Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > July 28, 2007 > The Sociology of a Mandate

Mainstream, VOL XLV, No 32

The Sociology of a Mandate

Sunday 29 July 2007, by Dipak Malik

The largest State of India, UP, is not exactly the weathercock for the rest of Hindi heartland, yet the recent Assembly elections have indicated a new trajectory which may spread out to the entire Hindi heartland—the Ganga-Yamuna basin which commands one of the best fertile lands in the world besides the fact that it was centre of the freedom movement in the twenties.

In modern history the Benares Congress of 1905, presided over by Gokhale, had started a new course of action which accommodated economic questions—yet the questions which agitated most of the social inequities remained unanswered. The reform belt was Maharashtra and later on Tamil Nadu where Jyotiba Phule as early as in 1873 had started the discourse of the oppressed through the formation of the Satya Sodhak Mandal; this was well before the formation of the first modern Indian political party in 1885. Periyar, by the turn of the twentieth century, had started showing his presence unlike Raja Rammohun Roy and Dayanand Saraswati. These reformers had very concretely identified the basic inequitious system bequeathed by the Brahmanic Chaturvarna system as the crux of the malady that had installed the world’s sturdiest discriminating inequitious society.

Unlike these terrains south of Nagpur and the habitat settled in the delta and upper land masses above the Bay of Bengal, the vast Gangetic plane had not seen any reverberation till the nineteenth century except the mutineers who were largely upper-caste soldiery with stray exceptions of a few Dalits and backwards throughout the cantonments of the East India Company. The intent of this mutiny, which merged with the people’s upsurge in Lucknow and eastern UP, was aimed at replacement of the colonial fiat of power but the leadership of this rebellion was unequal to the task of taking it to the desired trajectory as it now was mostly tired, sulking feudatories of different hues.

The freedom movement which could be in some way called a continuation of the unfinished war of independence of 1857 had a stronger base in UP as well as Bihar. The vast Hindi heartland threw up a leadership in the great struggle which tried to cater to the composite cultural mode of the area as the colonial rule was bent upon creating schism between the two religious groups consciously. The caste questions were not articulated although a fraction of middle-class elite grew and took over the top leadership of the freedom struggle. This newly emerging leadership realised the importance of labelling the inequitious Hindu society and Hindu-Muslim unity. The foremost among those preaching the twin remedies were the Nehrus of Allahabad, Acharya Narendra Dev, the scholar politician and socialist ideologue, slightly more radical and anarchic figures like Rammanohar Lohia, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Y.D. Upadhyaya, Ajoy Ghosh, who later on became the General Secretary of the CPI, only to be followed by Jayprakash Narayan in Bihar and Swami Sahajananda Saraswati, the great pioneer of the peasant movement in eastern UP and Bihar.

The Dalit presence in the Congress was represented by the Jagjivan Rams and the Kamarajes. The Congress platform in pre-independence and post-independence was an assortment exercise via the “political Sans-kritisation” process through Dalit cooption in nationalist politics and strategic cornering of power by the district middle class leadership threatened by the Dalit-Muslim separatism stoked by the divisive colonial polity exploiting the extremely vulnerable spaces in the rigidly inequitious as well as divided Hindu society as well as the apparently divisive lines of communalism which subsequently resulted in semi-correction through the Poona Pact of 1932 though it was followed by the unfortunate partition of India with the formation of Pakistan in 1947. The post-independence scenario of the Hindi heartland forked out a queer alchemy of Brahmin-Muslim Dalit social bases by the mid-sixities after the death of Nehru as the electoral enclave of the Indian National Congress. The problem with this base was two-fold: whereas the Congress’s top leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru were a product of a modernising egalitarian renaissance blooming into an egalitarian model of polity which can be unhesitatingly called “Nehruvian egalitarianism”, the grassroot Congress worker in the absence of any social reform since the days of Kabir in the 15th century was rather using this combination not as an instrument of social change in the vastly stagnant Hindu-Hindi society in the north but as a strategic manoeuvring tactic for power politics. This led to the erosion of the Congress base in spite of its radical positioning of the 1932 post-Poona Pact Gandhian social movement against social untouchability to 1936, the crowning era of Nehruvian socialism, to 1946-47 to 1950, the period of Ambedkar’s participation and contribution to drafting a Constitution—ensuring political democracy and affirmative action in an empowering move through SC/ST reservation, and then a short stint of radicalisation recurrence during 1969-72 through steps like bank nationalisation, privy purse abolition, land reforms and finally the 20-point programme during 1975-77 providing some sops for the Dalits and workers’ participation. This era of radicalisation was architectured primarily by P.N. Haksar, the then Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and implemented under the hegemonic presence of Indira Gandhi after the split of the Congress leading to the exit of the conservative faction of the Congress as the Syndicate Congress. All these escalating steps were, however, inadequate as social inequality was still very much ruling the roost. The last social movement of egalitarianism having been led by Saint Kabir in the 15th century, there was little which could be claimed as a continuation of a cultural transformation process in the Hindi belt. Eighteen fiftyseven was an inadequately equipped movement which generated the ideological stream of inclusivism, harmonising no doubt yet crippled to spread the message of liberation in the iniquitous caste hierarchical society of the 19th century. In the absence of a reform movement except the one by the likes of Kabir, that happened somewhat in a historical past six hundred years back and which at the best affected a small fringe of the oppressed in the Hindi belt, elections are the only means of massive mobilisation left for a change in the existing matrix of a stagnant society divided by caste hierarchies albeit exploited adroitly for power politicking; yet the process was exclusively a political instrument of political representation and control, thus not touching the inner core of social reform though it covered some aspects of social readjustment rather than social change.

THE recent elections in which Mayawati has been able to show surprising results demonstrates a new trajectory in making a pattern in complete departure from the ‘past’ burdened by the Brahmanic Chaturvarna systrem. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who inherited the backward upsurge after 1967, was unable to build up a coherent democratic polity based on egalitarianism with social justice; he was the defector from the backward-Dalit combine built on a very fragile foundation in the early nineties and became thus a decoy for the upper-caste design for revivalism of discrimination against the Dalits. The party equally spurned the course of social justice by not catering to the most backward castes (MBCs) by refusing separate reservation. It was in its practice the there was rather an exercise in new hierarchical semi-Brahmanic exclusiveness and ultimately this broke the proposed unity of the backward, the Other Backward Castes and the Dalits and became an oppressive instrument of the creamy layer hegemony led by a particular caste in collaboration with a sizeable Muslim electorate who, in the absence of a credible alternative to the BJP, clung to the Samajwadi Party. In the last three years Yadav’s government, which was basically a gift by the NDA Government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, was literally a conspiratorial coup than that of the power transfer exercise smoothly with the wily operators of Sangh Parivar. The obvious reference for this sudden about-turn by the NDA towards Mayawati’s BSP and installing Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow was caused more because of the imminent danger posed by the heavy financial scam and land deal of the latter sheltered by the NDA supremo and managed by a well-known chit fund operator of UP which was involved in businesses right from chit funds to media, real estates and has recently sold its airlines.

It was not difficult to forecast the electoral defeat of the Yadav Government as it had earned the notoriety of “a government of the mafia, for the mafia and by the mafia” amongst the masses of UP. Yadav’s government was indeed a full-fledged government run under the complete hegemony of a mafia in alliance with a section of neo-rich bourgeoisie from Mumbai for the first time in Indian history. It was just one small step behind a regime of full-fledged fascism where the mafia along with lumpen capitalism and a section of Bollywood had assembled with full vigour. It was rather ironic to note that the evaluation by some in Left circles of substance, remained locked in the stereotyped notion of treating Mulayam’s outfit of pure mafia governance as a bulwark against communalism whereas it was an open secret that Mulayam and the BJP were hand-in-gloves to desperately thwart the attempt by Mayawati to form a government in UP. Mulayam’s so-called secular credentials are based on ridiculous claims as his outfit was a constant device in service of the RSS and a constant facilitating instrument for stoking riots and communalism in UP as well as bailing out the Sangh Parivar in its venture at various levels right from refusing to support the Congress party in secular government formation in 1999 to backing Hindu fundamentalists in the riots of Gorakhpur and Mau in UP. It was sheer shortage of numbers in the SP ranks and BJP ranks that they were unable to implement their desperate scheme of making their dream of honeymooning. Mulayam is on record claiming that Lohia, the Socialist icon, considered the Jana Sangh as the natural ally of the Socialists in their venture of non-Congressism.

The social base of backward politics in UP contains basically three major characteristics: one, it is fragmented between the two major backward communities of Yadavs and Kurmis; secondly, the latter on zamindari abolition after the 1950s became the dominant section amongst the kulak peasantry; thirdly, the other backward sections of the backward communities remained in periphery, they were neither provided separate reserve category nor permitted to join the mainstream of the social justice movement particularly the one led by Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party which exclusively represented the creamy layer among the Yadavs. It is a known fact that the Dalits were exploited, neglected, discriminated against much vigorously in Mulayam’s regime than the previous regimes. The new creamy layer of the backward classes, who came to the corridor of power, were very quick to imitate the old feudal mode of governance, suppression and discrimination. This led to the shrinking of the social base of Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. After the first 15 years of backward caste mobilisation, primarily initiated by Chaudhary Charan Singh, the so-called movement for social justice and backward polity was reduced to the rump of Yadavs only during the Mulayam regime. Dalits were singularly discriminated, vandalised in this regime. Quantitiatively it was a quantum leap in Dalit suppression from the ancient days of old feudal regimes. The creamy layers amongst the OBCs were a new class in power; hence they were more unscrupulous, more aggressive and more vigorous in all aspects.

MAYAWATI emerged in the social matrix of UP with a different social base. The Dalits, in spite of numerous caste divisions among them, rallied around the BSP almost unanimously with some stray exceptions where the CPI-ML had made its dent in the village proletariat. The most backward, having been ousted from the “creamy layer backward polity” of the SP, had opted out to rally with Mayawati for the last one-and-a-half decade. The Brahmins in the Hindi heartland had become powerless after the emergence of the “polity of backward caste”, particularly in UP and Bihar. As a rural community they had become dysfunctional though they registered their overwhelming presence in middle and higher levels of the bureaucracy, academia, corporate world and media. A flicker of hope had emerged when the BJP’s Hindutva bandwagon rolled on with the Babri mosque demolition movement for the rural priest clan but it quickly disappeared as the BJP had to address the national consensus to remain in power. This class in its they days ruled the roost of the Hindu society but it sank to bad days with the emergence of the movement of social justice in general and political empowerment of the backwards and Dalits in particular. Sociologically speaking, the new political cementing of the Brahmin-Dalit chemistry is neither “Sanskritisation” nor “reverse Sanskritisation” but an effort, though not very substantial yet with ample potentiality, to sketch out a space for flexibility and make inroads with democratisation in the blind alleys of the Chaturvarna system.

Mayawati’s victory at the hustings is, however, no simple chemistry of Dalits and Brahmins for electoral gains alone. Unlike the Congress era here the traditional Savarna elite is not in the leadership with Dalits following the Savarna elite’s design of change and at times status quo too. Rather, it is an exercise, though not deliberately or teleologically of leverage, of electoral hegemony of the Dalit over the Brahmin and other privileged Savarna sections. The pyramid of caste matrix has gone upside down, quantitatively speaking, but qualitatively it is still a grey area to say that the hegemony of the Dalit has finally arrived. Theoretically speaking, if it is not read as complete inversing of the Hindu hierarchical pyramid, even then it can be safely surmised that the Dalit and Brahmins have entered into a process of developing relationship rather horizontally. This indeed is no small upheaval in Indian history and society and it carries much weight in the context of a myriad process of new arrangements in place of the classically ordained route dictated by the Manu inspired Chaturvarna system. Politically, it is less substantive except in terms of power ascendancy. Mayawati’s feat is bound to dent into the existing sociology in the Hindi belt’s largest population and land mass. This change in UP has put the Dalit community in the position of a “passive vanguard” of a momentous change. It must be noted that the making of a vanguard does not come in one sudden stroke but quantitatively and qualitatively yet incrementally it graduates to a more empowering stage.

Dalit thinker Kancha Iliah may be surprised to discover in this alliance a strange journey but the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati duo always practised ‘parliamentary pragmatism’ keeping in view the battle for equity rather than following the catholicity of the Ambedkarian ideology of the oppressed. But this brand of iconoclastic pragmatism cannot prevent a new social matrix taking root notwithstanding the normal humdrum of bourgeois parliamentarianism and a patch of governance not much different from the past. A silent process of change is to permeate the Hindi belt society in spite of the inevitable blues of governance in the era of greed, corruption and globalisation. In quantitative terms, in terms of the polity and in qualitative terms, in terms of social change there are many vulnerable spots in between and grey areas yet to be papered out. Categories like Bahujan Samaj, Sarvajan Samaj in the existing social reality are addition to the traditional categories of class and community. Manu is not yet exhausted, the fatigue of failure of class struggle is not yet dried out of its vitality; yet in order to reach the potential melting pot, one has to take into account the myriad processes—some subterranean, some heretic and some explicitly simple. The unity of the producing class and production relations building the infrastructure of Bahujan Samaj or society of the toiling majority can arrive through a complex kaleidoscope of a progressive history where well-meaning, yet inadequately equipped, categories like class and Sarvajan Samaj or Bahujan Samaj in a specific historic juncture have yet to develop appropriate technologies to unravel the riddles of a too dilapidated yet too sturdy contours of a chaotically diverse as well as rigid conservative society. Mayawati’s experiment has to be understood more in terms of the unleashing of a sociological subterranean process of substance rather than a revolutionary aplomb as vainly expected by Kancha Iliah.

We have to deconstruct this mandate taking a longer view. The import of the mandate is in a silent, slow yet cognisable process of the much needed transformation in the Hindi heartland in its social matrix of a given inflexible Brahmanic mode of Chaturvarna system of “hierarchical control and management”. It will also make Indian democracy a ‘special purpose vehicle’ for complex social transformation—adding an additional input by introducing the new potentialities in the hitherto routine vehicle of democracy largely under-utilised by capital and the old semi-feudal society culturally and materially till now. The bourgeois democracy, whose return to the centre-stage was trumpeted in a big way in the post-Reagan, post-USSR days, could not promise anything except giving an additional space to the renewed rush of the globalisers of capital. This election in the hinterland India, of course, has imported vigour in the routine worn-out content of a sagging bourgeois parliamentarianism

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