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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 25

The Turnaround in Uttar Pradesh : A Significant Inaugural?

Saturday 9 June 2007, by Badri Raina


-By the pricking of my thumbs,
- Something pregnant this way comes.
- (with apologies to the bard for the plagiarism)

Why does the feeling persist, certainly with this hack, that notwithstanding some astute and trustworthy analyses of the electoral verdict in Uttar Pradesh, there is a seminal kernel to it that still eludes professional comprehension?

And the concomitant feeling that the seed within the kernel may in the days to come burgeon into a decisive determinant of North Indian politics. Thus the epigraph.

It will be justly surmised that like all practitioners of polemical/scholarly subterfuge, I compound the mystery in order the better to show off what lies up my sleeve. There is more than a possibility that I could be injudiciously precipitate and eventually horribly wrong as well; but isn’t the historical archive of speculative arrows replete with instances where such arrows missed their mark, and yet made way for sharper and more reliable instruments? Certainly, had the history of science not ventured into fecund errors, the results we have may never have happened.

But, first, those points of analysis that we can readily agree with, or not, or subscribe partially to either way:

Yes, the franchise in UP seems to have been clearly directed at ousting the incumbent Samajwadi Party Government whose chief features came to be seen as rampant cronyism, officially condoned criminality and lawlessness, humongous corruption, heartless indifference to atrocities against Dalits, and a general disregard of the interests of any but the Yadavs among the OBCs and of fattened and devoted segment of Muslims.

Yes, those who so determined considered the BSP led by Mayawati best placed to effect that ouster.

Yes, many erstwhile supporters of the BJP as well suspected that the party was indeed too complicit with the SP to be trusted not to strike a deal with the latter in the event of a hung Assembly.

No, the BJP did not flounder because it pussyfooted the communal card.
The infamously rabid Compact Disc that it released formally and distributed clandestinely could hardly have been improved upon for the intended polarising anti-Muslim venom. It sent the Hindutva Samrat, namely, Narendra Modi to campaign in fourteen constituencies and lost all of them. It lost the three totemic centres of North Indian Hindu allegiance—Ayodhya, Mathura, and Varanasi. So, thank you, no; the BJP’s Hindutva was seen as a piece of jaded hypocrisy, and set aside with contempt.

No, contrary to the spin put upon Mayawati’s victory by the Organiser, widely thought to speak for the RSS, the lady did not play a soft-Hindutva card; such a read makes nonsense of the coordinates of the support she drew, as of the tenor of the campaign she conducted, just as it also testifies to the continuing unwillingness of the Right-wing Hindu communalists to acknowledge the anachro-nistic redundance of religious fundamentalism as a factor among an increasingly canny polity.

Again, no, the Congress need not think it would have fared much better if only it had had a dour organisational structure in place. The assumption that it could then have recaptured the tried and tested Brahmin, Muslim, Dalit coalition expresses an outdately mechanical understanding of what was brewing in the State. Mayawati did not simply replicate the Congress formula; she brought about a radical realignment of a different sort—one that I shall argue may well be pregnant (my epigraph) with a sharp break from the tiresome habits of cowbelt politics.

No, the Samajwadi Party did not lose because the Election Commission conspired to keep its voters away; it lost because the Commission ensured that Dalits, poor Muslims, and the Most Backward Castes could come out to vote without fear, and because it disallowed Samajwadi Party shenanigans that have often been pressed into service to thwart such a franchise.


NOW to the substance and implications of the verdict. It would seem that the general run of comment on Mayawati’s achievement, having noted her extraordinary incorporation of Brahmin voters into the Dalit fold—indeed into Dalit hegemony—, seems to overlook the even more extraordinary fact that 51 and 18 of her winning candidates come from the OBCs and non-Brahmin upper castes respectively, not to speak of 24 Muslims as well.

What does that tell us? It tells us that the Mayawati campaign succeeded in fracturing not just the Brahmin/Muslim social groups but the OBCs/Thakurs as well—a fact of great consequence.

Those of us who tend habitually to cast our analyses in a ‘social justice’ discourse only need to find an argument that can meet the fact of this all-embracing fracture. Nor can that fact be explained only by resort to the lazy view—valid as it is—that everybody simply wished to see the back of the SP dispensation. Had that been the total picture, the BSP score ought to have crossed well to the 300 mark. It remains the case that substantial numbers among the Brahmins/Thakurs/OBCs and Muslims still voted for the SP/BJP, and some for the Congress.

Looked at exclusively in ‘social justice’ terms, of course, some valid conclusions do offer themselves. For example, many Brahmins/Thakurs clearly wished to get away from under the hegemony of the Intermediate Castes, just as a good deal of Muslim disenchantment owed to the SP’s complicity with the Hindu communalists. Very few forgot the fact that Mulayam Singh did not reopen the Babri demolition cases against Advani, Joshi, and others; or that it let the saffronite, Kesri Nath Tripathi, to carry on as the Speaker of the Assembly as quid pro quo to his turning a blind eye to brazen defections from the BSP. But how do we explain that Brahmins/Thakurs who did not vote for the BJP should have by and large preferred the BSP to the Congress, or that 51 of Mayawati’s OBC candidates should have won?


I venture to speculate that further research into the verdict will show that an aspect of the verdict has been a proto-class formation. We might discover, in short, that whereas prosperous Brahmins/other upper castes/OBCs and Muslims have voted for the SP/BJP/Congress, the more indigent among all these groups have cast their lot with the BSP. I am suggesting that we may for the first time have seen in Uttar Pradesh caste shaking hands with class.

If such be the case indeed, the UP verdict may have done nothing less than elevate Dalits in North India from the lowest of the social lows to the status of a vanguard—an option that has never been available to the Dalits under Congress aegis. Is it any surprise then that the first statement that Mayawati made after the victory was to the effect that provision of reservations should be made for the indigent upper castes as well, casting thereby the stable and accepted social paradigm into an economic logic.

Clearly, however well-disposed Brahmins, Muslims, and some Most Backward Castes may have felt towards the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress, the neo-liberal economic policies pursued by the Congress-led government at the Centre, and the depredations wrought by those policies among the peasantry and the urban poor, became a factor that negated the Congress as an alternative to the SP/BJP. The absence of an organisational structure was thus a fairly insignificant aspect of the Congress’s failure to turn the corner. Nor could invocations of the Nehru-Gandhi heritage meet the class oppression felt widely across caste formations in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP, on the other hand, composed in the main of the most deprived mass, seemed to have the best incentive to go beyond the social definers to inaugurate a politics of radical economic transformation.

As to the Left, the lesson may seem salutary and inviting, but is hardly an easy one. Even as the truth of Ambedkar’s succinct formulation seems to have tellingly manifested itself (that where people belong to the same caste, oppression tends to follow the trajectory of class), the abstract discourse of the ‘toiling mass’ pitted against the expropriators may not carry it far in the days to come. It will need to work its way through concrete social identities to forge the politics of class.

The Congress, on the other hand, must face the fact that mere homilies about corporate trusteeship responsibility or the undesirability of conspicuous consumption is not likely to re-establish its progressive credentials among immiserated sections among various social groups in the Hindi hinterland. Just as Dalits and Muslims are not likely in the days to come to be successfully enticed either by the promise of benign hegemony or secular protectionism. To the extent that the menace of Right-wing Hindu communalism recedes with advances in increasingly dour resistance from civil society, media, and the judiciary by and large, Muslims will need the Congress less and less in the good old-fashioned way. They will justly look where promise of concrete benefit and upliftment offers itself.


NEEDLESS to point out that the toughest challenges now await Mayawati and the BSP. Having brought into being a proto-class politics, can it be business as usual? Can her developmental priorities simply ape those of the Centre? Can she hope to continue to hold the allegiance of the Dalit masses merely on an axis of tokenist identity assertion? Can she afford to continue to frame her leadership in a Bonapartist mould? Can she honour the significance of the verdict simply by effecting deft manoeuvres from the top? Or, can the capture of state power in and by itself meet the demands of the verdict? Time will show how the verdict may either flower or wilt as her tenure proceeds.

What does seem certain is that the UP verdict 2007 disallows the thought that older days and habits can persist. To that extent Uttar Pradesh (the New Hampshire of the republic) is likely to test the ideological and tactical resources of all major political players, yielding no easy rewards. Taken honestly at the crest, the destiny of the Gangetic belt can be pressed to path-breaking transformations; refused, gruesome reactions will not take long to set in.

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