Home / Opinion / Modi, Kejriwal, Naxals, and Vedic anarchism

Speaking at an election rally in Delhi last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a veiled reference to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal. He referred to him as an anarchist, and said that the AAP leader should join the Naxals in the forests.

While Kejriwal seems to have taken some umbrage at such name-calling, his AAP compatriot Yogendra Yadav, a political science scholar and obviously better schooled in political history, had a more nuanced reply to Modi’s jibe. Yadav pointed out that the only other national leader to have proclaimed himself an anarchist “was from Gujarat, named MK Gandhi".

It is strange how a country where jugaad is a way of life seems to have not only forgotten its legacy of anarchism but also distanced itself from it. In fact, India’s repressed anarchist tradition is not restricted to Gandhi alone, who, as it happens, is a key figure in the global canon of non-western anarchist thought.

Gandhi’s concept of Swaraj is textbook anarchism, especially in the greater priority it accords to the individual vis-à-vis the state. Gandhi believed human society ought to be organized on the principle of ahimsa, or non-violence. But the very condition of possibility of any modern nation-state is the power to inflict violence. He was therefore anti-state.

Similarly, Gandhi also opposed parliamentary democracy on the grounds that subjecting an individual’s conscience to the tyranny of majority opinion was also violence. Both were part of the reasons why he wanted the Congress to be dissolved once the aim of independence had been achieved—he did not want the Congress to become part of the structure of violence that the modern state necessarily has to be.

In other words, Gandhi was even more of an anarchist than Kejriwal, the politician, can ever be. So, if the prime minister has a problem with anarchist Kejriwal, he needs to clarify his stand on Gandhi’s anarchism as well, for Modi has had no problem embracing Gandhi in his campaigns and speeches.

Besides, unlike Gandhi, Kejriwal has never opposed either the concept of a nation-state or democracy. This is not the first time Kejriwal’s so-called anarchism has come under the spotlight. The same debate was played out exactly a year ago. Back then, unlike now, the debate was sparked when he proudly proclaimed himself an anarchist. The abiding irony of his self-proclaimed anarchism, however, was that he was then the top-most elected representative of the state of Delhi.

A year later, with his belief in parliamentary democracy and attraction for political power seemingly stronger than ever before, Kejriwal is no more and no less of an anarchist than any speechifying, election-contesting politician.

The second problem with Modi’s remark is his assumption that anarchists somehow belong together with Naxals. In fact, he could not be more wrong, for if there is a bunch of people who would be most delighted to see all the Naxals dead, it is the anarchists.

Clearly, whoever writes Modi’s campaign speeches needs to brush up on Political Science 101. All Naxals are communists (they subscribe to a version of communist ideology propounded by Mao Tse-tung, known as Maoism). Historically, communists have aimed to establish a strong state commanded by a hierarchical party organization. The former Soviet Union and China are two obvious examples. Anarchists, on the other hand, are ferociously anti-state and anti-hierarchy. At the best of times, communists and anarchists have been uneasy travelling companions. At the worst of times, they have shared a murderous hatred for each other.

For most of the past century, anarchists and communists have hated each other even more than either of them have hated capitalists. The communist purging of the anarchists (on the orders of the Soviet high command) during the Spanish Civil War is but one tragic example of their enmity. The average contemporary anarchist’s attitude toward communism and leftists of all shades is best summed up in the sentiment aired by the American anarchist Paul Z. Simons when he wrote, “Anarchy will not be vital until the last Leftist is hung with the guts of the last social ecologist".

So Modi is mistaken on both counts: one, Kejriwal is not really an anarchist; and two, it makes no sense to club anarchists with Naxals.

That’s not all. Modi also seems to have forgotten Hinduism’s great tradition of anarchist political thought. The Internet is replete with references to Vedic anarchism, and how the rishis who gave us the Vedas were the first founders of anarchist societies, which they did, by the way, in the forests. So, instead of asking anarchist Kejriwal to go join the Naxals in the forests, the Prime Minister might perhaps like to consider dispatching the more anarchic elements of his own party to the forests to help revive Vedic anarchism.

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