An appraisal of the contemporary political scene
In a democratic set-up, political parties have distinct social groups as their base. The parties, in fact, are manifestations of the collective interests or demands of various social groups. During the national struggle against imperialism, differences between the political parties were almost invisible. But as soon as it became clear that Independence was imminent, social vested interests began surfacing. Jinnah and his associates began branding the Congress, which had led the national struggle, as a Hindu party. Within the Congress, the Socialists came together as the CSP (Congress Socialist Party) and began raising the concerns of the labourers and the farmers. A section of the farmers and the labourers became associated with the Congress. The Communist Party also championed the cause of these classes.
With Independence, the pace of sociopolitical polarization gathered pace. A new social class began emerging due to the socio-economic changes. This new class, called the middle class, had its own beliefs and ideology. This class was born of new production relations and had progressive ideas. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru were its first choice. The middle class broadly supported the Congress but the Congress was not the party of only this class. A motley group of classes constituted its support base. This continues to be so even today. But the party always tries to project its progressive face. Under Nehru and Indira Gandhi, it refused to bow to communal forces. Under Rajiv Gandhi, it committed the grave error of submitting to the conservative sections of both the Hindus and the Muslims by interfering in the Shahbano case and the Ramjanmabhoomi issue. But it had to pay a heavy price for it and is still doing so.
The Congress had to face opposition from both the Socialists and the Communists, whose main grouse was that the party was not doing enough to bring about socio-economic changes. Then, there was the rightist Jansangh, which opposed even the cosmetic changes made by the Congress. The Jansangh was supported by the social groups whose interests were hit by the changes initiated by the Congress. They included former rulers, landlords and kulaks. Jansangh combined rightist economic thought with conservative Hindutva and thus won the support of a section of “pandas” and “purohits” who felt that only Jansangh could protect their social and economic interests. Even after Jansangh took on the new avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, its socio-economic leanings remained unchanged.
But how and why did a big chunk of the middle class distance itself from the Congress and jump on the BJP bandwagon? Let us go back to the Indira Gandhi era when the measures she had taken, such as nationalization of banks and abolition of privy purses, had turned almost the entire middle class and the leftists into her supporters. The result was that in the elections that followed, she won two-thirds majority and the opposition was nowhere to be seen. This was a political battle but in the background was a social struggle. The oppressed and neglected social groups rebelled against the dominant classes and defeated them. Indira Gandhi built a social base that comprised Dalits, Muslims, Backwards and progressives and it backed her politically. This social base helped her end the Rajput-Bhumihar (Satendra-Mahesh) domination of Bihar Congress. It also sounded the death knell of the Thakur-Bania rule in Uttar Pradesh and of Biju Patnaik rule in Odisha. Lingayats lost their clout in Karnataka, Patels in Gujarat and Rajputs in Rajasthan. In all these states, new social groups joined the mainstream.
What I mean to say is that politics has always been influenced by social groups and their interests. No political party can survive without a social base. This is visible even in today’s politics. The miracle that Narendra Modi worked in the last Lok Sabha elections was the result of combining Hindutva and Backward politics. At the state level, Kalyan Singh had done it much earlier in Uttar Pradesh. Modi did it at the national level. You could say that he became the Lalu Prasad Yadav of India. Without any hesitation, he referred to his caste directly or indirectly in election meetings. He definitely did something that seemed impossible earlier. But there was no way he could have continued to hold them together. It is very difficult to serve the interests of two rival social groups simultaneously. You cannot keep both the landlord and the farmer or the capitalist and the labourer happy at the same time. That has become evident over the past four years. On the economic front, the Modi government could not do much beyond demonetization and opening bank accounts with zero balance. The scams in the banking sector drew much more attention. The government failed to keep the farmers happy. By tinkering with the Atrocities Act, it lost the support of both the affected groups and both parted ways with it. The outcome was its defeats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls.
As elections draw closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that Modi’s social base is in a shambles. His Backward mantra has turned stale and is unlikely to work again. The Backwards no longer have a soft corner for him. The farmers – who include both the “Forwards” and the Backwards, with the latter forming the majority – have drifted away from him. Modi has failed to serve their social and economic interests. Clearly, there are tough days ahead for Modi. If the BJP thinks that Modi’s oratory will help it humble Rahul Gandhi or the Congress, it is living in a fool’s paradise. Once people decide to defeat someone, they do it. For them, it hardly matters who the winner is.
Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil