Meet UP: The New Bihar : This election is a throwback to the 1990s

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Singh, Jan 28, 2012.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Meet UP: The New Bihar

    This election is a throwback to the 1990s. It’s as if nothing has changed at all in the state

    HAS UTTAR PRADESH replaced Bihar as India’s basket case? As it readies for Assembly elections, this heavyweight state continues to defy two gradual but unerring trends in Indian politics. First, state after state has moved towards bipolarity — with two parties (Gujarat, Tamil Nadu) or two alliances (Maharashtra, Kerala) carving up the political space. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were the last holdouts. In 2005, Bihar succumbed. Uttar Pradesh remains the contrarian.

    Second, the politics of growth and aspiration, of economic advance and some sort of modernist idiom has embraced one state after another. There have been distortions in implementation and there have been successes and failures. Even so, from Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal, mandates have risen above traditional constituencies and hidebound identities, and have articulated hope. It is not as if identity politics has ceased to be a voting consideration, but it has started to matter just that much less.

    Uttar Pradesh is the rock-solid exception. In the Lok Sabha battle of 2009, the Congress and the BJPwon 36 percent of the vote between them. It was the best performance by national parties (taken together) in a decade. Yet, instead of accretion, there has been decline. Just two-and-a-half years later, caste coalitions, sub-caste coalitions and gotra-level ballot tabulations have fought their way back into reckoning.

    The campaign so far has been dominated by identity arithmetic. There is cursory talk of “development” and “jobs”, but other than a cottage-industrial doctrine — which can hardly serve the purposes of 200 million people — there is zero ideation. Uttar Pradesh is abundant in that key 21st century resource: water. This can give it an edge in water-intensive industries from IT hardware to pharmaceuticals. Its farms can do with an agricultural revolution, and perhaps a marriage with biotech. It needs to build cities for its people, and not just to take in New Delhi’s hand-me-downs in the Noida-Ghaziabad region. Is anybody, any single politician, discussing this?

    In the end, after years of promising a new pathway of politics and an identity-agnostic agenda, even Rahul Gandhi has fallen back on caste. He is the first member of his family, and the first Congress leader, to seek votes in the names of specific sub-castes. Has he failed UP — or has the state failed him?

    Why blame Rahul alone? The BSP and the Samajwadi Party are running campaigns focused on consolidating their core, birth-defined constituencies. The BJP, like the Congress, is working to create the perfect amalgam of non-Yadav OBCs/MBCs, Brahmins and urban voters. This election is a throwback to the 1990s. It is as if nothing has changed.

    The Congress’ descent into the denominational swamp may seem an ‘it had to happen’ moment. Nevertheless it represents a gamble and an essential poignancy. Rahul Gandhi and his team are batting on a pitch they have not laid. They are taking to the game of social engineering with the clumsiness of new converts, with a quota promise a day: 4.5 percent quota for Muslim OBCs, next nine per cent, even taunting Mulayam Singh Yadav to make an 18 percent promise; then adding to it the proposal of a Mahadalit sub-quota. One quota is a cynical but measured move. Multiple, conflicting quotas and caste appeals can confuse and cancel out each other. This is the risk Rahul runs.

    There is another, more transformational risk too: of losing the larger civilisational identity that his great-grandfather was such a passionate disciple of. There was a majesty and inspirational sweep to Jawaharlal’s idea of the Indian; has Rahul misplaced it in his quest to exploit the particularities of India? After Uttar Pradesh, it’s a question many will be asking themselves.

    Tehelka - India's Independent Weekly News Magazine

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