creatures like the Left; an ever proliferating binary series, spreading its rhizomatic roots like grass across the graves of the wretched of this earth. Perhaps next year, and this is not idle speculation, BAPSA will be the one offering an alternative to the Left’s(especially AISA’s) dominance at the levels of both central panel and school councillors.
The festival and spectacle that is the JNUSU election has been upheld by most commentators to be an almost utopic version of democracy. In a way, democracy itself is the most intricate, beautiful and utopic system because it internalises the logic of the alternative while refusing to consider it externally. Simply speaking, there is no external alternative to democracy, while there are always alternatives internal to democracy. Rather, we may even say that democracy can internalise this logic of the alternative because at a higher level it refuses to put itself within the purview of this logic. As Winston Churchill had famously said, democracy is the worst of the forms of government, except for all the others. There can be no alternative to democracy, but infinite a-lternatives within democracy. It is at this paradox that political thought among the Left appears to find itself stuck at today within the university, especially in the case of the long drawn, interminable debate over the implementation of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations. It is now that we can understand the real problem which the Left has not been able to imagine, leave alone resolve. The Left Unity Front has been trying so hard to imagine an alternative to liberal democracy that it has failed to realise the importance of imagining a world without the logic of the alternative. The most ironic thing about all this is that democracy itself is founded on an imagination which goes beyond the logic of the alternative, precisely because it institutes this logic internally while rejecting it externally. Like the monarch in the Hegelian system, democracy’s rationality is secured by its central and mystical irrationality.
BAPSA on the other hand represents a symptom: the return of the discourse of justice. That is why BAPSA’s loss in this election is its very gain; not simply because it is on its way to becoming an alternative to the other political forces in the next cycle, but because its politics are premised not on power but justice. And justice is the only thing to which there can be no alternative. It is this call for justice, made by those subalterns who are both wordless and world-less, that will truly destitute the logic of the alternative to which the Left Unity Front has become sadly shackled and enslaved. It is thus BAPSA’s call for justice which we must imagine resonating, not as an impassioned plea but as a whispered imploration in the ears of the Left Unity Front: “You have nothing to lose but your chains…”
Huzaifa Omair Siddiqi is a student at CES/SLL&CS. Views expressed are personal.