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Identity Politics : A Road Block to Left Movement

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To Irawat, identity politics is essentially exclusionary, while left politics is essentially inclusive

By- Dr. Chinglen Maisnam

Identity politics has become an important feature of politics across the world. Post-modernism, as well all know, advocates replacing glass (struggle) with identity politics. Such politics involves people getting together on the basis of a common identity, whether race, ethnicity case or religion, to put forth their demands or assert their rights. Identity politics rejects any politics based on a common goal of emancipation. Theorists of identity politics say oppression can be understood and experienced only by people of that identity. So others are excluded from the fight against that oppression. The advent of an aggressive finance-driven globalised market and the weakening of socialism set the background  for the rise of identity politics. Globalised finance capital encourages identity politics as they find it convenient to deal with people fragmented on the basis of multiple identities. Such movements make it easier for the capitalist forces to penetrate into the market and take control. Fragmentation of identity is harnessed by the market. Quite a large number of political society, non-government organizations and voluntary organizations that work among the so-called indigenous tribals, castes, women and ethnic minority groups are pursuing the agenda of identity politics. Some of them are founded by organizations in the West, when political mobilization is based on identities of ethnicity, religion and community, it negates the concept of a working class, which is considered to by only one fragment of identity. “In general, it depoliticises the people”. In may be observed that the Communist Movement/Left Movement in Manipur which emerged out of a situation that developed in close connection with the anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and democratic struggles of the people is now encountering the challenge of “identity politics” of the most ferocious kind. The present paper is an attempt to explore this issue.
Identity politics  has also become an important feature of politics across the North East. We are, in short, in the presence of “identity politics” of the most ferocious kind. We are witnessing a particularly vicious     form of “identity politics”. In Manipur too various groups in the state are now promoting identity politics and thereby negating class unity. Thus it is hampering the progress of united movements of the people.  Manipur is a unified multi-ethnic state jointly created by the people of all its ethnic groups. In the long course of historical evolution people of all ethnic groups in Manipur have maintained close contacts, developed interdependently, communicated and fused with one another and stood together through weal and woe, forming today’s unified multi-ethnic Manipur State and promoting the developed by all ethnic group in the big family of the Manipur nation during the long course of historical development. However, in the post-independence period of India, the state is experiencing multifarious problems due to changes in various spheres – political, religions and socio-economic fronts. The ongoing process of globalization makes the state more complex. As a result of the rapid developments and globalization of the regional economy, the traditional culture in undergoing changes at a rapid stride. People are becoming more and more apathetic towards their traditional culture. In the globalized world, the rational for the division of the world into the politically determined first, second and third may no longer be valid. These changes have led to a change in the system of values a change in the notion of what is good and what is bad, what is desirable and  what is undesirable. The status, identity, social position and other kinds of self-definition – who we are, what we are, and so on – are now determined and displayed by what we wear, what we eat, what we buy and how we spend our leisure ours. The global people equated with greed, extreme individualism conspicuous consumption and a kind of blatant dependence on goods and lifestyles to establish their identities old wants, traditionally satisfied by indigenous goods and services are being replaced by new evens, requiring goods and services from abroad for their satisfaction. This destroys local self-sufficiency and local jobs and brings in global dependence of the state. “The indigenous seems to be the only thing which seems to remain for us”. Various indigenous and tribal people of the state are very much apprehensive about losing their identities and culture. This apprehension, coupled with rapid deterioration of the living standards of the masses have triggered of various problems including internal conflicts.
The present non-liberal path of development which is being pursued in India and Manipur has also promoted new identities and new interests within local, political processes. Regional, communal, ethnic and linguistic or gender identities are getting precedence over class perspectives. These irrational ideologies grip the minds of the people thereby resulting in taking an exclusivist and sectarian view that exclude “the other”. It is with such a distorted view that fanatical acts of terror are committed. Facts of history are being distorted to meet their sectarian interests. The assault on reason is carried on K.N. Pannikar has, once, remarked “Like fascism, it is a political project, which promised to build a nation based on revivalism, self-glorification and racial superiority”.
But I would not blame all the groups and their leadership of conceptually privileging identity over class politics. Nor is identity politics of all hues anathema for me. For super-oppressed groups like the indigenous people, not taking cognizance of “identity” makes a mockery of all politics. All class politics must reckon with their “identity”. But as Prof Patnaik rightly argues, “while class politics can have room for reckoning with “identity”, there is no route from identity politics to class politics”. Thus the idea “let us start organizing the tribal people and then we shall move on to organizing workers and peasants” can never work.
The objective of left politics, which aims to be system-transcending is to polarize society at ach moment of time into two camps: “the camp of the people” and the “camp of the enemies of the people” (to use Mao-s words). Left politics therefore is necessarily about forming united fronts, about  uniting as many  people as possible at any given moment in the “camp of the people”. But identity politics is by nature not system-transcending : it is either reformist (to get more benefits for the identified group) or secessionist (often the case with oppressed groups), or in extreme cases downright fascist (demanding ethnic cleansing.
This exclusionary nature of identity politics make most such movements unthreatening from the point of view of imperialism. Indeed, in India recently the ruling party has made extremely skilful use of political formations based on identity politics to push its neoliberal agenda. While left movement based on class politics can and must reckon with certain forms of identity, left politics cannot be approached via identity. There is the impossibility of moving to left politics from identity politics.
Such a negative development (the rise of identity politics) has further aggravated the already high tension and enlarged the scope of the internal conflicts in Manipur. Irawat was also aware that Manipur was a multi-ethnic state where there is no oppression by one or a group of ethnic group over the others. Therefore he rejected the all for identity based movement, splitting-up or self-governing. He strongly argued that this sectarian politics would weaken the fight against the class exploitation faced by the working people. He, thus called for building the unity of the working class and peasantry of the entire ethnic group to fight the common class exploitation by the ruling class. To him, identity politics is essentially exclusionary, while left politics/class politics is essentially inclusive. Manipur needs to be rescued from the identity based politics. One main road block to the advancement of the left movement in Manipur is the rise of identity politics. We must learn from Irawat to build on the rich legacy left by him.      


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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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