THE outcome of the fiercely contested Bihar assembly polls has given a new direction to Indian politics to open avenues for mobilisation of the huge majority of the deprived. It may help in a quick rise of those always on the margins. Yet, it can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of unseasoned and immature minds determined to reap quicker political benefits. The misadventure of populism with a new instrument for a quickera rise in power games can be a dangerous development. The long list of recognised and unrecognised parties with the Election Commission speaks of the mushrooming growth of shops by individuals with intent to grab a seat of influence, whichever way. Such individuals are not averse to resorting to nefarious ways, including blackmail and compromises, to derive their pound of flesh from the needy.
The urban middle class has reacted sharply to the Bihar results for they had perceived a new saviour in Narendra Modi. His defeat by the “caste-ridden” politics is not only a disappointment for them, but also a cause for acute resentment. Their extreme dislike is reflected in issues like resentment over use of cow hide to make shoes. They do not perceive the unity of the deprived class as a healthy political development. It causes resentment as the upper castes have lost power levers to the OBCs once again. The class that was always confined to the lower rungs of society for centuries will now certainly call the shots. The development may not remain confined to only one state; it may follow other states, they fear.
The cause for resentment is not the loss of political power, but the sudden change in social structure. The structural social change since the betterment of economic conditions following the Green Revolution was a slow process. Increase in literacy rate was perceived to be a healthy development as it improved the image of India. It also helped the middle class. Expansion of media did not cause panic even though it was an instrument of social and individual awakening. But political power reaching the hands of the lower rungs of society sends signals of panic as it is perceived as a threat to the middle class. The political and economic institutions were their exclusive domain but will no more remain their exclusive preserves.
Soon, the resentment will get converted into contempt for the lower class, resulting in daily conflicts and clashes outside Bihar. The unity of the deprived became the winning hand and will give ideas to several of them to unite in other states as well. The Gujarat situation became explosive in 1985 only because of the attempt to provide better treatment to the Bakshi castes, as Other Backward Classes in Gujarat are known.
The development has explosive potential, as shown by the strong resentment expressed by the Meena community in Rajasthan during negotiations with the Gurjars for a share in reservations by the state government. The OBC men in the constabulary in Gujarat wielded their lathis strongly to disperse the Patidar participants in the anti-reservation rally in September; it was another indication as to how the situation can develop. It is a different kind of communal conflict.
The imperative need is to anticipate the developments and take preventive measures. Unfortunately, political parties have not displayed a desire to comprehend the situation or care for its national consequences. Earlier, debates were allowed to churn out factors involved in different issues. For the past 20 years, a new trend of stalling any debate in Parliament is in vogue. The strategy of stalling proceedings is an extension of the parties’ electoral failures. The Bharatiya Janata Party sought to bring down the Manmohan Singh government somehow as it could not understand the causes for its two consecutive electoral failures. It adopted a blind policy for thwarting the government by stalling every government proposal, regardless of its origins.
The Vajpayee government turned the expansion of telecom into a measure of rapid social development by ensuring its cheap availability. The CAG recommended it should be turned into a revenue-earning service by adopting the auction of spectrum usage licences. He even gave his estimates of the revenue potential. The BJP lapped up his recommendation, even though it dictated reversal of the Vajpayee government policy, as it suited its politics of proving the corrupt government aummulating revenue loss. As a political party of national importance, it ought to have castigated the CAG for overstepping his constitutional constraints. It did not even understand the impact of giving leverage to moneybags to corner services through auction, a method suggested by the former bureaucrat. It showed no hesitation in joining hands with the communists in an attempt to bring down the Manmohan Singh government over the civil nuclear deal with the United States. Deal negotiations were initiated by the Vajpayee government and concluded by the successor government. The BJP joined the game as it accorded an opportunity to bring down the government. The Congress too did not adopt better politics, but instead copied its predecessors on the Opposition bench. It opposes everything, including the economic reforms. It does not have strength inside in the House, but that is no deterrent to its ambitions.
PARTIES are unable to come to a minimum understanding on national priorities. Industrial expansion is necessary as the agriculture sector can no more accommodate the high need for additional employment. There is a need for expansion of the industrial sector, but the Congress is not willing to make it easy for the NaMo government to take that route.
Politicians will engage in the game of blaming each other and bureaucrats would tend to treat the new flare-ups as law and order situations. A flare-up is not far off because the UP Chief Minister has also declared his desire to bring about the unity of OBCs with the support of the Dalits and the poor Muslims. Bugles are sounding the warning.