Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The election of Mayawati and questions..

The results of the Uttar Pradesh elections came as "mindblowing" (as one of my friends mentioned) and "shocking" to political observers in the country. Mayawati, the autocratic leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, a party forged through Dalit leadership and support over the years, was able to win the elections with an absolute majority for the BSP. This event was seen as a tectonic achievement in a state that had seen coalition governments since 1991 and which has a fragmented polity like no other state in the country. The number of effective parties in Uttar Pradesh must surely be the highest in the country. Even in such a fragmented polity (with three major parties apart from the BSP: the Samajwadi Party, the Indian National Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party), the BSP was able to forge an alliance of the Dalits and other sections including the upper castes into a formidable vote coalition that ensured an absolute majority for the party.

Though, this victory came as a shocker, particularly pollsters across the board predicted an hung assembly (the CNN-IBN being the most generous to the BSP handing it a 152-168 seat victory in its "Post-Poll" calculations), it was not that much of a surprise to those readers who had read Vidya Subrahmaniam's articles in The Hindu which emphasized a positive wave for the BSP being created for quite some time (since 2005) in Uttar Pradesh. Subrahmaniam reported how the "Brahmin Jodo Abhiyans" and the multiple campaigns to reach out to other communities by the dedicated cadre of the BSP helped extend its reach to a large section of the voting public as well as its core votebanks among the Dalits which her party had built over the years. While the pollsters were sanguine about the increase in the vote share because of such projects by the BSP, they underestimated the reach of the cadre in building such a formidable unit of support which eventually won the elections with an absolute majority.

Political parties gave their own spin after the elections. For the BJP, it was a matter of anti-incumbency against the SP being reaped by the BSP much more effectively than themselves. This argument doesn't hold much water because the SP was able to hold on substantially to it's vote share despite a loss of number of seats and wasn't relegated below the second position with 97 seats. In contrast, the BJP was trounced and was held victorious in 50 seats alone, suggesting that the victory of the BSP was also a victory against the kind of communal mobilization that the BJP attempted to garner in order to come back to power.

The ruling party at the Centre, Indian National Congress' performance was as bad as the previous elections and it's seat share was reduced further by 3 to 22. This performance was despite a high voltage campaign given full publicity and launched by Rahul Gandhi, the son of party supremo Sonia Gandhi, across the length and breadth of Uttar Pradesh. Invariably the questions asked by the media were directed to the failure of Rahul Gandhi rather than throwing light upon the fact that the INC had lost its hold of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh primarily because of its inability to understand the ground reality that governed the UP society today long before the incumbent elections.

As for the Left, they were completely wiped out. Internally divided and also confused as to what the primary contradiction in UP society was, i.e. communalism or casteism and not organizationally in a position to take on either, the Left parties drew a blank and were left with wooden spoons. The classes that they primarily represent, through the width of their policies chose the BSP over them overwhelmingly. The Left was left in the end with the consolation that the politics of communalism had been soundly defeated in Uttar Pradesh, fearing as they had that the rise of BJP was being made possible through communal rhetoric and disenchantment with the UPA government in recently held State and Municipal elections across the country.

So, how could Mayawati succeed this tremendously? What were the basic calculations she made that worked in her favor and what does this result portend to the whole notion of "caste based politics"? These are the questions one needs to answer.

Mayawati runs a tightly knit ship where she holds the rudder, the wheels, the deck and even the anchor. She has complete control over her organization which is run more as a political movement rather than a party. The party doesn't even have a spokesperson who is accountable to the media nor does it have a voice other than Mayawati's. While this has helped the party concentrate on its primary duty of building its base silently rather than playing itself out in the public arena of the media, it's interesting to note how there exists such complete uniformity of action by its disciplined cadre despite total autocracy practised by its leader. Clearly a system of patronage has been worked out for sections who are the core unit of support for the BSP (i.e. the Dalits). The dominant Jatav community provides near unanimous support owing to the base built by Mayawati (who belongs to this community) and because of the measures enunciated during her previous short-term stints in power. Mayawati therefore could forge an umbrella coalition similar to the Congress system, with the master keys of patronage distribution however held by Dalits. That even the lower OBCs (who were distinct from the Yadavs, the core constituency of the SP) could bind themselves to this umbrella coalition suggests the strength of caste arithmetic that the BSP stitched for itself.

The standard reasons that affect incumbent governments across the country (with their non-involvement in forging genuine social growth projects through public investment and state action) worked in Uttar Pradesh too, but the important point was the channelizing of this anger against incumbency. The channelizing was done through the stitching of the caste arithmetic from the vantage point of the most oppressed. The Left articulates a similar concern with the policies of the incumbent but it failed to win, primarily because it couldnt' channelize the discontent toward building a "class alliance" as demanded by its theoretical praxis.

Will this coalition between the upper castes and the Dalits last? Signs of having to adjust to the pattern of coalition are already in place with Mayawati disbursing ministries to Brahmin candidates who were victorious in the elections. The system of patronage with its inclusivity sounds good on paper, but the primary contradiction lies in India's villages, where there still exist enough areas of antagonism between the dominant upper castes and the Dalits. How this bargepole could be broken by Mayawati remains to be seen. It's one thing stitching up an arithmetic, but it is difficult to maintain chemistry strictly through patronage. In the early 1990s, the SP and BSP were able to formulate a similar arithmetic of the OBCs and Dalits coming together but the primary contradictions between the OBCs and Dalits resulted in the eventual breakdown of the arithmetic arrangement.

A tenuous link between the upper castes and the Dalit is therefore both a blessing as well as a bane for Mayawati's BSP. Unless she articulates a radically different programme of redistribution rather than patronage, which addresses the primary contradictions of feudal Uttar Pradesh society, through fervent State action, it would be near impossible for her to sustain the tenuous short term patnership that she has built upon now. With the composition of the BSP's ministry being consisted of tainted ministers with egregious criminal records and the party's opportunist bases (the BSP's MPs were named in nearly all the scandals that rocked India's parliamentarians in the past few years), it sure looks that politics of pilf and pork remains to stay despite the identity based victory of the BSP.

Another larger question to be asked in the context of the UP Election victory is whether process of regionalization that heralded the previous decade in Indian Politics will continue to marginalize and fragment the National polity to such an extent that the National parties would have their significance reduced to nominal levels and would they be reduced to secondary partners all across the country? The answer to this question is much more clearer. From a centralized centripetal Centre-dominated nation, India has slowly emerged into a much more participatory, decentralized and fragmented polity. Local issues dominate the agenda of choosing representatives more than abstract Central notions. It is almost sure that the regionalization and fragmentation of the Indian polity is here to stay and unless the National Parties themselves adjust to this fragmentation by metamorphosing into decentralized units, it will be difficult for them to maintain their relevance in the respective states.

Will the BSP be able to replicate this form of success in other states too? This question is more difficult to answer. As such, the BSP was able to forge into a formidable unit in Uttar Pradesh because of the efforts it made in creating a well integrated cadre structure that translated political legitimacy into power and power into expanded bases. It currently lacks such a dedicated structure in any other state. A ripple effect of the Uttar Pradesh victory can translate into a few gains in nearby municipal and state elections, but an overwhelming victory can only be possible through the building of a solid organization. For this to happen, Mayawati would have to cede her unanimous control to people who have more grounding in their respective states and the invariable tensions of working across federal units would have their say in the organizational hold of the one-woman party that Mayawati so tightly runs.

Added to all this is the slow but pernicious effect of neoliberalism that has ravaged the project of equity in this country. As withdrawal of the state from its welfare roles deepens and correspondingly, the vagaries of livelihood is made anarchically related to the grossly unpredictable market, the spread of inequality, the increased distances between the haves and havenots and lopsided development across federal regions would have their effects on the polity bringing out new variables that could affect party formation, sustenance and fragmentation. Already the voting percentages in the elections (not going beyond 45-48%) suggest a growing discord against electoral democracy and a rising legitimacy accorded to asystemic forces such as the Naxalites. How these variables will pan out would require further brainstorming.


unni said...

The predominent attitude in Indian Communist movement towards casteism was that with the emergence of Industry and with growth of national bourgieos caste system will give way to class antagonisms.Though in some parts of India that did happen,by and large such a transition didn't occur.And this attitude led to an incorrect approach towards castiesm and an 'evolutionary' change was always expected.

The flipside was that we drifted away from seeing the pricipal contradiction in existence,and this caused us heavily during Mandal days.Worst hit was CPI whose support base was wiped out of Bihar,where it used to enjoy considerable support.The neo-liberal reforms that ensued the Mandal days gave a new dimension to the social polarizations,and caste and class made a highly entwined structure to form the sharpest divide in the society.And unfortunately the caste based divide that the Mandal days created,made it possible for caste based forces like BSP,RJD,SP etc to attract support from the vast majority of the underprivileged.And with its decaying support base in North,left could do little to champion their cause.

But how long it will continue like this?I feel until and unless the left launches a forcible agitation in North India for land reforms and against caste oppression,with all the support from other states where left is strong enough,the status quo will prevail.I personally feel that if we can have a birth in union cabinet and put pressure on UPA to create a land reform portfolio,we can make a difference.The CMP drafted byUPA and Left typically characterises our outside support to the Govt,and we can put more pressure if we take part in it,and can do certain things which we were unable to do in the last 50 years.

Even if the participation in Union Cabinet turns out to be a worthless suggestion,we have to devise new ways to tackle the crisis in North that the party is facing.Waiting for Godot is not at all a solution to this issue which turns out be a crucial one for the surviaval and expansion of Indian Communist movement.

obc voice said...


what do you consider is 'the principal contradiction in existence'?

Srini said...


There are a lot of mistakes you have made in your post. Mandal didn't create BSP/SP/etc. The overwhelming mobilization of the OBCs were responsible for Mandal as well as the strengthening of the Mandal parties (i.e. the SP/RJD and the BSP through the SP-BSP alliance).

The caste based divide wasn't created by Mandal but it was the other way around. That Caste is a reality hasn't been understood by the Left, particularly in North India is a known fact.

Check your own state. The early mass mobilization movements led by the Communists were all primarily against caste. The anti-caste mobilizations metamorphosed into peasant agitations and that was the reason for the grand success of the Left in the state.

Such a praxis was not followed in North India, which explains the lack of support for the Left in the Northern plains. Added to this was the fact that CPI itself had leaders from the uppercaste owning land. Such opportunism is not lost on the lower caste sections.

Again, what happens in Uttar Pradesh right now can't be termed as caste oppression in itself. Caste alliances have changed the hierarchy system rather grotesquely in the state and no longer can a praxis be sufficiently weaved around the caste oppression of Dalit/Lower Castes by Upper castes.

The OBC-Dalit equation has changed considerably. Upper OBCs such as the Yadavs, kurmis, Lodhs are seen as oppressors in several villages by the Dalits. There are internal contradictions between the Dalits themselves too. The situation is vastly complex.

Long term praxis would require forging movements, definitely by identifying primary contradictions of caste in several places,but short term praxis would involve forging correct alliances.

The CPI(M) in particular, in my opinion, made a mistake by aligning with Samajwadi Party in this election. Anti-incumbency as well as the primary contradiction of caste didn't help the party because of it's perceived closeness to the Samajwadi Party. The CPI(M) overestimated the strength of the BJP in UP in this election and therefore redirected it's short term strategy against communalism. I think that this was an incorrect move. A similar situation prevailed in Bihar too, where also, Communalism was identified as the primary enemy even though the localizing factors were vastly different.

The first step for the Left in UP and Bihar is to co-ordinate action with subaltern forces and forge Intra-Left unity. If it means forming alliances with an antagonist party such as the CPI(ML)-Liberation, I would say ..Go for it. There has also got to be moves made to get closer to the BSP on programmatic issues. And the intra-Left nonsense should be stopped forthwith.

Otherwise the Left will remain a non-entity in India's most populous states.

As for participation in the Union Cabinet, that is also not going to help. Unless there is enough organizational muscle, any progressive measure would be used up by the alliance partners rather than being reaped by the Party itself. The fact that Kerala and Bengal returned victories for the Left by huge margins shows the effect of having solid organizations. The question next would be how at all to form an organization? The rather simplistic answer would be to concentrate on localized issues ..bloc by bloc..village by village.. something that is being done in TN and AP.

unni said...

I agree with you Srini .And I accept the factual mistakes that I have made in my previous post. In fact caste was an issue before Mandal days as well, and the silent resentment that was brewing up, found a spontaneous outburst during Mandal days, which eroded the support base of left.

In fact your suggestion for greater left unity in states like Bihar is really meaningful. CPI(M) always stood for such a unity before the ascendancy of BJP into power. I still remember Comrade.Surjeet's sharp criticism for CPI when it went for an alliance with Congress in Punjab, when CPI(M) stood for a left front. In that elections Prakash Singh Badal defeated CPI(M) candidate by a margin of 3000 votes, and Surjeet’s criticism proved out to be more than correct.

As you have said, instead of aligning with bourgeois parties like SP or RJD, even though such a move is with the lofty goal of defeating communal forces, we should be focusing on building a left front which should emerge out of agitations for the common cause. The history of Indian left would have been dramatically different if we would have made a compromising alliance with JP in 1977, in WB. Tamil Nadu is a best example where we have made remarkable success after standing alone for a decade. Indian left should seriously reevaluate their alliance with bourgeois parties in North Indian states, where our
presence is too feeble to make a difference, and where alliances with SP,RJD like forces will pose a vital threat to carrying out the agitations for the basic democratic rights of people.

And perhaps I am wrong on the participation of the left in UPA Govt. In fact such a suggestion is partly influenced by my disillusionment after watching the UP results!
I lacked the wisdom to see what changes such a participation is likely to bring about, and also I discarded the fact that CPI’s participation in the UF Govts, proved out to be a failure.

Your observation about the emergence of an elite strata among the lower castes is a significant one. The political line of a Communist party should be formed after taking into account the very reality that exists and the situation now demands a comprehensive study of the class equations in every region or state, and a study similar to Mao’s “Analysis of Classes in Chinese society” and a political program based on that is the need of the hour.