Sunday, January 28, 2007

Towards a National Politics of Messiness

[Responding to this piece]

The ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits -- one hesitates even to say that this is wrong/bad/awful etc., because the outrage, horror, and indignation ought to be a "given" -- is a separate issue from whether we are at this pass because of "appeasement," as Kanchan Gupta states. That is, Gupta's closing remarks about "appeasement" make clear that rather than dwelling upon the event, upon how the politics of communitarian identity have led to a desire to rid oneself of the other (whether Jews in Germany, Pandits in Kashmir, or the 100,000-200,000 Muslims driven from their homes in Gujarat, the story is old by now, but not -- depressingly -- stale), Gupta seeks to harness the event in the service of a rather different political project, namely one that would not "appeas[e]". It is a move one is familiar with from two decades of BJP politics, but the validity of the link is assumed, never demonstrated.

Put differently: here on this blog, far from the (real and imagined) compulsions of fanatics, elections, and lynch mobs, we have a space to dwell on why this sort of thing happens. I couch it in such general terms because the history of the twentieth century, including the history of India over the last hundred or so years, demonstrates that this sort of thing may happen anywhere. The prerequisite is a certain notion of identity politics, and -- this is crucial -- a certain notion of the state. That is, the fascist dream is of a state that is an extension of the self, always already imagined as a communitarian self. Thus, if I am I, the "I" must be "Muslim", and the state also "Muslim". That, metaphysically, is the obscene truth underlying Pakistan; that is also the obscene truth underlying the Gujarat that is coming into being (as well as the nation-state that the Sangh Parivar seeks to bring about); and that is also the obscene truth underlying the situation Gupta discusses.

Why is it obscene? Because if the state is merely a mirror to the (communitarian) self, then what is one to do with the "minority"? Note the way that last question is phrased, because it illustrates what happens to the one/many who are "inconsistent" with the majoritarian "self", i.e. the "minority" is recast as a "problem" to be "solved." Even the "best" liberals often do not recognize the obscenity of this discourse (recall the insistence on "self-determination" following World War I, suffused as it was with Wilsonian idealism; recall the "Jewish question" that loomed so large a century or more ago), which does violence to the singularity of the other by remaking him/her/them in the image of a calculus.

Thus, the answer to the question of who is being "appease[d]" might well show that Gupta too is enframed by this logic. That is a symptom of the problem, and cannot be a solution to it: for where the calculus reigns, the horrors begin: thus is the rape, murder, and displacement of people justified, for the stench of cruelty and anguish (let us not call it the the stench of death, for that expression is too sanitized; let us consider it as it is, namely, the stench of killing and oppression) does not register. The mind sees only ciphers -- moved around a board as it were -- and only problems being solved. It is a politics of neatness, of everyone in their proper place (i.e. with a label, in a box, sealed), taken to its logical extreme.

Spare a thought for messiness then, that is to say the messiness of blurred categories, fuzzy lines, and ambiguous outlines, the next time an Indian you know speaks longingly of straight lines, clean demarcations, of the fantasy of order and discipline as "the solution" to India's "problems," most notably its communitarian "problems." For Kashmir too is orderly now, cleansed of its Pandits, who are free to make their way in squalor and homelessness and misery. Neater for sure.

I prefer messy.

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