Swimming against the tide is what distinguished political scientist Prof Bhambri  

Passing away of Prof CP Bhambhri (1933-2020), one of the founding members of JNU, marks the end of an era, writes Rakesh Batabyal in the second part of his obituary

Swimming against the tide is what distinguished political scientist Prof Bhambri   

Rakesh Batabyal

Prof Bhambri’s battles against Rajani Kothari are well known in academic circles. Kothari championed the idea, promoted by the United States’ establishment at the time, that the Indian state was the greatest impediment to democracy in India. Prof Bhambhri and his peers held that the Indian state was too important to be left to the anti-people forces camouflaging as popular movements defending democracy. Bhambhri stands vindicated today when one sees how the JP movement of 1975 and the anti-corruption movement in recent years have allowed the Indian state to be captured by forces that are clearly anti-labour and anti-peasant.

He was also extremely critical of what Marx himself had defined as adventurism of any sort. Adventure by many armed Groups, notwithstanding their claims to be adherents of Marx’s idea of revolution, for him, were neither truly Marxist nor they allowed popular solidarity to emerge, as their adventurism gave a handle to the State to delegitimize real solidarity of people working on the ground.

He also was in the forefront questioning social scientists for accepting and propagating the representative theory of democracy developed by the western establishment. The most challenging, for Bhambri, were the community reservation theories, which he felt legitimized a status quoist politics, impeding the move towards a progressive classless or casteless society.

Second, he argued, it allowed the most regressive political and social forces to control the state apparatus behind representational claims. He showed how the BJP for example was using these claims to its advantage to ‘divide and rule’ (Reservation and Castes, 2005). He called both Congress and the leftist forces to not subscribe to the caste-based forces. He recognised that his own university had become a front for many adherents of such ‘representative-wallahs’, as he would jokingly call them.

To him, caste-based policy of reservations based on “quota system” institutionalized the complete fragmentation of society, representing a victory of the ruling classes over any effort by the real victims of neglect – the poor – to unite, cutting across religion, caste or region.

Bhambhri saw communalism as a threat to democratic and economic efforts. Communalism was seen as false consciousness which clouded people’s understanding, their real consciousness, of building a socialist society. Communalism further made anti-knowledge prejudices as core of the social life, and thereby impeded social development.

Bhambhri, a victim of the Partition, had seen Hindu and Muslim communal mobilization, and recognized the debilitating role of Hindu Communalism,which he felt would eat away the vitality of the Indian people, and diminish their struggle for acquiring a respectable position in the comity of nations in the world.

The anti-Muslim content of Hindu communalism was seen as a danger to the stability of Indian society as this was a sure way to galvanize the majority into a majoritarian or even a totalitarian society. Bhambhri provided the class analysis of this communal core and showed that the Indian state due to the use of the divide and rule policy of its ruling stakeholders, has legitimized acceptance of an authoritarian character which increasingly was becoming fascist.

To him, electoral analysis would not explain how BJP became so powerful in the twenty-first century. He had already discounted the much-hyped theories of his contemporaries like Rajni Kothari, which attributed the emergence of anti-Congress parties to the failure of the Congress system.

He criticised the valorizing of the coming of regional alliances to capture power so as to stop the Hindu communal juggernaut, since these did not have an agenda antagonistic to the Hindu communal parties. He believed only the Congress with its progressive secular agenda and the Left with its socialist agenda were forces fighting for a secular and progressive India.

To him, the rise of the BJP was primarily due to the crisis within the ruling classes. The laboring classes and the poor were being increasingly demobilized, at the same time that the ruling factions were becoming emboldened. Bhambhri’s analysis indicated the gradual shift of significant factions to the BJP: the “backward caste, middle peasant caste-based political formations”. He showed the class-based abandonment of the Congress between 1967 and 1975 by large sections of peasantry.

He noted that the crisis in India post-liberalization, privatization and the globalization of the 1990s, facilitated identity politics as the legitimizing tool of the right-wing politics, and the biggest beneficiary was the Hindutva parties led by their political formation, BJP. His regular articles in various newspapers form 2000- 2019 were testimonies for both his increasing call to the political parties, intelligentsia and the enlightened minds to be vigilant and discard populist slogans bolstering identity politics of any kind.

In recent years when the clarion call by Hindu communal forces to brand all intelligentsia as anti-national or urban naxalite has rung out loud, Bhambri reminded students and teachers of the wholesale arrests of communists in the wake of the Chinese aggression in 1962. However, he would be quick to remind us, then there was Nehru, and enlightened vice chancellors and teachers. Now, as he would show in his book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we have a person who was from a seminary of the Hindutva as head of the government.

A deep-seated humanist, concerned about the wellbeing of all, he was dismayed by the attack on the experts, the educated and intelligentsia launched in the country generally, and in the Indian universities in particular, along caste, communal and political lines.

This he also saw combined with the neo-liberal capitalist regimes positioning their own manpower, i.e., intellectuals, policy makers and experts at key institutions in the country. He had witnessed something similar during his African sojourn, when in the 1970s the first-rate African universities were destroyed by exactly the same process and the era of neo colonialism became an established one.

Bhambhri, who braved the anti-communist attacks of the sixties and the caste-based attacks in recent years, like the proverbial renaissance intellectual stuck to his guns, and also to his students. He would often advise them, referring to Socrates, to ask the right questions as only then would one get the right answers.

At a time when the Republic is gasping for life breath, Bhambri’s life and career must inspire us all, that despite the limitations, we have our intellect, and this is enough to keep asking the right questions, which this refugee boy began asking quite early in his life.

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Published: 23 Nov 2020, 3:00 PM