Saturday, 30 January 2016

Congress, BJP and the Art of Governance

   The Curious Case of Sandeep Pandey

In this semester I am teaching political sociology, and this naturally forces me to think about the way political parties cement their hold on power structure. I am not a Marxist, but I always advice my students: ‘you cannot do social science without understanding Marxism’. The reason being, that we live in the ‘age of capital’, and no one has analysed the logic of capital better than Marx. So, I myself will begin this short essay with Marx and some of his ideas about politics. For Marx, peasants were burden on the history, as they lived in isolation, and had hardly any contact among themselves. They had neither means nor vision to become revolutionary proletariat. They were ‘class-in-itself’, as per the famous distinction Marx made between 'class-in-itself’ and ‘class-for-itself’. It is the urban-industrial proletariat, Marx opined, that had the potential to become ‘class-for-itself’, and are the vehicle of revolution.

However, in course of time Marx proved himself wrong. While agrarian societies, like Russia and China, had experienced communist revolutions; the industrial societies of the west, in spite of being the home of some of the largest and very powerful communist parties, were not experiencing any form of proletariat revolution. Gramsci, who was very much concerned as to why revolution had not taken place in western societies, as predicted by Marx, developed the concept of HEGEMONY to understand the non-revolutionary character of industrial proletariat in the capitalist west. For Gramsci, the way cultural institutions advocating the virtues of capitalist logic have evolved in the western world, that, these institutions do not allow the proletariats to perceive their real enemies. Broadly this is what Gramsci meant by hegemony. For Gramsci, the ‘sacred canopy’ of cultural values and ideas are essential for any economic or political system to function and stabilise.

This theory of hegemony helps me to understand the issue of Sandeep Pandey. For me, it is not important why Pandey was removed from the IIT Banaras, but more important to understand is to how he entered the IIT (without any corresponding degree). Pandey was proclaimed as a Gandhian who would teach Gandhian values to the students. But there is a reason why the Congress party ‘adjusted’ Pandey inside the IIT. The Congress Party has read Gramsci thoroughly. The Congress knows that if it has to rule the country in long terms, it needs the support of not only the people (voters), but equally important, of those, who play important role in ‘opinion making’. Thus, after Independence, the Congress has worked very hard to control most of the educational and cultural institutions that shape the ideas favourable to it, with the help of these ‘independent scholars’ (be it film, or curriculum, or other forms of discourses).

The Congress knows that opinion of an ‘independent’ person or expert carries more weight in the eyes of the people, than those who are overtly aligned to a political party. The ‘secular’, ‘leftist’, ‘human right advocates’, ‘Gandhians’, to name a few, receive support from the Congress, but they are hardly visible on the Congress platform. They proclaim themselves ‘apolitical’, and also ‘speak’ against the Congress, but they never hit the Congress where it hurts the most. This was one of the reasons why Kejriwal and Anna found political space during the UPA rule, since most the ‘independent’ scholars and activists were not willing to confront the Congress on the issue of corruption. These ‘independent’ scholars share very cosy relationship with the Congress Party.

Thus, the Congress can bank upon the power of ‘independent’ scholars during critical political situation. (One such example in recent times has been the ‘intolerance’ debate and ‘award wapsi’ by ‘independent public figures’ just before the Bihar assembly election). While legitimation of dissent is most important feature of a democracy; the protest by these ‘independent’ scholars against the NDA government for ‘systematically destroying the institutions,’ had also something to do with an attempt to help the Congress Party to perpetuate its control over those institutions that play important role in the production and reproduction of hegemonic ideas favourable to the Congress Party (one can see the way Indian Independence struggle has been written by the historians of ‘repute’, and how people have forgotten the ‘Emergency’).

Contrast this with the BJP. First, the BJP has not been able to put much of its supporters in the public institutions, since it has not been in power for long. But whatever little supporters it is cultivating, it forces them to publically affirm their loyalties to the party. (Recently one such meeting took place in the Delhi University) I am not sure who gets what from this type of event in the BJP, but certainly it forces the scholars of repute, even when they are its best sympathisers, to distance themselves from the BJP. And those who publically affirm their loyalties to the Party, their viewpoints hardly carry much weight among the general population. The BJP perceives intellectuals not as source of ideas, who would help the Party in the creation of a hegemonic structure favourable to it, but in terms of number. Thus the BJP cannot bank upon the power of ‘independent’ scholars and experts when it needs, and its hold over power remains fragile.

No doubt the Congress remain a natural ruling party in this country (even it has less support in terms of numbers), and others, including the BJP’s entry in the government remain an abrasion (even they have more support in terms of number). Erosion of people’s support, to some extent, can be compensated by control over ideas.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Is there a Bihari Exceptionalism?

    No. It is in conformity with the arrival of ‘new' politics 
                Shashi Bhushan Singh

As the dust of Bihar assembly election has settled down, it is right time to analyse not what was different about Bihar election, but if there is some continuity in the Indian electoral behaviour. My assessment is that though every election has its own specificity, there is also some commonality. What is the trend in Indian politics today?

For me the 2015 Bihar Assembly election result is in sync with the ‘new politics’ the nation is experiencing from the past few years. The main feature of this politics is that except for few castes and communities (mostly dominant) whose caste men or the political party they traditionally support, have chance to win elections; majorities of the castes and communities have started perceiving different levels of elections differently. Means, earlier people voted for the same political party at two different levels of elections (assembly and Lok Sabha), but now they take the voting decision keeping in mind, who can be the best bet at a particular level. The party and personality play important role in selection and rejection of parties, if not candidates.

During the run up of 2014 Lok Sabha election, when the BJP was claiming to win majority of seats in Bihar and UP (two states where it was politically very weak); people were cynical about its claim. However, the BJP sensed that people have started looking Lok Sabha election differently from state assembly elections, and accordingly devised its electoral strategy. To large extent the credit for this detachment of national political mood from regional one goes to Mr. Modi, whose appeal to build a new India found many takers across castes and regions. However, after 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP forgot this detachment principle, that even though it has got massive mandate at the national level, people might vote for different political parties during forthcoming assembly elections. This misconception developed since the BJP, even after breaking away from its long- time political allies, won Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand state assembly elections. But the fact remains that the BJP won these assembly elections, only because the political rivals were highly ‘discredited’. To think that it was Modi ‘magic’ that brought victory for the BJP in these states (at the most one can say that the presence of Modi was necessary, but not sufficient condition) was negation of a principle (detachment), which the BJP had rightly sensed during 2014 Lok Sabha election, worked accordingly and reaped rich dividends.

Thus earlier in Delhi and now during Bihar Assembly election, BJP did not change its strategy and relied heavily on Modi ‘magic’. In a highly diverse and plural society, like India, Modi’s aim of bring uniformity by invoking the slogan, ‘same party (at the state and centre) better rule’ did not find many takers. He forgot his own slogan about his idea of Delhi Sultanate, when the UPA was attacking him, and after becoming the Prime Minister disbanded the Planning Commission, which, he alleged, acted on ‘one size fit all’ plan. Modi himself used the term Gujrat ashmita to debunk Congress high command culture. To think that a particular socio-cultural trait of Indians that has helped him politically, but would not help others was political blunder. Indians aspire for diversity as well as good governance and found Kejriwal and Nitish better bet to govern the states.

As far as Bihar is concerned, people in general were happy with Nitish administration. They wanted Nitish, but were wary of his association with Lalu Yadav. The major issue in election was not the track record of Nitish, but the place of Lalu in the new scheme of thing. The NDA was telling the people that Nitish would not be able to control Lalu, leading to arrival of what the NDA called the ‘jungle raj’. On the other hand Nitish was trying to convince people that his association with Lalu would not have any impact on administration. Finally Nitish was able to convince the electorate about his side of story. People preferred to vote for a person who was already tested, against some unknown face of the NDA. Finally Nitish won.
Thus Bihar election result is not exceptional and should be seen as the continuation of a process, whereas state assembly and Lok sabha elections are now detached, not only in timing but also in orientation. The clean sweep by the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election, and within eighteen months, the overwhelming victory of AAP in Delhi and RJD-JD (U) in Bihar, that were routed in 2014 Lok Sabha election, is pointer of this detachment. The outcome of forthcoming state elections would also be decided by the same principle. BJP has paid the price by forgetting this principle. The Congress and other parties (including Kejriwal and Nitish) would also suffer heavily, if they think that Delhi or Bihar assembly election result has anything to do with Modi’s popularity at the national level, or assembly election results are in any manner referendum on the working of the central government.

Context will change but this principle (detachment) will remain relevant for some time.

(The writer teaches sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi)