Kishan Patnaik

Kishan Patnaik breathed his last on September 27 at Bhubaneshwar at the age of 74. His demise comes as a great loss to the democratic movement in the country. He will be remembered for his passionate commitment to value-based politics and for his relentless campaign against the retrogressive policies of economic liberalisation. He favoured a broad-based coalition of socialists, communists and other democrats against imperialist globalisation and worked hard to retrieve the socialist stream from the morass of political opportunism. His whole political life would be remembered as a message of protest against today’s political culture of corruption, criminalisation and communalisation.

Elected to the Lok Sabha from the Sambalpur constituency of Orissa in 1962, Kishan Patnaik never subordinated movemental politics to electoral calculations and remained involved in a whole range of popular movements till the last. He was among the last of the radical Gandhians of his generation who would never compromise on principles. Kishan Patnaik’s celebrated book in Hindi published on the eve of the new millennium was titled ‘Vikalpheen nahin hai duniya’ (the world is not without an alternative), which sums up his vision and strategies in sharp contrast to the TINA (There is no alternative) factor, a mantra chanted ad nauseam by the votaries of liberalisation, globalisation and privatization.

The tumultuous 1990s transformed the Indian socialist movement beyond recognition with socialists like George Fernandez joining NDA, debunking entire ideological baggage of yesteryears, the criminal-mafia appropriation of social justice under Laloo’s regime in Bihar and most recently the ‘corporate socialism’ of Mulayam Singh in U.P. Against this backdrop, the founding of Samajwadi Jan Parishad in 1994 with Kishanji as its founder President was a significant step towards an alternative brand of socialist politics.

Kishan Patnaik was not only a socialist thinker in his own right, but also probably the most creative of the Gandhians who would expand, enrich and apply the Gandhi-Lohia-J.P. thought to the newer realities of the times. Irreconcilable theoretical differences with Marxism would still not stop him from praising Fidel Castro in following words, “Marxism is an inherent energy which has always heated the hearts of the deprived communities. The heat generated in South American countries is due to Fidel Castro…. Castro is an island of uncompromising resistance among the surrendering nations…” (Samayik Varta, Dec ’03-Jan ’04). Kishan Patnaik adhered to the Gandhian critique of modern civilization and the idea of progress. Most of the developments in late capitalism seemed to him a confirmation of his beliefs.

His prolific pen would react to most of the burning issues of practical politics as well as those of theory, from farmers’ suicides to the ‘clash of civilizations’. The June 2004 editorial of ‘Samayik Varta’ (a journal founded and edited by Kishan Patnaik for nearly three decades) was quick in pointing out that the verdict 2004 was clearly against the new economic policies pursued for the last decade and a half and that the new regime had already started betraying it, a point to remember for all those who wish to carry his legacy through the present and future struggles.

As a young member of the third Lok Sabha, Kishan Patnaik was perhaps the first MP from Orissa to have raised the issue of starvation deaths in Kalahandi in Indian Parliament. The powers that be did not have the guts to admit that stark reality and efforts were made to sweep the starvation deaths under the carpet of false claims and statistical lies, much the same way as governments deal with the phenomenon of starvation deaths and farmers’ suicides today. Between 1964 and 2004, India has certainly changed a lot, but defying the gloss and grandeur of globalisation hunger continues to stalk the villages of Kalahandi and Koraput as doggedly as was seen first hand by Kishan Patnaik in his early political years. Patnaik never lost sight of this fundamental plight of rural India, and securing the right to livelihood for the people on the margin therefore always remained central to his politics and to his vision of development.

Mulk Raj Anand

Mulk Raj Anand, one of the chief architects of India’s progressive literary movement died at the age of 99 on September 28 in Pune. Dr. Anand authored such widely acclaimed English novels as Coolie (1935), Untouchable (1936), Two Leaves and a Bud (1937), and The Village (1939), thus bringing the downtrodden protagonists and their anguish against the oppressors and social evils like caste system on the forefront of the literary landscape of his times.

Born in 1905 in Peshawar (now Pakistan), Dr. Anand was educated first in Amritsar; later he moved to England where he studied at the Cambridge and London universities. With Sajjad Zahir, Dr. Anand was the co-author of the Manifesto of the Progressive Writers Association that was adopted at the historic founding conference of the PWA held in 1936 under the chairmanship of Munshi Premchand. He was a great humanist and an intellectual of high merit, with egalitarian, secular and progressive nationalist values which inform all his writings, and this makes his writings all the more relevant for our times as well.

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida, French philosopher and founder of deconstruction theory died on 8 October 2004 in Paris at the age of 74.

Born in I930 in Algeria, Derrida was the fifth generation of his family of assimilated Sephardic Jews to be raised in Algeria. In 1940, when he was ten, the Nazi collaborationists who ruled French Algeria imposed quotas on Jewish school enrolment, and Derrida, the top student at his academy, was expelled. A teacher said French culture was "not made for little Jews". He and his family were stripped of their citizenship.

After graduating in 1956, Derrida spent a year at Harvard University on a graduate scholarship, then returned to Algeria to serve in the French army as a teacher. He moved back to France in 1960 to teach philosophy and logic at the Sorbonne. By 1965, Derrida was teaching the history of philosophy at the Ecole Normale Superieure and was associated with Tel Quel, a leftist magazine that published work by such thinkers as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. The following year saw the publication of three seminal volumes: ‘Writing and Difference’, ‘Speech and Phenomena’ and ‘Of Grammatology’.

In April 1993, he delivered a lecture entitled “Specters of Marx” at a multidisciplinary conference on “Whither Marxism?”. In this seminal address, he paid rich tribute to the Marxist inheritance: “Not without Marx, no future without Marx, without the memory and inheritance of Marx …We all live in a world, some would say a culture, that still bears, at an incalculable depth, the mark of this inheritance, wheher in a directly visible fashion or not.”

He also cautioned against the Western academic attempt to depoliticise Marx and reduce him to just a great philosopher. “People would be ready to accept the return of Marx or the return to Marx, on the condition that a silence is maintained about Marx’s injunction not just to decipher but to act and to make the deciphering [the interpretation] into a transformation that “changes the world.” … If one listens closely, one already hears whispered: “Marx, you see, was despite everything a philosopher like any other; what is more [and one can say this now that so many Marxists have fallen silent], he was a great-philosoher who deserves to figure on the list of those works we assign for study and from which he has been banned for too long. He doesn’t belong to the communists, to the Marxists, to the parties, he ought to figure within our great canon of Western political philosophy. Return to Marx, let’s finally read him as a great philosopher.”

Derrida however remained convinced of the impossibility of this fond bourgeois dream and this explains the haunting title of his lecture: Specters of Marx!