Samir Amin in “The Democratic Fraud and the Universalist Alternative” in our issue of October 2011 sets out the fundamental process of the “democratic” fraud:
[A]ll hitherto existing societies have been based on a dual system of exploitation of labor (in various forms) and of concentration of the state’s powers on behalf of the ruling class. This fundamental reality results in a relative “depoliticization/disacculturation” of very large segments of society. And this result, broadly designed and implemented to fulfill the systemic function expected of it, is simultaneously the condition for reproduction of the system without changes other than those it can control and absorb — the condition of its stability. . . . Elections by universal suffrage under these conditions are guaranteed to produce a sure victory for conservatism, albeit sometimes a “reformist” conservatism.
While this system has proven of immense power in stabilising the ruling classes of the imperial core, and as well in destabilising propaganda directed at the previously “really-existing” socialisms of the Soviet bloc, its record in the periphery — and therefore for the great majority of humankind — is problematic. When elections have brought to power anti-imperialist leadership in the third world, the “free world” has always had ready the CIA and its tools for the required murderous coups, as in Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, or Honduras in 2009. The recent experience of Venezuela has shown that even continuously repeated victories in elections by universal suffrage will not protect an anti-imperialist governing movement from attempted coups and incessant destabilisation through economic warfare. Nonetheless, Samir Amir reaches a complex and demanding conclusion: “So should we give up on elections? Not at all. But how to bring together new, rich, inventive forms of democratization through which elections can be used in a way other than is conceived by the conservative forces? Such is the challenge.”
While fundamental social change has always been sparked by minorities, the objective reality of the misery to which the “imperialist rent” condemns peripheral societies has meant that on occasion revolutionary vanguards have been able to obtain the support of popular majorities. But deep dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs is far from a sufficient condition; appeals to an imaginary past “golden age” or assigning blame for current miseries to the false cause of an ethnic or religious scapegoat minority have repeatedly mobilised mass followings for reactionary purposes. An appeal for change can look either way: to the illusions — or the bitter ethnic and religious prejudices — of the past, or to action for a better future, which can only be based on human equality and rational socialist management of our endangered global habitat.
Today, it is clear that the conservative and ruling class forces enter the electoral festival season, now lasting a year or more, with no prospect of success on the claim of mass satisfaction with the general state of affairs. The majority are less well off in basic terms — most have less to eat and are further in debt. The Manmohan Singh-Chidambaram regime is awash in immense corruption, and in thrall to a small group of obscenely rich corporate oligarchs and U.S. bankers and militarists. And so what remains is what we shall surely be forced to endure: appeals to caste and communal interests and prejudice and all the similar accumulated filth of our past. The primary sector of society in which an appeal for revolutionary rational social change has in fact been gathering fresh mass support is the most marginal sector, the adivasis. If we are to be “democratic” in any real sense, we must then first and foremost turn in solidarity to the contest — not primarily electoral — for their understanding and support.
The primary initiative for a reactionary political appeal to adivasi anger at dispossession and misery is not the brutality of the internment camps and “Salwa Judum” initiatives of the Congress regime security forces, but rather the ultra-right and Hindu nationalist political formation — namely the RSS with its political wing BJP. We need to address the issue of tribal religion and how the hindutva forces have sought to create a mad anti-Christian frenzy with activities such as ‘Ghar Wapsi’, anti-Christian violence in the tribal villages of Odisha, demanding anti-conversion laws etc. They have, to a certain extent, succeeded in achieving the goal by making inroads in the tribal community through a number of organizations — such as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram — which are in appearance involved in missionary activities but in essence propagate hate campaigns against non-Hindus and for the creation of a fraudulent group solidarity for Hindu Rashtra.
Virginius Xaxa of Delhi University in the article “Politics of Language, Religion and Identity: Tribes in India” (Economic and Political Weekly March 26, 2005) has set out the contours of the issue:
To begin with, whether tribes are to be treated as Hindus is a debatable question. There are both similarities and differences in the religious practices of the Hindus and tribes. The protagonists of Hindutva have, however, conveniently overlooked the differences. Even on similarities, it is not tenable to treat tribes as Hindus. The similarities have been drawn based on two sources. One is the influence of Hinduism on tribes and the other is similarity due to the fact that both are, to a greater or lesser extent natural religions. There is no doubt that there has been much give and take between the two religions. However the influence of Hinduism on tribes, though present, is not an adequate ground for describing tribes as Hindus. The other aspect that is alluded to is the dimension of natural religion. As a natural religion, tribal religion shares many attributes in common with Hinduism as with the religious practices of tribes in Americas or Africa as well. Yet, it is doubtful if the religious practices of tribes in Americas or Africa can be described as Hinduism or that these tribes can be alluded to as Hindus. To categorise tribes as Hindus in India therefore smacks of cultural and religious expansionism.
This expansionism runs more directly into the ties that bind us yet today to the most rotten corpse of our history: caste. Social scientists, as Xaxa goes on to point out, have generally posited that it is the social organisation of tribes rather than religion per se that make it impossible for a tribal to be Hindu and a member of a tribe at the same time. But it is the concrete historical circumstances, including above all the ability of the hegemonic power to deprive the weakest among us of both self-determination and self-definition, that provides the ground for the hindutva assault on tribal identity. Xaxa points out:
[T]he enumeration of tribes as animists and the classification of tribal religion continued until the 1941 census when it was replaced by those of ‘tribal origin’. However, soon after independence, both ‘tribal origin’ and ‘tribal religion/animism’ as the basis of enumeration was done away with. Instead, tribals began to be enumerated as Hindus if they were not adherents of other major religions. Indeed, one may say that this is the post-independence method of tribal absorption. . . . [I]n the earlier method, the absorption took place by means of economic cooperation and security and to that extent the absorption was voluntary. However, in the post-independence era, the absorption has been through the state’s administrative practices, which gives no choice to the tribals of pronouncing their religion (tribal religion) in terms other than those of the major religions. A nonviolent coercion has thus been built into the absorption process.
But even under the pressure of the hegemonic power of the unitary state, on the question of caste the progressive world view has an excellent opportunity to contest the issue. The central point of struggle with the hindutva fascists among the adivasi community is thus also the central obstacle to any meaningful democracy in India. Quoting Samir Amin: “Is India really the biggest (in number of voters) democracy in the world? Well, this electoral democracy is and will remain a farce until radical criticism of the caste system (a very real legacy of its past) has been carried through to the end: the abolition of the castes themselves.” Ghanshyam Shah has put it correctly:
If Hinduism means the institutional four-fold brahminical social order, the model prescribed by Manusmruti, accepting Vedantic philosophy, etc, the adivasis are certainly not Hindus. Though adivasis have a notion of hierarchy based on status or ranking, the Dangis have not imbibed the values related to purity and pollution as understood and practised by caste Hindus. They do not consider themselves as belonging to one of the castes among the Hindus. Nor do they perceive their present position as adivasi as the result of their deeds of their past birth. Their social organisation, norms of interpersonal relationships and many of their customs related to marriage, child birth, etc, are different in many ways from those of the caste Hindus of the adjoining areas. More important, caste Hindus do not consider adivasis as part of them. The adivasi is always looked down upon and placed outside the caste based social order. Any effort to bring the advasis into the institutional and dominant brahminical ideological framework of Hinduism by conversion to Hinduism is only for political purposes. (“Conversion, Reconversion and the State :Recent Events in the Dangs”, Economic and Political Weekly February 6, 1999)
In fact, history shows that even prior to the coming of Christian missionaries, almost no adivasis sought to become Hindus. The colonial era, with its forest laws and permanent settlements, created the great crisis in tribal life that opened the field to the Christian missionaries. It is a tragedy of the struggle for independence that the poison of communalist identity politics spread by the Hindu missionary organisations such as the Mahasabha and the Arya Dharam Sevak Sangh was encouraged, tacitly and also openly, even by progressive nationalists personally of anti-caste disposition. See, Archana Prasad, “Communalism and Tribal Welfare” Akhbar, September, 2001. The means to this penetration were, as with the Christian missionaries, the provision of the most basic of social services to the displaced and terrorised tribal communities.
With adoption of neo-liberal policies by the ruling classes, once again the speed of the attacks on the tribal communities is increasing day by day — they are being deprived of the conditions necessary for life itself — jal, jangal and zamin (water, forest and land). By indiscriminate mining, setting up industries based on extractivist practices and big dams, adivasis are driven into barren marginal strips of wasteland. Once again the provision of some relief offers an opportunity for militant Hindu organizations of different formations under RSS. The Sangh Parivar has set up a plethora of organizations that focus on tribal areas. Some of the prominent ones are Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Ekal Vidyalaya, Sewa Bharati, Vivekananda Kendra, Bharat Kalyan Pratishthan, Friends of Tribal Society. Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad itself works through its 32 affiliated organizations. Anti-Christian hate campaigns and violence are only a part of it. An overt aim is to gather vote banks for the immediate goal of seizure of power at the centre, as explained by a VHP official commenting on plans for setting up more Ekal Vidyalayas in Gujarat:
We are just imitating our Bihar experience where the BJP could make inroads because of such schools run by the VHP in the Jharkhand region,” Kaushik Patel, a parishad leader, said. . . . According to [the] VHP leader, the positive impact of these Ekal Vidyalays — which aim to bring tribals into the Hindu fold — will be evident in the next general elections. . . . Pointing out that the experiment has been a huge success in Bihar, he said the VHP has already made inroads in tribal Gujarat, once considered a Congress stronghold. (The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva, “Appendix F Adivasi vs Vanvasi: The Hinduization of Tribals in India”, Outlook India November 20, 2002)
In a recent editorial we urged the left to respond to the imminent hindutva fascist drive for power by a mobilisation of our own. As a practical suggestion, joining in a non-sectarian manner — putting aside the grievances of the recent past — with fellow communists active in the struggle of the adivasis for life and livelihood, on both a tactical and a strategic level, might well be among the best options we have.