Interview with Teesta Sitalvad

 Their aim will be to pervert and change institutional provisions, Constitutional provisions.

Question: What is you're reading on how the BJP-RSS' coming to power will impact communal politics in India?

Teesta: Their aim will be to pervert and change institutional provisions, Constitutional provisions. We must never forget that from the time they (i.e. Hindutva forces of which RSS is a core and a part) planned and succeeded in the assasinaton of Gandhiji, there single minded aim was that India should be not Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s and other visionaries secular, socialist democratic republic but a Hindu Rashtra. And a Hindu Rashtra is the flip side of an Islamic, or Christian or Buddhist state.

Question
: How do you think Narendra Modi will balance the dichotomy between the expectations of the corporates and that of the common people? And to what extent can he and will he push the Hindutwa agenda while pulling off this balancing act?


Teesta
: It will be a tough challenge and interesting to observe. The complexities and contrarian pulls of a majoritarian Hindutva agenda and the demands of an impatient crony capitalist market that simply wants the way and access to resources cleared will be complex. Already, Jawdekar the MOS for environment has cleared 240 projects wihout requisite envicronmental clearances and this government has been in power just 121 days. Our media –completely dominated by corporate interests today—has not even yet been begun to investigate and list the projects. These projects are likely to affect livelihoods of large populations. We have a ten year old protest against the POSCO plant and senior mass movement leaders—including CPI and CPI-M activists with dozens of false cases against them. We have an anti-nuclar agitation that has been on for over 1,000 days and the media not even covering the peaceful people’s protest. That is the India we live in. That is the democracy we are celebrating. It is electoral democracy dominated by big money and corporate power where the right to peaceful assembly and protest is not recognized.

Question:
What are the areas where communalism may strike hard or what are the areas where the secular democratic forces must give priority?

Teesta:
Secular forces need to work among the people, day and night to ensure tht the centuries old bonds and bridges between communities are maintained and not bridged by rumour and vicious propaganda. Communal, divisive hate driven forces are well oiled and funded and work day and night to divide. History has shown that the forces of evil and disintegration spread faster than those that divide and unite. We need to find new and creative language, new forms of protest and struggle.

Question:
How should the secular democratic forces address and involve the youth in this struggle?

Teesta:
By using the internet and (anti) social media creatively, by bringing the narratives of the national movement (in the past) to the young; by compelling the young through creative and forceful narratives to confront the everyday powerful stories of our rural toiling people who build our cities and villages; who contribute everyday to the lived histories and political economies of the regions.

Question:
Can you please explain to us the political economy of a communal clash and when does it becomes a riot and manifest in various other forms?

Teesta:
In the past, until the mid 1980s the communal riot was the culmination of some local skirmish that took a communal turn. However ever since the nature of communal violence changed, ever since the RSS and its many hydra like wings permetated and infiltrated wings of the state/police and administration the very character of communal violence changed; it shifted acquired the character of a pogrom against a section of our own people, the minorities. This was because one way of thinking saw this section of our own people as ‘the other’, the eternal culprit responsible for all nature of ills and were made through brute violence –that took lives and property – to pay for it. For this level of pogromactic attacks to happen, the majority had to be convinced of its own and perpetual victimhood which was done through the clever use of Goebellian propaganda. Chalo Ayodhya (and the building of a Ram Mandir) had the sub-text of Muslim tushtikaran/appeasement and the demolition of a Mosque.  It was Advani not Modi who inspired this seminal shift in the Hindu middle class, it was Advani who demonized the word ‘secular’ labeling any person who believed in Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution (equality for all and non discrimination) to be ‘pseudo secular’. Modi is simply reaping the crude benefits of this shift. The wide secular political frame simply did not intervene creatively and effectively enough be it the Left or the Centrist parties.

Question:
There are places prone to recurring communal clashes where the simple logic of communal polarisation and illegal immigrants fails to hold the debate. If indeed these were the most probable reasons then West Bengal would have been the worst affected state. So what in your opinion rules the idea of these clashes?

Teesta:
This is a misnomer. Communal violence, its eruption and handling depends critically on the enforcement of the Indian Constitution, the rule of law, principles of equality and non discrimination. And here West Bengal –largely because of the Left’s domination of powere here for for over 30 years has not seen brutal violent fallout. Yet I am concerned because certain mindless policies of the TMC (including the payment of salaries to Imams) etc have generated a strong support for the rightwing BJP. The Left needs to pay its historic role and intervene sanely for a non discriminatory form and approach of governance. The Left needs to come out of its shell and forge alliances and regain the faith of the people.

Question
:In the ground reality of communal polarisation, be it majority or minority communalism,how should a progressive students' organisation address the student community? What are your suggestions on what agendas should be raised and what approach be taken?

Teesta:
This is a very important question. Minority communalism feeds into majority communalism, it always has in south Asia, before and in the lead up to Partition and it does now. The peculiar nature of vivivsection/partition and the historical memories demands that any movement concerned with furthering the secular ethos among people is unequivocal. Freedom of expression, right to dissent, rights of girls and women are as critical to a secular ethos as is right to life and property. We need to deepen ties with women and the marginalized sections within communities as surely as we need to attack the brute majoritarianism of the state or the majority. Only then can we build a sound secular ethos.