Thursday, Dec 08, 2022
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Mixed Notes From The Main Underground

Mixed Notes From The Main Underground

In 1995, when Mayawati first became CM, the political epoch truly turned. Identity politics was now the norm. The BJP prospered by another version of it, but it was the caste-led parties that initiated the debate on the secular side. Here, one of India’s most eminent political theorists examines the curious trajectory of Dalit-led parties like that of Mayawati.

Mixed Notes From The Main Underground

In the Indian context, talking about the phenomenon of identity politics in soft if not patronising language has become a part of shishtachar—a form of politically correct etiquette that seems to have been adopted as a safety blanket by ‘progressive’ political commentators. Such public practice of political etiquette tends to mean avoiding objectively critical, frank and, therefore, redemptively forward-looking evaluation of such politics. In fact, the scholars as well as commentators who cast their eye on identity politics end up becoming mere ‘observers’, def­ending the phenomenon less out of conviction or any radical commitment to emancipatory possibilities and more out of social obligation. The practice of shishtachar as public protocol, thus, mostly results in them offering mere rhetorical affirmation rather than any real critical evaluation of this genre of politics. This includes avoiding commenting on what could be termed as the deeply problematic directions in which the practitioners of identity politics may have sojourned all these years.

On methodological grounds, such an unconditionally aff­irmative assessment tends to approach identity politics on its own self-sufficient—indeed, self-serving—terms rather than in critical reference to mainstream politics. Such a skewed or ‘privileged’ frame of reference is prominently followed in particular regard to Dalit politics—politics that is treated as distinct and separate from the canonised ‘secular’ version of politics. This distinction is achieved by resort to a dual interpretative strategy that rests on its own perspectival split: between modern and late modern. This is an endless conundrum, but in either case identity politics embodying Dalithood in actual sense gets reduced to its particularity.

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