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Shifts and Ambiguities

Aditya Nigam

By Devesh Vijay
Popular, Bombay, 2004, pp. 245, Rs. 275.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

In many ways, the volume under review is a strange one. For one thing, it is a volume that seeks to track writings by ‘Left intellectuals’ in India over the last few decades – that is, precisely in the period when Left wing thinking has seen its most serious ever crisis worldwide and has become somewhat out of tune with the times. However, that is in itself no reason this important body of scholarly and political writing should not be taken seriously. Indeed an interpretative exercise analysing such writings could enable us to see the intellectual crisis of the Left in far greater depth than has been usual in quick journalistic jibes against what are now seen to be creatures of a bygone age. As the writer recognizes, “the preceding two decades have…been one such epoch in our history when Left conceptions of politics in particular came under acute strain and changed in a variety of ways” (p.vii). Given this, he claims, this book “makes an attempt to analyse the significant variations, shifts and ambiguities in applications of major analytical categories in Left discourse in Indian politics” (Ibid.).   This in itself, it should be recognized, is an important concern for then and then alone can one really hope to arrive at what is called an “immanent critique” of Left wing ideas and Left discourse in contemporary India. How an idea or a body of ideas and knowledge responds to real life situations that it is continuously forced to confront, on its own terms and in its categories, can best tell us – far better than any externalist reading or critique ever can – what the blind spots of that body of ideas is.   From that point of view however, it would be necessary, one would imagine, that the entire body of writings that began as ‘Marxist’ or ‘Leftist’ before the onset of the crisis be included in the survey: For then alone would we be able to see the extent of ‘shifts and ambiguities’ or ‘significant variations’ that defines the present of these ideas. If however, one definitionally rules out those scholars or intellectuals who have found the earlier frames inadequate and have moved away in other directions, from the purview of the analysis, then one is constrained to feel that there is a somewhat theological attitude at work here. As the author himself states, “By the term Left, we refer ...

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