Interview with Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS), Part I

Tell us about Naujawan Bharat Sabha (“Youth Society of India”) – its history, its orientation, its reach – and how it fits into the broader landscape of progressive and revolutionary student and youth organizations in India.

NBS was founded in the late 1990s, but it was formalized with a draft manifesto and constitution in 2004. This draft manifesto was ratified by the first national conference in 2014. We started work in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and have expanded to Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand.

NBS believes that today the central agenda of the revolutionary youth movement is the question of “equal and free education to all and employment for all” or in other words, equal and free education and employment must be recognized as a fundamental right.

The other issues on which we work include different things that affect the lives of youth of the working masses. These include the fight against privatization and liberalization, communal fascism, Brahmanism, patriarchy, etc. At the same time, we support the struggles of the oppressed nationalities in India.

On one important issue we differ from our fraternal progressive student and youth organization. Namely, we do not consider students or youth as a non-differentiated community. This stems from our characterization of Indian society as a relatively backward post-colonial capitalist society, where the principal contradiction is between the capitalist class and the working class, rather than a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society where the principal contradiction is between the people and imperialism/feudalism/comprador bourgeoisie. In that framework, the large masses of youth population can, politically, be considered progressive, anti-imperialist, anti-feudal. But the situation in India today is different.

This does not mean we do not form joint fronts with other student and youth organizations on the basis of particular issues, for example, recently on the issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Briefly explain the history of CAA and NRC, and how they advance the broader political aims of the Modi-Shah regime.

CAA and NRC fulfill two tasks for the fascist government. On the one hand, construction of the figure of the ‘other’, the enemy, in Muslims; in this process, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also establishes itself as the sole spokesperson of the majority community, that is Hindus. The second aim is to enlarge this enemy figure to encompass all political opposition. NRC will be used not only against Muslims, but against all political opponents, because the very process is extremely shady and can be used to harass anybody and everybody. CAA, on the other hand, presents Muslims as outsiders and enemies in front of the Hindu petty-bourgeois masses, as the invaders who inflicted injustice and who are responsible for the economic uncertainty and insecurity that they are facing. The actual reason for this socio-economic insecurity is that the destiny of the masses of the petty bourgeoisie, especially the lower echelons of the petty bourgeoisie, are facing the constant threat of proletarianization.

The real aim, therefore, of the CAA-NRC is to construct the Muslims as the enemy and the outsider and thus deflect the attention of the working masses from the real issues affecting their lives: unemployment, inflation, homelessness, malnutrition, hunger, exploitation and oppression. Thus, these laws are in fact classical fascist devices to construct an imaginary enemy and bring the capitalist class and capitalist system out of the dock.

Following the passage of CAA and NRC in late 2019, what role has NBS played in the protest movement?

It would not be an exaggeration to say that NBS has played a central role in the anti-NRC anti-CAA protests in at least 5 big states that were also centres of the biggest protests: Delhi, UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand. We were not only a leading part of these protests organizationally, but also politically, as we were constantly pressing for expanding the ambit of anti-CAA anti-NRC propaganda among the common Hindu working masses. Most of the protests were still predominantly ‘Muslim protests,’ as almost 90 percent of participation came from Muslims. Our position was that we must make the Hindu masses understand that NRC and CAA were not simply against Muslims, but against the working masses of every religious community. Our organization started door-to-door intensive propaganda in the neighborhoods of the working masses. Soon, some other fraternal organizations started the same.

Maybe this was the reason why in every state our comrades were repeatedly arrested and beaten by the Police. It happened thrice in Maharashtra, thrice in Delhi, once in Uttarakhand. The reason is that even the BJP wants these protests to remain as ‘Muslim protests’ so that they can fulfill their agenda of communal polarization by portraying these protests as ‘protests of scull caps,’ ‘pro-Pakistan elements,’ ‘Musalman protests.’ That is why they were quite alarmed with our strategy to win over common Hindu masses to this movement. The witch-hunt against our organization is precisely due to this strategy that we successfully employed.

The COVID crisis has given the opportunity to the Modi-Shah fascist regime to put all organizing forces of these protests behind bars by framing them in false cases. However, this would lead to the radicalization and intensification of the movement, rather than its decline.

How have the sentiments of youth in India changed since the initial anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests, and how has your organization responded?

The sentiments among the youth are differentiated according to their class position and religious and caste identity. Most of the urban, petty bourgeois, Hindu, educated youth from the middle classes are still in support of CAA and NRC as they are swayed by the propaganda of Hindu Nationalism. However, one change has taken place after the protests. The protests and the experience of NRC in Assam has raised some questions about NRC in the entire country of India. They are becoming increasingly skeptical and apprehensive.

As far as the youth from the working class are concerned, almost 50 percent of them are not aware of all aspects of the issue, so they are somewhat indifferent and can be won over with efforts of the revolutionary organizations. The rest are divided evenly in pro- and anti- factions.

In the rural areas, the kulak-farmer class youth are predominantly in support of CAA-NRC. However, the working masses are mostly ignorant about it, so, kind of indifferent. However, the trend is that more and more youngsters are becoming aware about the issues involved and are mostly taking an anti-CAA-NRC position or at least are very apprehensive about it. One reason is also the fact that it is very difficult for the rural population to prove their citizenship and that of their ancestors. Therefore, more and more people are becoming critical of it.

This entire picture might appear as a little gloomy, but if you look at where we started, it becomes clear that we have made headway. In the beginning, the overwhelming majority was in support of CAA as well as NRC. However, now the forces against these draconian fascist laws are nearly matching the ones in support, if we are talking about the entire country.

What are some lessons, both positive and negative, that your organization has learned from the protest movement against CAA and NRC earlier this year?

The lessons that we have learnt during the movement are of essential importance. First of all, we saw that most of the progressive student and youth organizations went into a celebratory mood when the spontaneous protests broke out in different parts of the country. Most of these protests in the beginning were, in fact, Muslim protests, who had come out on the streets against these laws due their acute sense of oppression, fear and othering by the Hindutva fascists. The first task was to involve more and more Hindu working masses in these protests through constant, intensive and extensive propaganda. However, most of the progressive organizations were busy celebrating these protests, which, for them, were kind of a carnival. A lot of anarchist and identitarian things were being said. Various Islamic organizations too were active in these protests and various progressive organizations were collaborating with them and placating them ideologically and politically. We also understand the necessity of coordinating with different forces during the movement and we did coordinate with such Islamic organizations, as long as they were ready to keep the movement secular and inclusive. This coordination was done simply on technical everyday matters of the movement, without any political and ideological compromise. However, a number of student and youth organizations did make political and ideological compromises. We made a firm decision to fight against this tendency and raised these issues constantly. Most of the times, we succeeded in stopping ‘prayers’ etc. in the protests. It was essential to make these protests politically secular in order not to allow the fascists to communalize them, even if the majority of participants still remained Muslims. We can say that we were fairly successful in that, whereas, except a very few progressive organizations, most were making ideological-political compromises with Islamic identitarianism, which was suicidal for the movement.

Second important lesson that we learnt is that our organizational network is still too small to meet the challenge posed by the fascist propaganda. Moreover, they have the power of capital. We saw clearly that without strong social bases in the neighborhoods, built through institutions of different kinds, we can’t win this battle. Our reach can be deep and wide only if we have such a network. Otherwise, we are doomed, not because our propaganda doesn’t contain the revolutionary truth, but simply because the fascist propaganda has wider reach and deeper hold due to their institutions. It is a long-term task, but something we need to start work on immediately.

Third important lesson was that Hindutva fascism is certainly the main enemy, but Islamic fundamentalism is no less of an enemy. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. One can’t fight one without at the same time fighting the other. Hindutva fascists in fact want us not to struggle against Islamic fundamentalists, because then it would be easier to enlarge the ‘enemy figure’ and portray us as part of the ‘Islamic conspiracy,’ etc. If we fight against the both from the very beginning, it puts them in a fix.

Fourth important lesson was the one that we learnt during the riots which coincided with the ongoing protests. The riots demonstrated the fact clearly that we need to go beyond ‘reactive defense-ism’ and form self-defense leagues of youth from working masses; such leagues can retaliate against the attacks of the fascist stormtroopers and repel any attempt to incite riots and genocide. In one area, we were successful to repel the attacks of Hindutva goons who were brought from across the border from UP and who were actually paid goons. However, in most of the area, where riots happened, it was not possible to do so as there was no force with such preparation. Consequently, an important lesson was to prepare the masses for such militant resistance, as the fascists don’t engage with people ready to retaliate. They thrive on your passivity.

How has NBS worked to overcome contradictions internal to the broad camp of protest against CAA and NRC – as can be seen, for example, in incidents of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims, the narrow chauvinism of certain protests in Assam and Tripura, etc.?

Within the broad camp of anti-NRC anti-CAA protests, some of the differences that we sought to resolve through unity and struggle have been mentioned above vis-a-vis the trend of placating Islamic fundamentalism and identitarianism.

Another trend, which has emerged recently in Punjab, is a national chauvinistic trend, which, believe it or not, holds that Punjab is an oppressed nationality! The fact is that there is no part of Punjabi bourgeoisie which is oppressed. Punjabi masses too are not nationally oppressed. In fact, Punjabis are one of the biggest national groups supplying the major monopoly capitalists in India! But from the national movement period itself, even the Gujarati, Tamil and Punjabi bourgeois leaders gave primacy to Hindi as the “national” or “state language,” due to economic considerations. The reason was the fact that Hindi-speakers are the largest linguistic community and therefore form a huge market. Also, a so-called “state language” was needed for the domestic market of India after Independence. Therefore, Hindi was imposed on many nationalities by the nationally composite capitalist ruling class of India (with almost no major capitalists coming from the Hindi hinterland and most coming from Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, etc.) Since Punjabis have a large commercial community, most of them compel their children to study in Hindi or English medium rather than Punjabi medium, because either they aim to emigrate or to do business in other parts of India. And, whether anyone likes it or not, Hindi and English have become the main contact-languages in the multinational state of India. So, these linguistic and national identitarians of Punjab (Lalkaar magazine group) believe that the Punjabi language is being oppressed and this in itself is national oppression. They have forgotten the scientific position on the nation, on national oppression, etc.

Departing from this nationalist chauvinist position they argued that Assam too is an oppressed nationality (which it certainly was and is to a great extent, as there is either no bourgeoisie or a very weak bourgeoisie, a part of which is comprador) and it faces a problem of scarcity of resources and a threat to their language and culture due to migration of Bengalis, Biharis, etc. It’s notable that most of these migrants are workers. NRC is totally against them and the Assamese national chauvinists are okay with NRC but are only opposing CAA on the basis that it will give citizenship to Hindu migrants. They don’t want citizenship to be given to any migrant. These are the forces that committed the most horrible genocide in the history of independent India: the Nellie Massacre. Surprisingly, the Lalkaar group in Punjab supported NRC in Assam and opposed it in the rest of the India. When we wrote a critique of this position, they fell silent. Later, in the anti-NRC anti-CAA movement, they maintained an opportunist silence on this issue.

They are raising similar chauvinist demands for Punjab, for example, everyone who comes to Punjab to work must learn Punjabi, Punjabi language should be made a precondition for all private and public jobs in Punjab, Punjabi schools, offices, courts must use only Punjabi language, etc. They also claim that Haryana and Himachal Pradesh should be merged into Punjab, as they were part of the old Sikh Empire! They claim that Pakistani Punjab and Hindustani Punjab will unify just like German Unification and Vietnamese Unification (which are totally different things, as you know!), as they are oppressed nationally by the Pakistani and Hindustani bourgeoisie and state, respectively! So, we urged them to form a unified party of Greater Punjab and fight against both these bourgeoisies for ‘national liberation’! They again fell silent. As you can see, they have lost it completely!

Apart from such windbags, there were only technical differences among most of the participating organizations, which were solved as the movement went on.

Tell us about the repression that NBS has faced in recent weeks. In your view, why has the Indian state gone after NBS activists with such force at this particular moment, after the protests have subsided?

The State knows that the sit-in protests have only been suspended temporarily due to the Corona Crisis, but the movement is still going on. And NBS is one of the few organizations which has not suspended the entire movement. Secondly, as we mentioned earlier, we are focusing the propaganda against CAA-NRC among the Hindu masses, as Muslims already know its dangers and there is no point converting the converted. This strategy is seen by the fascist state as extremely dangerous. That is the most important reasons that we were the first organization to be targeted by the witch-hunt of Amit Shah (the home minister, a rabid fascist). We took out a long march in Delhi (300 kilometers covered on foot) doing propaganda among the masses. This, they took very seriously because it was damaging for their agenda. That is why they detained me (Yogesh), Vishal and Rakesh (two other comrades of NBS) for interrogation. The same happened a little earlier with our comrades Baban, Avinash and Sharon in Mumbai who were arrested a couple of times, beaten up by the Police, though every time the masses freed them from the Police station. The fascists have a very keen sense of who their most dangerous enemies are.

Continued in Part II