The Invisibilization of Tanveer Hasan in Begusarai
#TCVotes Why have scholars reduced RJD’s candidate to a footnote?
BEGUSARAI: Begusarai in Bihar has come to occupy a significance of its own in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. While on one hand stands the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Giriraj Singh, fighting against him from the same constituency are Communist Party of India’s Kanhaiya Kumar and Tanveer Hasan from the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
This triangular fight seems to be complicating the mainstream and alternative discourse that has come to articulate itself through a politics of national versus anti- national. The presence of a candidate from RJD, a party known for its stand on social justice and politics against communalism, presents a serious difficulty in this two-way formulation. More so, as RJD is one of the very few regional parties to have stoutly opposed the communal forces, and never make common cause with the BJP.
In a recently held press conference, the former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar said, “the country has got divided into two sides- while on one hand stand those who support fascism, on the other hand are those who stand against it”. As a corollary to this, he also declared that the fight in Begusarai is between him and Giriraj Singh; Tanveer Hasan doesn’t exist in the fray.
Many leading intellectuals and commentators seem to concur with his statement. While analyzing the bigotry and vicious communal atmosphere initiated by BJP, in the context of Begusarai, they look at it as a fight between BJP’s fascism against the progressive politics of Communist Party’s Kanhaiya Kumar.
Some are a little more nuanced. Apoorvanand, a leading commentator on Indian politics, laments the fact that RJD, a regional party which thrived on the socialist tide since the 70s and later also came to acquire political power in the state, did not make an alliance with Communist Party of India. In this failure, he sees a gradual hollowness surrounding the politics of both the politics of social justice and the Left. While this appears to be a fair appraisal, it still pins hope on Kanhaiya Kumar as a ‘national’ figure who can present a counter to Modi’s wave of bigoted nationalism.
Dilip Mandal, a staunch critic of Left and its neglect towards issues of caste, punctures this national imagination of resistance when he argues that in the regional context Kanhaiya Kumar’s politics also means an age old assertion of the Bhumihar caste in the Communist Party and in the politics of Begusarai. His assertion that caste plays a more important role in Bihar’s politics than the Left’s ideological reach complicates an easy binary between fascism as represented by Giriraj Singh and progressive politics by CPI’s Kanhaiya Kumar. While setting this parallel, Mandal however mentions nothing of RJD candidate Tanveer Hasan or his politics.
This has larger repercussions in terms of what I would call a politics of invisibilization. While the scholars and political analysts seem very keen to delve into the progressive strand of Kanhaiya Kumar’s politics or alternatively his politics of status quo, and the increasing threat of BJP’s fascism, all very conveniently invisibilize the presence of Tanveer Hasan. If he occupies any space, it is that of a footnote.
Seen from a different angle, Hasan’s credentials speak of a figure well versed with the politics of social justice. During the last Lok Sabha elections in 2014, when the Modi wave was at its zenith, he lost the Lok Sabha elections by just 40,000 votes. He is a figure who has traversed a long journey from a student activist during the time of the Jayaprakash Movement, to becoming a member of the state legislative council and the Vice- president of Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. And yet, he finds hardly any presence in opinion pieces and election reports on Begusarai and Bihar.
In an early interview Hasan rues the fact that many independent and progressive voices do not see any problem in asking a minority to compromise with his/her candidature. According to him, while they vehemently critique communalism and politics of hatred, the participation of a minority figure in the face of Hindutva escapes their attention. In another interview, he also regrets the fact that in recent times regional specificities don’t matter to national media and assertion of difference over identity of caste and social justice is seen as breaking the common ground of resistance against BJP’s fascist regime.
When many raised suspicions over Kanhaiya Kumar’s caste identity and the domination of the same in his constituency and the possible link between his candidature and caste, he said, “I belong to Begusarai. If I don’t fight from here, where will I fight from? These are my people.”
I wonder why the same can’t be said for Tanveer Hasan who also comes from Begusarai. Does his belongingness and presence in Begusarai merit no attention? Why is there an unspeakable silence around the figure of Hasan in both mainstream and alternative media? On what grounds are we ignoring him?
The threat of fascism is worse when in setting the stage against it we forget to recognize those who are also participants in this fight. Manindra Thakur in his recently published article on the Wire finds in Kanhaiya Kumar a hope for a new politics beyond the caste and communal lines. He writes, “People are fed up with caste politics. Social justice has become mere rhetoric. The most progressive phase of this politics is over. Democracy has become a prisoner of communalism and caste politics.”
One wonders what would have been Thakur’s response had RJD supported Kanhaiya Kumar in the upcoming election. One wonders if RJD would have become a favorite of Delhi’s intelligentsia. However, since this did not happen Thakur has no qualms in branding the politics of social justice as playing second fiddle to BJP’s fascism.
He also misses on the point that RJD stands with Communist Party of India (Marxist- Leninist) in Bihar. Though the CPI-ML has got only one seat in the alliance, there is a larger understanding among the two in terms of how they can consolidate their votes and put up a common front against the BJP led NDA. Thus to see the politics of social justice, which Thakur does, as standing alone and perpetuating communalism and caste politics remains a very skewed vision.
This otherization of social justice politics, I would argue also comes from the intellectual unwillingness to engage with identities of caste and religion. While on one hand, in the face of growing resistance from the ground, the Left has come to raise the slogan of Jai Bhim along with Laal Salam, on the other hand, the politburo of Left parties are still dominated by the upper castes and mainly Hindu Brahmins.
Unless and until this contradiction is acknowledged, the Left despite its electoral victory will remain defeated on its own ground. The acknowledgement in the context of Begusarai does not necessarily mean a formal alliance between parties and raising universal slogans; it also means a politics of recognition.
The invisibilization of Tanveer Hasan and social justice politics in the name of ‘ideological unity’ in the longer run will do more damage than BJP is ever capable of doing to the democratic fabric of this country.
Akash Bharadwaj is a Researcher at the Jawaharlal Nehru University