Right wing reliance on conventional politics in Uttar Pradesh
Political gimmicks of political actors have certainly moulded the preferences of the voters in the past and continue to do so. With ongoing state assembly elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, parties across the spectrum have come up with their manifestoes to appeal to the voters. There has been a group of politicians, academicians, journalists, bureaucrats, lawyers etc. who have routinely articulated about the decline of the political system and the degradation of democratic values, after coming up of the BJP government. Yet, there are others who cherish the rule of rightist parties with the claim that the party has achieved a milestone in strengthening national security, bringing homogeneity and have rescued Hindu religion from the threats of Muslim minorities in particular, and others in general.
Through politics claiming a history of ‘rich cultural heritage’ and promising to bring back those golden days, populist leaders have tried to grasp the sentiments of the voters to gain votes. Modi, a merchant class leader won the 2104 election by pledging that he would bring ‘achhe din’ (good days) for the masses, who could not dream of a dignified life during Congress days. He took oath to make the country one of the fastest growing economies in the world by assuring two crores yearly employment to the youth of the country. To end the corruption of Congress, the merchant leader appealed to the voters to vote BJP so that they can bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of government. Voters in India have quite often fell into the trap of populist politics. In the past, Congress under Indira Gandhi with the slogan of ‘garibi hatao’ (remove poverty) had benefited out of the populist politics, and in 2014, the merchant class leader has repeated history. Like Indira, Modi too believes in authoritative governance by holding the important portfolios with/around himself. The similarities between both the populist leaders is that during Indira’s rule, ‘India was Indira and Indira was India’ for her followers, and now, ‘India is Modi, and Modi is India’ for the Sanghi crowd.
India has witnessed negative achievements during the BJP rule since 2014. The government has been privatising the national properties on the pretext that these companies have become less productive and have been going through severe losses. The right wing government has been trying to benefit corporates and big business tycoons like Ambani, Adani and Tatas. It has sold shares in railways, coal, steel plants, textile industries, telecom industries, oil refineries, insurance companies, airways, banks etc. The government which won in the name of nationalism, national security and religion, has given tenders to private companies for national security defence equipment. The question is, if all these nationalised companies in different sectors are suffering from heavy losses, why would corporates whose sole intention is to maximise their profit risk purchasing these assets? The answer to these is two-fold: either there has been misappropriation of funds, which means that there has been corruption in all these sectors. Or, the government has been lying to benefit the corporates and is least interested in providing ‘achhe din’ to the poor masses. Since, the right wing political party in India led by the merchant leader has failed to deliver its promises to the population of 1200 million, and moreover, it has endorsed corrupt ministers, in the elections of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand it has no other option but to rely on its old tactics by giving elections a communal colour, and raising the issue of breach security for the Prime Minister as their strategy to win elections. Right wing political parties have once again relied on conventional politics as their strength to woo the voters.
Contestations in UP Politics
The right wing parties have pitched their agenda on the religious lines by making it a 80% versus 20%, shamsan versus kabristan battle and pitting the supporters of Ram Mandir versus the supporters of Babri Masjid. Whereas the socialist parties, in the backdrop of the farmer’s agitation, unemployment, decaying of social justice in the current regime, have relied on distribution of welfare schemes to the marginalised communities as their agenda for upcoming elections. The centralist parties have specifically targeted the women population by highlighting 40% reservation in the distribution of seats to women as their election manifesto. However, if we analyse the social composition of different parties in Uttar Pradesh, the socialist parties, gaining support from lower backward caste leaders has a clear edge over the right wing political parties. I argue this, based on following assumptions:
On the issues of social justice, we have witnessed many OBC/SC/ST leaders from BJP have handing in their resignations to the governor of U.P. Some of these ministers include Swami Prasad Maurya (Labour, Employment & Co-ordination Minister), Dara Singh Chauhan (Forest & Environment Minister) and three other MLAs ( Roshan Lal Verma, Brijesh Prajapati and Bhagwati Sagar) and joined SP. Another BJP MLA from Meerapur in Muzaffarnagar, Avtar Singh Bhadana had quit BJP and joined Jayant Chaudhary’s party RLD, an ally of SP in the UP elections. Swami Prasad Maurya alleged that BJP under the rule of Yogi has done grave oppression on Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and farmers. The allegations noted that chief minister Ajay Kr. Bisht has not implemented reservation policies and converted the left over seats to un-reserved category, thereby appointing his own people. Further, he stated that there has been huge unemployment in the state and the small and medium industries are in danger. After the resignation of these leaders on the issue of social justice, the RSS backed Thakur government is worried and is searching for possibilities to retain their leaders from leaving the party.
- Discovering roots and Sticking to Principles
*socialist leaders in a single frame
The struggle to build a socialist alliance by Omprakash Rajbhar, grounding roots in the politics of social justice, have brought different stakeholders on a common platform. SP had a history of dominant OBC rule in the state and has started countering the core critics of Yadavbad by aligning with lower caste communities and minorities. Meanwhile, extremely backward castes leaders like Omprakash Rajbhar, in collaboration with Akhilesh Yadav, has brought in different stakeholders like Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan who represent non-Yadavs backward castes (Kurmi, Kushawaha), with which the party has re-fuelled its strength. Omprakash Rajhbhar’s role in uniting the socialist parties and Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to share equal space with regional parties such as RLD, leaders such as Jayant Chaudhary, Sanjay Chauhan, Masood Ahmad, and Apna Dal leader Krishna Patel has strengthened the reach of the party among the masses. SP has also been successful in solving political rivalry in the family by making an alliance with his uncle Shivpal Yadav’s party PSP. The party is also in alliance with Mahan Dal’s Kesavdeo Maurya.
- Politics of Socialism over Communalism
During 1960s and 70s, the socialist parties’ demand was to assure basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter to the poor masses. Things have changed after the ‘green revolution’ to make India self-sufficient. After economic liberalisation during 1990s, the necessities have changed. Now people from marginalised communities seek free quality education, health facilities, government employment, through which they can live a dignified life. In the past five years the Ajay Bisht government in the state of UP has not only failed to deliver but also crushed the aspirations of the marginalised communities. The streets of Allahabad, Banaras, Lucknow have witnessed massive protest demonstrations. To hide the inefficiency of the government, BJP has tried to counter socialist parties by claiming that SP and their alliance parties are supporters of Nehru and Jinnah and are the enemies of Hindus. Discussion on ‘shamsan’ and ‘kabristan’ has been brought to the table in election rallies and political speeches to divide the voters on communal line. However, with the failure to manage the COVID-19 health crisis, rise in unemployment, mismanagement of law and order, dilution of reservation policies, atrocities on dalits, adivasis, women, minorities and backward castes, attacks on farmers etc., opposition have started cornering the Ajay Bisht government and pushed it to the back foot.
According to data generated by NSSO in 2019, the unemployment rate in India was highest in the last 45 years. NSSO warned that the rate of unemployment was maximum among youth, 34% for the age group between 20-24 years. An astonishing figure: the more educated are facing more unemployment. In the age group between 20-24 years, 63.4% of the graduate were unemployed and this has increased with time. The spike in unemployment rates in India raises serious concerns on the intentions of the government and the economic model adopted by it to deal with this crisis.
In the health sector, the UP state government has failed miserably in managing the COVID-19 crisis. At the peak of the COVID-19 second wave, the state recorded 350 deaths every day, and there have been cases of under-reported deaths. There have been deaths of minor children due to lack of oxygen supply in Gorakhpur medical college and hospital. The state government was found helpless in providing oxygen supplies to the government and private hospitals during the peak of COVID 19. The horrific visuals of dead bodies floating in the rivers were seen during the pandemic.
In the education sector, privatisation is being carried on a massive scale through the National Education Policy (NEP 2017). Affirmative action policies are not implemented in promotion, appointments and filling up of reserved seats in higher education. Candidates belonging to SC/ST/OBC are discriminated against by providing (0-5) in viva exams and interviews so as to ensure that these communities are kept away from education. In a recent case, G.B Pant Social Science Institute denied appointment of SC/ST/OBC applicants by marking them ‘none found suitable’ (NFS). The director of the institute, Badri Narayan Tiwari, was in the interview panel. The irony is that he is considered to be a prominent scholar of caste politics by liberal academicians.
The socialist parties’ success in forming a broader alliance with different stakeholders to assure social justice to marginalised communities has overpowered communal politics in the states of UP, in terms of credibility and popularity. However, it is not to say that the danger of communal politics has disappeared, it still exists on the ground. But the point being highlighted here is that the defeat of communal politics can be ensured with the formation of a broad alliance based on the politics of social justice. The success of the alliance looks crystal clear due to participation from lower backward caste leaders like Omprakash Rajbhar, Swami Prasad Maurya, Sanjay Chauhan, Dara Singh Chauhan in the alliance. It has been evident from past elections that the lower backward castes (EBC) voters would be key to the chair of UP. Earlier BSP, and in 2017 state assembly elections, BJP could form government with full majority only with the support of voters of these communities. The aspirations are high among the lower backward castes’ leaders because they make up almost 35 per cent of UP’s total population and consolidation of their votes in favour of any political party can change the equation. Uttar Pradesh has not yet witnessed a Chief Minister from lower backward castes. The path to that position can only be actualised through vote consolidation of lower backward castes by showing their numerical strength.
- Electoral Promise of Socialist Parties
The electoral promise of socialist parties (Apna Dal, NCP, PSP, RLD, SBSP, SP), in the backdrop of the farmer’s agitation has definitely provided an upper edge to the socialist alliance. In their rallies and campaigns, the socialist political parties have assured to the voters that they would provide: world class free health facilities, strict implementation of reservation policies, quality free education, conduct caste census, free distribution of laptops for students, 300 units of free electricity to each household, free irrigation facilities to farmers, quality transport system by connecting village roads to highways, building world class national highways, promising to assist small and medium scale industries, creating pavements near rivers in towns and cities etc. If the socialist parties can reach their core voters through these electoral promises, there is a huge possibility of their forming the next government.
There have been fair critiques of backward caste led socialist parties, including the Samajwadi Party, from academicians, scholars and activists, who argue that by imitating religious focus of the right wing and promising to make Parshuram temple, the socialist party can’t accomplish the vision out laid by Jotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Shahu Maharaj, Periyar, Dr. Babaaheb Amedkar, Jagdeo Prasad, Lalai Singh Yadav, Karpoori Thakur, Kanshi Ram and other anti-caste icons who dreamt of an enlightened India. The process of Sanskritisation in north India had led to the imitation of superior castes. This has led to the dominant castes in the graded caste structure suppressing castes beneath them. Though, there are possibilities to win elections by appealing to voters to cast their vote on religious grounds as followers of religious deities, (Krishna, Pashuram, Shiva), there is a danger of repeating history and falling into the same filth, that has been prepared by the caste creators. Therefore, the map created by above anti-caste icons should not be used only for gaining votes but also to actualise the vision they shared. For this, inclusive politics through recognition, representation and redistribution of positions, power and wealth equally among all members of society is needed. However, the immediate concern and challenge for the broad backward caste alliance comes from the exclusion of dalit parties in the alliance. Since U.P election is an election that would be based on the politics of identity, dalit voters, who have a strength of roughly 20-22% of total population, can play a decisive role in showing the path to victory. Though the exclusion has not been deliberate, but the failure to make an alliance and accommodate parties whose origin is located in fighting for the rights of Dalits, Adivasis and Pasmanda Muslims, such as the ASP, can be a setback for SP in the coming Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections.
Omprakash Mahato is a PhD. Research Scholar at Centre for Political Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email: email@example.com