For a long time, as someone from the Southern state of Kerala staying and researching in IIT Madras, I used to read about and think of private armies, gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) and angry mobs as something that was the norm only far away in the shanty towns and sleepy villages of North India. Even as alarming reports came in of mob lynching and attacks on Muslims and dalits, especially in the wake of the ban in the sale of cattle for slaughter, I carried on as if the madness and violence happening in the country did not affect my life. I scoffed at the chances of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates among college-educated graduates, and believed that the Dravidian South would protect me with its rational and progressive values. I was in for a rude shock.
Around two years ago, I was attacked by a group of RSS-allied Right-wing students while I was having lunch in the mess hall inside my campus. I still remember one of them shouting as they held my head up and bashed me from both sides, “You eat beef no? I will kill you.” It became national news. I was the subject of primetime TV debates even as I was dazed and barely conscious in the hospital. Fake news and lies about me and my friends started spreading soon after, justifying the attack, while I was still fearing that I’d be forever blinded by it. Fascism had come, and it had come at me personally.
It took me a while to recover after my surgeries and recurring pain, and most of all from the induced shock of having felt so helpless and weak while facing such anger and wrath. It took me even longer to gather my thoughts what with the farce of an investigation into the incident by the IIT administration, wherein I was interrogated and made to defend my eating habits.
At first, I thought justice would be swift and strong since the attack had happened in broad daylight in the presence of many others. But two years on, with the case yet to be heard and most of the attackers having already graduated, I have begun to lose faith in the legal system as well. My only conviction now is that it is our collective duty to fight the onslaught of the Hindu Right-wing and stop them from spreading the seeds of communal hatred all over the country. And this election is important for the same reason.
That the secular and democratic nature of our republic, and the ideals enshrined in our Constitution, are threatened by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is by now self-evident. However, many are confused about how best to defeat the BJP electorally and ensure the withdrawal of their policies. It is here that I think that the Congress, being the largest opposition party, has faltered and shown that they are not strong enough to resist the authoritarian and communal mindset of BJP. In the run-up to the Assembly elections in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, the Congress chose to temple-hop and play the game that BJP has already perfected. The janeu-wearing Brahmin credentials of Rahul Gandhi were highlighted. In my own state of Kerala, the Congress, in the name of protecting ‘tradition’, chose to play second-fiddle to BJP when it came to the right of women to enter the Sabarimala shrine.
Moreover, the Congress manifesto does not mention the cow-related violence that has been going on in the country and vaguely mentions what measures they will take to stop it. In fact, instead of taking strict measures to end it in the states where they have come to power, they have followed BJP in increasing funding for gaushalas (cow shelters) and ‘spiritual departments’, and even arresting people under the National Security Act for suspicion of cow slaughter. Not to mention that fascism is not just an attack on civil liberties, but also anti-worker and pro-capital in character.
The Congress’ policies have over the years made the rich richer, while the workers and farmers (who have undertaken mass agitations against the current government) suffered the most. Instead of rectifying that, the Congress manifesto talks with pride about the liberalisation policies that created this havoc and about de-regulation, foreign direct investment (FDI) in all sectors, lowering effective corporate tax rates, building more Special Economic Zones and cutting the tax on luxury goods.
Personally, I began suspecting the attitude of the Congress when its president Rahul Gandhi declined to visit me while I was in the hospital after the above-mentioned attack, even though I learned that he was in Chennai during the period and local Congress workers had pleaded with him to do the same. He refused to even issue a statement. At the same time, the leaders of the Left parties and the progressive Southern parties visited me, and it were the common people from different strata of life who came out in public against the hate crime. This is not a personal grudge. I just believe that it would have been a gesture towards respecting the food choices of the South and a willingness to stand up against the destructive and brahminical cow politics. And now Rahul Gandhi has, instead of taking on the fight directly against BJP, decided to take on the Left by contesting in Wayanad. In spite of Congress’ promise to make a clean break from the last five years, it looks as if they are an alternative only in name.
The Left candidate in my constituency of Malappuram in Kerala is young VP Sanu from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). I went over their manifesto and can report with confidence that they are serious in fighting the fascist forces. These include measures to separate religion from politics, remove RSS personnel appointed in various key positions, immediate banning of all illegal private armies and vigilante groups, statutory minimum wage of not less than Rs. 18000 per month which the workers’ unions had fought for, right to work as a constitutional right, and minimum support price for produce as demanded by the agitating farmers. In addition, the Left promises increase in corporate profit tax, restoration of wealth tax, introduction of inheritance tax and social sector spending out of the resources mobilised thus. FDI would be discouraged in key sectors, privatisation of public sector enterprises halted, and trade agreements reviewed. Goods and Services Tax would be overhauled and devolution of funds to states increased. This strikes me as a comprehensive plan to roll back the destruction caused by the last five years, and then some.
Moreover, over the last five years, the Left has championed the cause of the marginalised, the minorities, the underprivileged and the labouring masses. They have been at the forefront of fighting fascist forces in my state where they are in power, and shown the way with the stance they took regarding implementation of the Supreme Court judgement allowing entry to women in Sabarimala.
On a personal note, they were the only ones to extend legal support to me in my fight to get justice after the attack on me. I have no doubt that they will ensure the formation of an alternate government at the Centre that will defend our constitutional republic and further consolidate it. That is why my vote will be for the Left.
Sooraj R. is a research scholar in the Department of Aersopace Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Chennai. The views are personal