In the Break*: An affective note on JNU election

Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union Election Presidential Debate 2019. Photo:Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Muhammed Shah (Shan)

Umar Faruk, a contestant for the counselor post in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Students’ Union election 2019, began his public speech by declaring that he is a Muslim, coming from Tamil Nadu. In a spellbound succession of emotions, Umar goes on to search for much more intense expressions overwhelmed by rage. Often, we witness sudden breaks in between the words. Eventually we see Umar being desperate upon realizing his emotions becoming far beyond the forms of public articulation. We witness the same in the case of Jitendra Suna, the president candidate from Bapsa-Fraternity alliance, trying to utter a coherent speech by suppressing the overflow of his emotions. Waseem R.S, who is one of the most courageous leaders to emerge in recent years in the arena of Indian campus politics, also spoke in Hindi. But the language was too nimble to accommodate his intensity, albeit the step a significant one, given the hegemony of the existing language and discourse in Indian campuses.

In all of the speeches mentioned above, we see a strong overspill of emotions breaking out of linguistic compositions familiar to the political public. They all began emotional, ended up attempting to domesticate it into the conventional forms of articulation. Now, there is no surprise you might be reminded of the ‘fact’ that Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi people ‘are inherently emotional’ and ‘over-feeling’. However, there have been writings that appeared on Facebook that pointed at the continuous oppression as a historical factor that triggered the emotions in public space. But my joy lies not at the ‘historical validation’ of such emotions, but undoubtedly at the moments of ‘break’ occurred in the forms of emotions breaking down the articulation, language and expression.

One of the potential pitfalls of the rhetoric for political solidarity is its incessant insistence* on the rationalization of the political relations and power structure. Seeking the ‘historical validation’ of the solidarity politics between Muslims and Dalits, this rationalization, like a last gasp, strives to head up all the narratives. This persistent rationalization could, sometimes, develop to be an obsession on how ‘correct’ one’s/other’s political expressions is supposed to be. Maybe, even the movement of the individual could be animated or surveilled by such, sometimes deceitful, consciousness about the other. This however addresses only a political public by leaving aside the question of the ethical private. Hence, in the impossibility of a complete ‘liberated individual’, there are affective spaces created among the people/communities foregrounding not the monolithic notion about power, but the predisposition to the love, empathy and ‘feeling for’ with an antagonistic core. This works often-time as a binding factor among people of different languages and regions and becomes fulfilling for their ethical private. Fear, conditioned in the everyday of a marginalized, tends to operate by suppressing rage, courage and dignity. JNU, on the contrary, demonstrated an affective and fearless generosity for the other thus creating a space counter to its own historical space. JNU’s historical and discursive space has been consequently suspended and ‘replaced’ by an affective and communal space with its own color, rap music, broken words and whimpered tears.

The latest election in JNU was loaded with many such moments, at least for those who have curiously followed all the updates and watched all the speeches from afar. To ‘Feel for’ Jitendra or to empathize with his ‘overflown’ emotions which are expressions reflective of their succession of historical oppression, is also rather symptomatic of an affective space generated in the soil of JNU. The political solidarity thereby takes the form of an affective reciprocity among the communities. The love here does not happen out of lack, but abundance and the tendency to give and be generous (please don’t be reminded of Max Scheler). The love here becomes revolutionary (right, Houria Bouteldja!) by grounded in antagonism. Even when the political yesteryears tend to push us away from the JNU, the affective todays pull us back there again. The ‘feeling communities’ thus suspend the unvarying structure of language and articulation by giving us unusual ‘breaks’ between words, a momentary beauty combined of affinity as well as antipathy. Watching (yes, ‘watching’ like a cinema!) JNU election from distance was thus delightful , especially the many moments of ‘break’ that threaten the coherent ‘progressive secular national fabric’ of the campus.

*This is taken from the title of Fred Moten’s ‘In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition’ (2003).
*This phrase is taken from MT Ansari’s ‘refiguring the fanatic’. (Ansari 2016; Routledge)
*Scheler’s inquiries are rooted to a Christian conception of love/giving as an archaic human phenomenon.
*Whites, Jews, and Us: Toward a Politics of Revolutionary Love (2016).

Muhammed Shah is a PhD-Research Scholar at ASPECT, Virginia Tech, United States.

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