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Can demonetization change the grammar of mass politics in India?

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Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on jojha601@gmail.com. Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com

Modi’s demonetization move is definitely aimed at stopping the flow of terror funds, the surge of counterfeit currency and the dismantling of huge amounts of hoarded black currency. It is an honest attempt to wreck the parallel black economy though a lot remains to be done in this direction as a significant amount of black money remains invested in real estate, shadowy business and gold & foreign destinations, the unearthing of which is a Herculean task.

This historic decision of the NDA government is also an endeavor towards creation of a cashless society and the bringing about of an attitudinal change in the mindset of the Indian people whose preferred mode of economic transactions remains cash and who saves money in cash.

However, implementation problems do galore with unending queues in front of ATMs and banks, ATMs running short of cash, turmoil in the informal sector where more than 85 percent of our work force is employed and government revising its rules frequently but all said and done, there isn’t any strong public backlash against the demonetization decision.

Despite provocation by the opposition and sections of the liberal media/intelligentsia, people are not willing to see anything wrong with the Modi decision. Demonetization drive is historic and a well calculated move to change the very grammar & vocabulary of mass politics in the country. There are deep socio political under currents beneath which I shall be trying to explore during the course of the article.

When we look at the Indian context, it can easily be deciphered that whether it’s elite politics or mass politics, both of them have always been defined in terms of caste. The elite politics has been synonymous with the sociopolitical hegemony of the upper castes. Politics was heavily dominated by the western educated upper caste elites at the central level and the vernacular feudal upper caste rural aristocracy at the state levels during the fifties and the sixties. Public policies had a stamp of their thinking and agendas. Though majority of this class represented particular social communities, they were not constrained too much by narrow minded and parochial agendas.

Positive affirmative state actions for the dalits right after independence, the unfolding of the Dravidian movement in the south and the mandalization of polity post nineties led to increase in the political participation of dalits and OBCs. Very soon, the upper castes were marginalized in the corridors of power. The deepening of social democracy brought the existing social fault lines to the fore and the numerical preponderance of lower castes ensured the coming of age of plebian or mass politics. The mass politics has been conceived in terms of the influence of the backward, lower subaltern castes in charting out a strong political trajectory.

A neo elite class developed comprising mostly of the well off sections of the dalits, OBCs and the intermediate castes. Unlike the previous elite class, this neo elite class was not guided by a messianic zeal of nation building or social transformation but their understanding of politics was entirely clothed in caste, vote bank, family and kinship. Regional issues, family issues and personal issues became more important than the national concerns. Neo elites cared very little for the niceties of egalitarianism and liberal democracy. Regional parties thriving on caste & family linkages are ruling in quite a good number of states where they are enmeshed in a patron-client sort of relationship with their constituency.

BJP emerged post nineties riding on the back of Hindu nationalism and Ram Temple movement and also due to popular backlash against minority appeasement policies of the Congress. Modi formed the government but the party’s mandate of 31 percent vote share hardly provides it the aura of invincibility. BJP has failed to decode the Mandal riddle in the Bihar elections and was badly bruised. Hindutva aspirations have been thwarted multiple times in UP by the crude caste politics of SP and BSP. 2017 UP Assembly election is very important for BJP.

Dalit fury is evident in several parts of the country leading to the emergence of a powerful undercurrent of protest against the system by the subaltern classes. BJP knows it is difficult to defeat the regional forces on their home turfs due to crude caste arithmetic, especially in the Hindi heartland. Fear of Modi has also led to opposition unity as we saw in Bihar where JDU, RJD and Congress buried their differences to form an alliance just before elections. Hindu Right’s mission of forging a unified Hindu society and cultural nationalism is facing stiff resistance from Mandal politics & Dalit politics and hence, it becomes imperative for BJP to break the caste card.

As a matter of fact, caste arithmetic has become so complex with wheels within wheels that a new innovative strategy transcending all barriers of caste will only work and it is here that PM Modi has played the master stroke. His political opponents know this and hence they are flabbergasted and scurrying for cover. His demonetization policy has the potential to break the caste narrative of mass politics, as enunciated in India post 1990.

In his public speeches, he has astutely made his policy appear as one that is directly related to the interests of the poor, neo middle and the middle classes; the elites & the rich are being pitted against the poor & the middle classes. The PM has attacked the corrupt, the black money hoarders, the tax evaders, he has taken up the cudgels to punish those who have sucked the blood of the poor and to cap it all, an assurance to use the amount collected from the defaulters/ black money holders for the welfare of poor.

The opposition may be protesting vehemently and talking of hardships to common man but the fact remains that this political masterpiece has stumped the entire opposition and it has been caught napping and clueless. BJP has cleverly projected the opposition as siding with the interests of the hoarders of black money. Modi has tried to tap the popular mass sentiment against those who are rich, connected and powerful. This move is in consonance with several recent global developments like Trump victory, Brexit and rise of nationalist parties in Europe.

Indira Gandhi had broken the caste narrative of the socialists & taken on the powerful Syndicate by policies like Bank Nationalization and Abolition of Privy purses. She had prevented the dalits from forging political unity with the OBCs by her famous Garibi Hatao slogan & poverty alleviation programmes. But then, conditions were too different at that time.

It will be interesting to see whether Modi upsets the caste narrative of mass politics in India by demonetization and labeling his effort to unearth black money as the fight between the rich and the poor. The poor and the neo middle have been hit hard by recession in agriculture and decline in manufacturing sector. The middle classes are finding themselves increasing disconnected from the global process. Most of India’s growth in the past decade has been jobless, most of investment has gone in real estate and only a small section has benefited and has access to stock market. The cities have become places where elites and rich live in gated colonies & apartments with adjacent slums and semi slums. Unemployment among youth is high. One percent of the population has control over 58 percent of the national resources.

Modi has tried to make use of this mass resentment against the elite class. He has contemplated to play a Robin Hood. The move if successful will alter the contours of mass politics in India.

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Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on jojha601@gmail.com. Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com
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