Cartoon Row: The Left Debates

It was entirely correct for the Lok Sabha to have intervened in the textbook row as it represents the people, and their right to an egalitarian society, better than any group of “experts”, says Prabhat Patnaik, a noted economist and Marxist intellectual. He held the Sukhamoy Chakravarty Chair at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Prabhat Patnaik

Too many red herrings have entered into the debate over the removal of the cartoon from the class XI Political Science textbook of the NCERT. Let us, to start with, get these out of the way. First, the removal of the cartoon can scarcely be held to constitute a violation of “freedom of expression”. No censorship has been exercised on a genuinely creative work giving expression to an author’s views and persona; only a cartoon has been removed from a textbook which some authors were commissioned to write by the state. Even though the authors assented to the commission voluntarily, a textbook, meant for public educational use and commissioned by the state cannot really be described as the site of its author’s creative and “free expression”. So, the claim that “free expression” is being thwarted is untenable.

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Aditya Nigam is a Delhi-based Academic, and a member of Kafila, the team blog.

Aditya Nigam

With the recent article by Prabhat Patnaik, the controversy over the ‘Ambedkar cartoon’ issue has now moved into a different terrain. In this important statement, Prabhat undertakes the task of pointing out the numerous red herrings that have entered into the debate. These include  ’freedom of expression’ and ‘sense of humour’ and the question of  whether Ambedkar had actually seen and let pass this cartoon. Prabhat’s point about the changed sensitivities and increased audibility of the dalit movement today is also well taken.

We must also be thankful to Prabhat for stating his views so candidly over the past few years, on a number of critical issues ranging from Nandigram and the electoral defeat of the Left to the ongoing cartoon controversy. We must thank him because  because in my opinion, all his positions on these disparate sets of issues are of a piece and take us to the very heart of the impasse, not merely in the Left but in our politics itself. But before I respond to some of the issues raised by Prabhat, let me restate my positions on some aspects of the ongoing controversy. This is also necessary in order to identify what exactly it is in Prabhat’s piece that is so disturbing.

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Samar is a rights activist and researcher shuttling between Delhi and Hongkong.


None can challenge Aditya Nigam in spitting venom against the organised Left, of any kind! That’s bound to be the case for Nigam specializes in nothing else! Now its Prabhat, Earlier it was the rumour of Maoism! Even earlier was that piece in which Nigam documented both his fears and the relief.. To quote him..

“fear at the sight of these hundreds of little Stalins crawling out of the woodwork, and sheer relief that they will never be able to rule over us ever again.”

Hundreds of little Stalinists! They must be Indian Citizens as well, ain’t they? They must have their right to form associations and hold meetings guaranteed by the Indian constitution itself? Don’t they? After all, whatever the argument of some of the organizers of MR, MR did neither issue a call for any sort of violence nor did it stop anyone else, including Nigam, to hold their WSF! Seems the term ‘Stalinist’ has gotten a whole new meaning!

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