Undercurrents in UP elections 2017
What does the BJP victory in UP signify? Stupendous electoral performance of the party would not have been possible without the support of masses cutting across caste/religious divides. The contours of new social alliances engendered by the social deepening of democracy are clearly visible as a sizable section of the backward castes & Dalits have turned decisively right. This, partly, explains the frustration of BSP leader Mayawati and her outbursts on alleged EVM tampering. It’s no secret that post Mandal the nation witnessed a long phase of rabid identity politics; people voted on caste & religious lines and the leaders took the voters of their constituency for granted based on caste/religious affiliations. In the name of social justice, blatant caste politics came to the fore as parties fought for patronages & freebies for their constituency and the society became increasingly fragmented.
The UP election results have shown that the walls of identity politics are crumbling and a new grammar of mass politics may be unraveling underneath. Modi’s smart move in projecting the Demonetization decision as a pro poor move aimed at nailing the rich seems to have increased his appeal among the poor people as politics saw a transition from caste to class. People seem to believe that funds received from the rich will be used to benefit the poor. Modi has played a Hobinhood.
Education, technology and urbanization have brought in immense changes on the social landscape of the nation; voters are a lot more aware and informed. Politics is no longer about cobbling simplistic caste alliances & arithmetic but its calculus involving different permutations & combinations. People are moving away from community politics as fruits of development/entitlement are not evenly dispersed in any community. Politics of difference must entail proper distribution, something which has not happened in the OBC and SC/ST communities with only a handful of electorally dominant communities within them, amassing all the benefits. Since last 25 years or so, the political power remained confined to the dominant castes in UP but now, it, seems, there is a trickle down to the left out social groups.
Globalization and Empowerment have tended to move the discourse towards individual rather than social group. More than society or the community solidarity, it is the individual aspirations that matter more. People are tending to vote more as individuals & citizens rather than members of any caste and community. The fact that 65 percent of the nation is below 35 years of age with 50 percent being below 25 years and more than 70 percent have access to mobile with 400 million having access to internet has further hastened the process.
Coming back to UP elections, there is no gainsaying the fact that ideologies are never eternal and fade with the passage of history. The Nehruvian Consensus has collapsed and Congress is a pale shadow of its former self. Its ambivalence on contentious issues like secularism and reservation (social justice) has further eroded its base and credibility to take on the Hindu Right. Lohia-ism and the subsequent unfolding of the Mandal phenomenon in the early nineties provided a fillip to the aspirations of OBCs with parties like SP, RJD and JDU riding to power in Hindi heartland.
But unfortunately, the true democratizing potential and egalitarianism inherent in Mandal was never realized; in the garb of social justice, caste justice & family justice became the norm. The dominant OBC castes refused to share power with lower castes; social change was never their concern as they were more obsessed with displacing the upper castes from power. Ambedkarism was rooted in humanism & constitutionalism but it was misinterpreted by his so called legacy upholders to create divisions in society and use it as a tool to hit out at upper castes and ridicule Hindu culture.
Whether it’s Lohia-ism or Ambedkarism, it created the feeling ‘we versus them’. The integrative aspect of these ideologies was never emphasized, the social transformation aspect was never touched and for the state leaders, Ambedkar and Lohia were no more than facilitators to vote bank politics & power. Divisive ideologies are bound to fail. The left liberal spectrum’s war cry on intolerance and nationalism also did not help them as people were fed up with their tantrums and hypocrisy. Attacking Hindu culture and religion in the name of modernity & secularism and aggressive wooing of minority community did not go down well with the electorate.
Hindutva, despite, the apprehensions of the Muslims is, perhaps, more inclusive than Ambedkarism or Lohia-ism of the variety we are witnessing today. It seeks of unifying the aspirations of the majority Hindu community and even the minorities who are born in India. It speaks of the common thread that binds all the people whether Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians together into some sort of unified common culture. Historically speaking, majority population of the Muslims in India has Hindu ancestry, the Islam prevalent here Sufism and a product of shared experience of Hindus & Muslims living together but things worsened once secularism debate was distorted and Wahabi-ism from Saudi Arabia invaded the nation. Indian Muslims don’t need to learn the tenets of Islam from Arab countries and instead look inwards to discover their socio cultural moorings.
Hindutva does not antagonize Muslims and think of them as different, rather it encourages them to join the mainstream. Hindutva has gained acceptance in large tract of the country in the last 30 years or so; this is something from which UP can’t remain immune. No wonder, there are reports of BJP getting support from even Muslim localities. A not so insignificant section of Muslims realize that so called secular parties are unnecessarily creating in them a fear of Modi to strengthen their vote banks. They are voting for aspirations & governance. They are not voting for prevention of riots. It is widely believed that Muslim women in UP voted positively for BJP on Triple Talaq and Ujala scheme. Financial inclusion of the minority community increased under Jan Dhan Yojana of the Modi Government.
This election has voted for development and nationalism. Nationalism may be a dirty word for the left liberal camp but for the common Indians, it is sacrosanct. For those embedded in dalit movement thought particularly the left leaning dalit activists, India may not be a nation as it is peopled by diverse communities & castes with each caste/community constituting distinct nationality unto itself; for them, nationalism may be a creation of Hindu hegemony but for the masses, national symbols matter a lot more. They treat these symbols as a matter of pride. Cultural nationalism seeks congruence of different cultures and different peoples to a national project. It does not endorse Kichdi nationalism where every community will sing its own tune and community loyalty will outweigh national loyalty.
A democratic country run on constitutional principles needs to have common secular laws rather than be dotted by islands of separate laws. Nation building is an arduous task and focus should be on integration and not allowing centrifugal tendencies. The common people saw through the dirty game plan of the Congress left socialist secular camp on issues of intolerance and freedom of speech. Information revolution has blurred the gap between national, regional and local issues.
Identity politics has killed public opinion, it has killed public solidarity and it has killed development. Development was fragmented in UP as parties strived to deliver patronage to their core caste support groups. Particular communities tended to benefit more in welfare schemes. Corruption and nepotism was rampant but all vanished under social justice. Modi’s public welfare programmes have been universal. Whatever his skeptics might say Modi’s financial inclusion and welfare schemes have been relatively successful. His rule has been unblemished so far. People are willing to believe him whatever his critics may say.
While SP and BSP have thought for 2 communities forgetting the rest, BJP has been far more inclusive in social composition. BJP is different from its avatar of the nineties. It has snatched Lohia away from the socialists. It is trying to snatch Ambedkar from dalit parties. I won’t be surprised if Muslims start voting for Modi in the next 5 years or so.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.