Politics of Hope in the Age of Pessimism


Shah Nawaz Afaque

 “For a revolution it is not enough that there is discontent. What is required is a profound and thorough conviction of the justice, necessity and importance of political and social rights.” 

  • B.R. Ambedkar


Is it just me or is there a lot of negativity in the air? Ideological clashes at the dining table, political battles in the Facebook comment sections, people mad at each other, and some very bad vibes. Left discrediting the non-Left by dubbing their intellectual position as ‘ahistorical,’ conservative voices ridiculing all progressive concerns as ‘anti-Nation,’ liberals getting bashed from both sides not knowing what they did wrong, and self-help author Mark Mansion publishing books after books, each time breaking his own record for the most number of F word usage in his best-sellers, reminding us every time how f....well, how doomed we are! 

We live in pessimistic times. We feel our future is doomed and something has to be done about it; else ‘they’ would take over our children and our children’s children as slaves. And mind you, this apocalyptic vision isn’t just a conservative camp phenomenon; the pessimistic worldview is a cross-ideological malaise. 

Political parties know best how to capitalise on people’s paranoid vision to strengthen their electoral base. In the contemporary Indian scenario, the ruling Bhartiye Janata Party for instance, paint a gloomy picture of the future where Aurangzeb 2.0(with an even longer beard) rules India, simultaneously projecting the party as the only remedy to such an imminent future. The Indian National Congress and Left parties on the other hand play to the fears of the minority, prophesising the emergence of Hitler 2.0, only this time sporting a white stubbed beard instead of his signature moustache, and who by the way love Dhoklas. 

modi - maulana

The Two Alternative Paths - Pessimism/Hope

I would like to recall the bitter cold night of 15 December, 2019. Two of the leading minority institutions of North India, Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University had just faced the wrath of Delhi and UP Police forces respectively, and students of the two universities had been assaulted ruthlessly. The atmosphere in the Capital was so tensed and polarised that a communal violence seemed inevitable. We surrounded the Delhi police Headquarter at ITO, demanding their apology and the release of student activists who had been taken into police custody. 

I can clearly recall the thoughts rushing through my anxious head as I stood staring at the abysmal gate of police headquarter. It was a state of utter paranoia and extreme pessimism that made me think “well, it’s over now, our (my community’s) fate is sealed and we would meet a similar fate as German Jews.” Where did I catch that idea from? German Jews-Indian Muslims, similar fate, seriously! The superficial comparison mustn’t have popped in my head out of vacuum. 

So, now I figure, it was carefully crafted and ingrained into our heads by those parties that feed on our paranoia and thrive on our votes. What comes out of such a pessimistic vision of politics is an absolute dependence on the promises of security offered by the secular-left parties, promises that are breached as soon as the need arises to appease the majoritarian sentiments in face of any crucial electoral gamble. Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s seventy years of secular India for you. 

The same night, a man clad in a navy blue shawl sat atop his car at the ITO protest, and offered his chest to regime’s bullet. The man is Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan,’ a dalit activist turned politician from Saharanpur, who till then was an unknown figure in most Muslim households. He was offering something different, something unique; an alternative vision to the mainstream politics of pessimism, the kind as embodied in the political struggle of Ambedkar, Malcolm X and Martin Luther Jr. When the following Friday he occupied the stairway of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, surrounded by thousands of his Muslim supporters, the moment which was captured in an iconic image of him waving a copy of the Constitution, could be considered symbolic. It marks the dawn of the politics of hope, of optimism, a politics devoid of servitude to secular parties. 

The hope is for a Nation that doesn’t divide and discriminate, and the path towards achieving it is to struggle for the ideals that our Constitution holds sacred. The Judaeo-Christian tradition is full of such accounts of struggle and sacrifice, reflected especially in the stories of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Persecuted people require a sense of hope and a defined path to attain their goal, not a constant reminder of their misery and servitude that only makes them numb and passive. 

The Ram Mandir Bhoomi Poojan event attended by Prime Minister Modi made the secular parties go berserk. In a state of panic, some of the secular columnists declared the event as marking the ‘death of Indian secularism.’ But was there a need to react that way? I can find no pyre of secularism, no marked grave, but I can certainly see the brighter picture, the one in which BJP is the best thing to happen to the Muslim community. 

It’s the job of secular columnists and human rights enthusiasts to monitor and report the assaults laid on the minority by the ruling party, and they are doing their job quite well. My job is to play Moses, and bring to my people the good news that their suffering is already a matter of the past and joyous times lie ahead! I shall name my optimism ‘The Good News Project’ and lay down before you the core assumptions of the project:

1. BJP’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The BJP has politicised the Indian Muslim community like never before. A 200 million strong community’s frustrations were kept at bay by the previous regimes, often subduing their concerns by throwing at them little concessions once in a while, which the BJP rightly calls the ‘politics of appeasement.’ The covert operations where Muslim youths were abducted on charges of terrorism and tortured in dark cells back in the UPA years could obviously not catch as much attention as the lynching of Muslim men by cow vigilantes today, given the social media outrage, but it was as grave a persecution of the minority as the current regime, only that the latter does it blatantly. 

But when the chips are down and as the anti-Muslim global trend recedes, even such blatant shows of Muslim bashing wouldn’t prevent the ‘floating’ voters (that determine electoral victory) from deserting the BJP’s camp. And as the dust settles down, what the Nation would witness would be a Muslim community, ever more politically assertive and dominant, that shall know exactly what it wants. By attacking a minority so numerous and backed by influential foreign players, the BJP is only working towards realising its self-fulfilling prophecy. 

2. The Mullah-Lutyens’ Nexus

The Congress regime had arrested the social and intellectual progress of the Muslim community by assigning to the clerics immense socio-political control over the community. All community decisions were determined by the clerics, who in return for their patronage secured the Muslim vote bank for their secular allies. The Shah Bano verdict reversal reveals the unholy ‘Mullah-Lutyens’ alliance that was in place for over seventy years until the BJP’s victory in 2014. The 2019 Supreme Court’s verdict on Triple Talaq was in fact a death blow to the authority of clerics and they could never recover from the setback.

The baton of Muslim leadership thus passed from the obsolete arches of Madrasah to the vibrant libraries of University, and student activists came forward; not the stereotypical religion bashing hipster kind of activists but students-intellectuals with a deeper perspective on belief and identity. This has opened the doors for the Indian Muslim community to step out into the modern world, face its chaos and come up with some real answers to their identity question, than depend on Fatwas issued from Darul Iftah.

rahul gandhi

3. The Game of Numbers

The Indian Muslim- German Jews comparison is a total farce. This might sound quite insensitive to some but in the game of numbers that define modern politics, a 200 million strong minority cannot be persecuted in the same fashion as half a million jewish minority of The Third Reich. Since we are talking about numbers here, take a guess at the total jewish population in Germany percentage wise? It was to be precise, less than 0.75% of the total German population. 

Now, no matter the horrible fate that the jewish population of Germany met with, which is totally abhorrent and condemnable, the notion that a genocide similar to Auschwitz is inevitable under the present circumstances is totally unreal, a hyperbole, a case of extreme paranoia and the end product of a pessimistic political imagination as encouraged under the earlier regimes. The paranoia must go and give way to hope, the sooner the better. 


Shah Nawaz Afaque, I completed my graduation in Political Science from Ramjas College in 2016 and postgraduated in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia in 2018. I was involved in activism against Indian Government's controversial legislation on citizenship. I also manage campaigns for political parties independently.

Asserting voices of marginalized youth in university space

Sudarshan Kasbe

skasbe In 2017 two dalit students pursuing higher education committed suicides in premier institutes of India which really shook the nation. These suicides cannot be looked at as independent events but are subject to critical scrutiny by researchers in the wake of the hierarchical structure present in Indian education system. After 73 years of independence there is still a huge population that is not able to access education. Those who get enrolled in various campuses and courses struggle a lot and still continue to suffer from injustice at different levels. They have been subjected to oppression and emotional turmoil from their colleagues and professors. This article is specifically talking about a few cases that happened in India and how it impacted on overall youth across India.


As per the 2011 census, India had a population of 1.25 billion (accounting for 17.8 % of global population) with 423 million youths in the 15-34 years age group (accounting for 6.04% of global population). This growth is projected to continue and by 2030, India will have the highest population and youth population in the world.1 A country with such a large youth potential has been in the quest and struggle for becoming a developed nation, many barriers contribute to slower growth and development. Many social evils which are acknowledged and thrown away by western societies are practiced in India with pride.


The geese and the ganders of Kerala: The Disaster of Caste and Class


Bobby Kunhu

kunhuAt 10.45 PM on the 6th of August, 2020, amidst heavy rainfall, a massive landslide buried a settlement called Pettimudi, a part of Rajamala Ward of Munnar in Idukki District. Pettimudi consisted of shoddily build single room tenements in two rows inhabited by 83 tea plantation workers employed by Kanan Devan Hills Plantation (P) Ltd. (KDHPL), a part of the Tata group. It is important for the purpose of this essay to point out that most plantation workers in this region are Tamil Bahujans. The difficulty and remoteness of the terrain were big impediments in the rescue operations and the initial work was done by locals. As I sit writing this 49 bodies have been recovered from the debris and 12 lives have been rescued and the rest are still missing. The 12 who have been rescued have also lost everything that they possessed.

Despite all the boasts about the Kerala Model, the conditions of life and employment of tea plantation workers in Kerala in general is – because of a lack of a better word – slavish. They work long shifts and after a lifetime of employment get to take home between 1 – 2 Lakh Rupees as gratuity on retirement. The low wages ensure that they do not have sufficient savings and most of these people cannot afford to even buy a small house after a lifetime of work. Along with the geographic remoteness of these plantations, the wages also mean that access to quality education for the children of these plantation workers is next to impossible. To put this in perspective, while the average minimum wage in Kerala is INR 500/- per day for an eight hour working day (Kerala has huge gender disparities in wages still), the plantation worker gets INR 234/- for a twelve hour working day with an output of 31 KG of tea per day for 6 days a week. The tragic part is that this ensures many of these people are born and die here in the face of blatant linguistic, class and caste discrimination.


Ruling Class' Stupidity and Privilege


Pranav Jeevan P

pranav There is an argument that is put forth often by people of privilege that not everyone who is privileged is naturally intelligent enough to be "woke" from reading and understanding the issues of discrimination and atrocities in the name of caste or class. So, the argument goes on to say that whatever they ignore conveniently and often enforce oppressively should not be used as an accusation against them because they are stupid and ignorant of the effects of what they do and it is not the personal fault of the accused, but a reflection of the society.

The idea of crimes being a reflection of the social environment of the accused is used to incarcerate the underprivileged, often without evidence. When the same argument is used to pardon or overlook the criminal behaviour of the ruling class, it should also be used to acquit almost every single underprivileged person languishing in jails now. But they never use it for the underprivileged.


The Plot Against AR Rahman


Umar Nizar

The musician AR Rahman has recently been castigated in certain circles for speaking out strongly against a lobby working against him in Bollywood. This has caught many by surprise. The huge fan following of the Academy Award-winning composer commanded has not really translated into popular support. The politics of music and the ideologies inherent therein and possible feebleness of its political impact is on display in this issue. 

A.R.Rahman at 57th FF Awards with Award

The most political thing about Rahman has been, let us face it, his conversion to Islam. But this happened in his childhood, a period of innocence. India, especially the southern region, too was communally innocent. It was a time when the nation too was less corrupted by hatred and the morbidity that hate brings. Rahman has not only been unapologetic about his religious piety but also foregrounded this spirituality and mysticism in his music, even turning into, for some people, a latter-day version of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. 


Presidency University engages with Dr. Ambedkar

Ekalavya Ravidas

The historic Hindu College of Calcutta, later named as Presidency College and currently known as Presidency University, has conventionally been an academic space almost exclusively occupied by the upper caste Hindus. The minorities of India, particularly those who are now known as SCs, STs, and OBCs and those who constitute 85% of India’s population, had a tough time entering, establishing, and asserting themselves in this so-called liberal educational space. This explains why almost all the big names associated with Presidency College are either Brahmins or upper caste Hindus. Even the historic Bengal Renaissance, which some famous Presidencians were a part of, quite systematically excluded the question of caste-based marginalization in Bengal.

Meghnad Saha, the legendary physicist who hailed from a Sudra background, faced discrimination related to interdining in Presidency’s Eden Hindu Hostel as he faced restrictions on social intermixing at the then Presidency College. The untouchables of India, now known as the Scheduled Castes, were, however, not allowed to cross the threshold of this predominantly Hindu institution for over a century and a half. Arguably, the greatest damage to Bengal was done by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who ruled the state for 34 years. The CPIM had a stronghold over Presidency College and the stakeholders at Presidency continued promoting an urban Brahminical ideology masqueraded as progressive leftism. The CPIM leaders and Presidency ideologues completely ignored the caste question, violently resisted caste-based reservation, and ensured that nobody could use the vocabulary of caste discrimination in their protests against institutional oppression. Issues concerning gender, religion, and class received some attention but nobody debated caste within the premises of Presidency. This implies that almost all political movements organized by the students or alumni of Presidency College were inevitably trapped in a Brahminical consciousness. They simply failed to see the world with the eyes of a caste-subaltern.

presidency university


Do ideas of Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar matter anymore?


Shailesh Narwade

Jayanti, for many, is merely a celebration of the birth anniversaries of socio-political thinkers who were instrumental in bringing social change of which our generation is a beneficiary. Some people see it as an occasion to eulogize and recollect the contributions of these great leaders. Though these modes of celebrating and remembering these icons are necessary, is it really sufficient to take their caravan ahead and ensure the change that these icons envisaged?

Jayanti Title Poster

Marathi feature film 'Jayanti', taking the example of Ambedkar Jayanti, poses this uncomfortable but important question and makes an attempt to find an answer. Through a carefully crafted confluence of the ideas of various social icons, the film depicts the transformation of the protagonist from a misguided Bahujan youth to a socially responsible citizen and a role model in the contemporary socio-political context.


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