I have been asked by many friends and well wishers why chose to join a political party; Aam Admi Party. Even yesterday night, one of my well wishers who visited me at home asked me to re-think my decision. My mother and sister still wonder why I have decided to join a political party. It is not that they do not know about my political views, but they have always thought that I would limit them within my area of engagement; that is cultural criticism or maximum political criticism. Today, I feel like explaining my decision to join a political party, at least to my friends and well wishers. I have a quite a few reasons, but I would consider detailing only a few out of them.
For the last twenty five years, I have been under the impression that art started where politics ended. It was never the other way round for me. I had full faith in art and its capacity to alleviate human beings from the pits where humanity had befallen. Pushed over by the forces of avarice and power mongering, humanity, today humanity has gone further deeper and it is beyond our ability to fathom this bottomless pit. I used to think that art could engage human beings with the idea of redeeming this fallen humanity, a mission which the politics of different colors had miserably failed. Art, for me was not an imitation of politics; but it was always a tangential critique of the same. Art came up from the darkness holding the beacon of hope whenever there was utter darkness thickly delivered by the ignorant forces of politics. However, at time politics learned from arts; exactly the same way science followed art and even today it does. Politics showed the symptoms of redemption whenever it followed the paths that have been shown by the art and artists. Politics fell into the abyss when it pushed art into the abyss of negligence.
(Mr.Narendra Modi, BJP leader and the Prime Minister of India)
Foolish I was to think that politics was the only villain in this process of annihilating art from the creative brains and hearts of the artists. I used to think that politics had made artists the victims of its mechanizations. But it was not true. Since 2012, India has been going through tremendous pressures and changes caused by social upheavals and political plotting. In 2013, India witnessed the rise of people against corruption. It was fuelled by the dejection that the Indian middle class felt about the horrible rape incident of Jyoti Singh aka Nirbhaya in Delhi. India was ushering itself into a new political spring. People wanted a change at the political front; they wanted a new leadership to take over the steering wheel of India. Mr.Narendra Modi was preparing himself for the driver’s wheel for a long time. He consolidated his position as a national leader through well strategized moves and by 2012-13, Modi made himself the undisputed leader of the BJP.
It was not that Mr.Modi was showing the Indian public a political alternative. The electorate knew for sure that they would vote for change as they have always done. This time they wanted a change in the ‘leadership’. Two leaders came to the national scene; one was Mr.Modi and the second one was Mr.Arvind Kejrival. While the former told the Indian populace that he could take India to a new future where everyone would enjoy financial prosperity through corporatization of Indian economy, the latter told the working class, lower middle class and the middle-middle class that he would provide them with a corruption free India. He told them that he could bring in a just India, though not so rich India. He promised the small industries and small business men that he would protect them from bureaucratic pilfering and looting. He told the destitute that he would provide them with shelters. He told the people who lived in shanties that they too had human rights and he would ensure them the rights that had been so long due. Delhi voted for Kejrival. He became the Chief Minister of Delhi. He abdicated from power as the central government clamped him using the Delhi Police. India in general voted for Mr.Modi and he became the Prime Minister. Now he is about to complete one year in power and Mr.Modi is not the same man. India suddenly realized that Mr.Modi too is another wholesaler of his country to the capitalist forces. Nationalist jingoism is only eyewash.
(JohnyML at the AAP office at Vakkom)
Kejriwal ruled from the streets of Delhi in the cold winter of January 2014. And he left power for a cause. Some say he saved his face by abdicating. That could be true or false. But the issue was not just about his face saving. The issue that remains today is this; Have we done away with corruption? Kejriwal gave a tough fight to Mr.Modi in Varanasi. Later he proved his worth in Delhi by generating a landslide victory for the AAP. Delhi people were ready to forgive Kejriwal for his 49 days old first term and the rhetoric and political immaturity he had showed. They brought him back to power with a thumping victory of sixty seven out of seventy seats in Delhi assembly, giving out warning signals to the Modi government. It said; the Poor are still in India. The farmers are still there. They want a dignified life. AAP soon faced inner party troubles. Four leaders were expelled from the party. But the party is still strong and it stands for its values.
I have been a silent spectator of these developments since 2012. I have been watching how our artists responded to the socio-political situation in India. I was keen to know about how they responded to the issues pertaining to the women’s right and security, education, rapes, attitude towards third gender, response to the religious minorities, co-optation of national leaders to the BJP fold, beef ban, land acquisition bill, internet neutrality, farmers’ suicide, mindless urban planning, dislocation of people, workers’ rights, exploitations of different kinds of the work place so on so forth. To my shock and dismay I found that only a few artists or members from artists’ community responded to these issues vehemently. Of course, a very few did it. They showed their angst and rage through facebook postings and sharing of concerned articles. They stood for certain causes by sharing and liking. But the lack of outspokenness of artists appalled me. They were not speaking out. I expected them to speak out. They did not.
(Ad.Thushar Sarathi and Jaison Cooper. They asked for human rights and Police put them behind bars accusing them with Maoist connections. Where were the artists then?)
I could speak to a few people in the art scene. They all told me that their job is not to speak out. Their job is to flag out issues or critique through their works. They are not vocal but their works are. I found this argument nauseating. This escapist view has been doing the rounds since our independence. Artists always said that their job is to create art. Politics is a dirty field and they do not want to enter in that field. If there was an issue, they are ready to talk through a collective like SAHMAT. If there is an issue they are talk about it through the grapevine. I have not seen anyone so far coming out strongly and making a statement about any of those abovementioned issues. I am not surprised if the novice artists do not do it. But I have seen the so called radicals getting cozy with the power centers. To see this is really disheartening. I salute those poets, writers, journalists, socialists, socialites, social activists, scientists, singers, dancers and so on coming out strongly against anti-humanitarian and anti-people rules imposed on the people by the central and state governments in the country. To my shame, I have been seeing only a very miniscule section of artists standing up and talking against.
Adorno, said that there cannot be poetry after Auschwitz. After fuming millions of people in gas chambers and witnessing such enormous levels of atrocities against human beings by the Nazis, he said, there cannot be poetry. How could poets write poetry? Adorno was right and wrong at the same time. He was wrong because there was/is poetry after holocaust and he is right because the poetry never remained the same. It was different. Poetry spoke in/through blood. Poetry spoke through the thousand voices of the freedom seeking people from all over the world. In this cacophony there occurred a new poetry with a new meaning. That defined the poetry after holocaust.
(I do not stop you from worshiping Cow. But why do you stop me from eating beef?)
I waited for something to happen in art scene of our country. I waited like a hungry pot at a dried up well vacantly looking at the scorching heat coming through the layers of the burning sky, reflecting nothing. I stopped writing art criticism, at least temporarily because I was that hollow pot with a dark mouth, booming out nothing. Nothing was happening in the art scene. Like a mendicant, I wandered from one city to the other, looking for art and artists, who could tell me that they are at least on their way to do something against the anti-human policies of the government. Everyone seemed concerned, but none seemed to have the guts to talk about it in their art. Artists were talking about survival and some of them were talking about international travel. To my horror I found many artists were painting the pictures of gods and goddesses. Is it a new fad? In the newly found neo-Hindu scenario, do the pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses sell well?
I do not know about the sales part of it. I am sure works of art are being sold and crores of rupees have been generated in the market. Money created out of selling beautiful works of art in these days of political turmoil in our country is as obscene as the money created by the auction of the Prime Minister’s suit that chants not the name of Ram but his own name. Such Narcissism? Could be or could not be. Narcissists are very lonely people. Mr.Modi is an extremely private person who is a spin doctor unto himself fearing that if does not give attention to the details his carefully constructed image may fall apart. Did our artists make some recopying of Dali’s Narcissus, at least to spite the Prime Minister? Nothing was happening. I was caught in a very absurd situation of Samuel Beckett. There was hope but it was not even hope. At the end of each day, a small dirty boy was coming and telling me that the Mr.God was not coming today.
(The gate of Auschwitz concentration camp. Josh P Shankaran, an artist had painted this image in 2001-02)
It was at this juncture I decided to start updating my facebook with political status messages. I was not looking for appreciation or criticism. I was ready for a dialogue but I was not sure whether someone would come up with some courage to engage in a dialogue. Some did and some just ignored it. I was not doing my status update for any ego satisfaction. Someone very close to me called it my side of political pornography, something meant pleasure myself in isolation. I did not go to argue or prove otherwise. I just continued and I am sure my joining a political party is not just the outcome of it but it was my idea to tell my friends that I was getting ready to do so. Art was not helping me. But my joining a political party is not out of dejection. If I do out of dejection, in a given situation, if all the artists decided to become revolutionaries overnight, then my stance has to be corrected and I will have to resign from the party. I do not want to do that either. My choice is out of dejection and more than that out of my choice, an exercise of my free will; a declaration that I am not going to succumb to the pressures of time.
My marriage with politics is not because that I have fallen out with art. I have not lost the passion for art and art criticism. When there is good art, there is good criticism too. I do not claim myself as an internationally acclaimed curator or a cultural theorist. But more than any cultural theorist who has been operating from the art scene in India, I engage myself with cultural and political theories. My writings stand witness to it. I should not be talking about my own works. You may refer to those at your own leisure. I am concerned with the status of women in this country. I am concerned with the increasing number of rapes. I have an opinion about religious fundamentalism. I have certain views on religious minorities. I have some observations on the ways the political parties function. I have a say on the political ideologies in our country. I have my views on land and farmers. I have my views on Dalit politics. As an individual interesting in thinking and analyzing and expressing the findings through writings, I have decided that I need to articulate it on a political platform also. My views may be right or wrong. When expressed from a political platform, all the political people could respond to them also. I am not a leader but I am not blind follower either. Between leading and being led, I have found my space to express myself while being in touch with the workers and people. There is a sudden sense of liberation facilitated by breaking down of the personality guards that I have been carefully keeping all these while. Today, I can stop my cycle on the way and speak to a head load worker or a former classmate who got married at the age of seventeen and already a grandmother of two. I am politician today because I want to speak to my people; the people of this country. Art need not wait because I have not left art behind though I am slightly angry with the artists in this country.