Probing the roots of the present impasse in UP

IT IS an irony of history that Uttar Pradesh, which was supposed to be the fulcrum of political stability, is passing through an unending phase of instability. It is now being considered the centre of economic and social backwardness, no better than Bihar. Some intellectuals are trying to find out the reasons behind its economic stagnation, decline and political instability. Amidst research material appearing on this subject, the book by Zoya Hasan is more comprehensive and elaborate. In her book, Quest for Power, Hasan analyses the three categories of class, caste and community, and through this exercise, she explores the growth of the oppositional politics of farmers, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Hindutva in Uttar Pradesh. The author’s thesis is that the politics basing on these three planks destroyed the Congress in UP because the party lost on farmers to Charan Singh and Tikait, on identity politics to the BSP and SP and on communal issues to the BJP. For this, she primarily blames the conservative upper caste, particularly the Brahmin leadership of the UP Congress, which was not prepared to share power with the newly emerging social forces in UP. She also notes that the Congress adopted the political process of domination and accommodation but increasingly failed to set the political agenda in the state.

Quest for Power: Oppositional Movements and Post-Congress Politics in 
Uttar Pradesh 

By Zoya Hasan 
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998 
Pages 280, Price Rs.445

The most interesting part of her writing relates to the communal-pragmatic approach of the Congress leadership, which paved the way for the rise of the forces of Hindutva in India. Broadly speaking, the analysis offered in the book focuses on two distinct areas of post-independence politics in UP, which have contributed to the political change in the state. The first is concerned with the structure and strategy of the Congress party. The second concentrates on farmers’ movements, caste and communal identities, and the Ayodhya movement. To explain the post-independence scenario of UP politics, she does not reject the theory of erosion of political institutions and crisis of governance. But for her, institutional regression alone cannot explain the decline of the Congress. From the 1980s, the process of churning of different social forces and the rise of identity politics and Hindu nationalist politics caused the decline of the Congress in UP. In her own words, “Together the farmers movement, backward caste and Hindutva mobilization epitomized the alternative approaches and vehicles for capturing power. My major concern is to outline these struggles for domination which lie at the heart of contemporary social and political transformation”.

She has dealt in detail with the phenomenon of communalism. She notes that Congress was a pluralistic organization and Nehru was strongly committed to building a secular state providing a place for minorities and accepted Pakistan as an established fact. But, at the same time, without explaining why Nehru failed to check communal biases and attitudes of the dominant leadership of the Congress in UP, she writes that Congress was not a monolithic institution and there were trends within the Congress that were committed to the promotion of Hindu interests. She further says that the Congress in 1980s, especially Indira and Rajiv, used majoritarian strategies and symbols, and Indira Gandhi justified it by arguing that Hindu communalism rose in reaction to Muslim communalism. She points that VHP’s Ekatmata Yatra was accorded ‘historic reception’ by the District Congress Committees in UP. The Congress quietly backed the Ramjanmabhoomi movement of the VHP.
Parties and 
Party Politics 
in India

Edited by Zoya Hasan
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2002
Pages 566 

By explaining at length the ‘Ayodhya strategy’, she concludes that the crux of the plot was a pragmatic accommodation of both the VHP and Muslim organizations. She quotes Arun Nehru, then advisor to Rajiv Gandhi, saying that a deal had been struck between the PM and an influential theologician that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board would not involve itself with the Babri Masjid dispute and, in return, the Muslims would get the revocation of the court verdict on the Shah Bano case through parliament. This detail is meant to remind those who are increasingly depending on the Congress to combat the threat of communal fascism in place of mobilizing broad masses of working people.

A few words on the decimation of Urdu language are also in order. Zoya Hasan says that the question of Urdu was viewed from the very beginning as a Hindu-Muslim question. All the top leaders of the UP congress – Tandon, Pant, Sampurnanand, CB Gupta, Charan Singh and Kamlapati Tripathi – opposed Urdu as a second language, and their governments adopted an exclusive ‘Hindi-only’ policy. On the question of Urdu, the positions of the Congress and the RSS were analogous. Even the Centre was reluctant to enforce implementation of linguistic minority rights. Thus, a language, which symbolized a rich and composite culture, was suppressed. This is again a reminder to those who think we are a plural, tolerant society where fascism can never triumph.

The second most important part of her writing is on the politics of caste identity, which has occupied a central place in UP’s political scenario and many call it a ‘second democratic upsurge’. Though in Quest for Power, Zoya Hasan has primarily dealt with OBC politics, in a recent book edited by her (Parties and Party Politics in India), she has dealt at length with the dalit politics of the BSP. (This review deals with only one article on UP by Zoya Hasan, viz., Representation and redistribution: the new lower caste politics of North India, in the book Parties and Party Politics in India edited by her). She says that in UP, through peasant politics, reservation and social engineering, lower castes and classes have been mobilized and this has transformed the political landscape of UP. In contrast to South India, here empowerment of backwards and dalits meant seizure of political power by them. Dalit and OBC politicians treated them as economically undifferentiated social categories, much the same way as the Hindu revivalists treated the Hindu community. Charan Singh’s peasant discourse was also based on rural-urban dichotomy. Rural areas were taken as an undifferentiated unit as against the urban areas.

Regarding the BSP, the author says that in contrast to the Congress policy of welfarism and economic development of dalits, the BSP gave political representation to dalits and took up cultural and social issues pertaining to them. Thus the BSP marked a new phase in the mobilization of lower castes in the region and changed the state policy in a number of other ways. On the whole, OBC and Dalit politics in UP has broken the monopoly of the upper castes, particularly of Brahmins, in the state apparatus, made the people of lower castes and classes the main players in UP politics, and raised the position of backward and dalit masses and expanded democracy.

However, she observes that BJP, through its politics of social engineering, checked the broad-based alliance of these forces and by its ‘Ayodhya strategy’, shifted the agenda of political discourse. The problem with this [social justice] movement, according to her, is that the “demands for social justice and social equality have not generated class mobilization and caste movements have not been informed by convincing class concerns. Theories of ‘social justice’ never involve redistribution of ownership of means of production and private wealth or progressive taxation. Indeed, state-enforced redistribution through land ceilings and tenancy reforms, howsoever limited, has come principally through the Congress and not through social justice-based formations when they were in government in 1977, 1989 and 1993. She also observes that the MBCs, constituents of the OBCs, were deprived of what was due to them and the maximum benefit of reservation was extracted by the Yadavs, the core support group of Mulayam, and this has created a rift among the backwards. On the gender question, she says that the OBCs form the single largest group in the UP Legislative Assembly, but there are hardly any women OBC MPs or MLAs. Muslims were not properly accommodated. That is the reason why, in comparison to Charan Singh’s ‘peasant’ politics, she finds Mulayam’s politics objectively alienates a larger segment of the OBCs. In Charan Singh’s strategy, at least there was a broader grouping together of rural and urban forces.

Hasan, in the book edited by her, pins her hopes on the BSP when she says, “In fact, the BSP is the only party which can push land reforms legislation in UP and accelerate the painfully slow process of mass education, since it draws support from the SCs and lower sections of OBCs. She also says that a broader alliance of OBCs and dalits can frustrate the design of the Hindutva forces seeking political power in the state. In her latest article in the EPW (Tranfer of Power? Politics of Mass Mobilisation in UP, Economic and Political Weekly, pp.4401-4409, Nos. 46 and 47, Novemebr 24-30, 2001), she comes to the conclusion: “Today, none of the political parties are committed to a change in the structures that generate class, gender or community inequalities. Rather, they only seek to redistribute the spoils of office to favour one group over another. At best, this can broaden the avenues of upward mobility without greatly changing the norms and structure of power distribution”. It is not clear whether what she says is different from the writings of Jairam Ramesh and others who say that UP needs a new political mindset to address issues related to population, education, power, irrigation and the state of UP’s finance and administration. The present state of UP is not a cultural or historical legacy but a wholly policy-induced man-made disaster. Zoya Hasan, on her part, blames the conservative Brahmin leadership of the Congress for the statusquoism in UP.

It is also not clear what she means by “radical movement” and “land reforms”, which she expects would be initiated by the BSP. She does not consider the land reforms agenda as a serious one for UP. She posits land reforms as a category of developmental issues like education, irrigation etc. That is why, in Chapter 2 of the Quest for Power she writes off the communist movement saying that since landlordism had been abolished in UP, there was no scope for communists to expand in this state. Till the end, she never makes any mention of any left movement and various land struggles being conducted by them in different parts of the state, however embryonic they may be.

The author appreciates the identity politics for the “dramatic surge in participation of the lower orders of society signalling the expansion of democracy”, but in her entire writing, any mention of abuses and gross violations of human rights of the people during the rule of these forces is strikingly missing. It is common knowledge that UP tops the list with the maximum number of cases of human rights violations.

The author says that through the assertion of the Mandal-dalit politics, lower caste-class forces have occupied the central position in UP politics by dislodging the upper caste forces but she fails to notice the way the SP and the BSP try to woo even the upper caste mafia responsible for the massacres of the dalits and weaker sections of UP. Much is being said about the good performance of the BSP and its expansion in the last assembly elections (2002). But the ground reality is that it is not dalit assertion, as in the previous elections, when dalit consolidation behind the BSP served to further expand the base of the BSP. Rather, it is the political equation with the upper caste power groups that has played an important role in its ‘expansion’. This is the reason why this time the BSP managed to bag 14 seats out of the reserved constituencies whereas earlier it used to get only 3 or 4 seats. The upper caste BSP candidates have generally fared well in these elections.

Finally, a few words now about the theoretical paradigm of Hasan. She treats caste and ‘identities’ as undifferentiated categories and underplays the role of emerging classes and their inter-relations in the political economy of the state. This is the source of her confusions and inconsistencies. Nevertheless, the books are informative and graphically outline the evolution of post-independence politics in UP.

– Akhilendra Pratap Singh