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Just to recall: the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945 led to a “cold war” between the United States of America and its war-ally, the then Soviet Union.
In the US, from early on, it had come to be feared that communists were infiltrating all aspects of American life – the universities, Hollywood, journalists and writers found themselves under watch.
This has been called the era of the “red scare” – tellingly caught in several movies, an instructive recent one being Guilty By Suspicion.
The anti-communist crusade was led by a senator from Wisconsin – rather wretchedly for two reasons: one, this was a state rich in memories and artefacts of the war of liberation, and secondly, because it was to be my alma mater in the early 1970s, a time of life I cherish.
Joseph McCarthy’s propaganda apparatus led to a situation where everyone was induced to suspect everyone else, and when many took it out on those they had grudges against by falsely snitching on them to the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee.
That Committee had come to be established in 1938 with the writ to investigate any and all Americans suspected of communist sympathies. Abolished in 1975, its jurisdiction was transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.
As a result, the lives of scores of extraordinary and reputed artists, movie-makers, writers, sundry intellectuals came to ruin by innuendo and suspicion. Even the great Charlie Chaplin was not spared calumny.
Any liberal individual or organisation that was less than euphoric about the capitalist way of life was dubbed a communist agent. If you were not a rightwing nationalist, you had to be an enemy of the people.
This menacing zeitgeist was enacted with acute insight in the play The Crucible (1953) by one of the intellectuals who had also been summoned to answer charges by the House Un-American Activities Committee, namely, Arthur Miller (better known to the general readership as the author of Death of a Salesman, a play that dramatised the tragic rat-race that informs the cut-throat competitiveness in the capitalist way of life). Miller brilliantly cast the anguish of the moment in terms of an equally infamous 16th-century New England witch-hunt, when numbers of women were put to death on accusations of having been practising witchcraft. Miller showed them to have been victims of vendetta and personal grouse, depicting the collapse of a whole social order into suspicion, hate and revenge.
An Indian deja vu
During the decades after the Soviet revolution, of course, socialist ideology had great purchase all over Europe, the US and the “Third World” as well. In early, post-Independence India, for example, great prestige attached to visions of a welfare state that would not allow capitalist entrepreneurs to let the “free-market” ideology wreak havoc on the lives of penurious and illiterate Indians.
But, as we write, the hold of the Left has shrunk, and generation next has gone over to forms of life that make the main chance available and that enable the consumption of goods and services far more numerous and enticing than were a la carte before the “reforms” that began in 1991.
Yet, the Indian establishment since 2014 has found it useful to resort to McCarthyism when faced with informed critique of its policy directions, or challenged by public protests: as it did at the time of the agitation against the constitutionally dubious Citizenship Amendment Act, it has once again, taken recourse to a “red scare” propaganda in an attempt to debunk the unprecedented democratic mass action by India’s farming community. Word is now out to the complicit media that it is the Maoists, who else, who are behind the current protests.
So, Joseph McCarthy who expired early in 1957 is nonetheless alive and kicking still.
And, once again, the good old tactic is intended to discredit any and all who challenge the increasing hold that crony corporates have been acquiring over the policy direction and wealth of the taxpayer’s rupee. Any Indian who is not a lover of capitalist “efficiency” on behalf of the haves must be a dangerously anti-national communist.
This of course involves a Trumpean delusion: we are to understand that only communists are unhappy with the government policies of the day – a presumption contradicted by the ravages wrought in people’s social, cultural and economic lives across the board during the tenure of the current Central dispensation.
And, one has never quite understood why being a communist must unarguably mean being of the devil’s party. That the word communis (Latin) simply and endearingly means “to hold in common” is a little-known thing. But, even so, to the extent that the capitalist ethic is to own and possess, the idea of sharing itself is anathema, enough to dub communists prime antagonists of course. Another matter that even now, penurious left parties score instructive electoral victories despite all odds (like in Bihar).
McCarthy’s tentacles elsewhere too
The communists are not the only ones posing mortal harm to the realm. McCarthy’s other finger points to enemy number two – the Muslim Indian scheming to entice “innocent” Hindu women into wedlock with a view solely to swell the Muslim population.
This may be christened the “love scare”.
Thus, laws are being enacted to prevent such disloyal atrocities from happening. The concept of amour is in any case rather non-existent in much of the world’s rightwing thought, and affinity of this dastardly kind, even if among fully grown adults, spells the doom of corruption to the polity. These naughty acts of amour threaten to dismantle the ordained rule of paternalism and patriarchy over the lives of young ones, till such time as they become parents and patriarchs themselves. The frustrating and wretchedly insoluble conundrum remains: why do young women and men fall in love, when such indulgence is allowed to frisky gods alone? And, in any event, why do they fall in love with the wrong sorts of people, without as much as a “if you will” to Mom and Pop? And, why do they not, when love afflicts them, remember to keep the nation first?
Thus also, as with McCarthyism of the past, spies are everywhere to catch such anti-national cuddlers and hand them over to the authorities, after, of course, fair-sized vigilante comeuppance, often with cops in gentle attendance. It would seem that Marx in the first part and Freud in the second conspire to compromise India’s march to greatness.
As to the videos that inevitably surface, did not Herr Goebbels teach us how to deny that which may be well in our very eyeball?
To a point where now, in a recent case, dutiful cops barged into a mosque, disrupting not a dangerous interfaith marriage but one between a Muslim man and a Muslim woman on the strength of that authoritative vigilante word, took them into the thana where they were held for a night, and only then let out into the cold.
As is well known, the Indian male, in any capacity, tends to have rather a dim opinion of a woman’s intelligence, and no opinion whatsoever of her right to her own decisions.
Only the goddesses are vigorously worshipped for the bounties they have the power to bestow.
Therefore, the Indian justice system may make all the insistent constitutional noises to emphasise that this course of action on behalf of state agencies and collaborating vigilantes comprises a heinous denial of the right to life and choice enshrined in the all-important Article 21 of the republic’s sacred book, and that no private agency or public authority has any business to interfere in such matters, so what. Wisdom crieth on the bench but the brown shirts know better.
Only McCarthy reigns.
Given, therefore this double jeopardy of a “red scare” and a “love scare”, the republic is truly in a double bind – one that no doubt helps the powers-that-be to keep the nation safe from the disloyal extremes of public misbehaviour.
Best way to prosper: do not wear red, and do not be looking for love.
If you do, McCarthy will know.
Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.