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Colour of the mice to catch

Colour of the mice to catch

JOSH Malihabadi was houseguest for a few days at S.M. Mehdi’s modest second-floor flat in Karol Bagh in Delhi. A few comrades assembled there one evening to hear Josh Sahib’s new verses. Theatre guru Habib Tanvir came, so did Sardar Jafri. Tanvir had an excellent singing voice and he kicked off with a Momin composition. Josh stopped him abruptly. “That sounds like a Momin ghazal. Why don’t you recite one of your own?” Tanvir said he didn’t have one to offer. If you will read the great ustads, we can only redeem ourselves by reading something ineffable, Josh smiled as he took the floor.

Brinda Karat, re-elected this month to the once formidable politburo of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), quoted Oscar Wilde in an essay in which she tried to explain the party’s new lines.

The so-called line was not terribly clear though the Wilde quotation was a welcome departure from the usual invocation of Marx.

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, Wilde had said, a witticism Karat quoted to suggest that her party welcomed the media attention, including bad press.

Someone might have suggested another Wilde quote — as relevant, if not more. If you are not too long, says Wilde, I will wait here for you all my life. Had Wilde presciently described the long vigil, the CPI-M’s partisans would be waiting for the promised people’s democratic revolution to arrive. PDR is the comrades’ shorter name for the promised change, as vital to them as elusive monsoons are to small farmers across India.

I don’t feel particularly qualified to get into a debate about the difference between the CPI-M’s concept of PDR and how it offers a superior understanding of the Indian reality than NDR or national democratic revolution ideated by the rival formerly pro-Soviet CPI. My instinct is that we don’t have any time left to debate PDR and NDR.

In this season of quoting quotable quotes, why leave out Deng Xiaoping? It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mice, the communist sage said. Reading the literature from the two mainstream communist parties that held their separate national conferences recently, I fear the dear comrades have successfully put Deng’s aphorism on its head.

They are not just quibbling about the colour of the allegorical cat, but seem to persist with differences about the colour of the mice too.

Is it the big landlord or the big bourgeoisie that deserves their urgent attention? And how do we regard the supposedly national bourgeoisie? Are they a myth like the Saraswati river? Do we have the time for the answer?

To keep the humour from fraying, let me confess that at least since the advent of the Modi regime, India’s communist parties have been reminding one of a scene from The life of Brian. While attending Jesus’s sermon on the mount, Brian developed a hatred for the Romans and joined the People’s Front of Judea, a rival of the Judean People’s Front, who spend more time fighting each other than the Romans.

Having somewhat beaten about the bush let me come to the point. There is a welcome reference to the issue of Dalits in Karat’s promised sharper focus for the future, a mandatory move if her party ponders expansion in the north. It’s time the comrades read Ambedkar and reclaimed his legacy from the Hindu right.

There is no reference to the tribespeople in Karat’s essay, which leaves her comments open to interpretation. Is it because the Maoists claim to have captured the imagination of the tribespeople in much of central India? Neither of the two social constituencies — the Dalits or the tribespeople — has been the CPI-M’s strong suit. There could be an opening though. Will CPI-M’s new general secretary Sitaram Yechury take up the issue of G.N. Saibaba’s bail application?

Saibaba, a Delhi University teacher, was picked up in May last year for his alleged links with Maoists. Saibaba denies any link with the group but assuming he subscribes to the banned group’s ideas should he be abandoned to the mercy of a police state? The Maoists in Bengal have unfairly targeted CPI-M cadres, killing many young people. But let’s play Brian. By raising the issue of Saibaba, who is 90pc disabled and wheelchair-bound, will the party gain support or lose it? Moreover, should popularity be a consideration at all?

There was a time when CPI-M’s supporters would carry out humanitarian tasks. The flood relief campaign in Delhi’s Najafgarh area comes to mind. Students lined up to donate blood to help the cancer-stricken father of a senior comrade. A humanitarian gesture for the wheelchair-bound and seriously ill prisoner could be a game-changer for left unity.

Reports say that an ongoing government assault on NGOs is meant to target people like Teesta Setalvad who has been bravely if precariously fighting a grim battle against religious fascism in Gujarat. The hatred for her work is so strong that the government has taken on the well-connected Ford Foundation. Would the CPI-M lose its sheen if it spoke up for the NGOs, including the Ford Foundation, an American funder?

As Josh Sahib suggested to Habib Tanvir, it is time we stopped quoting the great gurus and began to look inward for inspiration.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2015

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