“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence...illusion only is sacred truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”
— Feuerbach, preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity.
The difference between a spectacle and reality lies at the very core of politics – the kind where illusions are created to gain an advantage. A tactic, which the Left brigade is fond of and has employed during the current crisis in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, where a first year MSc Biotechnology student, Najeeb Ahmed, has been missing for more than a month.
The debate between reality and representation could be seen as one based on the age-old discomfort with establishing the real meaning of truth. The question “what is the truth?” seems redundant owing to the fact that truth can never “be”. There can simply be a process of validation of the truth.
“But first of all we ought, perhaps, to justify our assumption that the object of a ‘theory of truth’ can only be to show how propositions are validated,” Alfred J Ayer wrote in Language, Truth and Logic. Thus, the process of validation and the consequence of such validation could easily be used to create an illusion.
The idea of playing with emotions bases itself on something that we often experience but barely understand. The theory of emotions comes to our aid in an attempt to explain some of the very basic events that take place around us, of which we are sometimes involuntarily a part.
The current crisis in JNU opens up a series of discussions studded with a bunch of questions. The focus of the mainstream opinion, generated by the Left-oriented viewpoints, emphasises upon the condition of distress that Najeeb's family are forced to live in. They have presented it as a saga of a mother who is facing every difficulty in finding the whereabouts of her son.
Are these the same people who celebrated the death of 76 CRPF jawans six years ago? What about the mothers and kinsmen of those souls? Did they not go missing forever? How many of those who now present themselves to be ready sentinels in service of Najeeb's family had reached out to the family of those martyrs?
That’s the nature of contradiction in which these vanguards of Left politics live. Even a trace of critical thought would compel one to think about the concept of empathy, which seems to be missing at the base of this constructed drama. The Left bear no sign of remorse for the violence perpetrated in order to meet their own ends. They seldom concern themselves with the number of lives that the Gulags had claimed.
But their ability to create situations has mostly to do with the standards of morality that the larger society seems to uphold. Treading on the path bordered by a fundamental contradiction between the significance of culture in society, they begin to accept the prevalent ethical standards of society with the solitary goal of destabilising the current order. They can even go till the madness of erecting an anarchic order in the society.
The current example, of this destabilising force rallying behind Najeeb's family, seems to remind of the importance of family in one’s life by some unknown, unseen prophet. Otherwise, family to them is an obsolete institution, discarded and outdated that fulfils no purpose except acting as an instrument of repression that aids other organs of the superstructure in subjugating the masses.
Why are they so worried about someone’s family in this case? That’s what one should clearly see as the ‘spectacle’. Thus, it could be clearly stated that the group of people who are instrumental in creating this spectacle have nothing to do with empathy or ‘family’.
The series of contradictions manifest themselves in the kind of stage management that each of these vanguards trained in. The spectacle they ‘created’ during the 9 February incident – when Kanhaiya Kumar and other students were charged with sedition for raising anti-India slogans – could be seen as a preceding link to the current episode.
It was well-known to them that media persons were present on campus. Then, why did they raise such slogans? Was it a deliberate attempt to go against the state and brew up some controversy? What followed was portrayed as an event of State repression – which then translated to sympathy for those pledged to destroy India.
Thus, those caught on the wrong foot raising slogans against India became victims and the actions of the sovereign, which it was forced to employ, were painted as cruel. That’s perfect ‘situationism’. It reminds us of the students’ uprising in France and the protests that took place at Columbia University in the late 1960s.
The events that took place in France in May 1968 show us a pretty fair picture of where the current situation could lead to. It could be exactly what the current anarchistic turn in student politics of JNU could be aiming for. The 1968 revolution in France drew support from students, teachers, as well as workers. It was the largest general strike to have ever occurred in France, with the number of participants reaching as high as 11 million.
But as Neil Smelser had said in 1971: Any social movement must be based on some precipitation factors. In the context of the 1968 revolution in France, the precipitation factors seem to be quite benign in nature. A handful of students led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit began the ‘22 March Movement’ in the form of minor deliberations upon class discrimination in the French society and the bureaucratic clout over the University of Nanterre.
An ‘occupy’ kind of protest at the University of Nanterre came to an end without violence, though not without police action. The events of 22 March 1968 became the precipitation factor for what was to come in a couple of months’ time.
The brief history cited here seems to mirror the recent tactics employed by student politics at JNU. The Left have tried to forge an alliance of anarchic elements at the pan-India level and raise an ‘occupy’ movement, but it has failed.
They have also spent a lot of effort in producing someone like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, but in vain. Hence, the hidden agenda of Left politics in JNU is nothing but an extension of the doctrine of ‘situationism’ and the tactics employed by the New Left about forty years ago.
(The author is former joint secretary, JNU student union. All views expressed are personal)