Death (or perhaps rituals post-death) has a unique way to bring out one’s ideology in the open. This happened recently, when I lost my father to cardiac arrest, a month before the assembly election in Tripura was announced. My father would want me to come for casting of vote and to be with the family for a few days and relish the winter in Agartala. Perhaps, winter is the only season that people, especially in Agartala really look forward to, since summer and monsoon bring drought and massive waterlogging across the city.
This was the first time I saw someone dying from close-quarters. I don’t remember ever seeing my father lying idle or hospitalized until this time. It was a moment of philosophical sadness, to see a person who was otherwise healthy and fit to be suddenly confined to a machine responsible for his breathing which lasted only three days. That machine-driven breathing works until one resumes breathing on her own or stops breathing completely, in both cases there is a sense of loss. A loss of the previous way of living life and a loss of certain ability of the brain to function normally like before. Perhaps, that is what medical care is for, to make our journey back to life or death a procedural transition.
Intensive care units are a significant site in the post-industrial society to make us believe that our existence in the world is somewhat meaningless. As existence is often equated to our contribution to life and family, which does not add up when one is confined to the ventilator. There always seems to be unfinished business, in such context doctors play the role of an instructor for the things to come, and how to be mentally prepared for the unexpected. Often during such time, one must wonder a little compassionate response for the keepers of ICUs may provide some relief to the attendees in the hospital.
However, his wish remained unfulfilled as he did not live to inform me about the election date nor see the saffron wave that virtually submerged the entire State.
Now, when I look back at things that happened in the recent past in my personal life, actually it is a precursor of what happened on the 4th of March, when the BJP emerged victorious in the election. And a situation, where a person who was otherwise healthy, supported by a machine, became for me a metaphor of the contest between the Right and Left in the State.
Old timers were confident that even if there was a strong sense of rightwing rhetoric before the elections, the Left would win the elections. Although the Left vote share did not substantially come down in this election, many seasoned observer of politics in the State (especially of Left politics) overlooked is that the younger voters and supporters of all the major political parties do not necessarily adhere to a strong ideology. What they seek, rightly so, is not philosophical uprightness, but façade of physical infrastructure, faster transport, better internet connectivity, & better health care. Of course not to discount the prospect of getting employment and education. The agenda of politics has come down to bare minimum tangibles, which may not be easy to fulfil but at least can be ‘visibly’ shown to be fulfilled.
To counter the old timers, it would be quiet a daring remark to say that BJP could only emerge stronger from a state like Tripura. It was just a matter of time, before they could organize themselves. Else, for someone who was born and lived in the state, it may not be a surprise, as Tripura has historically been a land of religious mysticism, deep-rooted rituals and superstition. So for me, the death of my father is a revelation, that despite more than two decades of Left rule, enlightenment and rational thinking does not exist among the majority of people even though the Left party has ruled the state for 25 years without ideologically/officially acknowledging religion and mythology.
The rituals followed after one’s death primarily by the spouse and her wards are deeply embedded in the religious beliefs. In my case, it was Hinduism, where at the cremation itself the beginning of all the rituals, is conducted by a Brahmin, followed by subsequent pujas that were performed during the fourteen days. These of course reinforced by the daily rituals in fourteen days. Such practices make one wonder, that although the Left talked about casteless society, but such practices were very much prevalent in the state, and what my mother informed me is that we have actually cut down many rituals for people who are working individuals, since no employer would want to give long leaves to perform rituals sitting at home. So what I experienced and performed is the truncated version of the traditional practices followed immediately after a close person’s death. In such a time, where at one level there is a rhetoric of making things progress, but at another level performing such rituals seemed to be important to lead to moksha.
So how does one define Left politics in the State? Perhaps what has been there for more than two decades in Tripura was just mere convenience, not ideology or praxis. The demise of the Left, happened due to the localization of ideology, it cornered itself into a close-guarded-cadre party, which was not open to anyone who was agnostic to the Left ideology. Whether one may agree or not BJP emerged to be the most dynamic party in its functioning, thus worked on the ground to gather youth volunteers, which is something the Left had done in the 70s and 80s. And in the between it just became a party preserving its ideology and not allowing its ideology to flourish outside its closely knit party network in the state (even that seems to be suspect in retrospect).
Remember 2013, Left had won a massive victory but it did not use its popularity to reach out to the people. To be in power was all they did. Rightwing rightly sees the Left as a biggest ideological threat (if not electoral), hence, the moment Rightwing came to power, it continued to work towards ideologically challenging the left and reaching out to the non rightwing public. Whereas, the Left could not foresee the future continued to believe PR and marketing were just the tools of the capitalists. The Left never engaged and experimented with budding intellectuals and youth outside the periphery of their party and cadre, thinking that it might dilute the principles of the party. They just confined themselves to a few universities in India and never experimented in reaching out to a wider-base through ways of organizing themselves around ideas which resonate with the changing times. Additionally, within Left the ideological attachment that they had in the State, largely came from individuals’ popularity not the idea of the left itself. For the Left to exist, more than anything else what they require is the realization and acceptance of the fact that ‘time have literally changed’ and it is better to evolve rather than to die without achieving moksha.