A Bahujan ‘Third Space’ Beyond Left and Right: Really?


Khalid Anis Ansari

Dialogue with BAPSA, JNU: Part One

khalidAt the outset let me extend my congratulations to BAPSA for the splendid performance in JNUSU elections. In the last few weeks I had tried to follow BAPSA's JNUSU campaign from social media and other sources closely and had extended my unequivocal moral support. The quest for a bahujan 'third space' beyond the left and right in the campus was a radical move and the need of the hour. Also, it was heartening to note that despite all slander campaigns hurled at BAPSA they stood their ground and left a lasting impact on JNU's political sphere. However, despite having high hopes from BAPSA there are some areas of concern and disagreement. I think now it is the right time to air them and enter into a dialogue in a spirit of mutual reflection and introspection.

My preliminary concern is that BAPSA is not consistent enough in its critique of the Right. In other words, BAPSA's closeness to the 'Muslim Right'—as represented by the SIO, the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH)—is problematic. As we know Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which was founded by an Indian born upper-caste Syed, is a global Islamist organization with a totalitarian-supremacist vision and mission. In terms of organizational structure and processes JIH is not a wee bit different from other Marxist or Hindutva organizations equally informed by a founding totalitarian narrative. JIH is a cadre-based organization which runs hospitals, newspapers, publishing houses, schools, colleges, madrasas, dawah (proselytizing) centers, student and women associations, etc. There is little space for dissent and all non-conformist voices are usually shown the door. Wild weeds are pruned periodically and purges don't surprise anybody. JIH has a Majlis-e-Shoora (equivalent to a Marxist 'politburo') which is absolutely dominated by savarna Muslims and without any female representation. The Majlis-e-Shoora does not also have members from other religious communities. In terms of 'maslaqi' (sectarian) orientation JIH is positively disposed towards the Deobandi school of thought and opposed to Barelvi/Shia sects. In short, the charge that JIH is a casteist, patriarchal, sectarian and communal organization may not be at all misplaced. The JIH, until very recently, did not believe in either democracy or secularism. However, the sedimentation of democratic imagination as a norm pushed them to review their position and JIH launched its own political party—Welfare Party of India (WPI)—in 2011. There is nothing novel about this. In the last few decades various leftist and rightist organizations have tweaked their strategies to remain relevant in a complex democratic ethos. This shift has been captured as post-Marxism (Laclau & Mouffe) and post-Islamism (Asef Bayat) by scholars. Overall, I welcome this democratic shift with a few caveats.

Now all the leftist and rightist student organizations (AISF/SFI/AISA/ABVP/SIO) are facing a conceptual/strategic crisis in campuses across India when confronted with the recent ascendance of Ambedkarite, queer or ecology discourses which are at variance with their founding narratives and deeply reminiscent of their own historical omissions and repressions. In the case of caste this crisis is very glaring. It is a matter of historical record that the Mandal revolution was opposed by the RSS, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and most shades of Left in India. The present appropriation of Ambedkar and the politics of social justice by the same forces—as expressed in the slogans of 'Lal Salaam, Neel Salaam' or 'Jai Bheem, Jai Meem'—without a public apology to bahujans (across religions) is simply a shameless act to say the least.

The SIO-JNU (by their own admission not to be confused with SIO units elsewhere) in an apologia circulated earlier on Facebook and now published by Round Table India have stressed that they are now ready to take the politics of social justice and internal reform seriously. Let me offer them two issues that they need to work on urgently. One: the Muslim practice of 'triple talaq' as reignited by the case of Shayara Bano recently. On this issue Uniform Civil Code has been a non-starter due to the fear of Hindu Right and most conservative/progressive/liberal/moderate Muslim voices have conceded that the issue be resolved within the domain of All India Personal Law Board through internal reform. But what about the shameless affidavit filed by the AIMPLB in the Supreme Court that advocates that 'triple talaq prevents men from killing wives' or 'divorce proceedings instead of triple talaq could damage a woman's chances of re-marriage if the husband indicts her of loose character in court'. SIO-JNU would know very well that the present National President of JIH is also the Founder Member and Vice President All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Has the SIO-JNU (by their own admission not to be confused with SIO units elsewhere) protested outside the JIH headquarters in New Delhi and sought the resignation of their National President? Two: the question of Muslim reservations. Those who have followed the debate may be aware that the Pasmanda Muslims have consistently objected to the demand of reservations for the entire Muslim community dubbing it as a ploy by the hegemonic high caste Muslims to corner all the benefits. What is the position of SIO-JNU (by their own admission not to be confused with SIO units elsewhere) on this question? Are they aware of the JIH position? Can they enlighten us on their brand of social justice?

However, having said that I understand and empathize with the predicament of young people battling outmoded institutionalized political discourses in the light of new transformative shifts in the political sphere. In the recent JNU 'sedition episode' a number of ABVP cadres tried to question the party line but had to resign in disgust. Marxian student organizations have a history where creative young political souls had to dissociate in order to conduct their own version of meaningful politics. Some adapt, others exit, and the more persistent ones are kicked out. I would really like the samurais in SIO-JNU (by their own admission not to be confused with SIO units elsewhere) to go all out for justice and reform without meeting a similar fate.

Conceptually speaking, if JIH can outgrow its founding narrative then the left and Hindutva groups can do that as well. Why does BAPSA have hope with SIO and not with SFI/AISA/AISF or ABVP? After all, if SIO claims to be speaking for the subaltern Muslims, the left too speaks for the oppressed proletariat and the ABVP speaks for the humiliated Hindus (Yes, I know they are all student organizations and principally speak for the student community!). Apparently BAPSA, being steeped in the Ambedkarite discourse, has objected to left and Hindutva groups because they are dominated by the savarnas. Is not the JIH dominated by savarna Muslims? Why this selective love for savarna Muslims who are equally guilty for blocking all roads for community reform and empowerment of Pasmanda Muslims along with savarna Hindus? Why so hard on savarna left and Hindu right but so soft on savarna Muslim Right? (to be continued)



Khalid Anis Ansari is Assistant Professor (Sociology) in Glocal Law School, Glocal University (India). His doctoral work with the University of Humanistic Studies (UvH), Utrecht, the Netherlands, is on caste movements within North Indian Muslims. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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