Georgy Kuruvila Roy
It seems like the dust has settled upon the Modi's Somalia remarks. But still an uneasy feeling continues to haunt us. It is as if something is still rotting after the competition is over and the winner was pronounced. The smell seems so strong that one is forced to look for the reason of this stinking odor. Finding it one has to sadly conclude that if there was anyone who lost in the battle between Kerala Pride and Modi's politics it is the tribals of Attapadi and funny as it may seem the Somalians.
A meme on the debate from social media
When Modi made a comment equating the situation of the adivasis in Attapadi to Somalia, it seemed as if Malayalis couldn't stand it. The signifier that they hated was Somalia. Somalia has very pejorative meanings in Kerala. For instance if a person looks is skinny or lean he is teased as a person from Somalia- the image of the malnutritioned kid from Somalia. If someone's idea is seen as back ward by these "Kerala pride" comrades then he will be called as someone from Somalia. Somalia thus is a signifier which embodies the negative at its most monstrous or in other words it is not a positive signifier which would create in our mind the hope of let us say the signifier "American dream".
The question here is simple but sadly never asked in the debate: Who is racist here? Aren't both the sides equally culpable here? Both the sides do not want to be in Somalia nor in Attapadi so they besmirch it. Isn't this racism at its purest? Somalia here is not racially alluded to because of color but by showing how pathetic the conditions of life there are. The racism is here not when the allusion happens but this allusion here is a tool to dismiss anyone who exhibits such characteristics. Modi dismissed Kerala model of development citing Somalia while the opposition put forth charts and indexes to show how Kerala is the "American Dream" not the"Somalian Nightmare". What thus became a talking point was pure racism from both the sides and the situation of the Adivasis in Attapadi or the people living in Somalia was forgotten. If one has to draw the extreme conclusion this Kerala pride is based nothing other than racism at least minimally hatred for Somalians and for the Adivasis in Attapadi.
The Monstrous and the Sublime
In this particular situation what happened was this signifier of complete negativity or monstrosity- Somalia- failed to take on the signification of the sublime. From the psychoanalytic perspective this signifier can here be seen as the Lacanian objet petit a- the signifier that represents my pure desire- it is at the same time monstrous and sublime something like the Green knight from the fourteenth century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. For the Kerala pride people, their wonderful Kerala which they love so much because they are number one everywhere, suddenly lost its luster and turned monstrous because their God's own country suddenly was transformed into the "dark and negative" Somalia. Comrades came, handmaidens came, and the entire internet came to our rescue. Everyone combined together to deny the "fact" that certain aspects of our life were similar to Somalia. They placed the 90s God's own country fantasy back on the radar and we continued to ride our American Dream.
But the monstrous still remained after all this first aid was done. Attapadi still remained similar to Somalia and that is the origin of the current odor. This Somalia and Attapadi could have been changed into the sublime by a simple act, and no one dared do it. Yes Attapadi is similar to Somalia- so let us change the situation of Attapadi and Somalia both, was never uttered. We were busy running away from the monstrous. The Communists did not go to Attapadi and shout: Workers, Adivasis and Blacks of the world unite, let us change our situation. They were more interested in uniting the racist pride of Keralites rather than bringing any change to the living conditions of the Adivasis nor will they unite with the workers in Somalia for they do not possess the living standards of us in Kerala.
While all this was happening the BJP was saying Modi was just talking about the situation in Attapadi. At the risk of being called a BJP supporter which I am not, there is some truth in what they say. The liberals and the liberal Communists by not paying sufficient attention to the political question at the heart of the issue that is the situation of tribals in Attapadi just played out the politics of BJP for them. For once it was not BJP who was speaking about national pride it was the communists and the handmaidens, for once it was not Modi who was selling the American dream but the other way around- the BJP was caught napping as a victim of its own ideology- the vicious circle was complete.
This is the sublime realm of today's politics- the politics mediated by global capital. Each of us wants to be an American each of us wants to wear suits and travel in a car and buy whatever we desire. The significant point is that this happens here in India so we want to show off our pride through our different affiliations- our caste, our linguistic identity, our nation- not because we give a damn about any of these but because these are instruments to show that India is America and we are all living that dream here with "pride".
The monstrous of this sublime should also be understood. It is precisely spaces like Attapadi whose existence is the antinomy of today's capitalist reason. Such realms are shrugged off because it splits our perfect dream into pieces so we black out such spaces so that our dream remains intact and perfect. If there is any radical politics that has to occur it is precisely by showing the sublime of the monstrous of the current ideology or in other words by joining hands (not in the form of the cynical help that the current state provides which precisely relies on our goodwill (pride)) with the people of Attapadi and Somalia for structural changes not mere pittances. Sadly such a politics cannot be seen anywhere.
Georgy Kuruvila Roy is pursuing PhD in CSSS, Kolkata.
Pictures courtesy: the internet.