gfiles magazine

June 13, 2011

The prince in UP

The prince in UP 
All conversation about politics these days soon hits a dead end: When will Rahul Gandhi take over the reins in Delhi?

The most common speculation in Congress circles these days is that Rahul Gandhi will make a pitch for Delhi only after a successful showing in the coming Assembly polls in UP for which he has given a clarion call to his party workers – first from Banda last month and then from Noida and Varanasi this month. The Banda rally was thought to be so important that even Manmohan Singh went all the way to join Rahul. For the Noida show, Madhya Pradesh’s Digvijay Singh was his escort. Varanasi was a bigger affair. That was made the venue for a special session of the UPCC where Rahul was expected to unravel his “Vision UP”. Sonia Gandhi addressed the rally on the concluding day.
But, despite all the effort that the UP Congress under Rahul is making, there is no sign of the party making headway in the most caste-ridden State in the country. Rahul is, no doubt, enthused by the Congress success in the last Lok Sabha poll in which his party was able to bag 22 of the total 80 seats. It must be counted as a big success after a long dry run in several successive Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Rahul’s ambition now is naturally to double the number of Congress seats in the next Lok Sabha election in 2014. He wishes the next UP Assembly poll would serve as a precursor to that success so that he can legitimize his eventual claim to the hot seat in Delhi. For that he would need to at least quadruple the Congress’ present Assembly tally of 22, that is, a figure somewhere close to 100. That will lend credibility to his claim to leadership at the national level and establish the fact that his vision has the expanse and strength to eventually win back UP for the Congress.

But, despite all the effort that the UP Congress under Rahul (above right) is making, there is no sign of the party making headway in the most caste-ridden State in the country.

There are, however, many problems in the way of achieving this goal. First, the Congress in UP has no credible leader. Congressmen may claim to have many leaders but they are all without followers. Second, the Congress has been so long out of power in UP that its workers at the grassroots level have no fight left in them to win an election. Third, despite all the talk of reviving and rebuilding the party, neither the leaders at the top nor the workers at the grassroots have so far come out with any ideas on how to do that. The Congress’ winning social combination of Dalits and Muslims around the core support group of Brahmins was smashed by the rising backward peasant castes in the late 1960s under western UP’s Jat leader, Chaudhry Charan Singh.
The party bounced back briefly in the 1970s but only to be utterly shattered by Mayawati’s re-engineered combination of Brahmins and Muslims around the core of Dalits. In a way, Mayawati did not do much. She took over the old Congress caste and community base and put it upside down both in terms of caste and class. She built her new social alliance around the Dalits but with the now changed slogan of sarvjan hitaya instead of the earlier chant of bahujan hitaya. She addressed the poor and the underprivileged of all castes, especially the Brahmins, the Dalits and the Muslims. The Congress appeal too was addressed to the same castes and communities but not to the same class or strata of them.
The Congress had actually continued the British practice of ruling with the support of the leading families of the castes and communities it represented. The Congress was an upper caste party with the Brahmins forming its core and providing most of its leaders. It was not that the Congress had only the support of the Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims. The three formed the core with the Brahmins constituting the stem but there were other caste groups also on its side. These were the peasant castes that later came to be called the backward castes or classes. When, in later years, the backward peasant castes, benefiting from the abolition of zamindari and land reforms, irrigation works, increased availability of chemical fertilizers, improved seeds and so on, attained political consciousness and sought political power, they found no room for themselves in the Congress because all the positions of power and influence in that party were already occupied by its upper caste leadership. There was little room for them in the BJP either because there too all positions were already in the hands of the Rajputs, Khatris and Banias. They were therefore left with no option but to forge new political instruments of their own in the form of the Socialist Party, BKD, Lok Dal, Samajwadi Party, and so on. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia was the first to wean them away from the Congress. Later, Chaudhry Charan Singh came to represent them, especially in the western part of the State.

Mayawati’s (above) appeals to the common class interest of the economically poor of the upper castes by recasting her ‘bahujan’ slogan as ‘sarvjan’.

Still later, when Kanshi Ram and his political disciple and heir, Mayawati, ploughed deeper and upturned the bottom-most strata of the Dalits, yet another political force was forged. The political mobilization of Dalits took away a large chunk of the Congress’ electoral base but soon Kanshi Ram and, especially, Mayawati realized that while Dalit consolidation could give them a political voice, it would not make them a political force on their own. To become a winning political force they needed the vote and support of other castes and communities. As the upper strata of these other castes and communities were already with other political parties, Mayawati’s best bet was to appeal to the common class interest of the economically poor of the upper castes which she did by recasting her bahujan slogan as sarvjan.
IT is to this winning combination and aggregative slogan of the BSP that the Congress needs to form a response, if it wishes to regain its lost political power in UP. And it is in this sphere that the party has so far shown itself utterly sterile. Rahul has tried to mobilize support on the slogan of aam aadmi but that is a mere imitation of Mayawati’s sarvjan and SP’s garib aadmi. Such borrowed slogans do not work in politics. Slogans must emerge from real-life experience which the Congress lacks today in UP.
sThis is Rahul’s real problem: lack of creativity. He is incapable of comprehending the nuances of complex political and social issues. So much so that some in the party who have to act closely with him are beginning to call him a “well meaning fool.” When, after his widely publicized visit to the troubled villages in Noida recently, he claimed that several women had been raped, an AICC functionary remarked, “The poor fellow does not even know how to exaggerate.” To say that women of a village have been raped amounts to attributing ill repute to all marriageable and married women of the village. That, his partymen thought, was worse than indulging in hyperbole on police murders. One doubts if, with such naivete, Rahul can really score a big win in the Assembly poll. What will be its implication for his stepping into Manmohan Singh’s shoes in 2014?

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