There is something deeply reassuring about the corporate media’s tirades against the Left in the context of the Left’s opposition to India’s nuclear deal with the US – the Left must be doing something right. And going by the shrillness of the attack, it’s hitting where it hurts.
Look at only one newspaper, the Hindustan Times, over the last four days. On 16 August, CNN-IBN’s Rajdeep Sardesai wrote on the Left’s opposition to the nuclear deal. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=847b5aea-11f2-43fe-b221-67323df41c3d&ParentID=671f1d5e-8fad-4cc1-9e4e-65f5efb9c29e&&Headline=Karat and stick) The large bulk of his column is used to bash the Left, especially Prakash Karat, the CPM’s General Secretary. Sardesai comes to the deal itself in the penultimate paragraph, only to tell us that “This is not about the details of the 123 agreement any longer, not even about a robust discussion on the country’s energy needs, this is simply now about the unseen ‘dangers’ of forging a closer strategic relationship with the ‘Evil Empire’ in Washington.” Since Left ideologues have “spent a lifetime seeing the world through the prism of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union has not meant the end of ideology.” He accuses the Left of an “unwillingness to grow up, to recognise that while one has the legitimate right to oppose, the nature of the opposition cannot be such that it begins to resemble a spoilt brat who is being denied the entire cake of power.”
Not a word on why the nuclear deal is in fact good for India.
Not to be outdone, Sardesai’s former colleague, Barkha Dutt of NDTV 24×7, launched into the Left with gusto in her own column the following day. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=671f1d5e-8fad-4cc1-9e4e-65f5efb9c29e&&Headline=Left in a time warp) All the usual anti-Left clichÃ©s are there: the Left leaders are “dour faced,” they sound like “Stalinists,” who have the “government on its knees, blackmailed into submission.” She counsels the Left to “put an ear to the ground.” Translated into simple English, this means, listen to us. “The problem with the Left, . . . the reason for Modern India’s disdain for them, is that while their heart is in the right place, their mind is woefully out of sync with our aspirations.” These aspirations “take us westwards.” Even though “we may oppose the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” “(our) future as global players is linked to the American dream,” because “(we) know how to distinguish between Bush and the country he governs.”
This is lovely. I oppose the war in Iraq and Afghanistan but don’t ask what led to the war. I distinguish between Bush and the country he governs, which is why I trust the administration he heads to give us a treaty that is beneficial to us. And, since our future is linked to the American dream, I am confident that the Americans will never renege on that treaty, citing domestic law.
No wonder, then, that the details of the 123 agreement are “gobbledygook” to her.
The following day, it was Vir Sanghvi’s turn. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=17e23240-f37f-460e-877b-61bca13067a5&&Headline=What are the Communists up to%3f) It has become mandatory to nod at the Left’s clean image and to acknowledge that the Left leaders are “men – and women – of integrity and principle,” and Sanghvi too does the needful: “In a political environment where only money and power seem to matter, the Left stands out as a grouping that believes in ideology and principle. Put the Politburo next to the Congress Working Committee or the BJP National Executive and even a child will be able to tell the difference in intelligence, stature and integrity.”
There’s some serious Left-bashing here. Sanghvi slyly suggests that “the CPI played no role in the freedom struggle;” but of course he is not saying it, he is merely reporting a “right-wing smear.” But accounts of “global communist tyranny” are taken as fact: “Joseph Stalin killed 20 million people – over thrice the number killed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. Figures for those who perished in China while the CPM was translating Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book into Bengali are harder to come by, but a number of 50 million seems conservative (many accounts say it was 70 million).” Where these numbers have come from is obviously of no consequence.
Sanghvi’s lament is that “when the UPA government was elected, the Left had a historic opportunity . . . to recast itself as a liberal force for good which held out against the power of multinationals, fought for the preservation of the environment, and defended the rights of the individual” – in other words, forget class issues, be blind to systems of exploitation, become namby-pamby do-gooders – but “sadly, the Left has blown this historic opportunity.”
That is the problem. Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury walk like us, talk like us, why the hell can’t they think like us? They’d be really nice guys, you know, if only they weren’t commies.
And then there are the insinuations: it is alleged that “the UPA took the Left into confidence before signing the agreement,” and therefore the Left’s opposition is “no more than a politically expedient afterthought.”
What stands out in all these tirades against the Left is, of course, the unwillingness to discuss the issue at hand. To my mind, The Hindu is the only paper that has seriously and consistently gone into the specifics of the deal, and tracked it over time. See, for instance, Siddharth Varadarajan’s piece of August 20. (http://www.hindu.com/2007/08/20/stories/2007082058271500.htm) While the paper has endorsed the 123 agreement itself editorially, it has suggested that the agreement be put on hold while the government schedules “an earnest round of all-party discussions, which must take in objections, apprehensions, reservations, and questions relating to the nuclear deal that have come from all serious quarters.”
All the others, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer, the whole lot of them, have turned the nuclear deal into what Barkha Dutt so eloquently described as “gobbledygook.”
Since the deal itself is “gobbledygook,” the Left’s opposition is variously characterized as an ego clash between Prakash Karat and Manmohan Singh (which is the surest way of trivializing an issue), as blind anti-Americanism (but not anti-imperialism), or as betrayal of confidence (though we are never told when exactly the Left’s consent for the deal was actually acquired).
Then there is the other bogey: India’s energy security. Sagarika Ghosh of CNN-IBN put the question to CPM’s Mohd. Salim on live television on the night of August 20 saying “no deal, no bijli (electricity).” Salim asked her a simple question: how much electricity are we going to get from this deal, and when? Ghosh was silent. Salim repeated the question. Silence. When Salim began answering his own question, Ghosh cut him off, with a question about the Left’s “anti-Americanism.” (For the record, nuclear energy satisfies 3% of India’s energy needs currently, which is expected to go up to 7% by 2020.) And, while on energy, why isn’t anyone asking what will happen to the gas pipeline from Iran?
As for the Left’s actual opposition to the deal, and the reasoning behind that opposition, it never existed. Accordingly, you hear a tone of injured exasperation – “what IS the communist manifesto?”, as Sanghvi’s piece was titled.
Well, all they need to do is to recall recent history: the Left has opposed the deal consistently ever since 2005, when the Indian Prime Minister and the American President issued their famous joint statement in July, which itself came on the back of the 10-year Defence Framework Agreement. The Left has reiterated again and again that the nuclear deal has to be seen in the context of the larger strategic aims of the U.S., in which it sees India becoming an imperial largest outpost in South Asia. The Left’s vigorous opposition forced the Prime Minister to give assurances to the Indian Parliament exactly an year ago, on August 17, 2006. (For a sober statement of the Left’s objections, see Prakash Karat’s article, “Why the CPI(M) and the Left oppose the nuclear deal,” available at http://www.hindu.com/2007/08/20/stories/2007082058071400.htm)
One would have expected the media and commentators to put a simple question to the Left: you had expressed satisfaction at the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament in August 2006, so how do you think the present 123 agreement reneges on those assurances?
But this is a vain hope. Because the moment you ask this question, you admit that the Left’s opposition has not materialized all of a sudden, out of thin air. Even more importantly, you focus on issues.
That is quite simply the last thing the corporate media wants. Any criticism – or even mention – of the American imperial project is a strict no-no.
Obeisance to the master is the order of the day. The rest is gobbledygook.
Sudhanva Deshpande is an editor with LeftWord Books, New Delhi www.leftword.com, and can be reached at email@example.com.