History is moving in zig-zags and by roundabout ways. – Lenin
Dear Ashutosh Ji,
After reading your article, Modi lessons for CPM, in The Indian Express, a famous quote of Marx (the another famed one having Groucho as his first name) came to my mind- “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know”. Should I congratulate you for shooting the elephant or be worried for your pajamas! Here is a spokesperson of a political party advising a leader of another political party that he should follow the ways of a leader belonging to a third political party. Is it the zenith of political smartness or an utterly nincompoop act? You have written a book on Indian politics, you are a politician yourself, you must have read the book written by your former boss Rajdeep Sardesai on the General elections, even then your understanding of Narendra Modi’s electoral triumph revolves around the phrases like ‘He reinvented himself’, ‘made himself attractive’ and ‘He projected himself as a man of development’. But this letter is not about your awe of the Modi myth nor about the analysis of that elections and the making of Modi.
This letter is also not about the present condition of the Left in India, particularly of the CPI(M). Or what Comrade Sitaram Yechury should do vis-a-vis Mr Modi or China. Alas! You do not have anything to offer to him or his party from the jar of your politics and experience. Or, your leader Arvind Kejriwal is already following the footprints of Mr Modi on your grand advice, and dreaming to do a Deng or a Zemin or a Lee Kuan in Karawal Nagar or Shakur Basti? Seems you have misplaced the copy of Swaraj by Arvind Kejriwal.
Just one more observation, and I will move to the main point. Your wish that the CPI(M) should follow the Chinese Communist Party is terribly naive. The CPI(M) is one of many political parties active under the political system in India. The Chinese Communist party is the political system in China. It only underlines your eagerness to follow China like Mr Modi. China is the new America for Indian corporates and big traders, and their political lobbyists.
And this letter is about your China fetish.
You have begun by quoting Deng Xiaoping- “Liberate your thoghts, seek truth from facts”. These ‘prophetic words’ are often attributed to Deng, but these are basically from HanShu, a historical chronicle of China compiled in 111AD. It is not to underline a mistake, but to remind you that the practice to seek truth from facts are continuing since antiquity. And, misquoting prophetic words can be classified as heresy. Allow me to refer to the wisdom of Roman Emperor and Philosopher Marcus Aurelius, who underlined this long ago that “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” In our times, famous author and artist Maya Angelou has cautioned, “There is a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.” Let me quote another great man from the last century, Aldous Huxley. “Facts are ventriloquists dummies. Sitting on a wise man’s knee they may be made to utter words of wisdom; elsewhere they say nothing, or talk nonsense, or indulge in sheer diabolism.” Precisely, that’s the case with your article. Moreover, you have not only tried to obscure truth in your article, but also have fudged the facts.
As you have mentioned, Deng inherited a China standing on ‘its own feet’ because of Mao’s leadership, and the ‘productive forces’ were ready to be ‘unleashed’. From here, you jump to the CPI(M) which is not ruling the country and has a handful of members in the parliament. How come Deng or Zemin can be compared to a CPI(M) General Secretary! Let us consider for a moment that Comrade Yechury is Chairman Yechury (It is giving me goosebumps!). Do you have a country standing on its feet like China of 1970s? Do we have healthy, educated and skilled productive forces as the ones Deng inherited? Gupta Ji, dreams do not bring dollars, nor all fantasies are French.
Let me quickly add that I am not a fan of the Chinese model of development. I am just playing argumentative ping-pong on your table.
“Deng was an original revolutionary.” You announce this in a paragraph consisting a single line forgetting the fundamental difference between a revolutionary and a reformer, more so a market reformer. More so an über-reformer like Deng who was so myopic and hypermetropiac that he went on to proclaim- “A basic contradiction between socialism and the market economy does not exist”.
You have extensively quoted Robert Lawrence Kuhn, the biographer of Jiang Zemin. I am not going into former Chinese leader’s wisdom and policies. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya tried to play according to his tunes and felled flat on his face along with the fortune of his party in Bengal. That always happens with the copy-cats. While introducing Kunh you forgot to add ‘official’ before the word, biographer. Did you get the point or I should elaborate a little further? Okay. Here it is.
In a searing review in Foreign Affairs, Bruce Giley has deciphered the geometry behind the book and the two men related to it. You must read it. It tells you how to approach this book, and might teach you how to read biographies. It would be of immense help if you ever write a biography of your leader, or Mr Modi or Mr Yechury.
Giley tells that a secret state propaganda team supervised the writing of the book since the begining of the project in 2001. The target reader of the book were the Chinese. A Tenth of the English edition was removed from the Chinese version. “This is the image that Jiang and China’s new leaders want their people to see”, tells Giley in the long piece.
Let me quote a paragraph from this review. “To write his biography, Mao Zedong chose Edgar Snow, a member of the U.S. Communist Party; Jiang chose Kuhn, a member of the U.S. business elite. An investment banker with a zeal for science, high culture, and business, Kuhn personifies the new ideology that has swept through China since 1989. China’s state propaganda team even chose to leave the name of Kuhn’s Chinese collaborator out of the book to emphasize the American financier’s authorship. Nothing better symbolizes Jiang and his cohort’s transition to a right-wing developmental dictatorship; every year, they carefully chip away at their socialist heritage.”
Ashutosh, before going gung-ho over China, you must read some fine critiques of the Chinese model. Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Žižek has termed China as “an authoritarian capitalism”, very much alike the early European capitalism. He asserts, “the country has developed fast, not in spite of authoritarian rule, but because of it.” He also underline that “in the eyes of the ruling elite, the main enemies are instead the “principal contradiction” between unfettered capitalist development that the Communist Party rulers profit from and the threat of revolt by the workers and peasants”. You must also read him to understand how “capitalism has broken free of the shackles of democracy”.
You have mentioned Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, but forgotten the countless protests since then, including the recent ones in Hong Kong. Thousands and thousands of protests are taking place every year in China, everywhere, in its villages and towns. These protests may not be a grave threat to the Chinese Communist Party, but the sheer numbers of protests and the brutal response of the State are indicative of the serious internal contradictions that your rose-watered eyes are refusing to witness.
The entire world- from South Asian nukkads to the Arab deserts to the streets of Baltimore and the avenues across Europe- is outraged and sullen. Do not forget, your party is borne out of such an exasperation. As Žižek says, the marriage between capitalism and democracy is over. Now, it is up to you to decide which way you have to take. I urge you to get rid of your reactionary tendencies displayed during your JNU days, like opposing reservations and creating ruckus in the meetings organised by others etc. Engage. Study. Open your mouth. Exactly in this order.
Prakash K Ray
P.S. : Ashutosh, you have also given some wisdom to Mr Yechury on ‘Indian culture and values’ and advised him to “redefine secularism in the Indian context”. This is my favourite topic. I hope to shoot another letter on this soon.