Monday, May 1, 2017

The New Social Order in Uttar Pradesh

- Sanjay Kumar

UP elections results stunned everyone, losers as well as victors. With 40 percent of votes, the BJP managed to get more than 75% of the state assembly seats. Other major parties of the state, SP and BSP, were left far behind licking their wounds, even though these parties had managed to retain their core vote parcentages of 28% (in alliance with Congress) and 20%, respectively. The appointment of Adityanath Yogi, the mahant of Gorakhnath Math, as the chief minister, and actions of his government like the banning socalled illegal abbatoirs, anti-Romeo squads, and loan waiver of small and marginal farmers, are indications that the BJP government in state is clearly aiming for a new social order, an order which it hopes will consolidate its political success. 

Politics and Society under Bourgeois Democracy

Bourgeois democracies create a specifically mediated relationship between politics and society, through which both, politics and society shape each other. Politics and state action are not passive reflections of the social order. Rules of electoral politics in India have meant that majority governments have been easily formed with votes of even 30% of the electorate. Political success requires agency, conscious planning and organisation. All indications are that from micro level booth management to sending subtle messages to its core voters, the BJP simply out maneaouvered its opponents in UP. Politics, which ensures access to state power, the most organised agency in society, is actually a vehicle to mould society. RSS has been working on this premise for decades. Now that the BJP is in power at center and many large states of the country, there should be no doubt that it is going to try to turn India according to its ideology and vision. However, it will be wrong to attribute political success purely to the actions and abilities of players. Actually, political success itself is premised upon social influence. The latter can take diverse forms, from outright domination, hegemony with passive/active consent, to negotiated compromises. Hence, the political success of the BJP itself is based upon an underlying social dynamic. Through a combination of events, the BJP under Modi has been successful in tapping into this dynamic. What is this dynamic? What is the nature of its influence over society? How far the trends of this dynamic match with RSS gameplan? Also, what kinds of social currents are agaisnt this dynamic, and how can it be countered? There is little doubt that progressive and democratic forces in the country need to address these questions for making sense of the BJP success and developing credible alternatives. 

A lot has been written about how in this election, and before these in Asom and in 2014 Loksabha elections, BJP has been able to form majority governments by completely disregarding Muslims. The obverse of this is the consolidation of large sections of Hindus under a politicla programme which has a clear anti-minority agenda, and whose violent consequences have been evident for many years now. Persecution of minorities is an established fact of Indian social and political life, a lot has been writtten and discussed about it. However, a curious fact about discussions on, and activism against Hindutva is that little light is thrown on Hindu society which is giving its politically allegiance to Hindutva. We need to turn our lens towards the socalled 'majority' community and explore processes that are turning it communal. Without this we will be forced to argue that the success of Hindutva communalism is purely a result of propaganda, conspiracy, organisational acumen, etc (depending upon one's ideological orientation, any one of these can be picked) of the RSS/BJP. Without such an analysis we can not show and convince Hindus that the path of Hindutva is actually a path of complete disaster for India as a society. Hindutva is bad for every Indian, not just for minorities. The UP election results are as good an opportunity as any other, to have a look at the ways the Hindu social order, despite its many bewildering and contradictory diversity, is changing; changes which at present appear to be strengthening Hindutva appeal. 

Resurgence of 'Upper' Caste Hegemony: Caste has changed, but is still a dominant fact of social life in most of India. For more than five years UP was ruled by a Dalit woman. This is an unprecedented fact in more than three thousand years old history of Hindu society. Yet, caste has not disappeared. It remains perhaps the most common identity, both in private and public life, and has morphed into newer forms of hierarchy and social power. The so called upper castes, which constitute about 20% of UP population, remain the most influential caste group in society. Like in the rest of India, these castes dominate urban economy, bureaucracy, education sector, judiciary, media, and even non government sector organisations. Upper castes do not dominate UP through control of land and traditional institutions of rural society, the way their ancestors did upto two generations ago. Capitalism, political mobilisation of other castes in electoral democracy, and reservations in bureaucracy and educational institututions have meant that the old order with its naked violence and Brahmanical inhumanity is dead for good. 

'Upper' castes remain self-conscious of themselves as the upper castes in society, despite a number of inner fissures, and many among them actually living in poverty. Upper caste influence in UP takes different forms in different parts of social life. Their hegemony is most clearly visible in the media and public discourse. A popular movie like Dabang based on UP, has a Brahmin police officer as the hero, a Prajpat (of potter caste) as his love interest, and wrestler of a Netaji (not so hidden reference to upstart Yadavs) as the vile villain. All vernacular newspapers, tv news channels are owned and managed by upper castes. The upper caste self-representation is hegemonic because it is accepted as universal, while self-representations of other castes like of Yadavs, or Jatavs, are self-conscious particular. Notice another fact. While political commentators routinely refer to other castes and Muslims, as 'vote banks' of particular political parties, upper castes, to all contrary evidence, are rarely mentioned as a 'vote bank'. 

The political hegemony which upper castes enjoyed during the freedom movement, and under Congress rule, has been seriously eroded by subsequent political developments. In a nutshell, the Hindutva programme of BJP is a chance for upper castes to regain their political hegemony. This has been evident for many decades now, ever since the internal haemorrhage of Congress in the late eighties. Upper caste dalliances with SP and BSP were only tactical to serve immediate interests. Hindutva is a different bandwagon altogether. Like the national development plans of Congress earlier, Hindutva by design is a project with hegemonic pretensions, which aims to represent the entire Hindu society. Nationalism and development are the programmatic elements of this project, suitably modified from earlier Congress variants to match the neo-liberal political economy. In the present circumstances there is a natural gravitation of upper castes towards it. Now that the BJP has got a national level presence in Modi, it is very sure that upper castes form its natural core of voters. Like Congress earlier, it does not have to do anything special to attract them. Hindutva forces and 'upper' castes together can share in the glory of 'leading the nation'. 

This is very much evident in the results of recent elections. Upper castes now have more than double the number of elected members in the current assembly than their population ratio. Around half of BJP MLAs are 'upper' caste. According to election observers 'upper' castes this time maintained a strategic silence in conversations before elections, while in earlier elections they had been publicly vocal about their preferences (Messages, Mathematics and Silences in BJP's UP Win, Radhika Ramaseshan, EPW, 27 March, 2017). This was in consonance with the 'dog whistle' strategy of the RSS described by a pracharak as ' Man hee man se vote deejiye, sayam rakhiye apnee vaani par'. The aim was to keep political opponents, mainly Muslims confused. The BJP election arithmatic was simple. Gather other caste voters, who may be disgruntled with the Yadav dominated SP and Jatav dominated BSP, around the core of upper caste voters. This strategy is in obvious harmony with upper caste intentions to regain hegemony, for which they need to successfully counter politically organsied Yadavs and Jatavs.