Home > Uncategorized > Does Rahul Gandhi have a plan for UP?

Does Rahul Gandhi have a plan for UP?


Does Rahul Gandhi, India’s putative prime minister-in-waiting, have a plan for Uttar Pradesh (UP) just before he leads his party into a crucial election? UP is in the throes of rapid and chaotic urbanisation as the state tries to cope with a burgeoning population. Urbanisation requires new paradigms in public behaviour, cooperative living, specialisation, planning and organisation. Our public spaces are over-regulated and under-governed. UP needs a new developmental paradigm that puts agriculture at the heart of economic growth to create jobs for surplus labour. It needs a whole host of legislative changes in property laws and innovations to allow easy acquisition of land for development. Where is the vision that grasps all of the required changes and lays out an agenda for the future? Where is the paradigm for a new politics of the 21st century?

Instead, we are recycling tired old shibboleths of identity politics that have little to do with the agenda that UP needs. Salman Rushdie sought to attend the Jaipur Literary Festival. The author was persuaded not to attend on spurious security grounds as the mullahs bayed for a ban on his visit. The state retreated before the wholly illegal and unjustified demand of a few unrepresentative obscurantists disregarding its commitment to free speech and expression and rule of law. Once again the bigoted won space for their religion-based discourse at the expense of secularism. Congress’ penchant to crawl and grovel before Deobandi clerics was on full display. Its main competitor will not be far behind with its own polarisation agenda.

UP has been mired in identity-based politics. In the years gone by, under Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Congress had perfected a caste-based formula for electoral success. The Brahmin-led Congress relied on a combination of Brahmins (20 percent), Muslims (15 percent) and Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) (20 percent) of the electorate to constitute a solid vote bank of 50 percent of the electorate. A left-of-centre agenda brought in some middle class support from the opinion makers. This was a winning combination that ensured uninterrupted Congress rule for decades. Somewhere along the line, tokenism replaced real commitment to SC/STs who deserted in droves to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The final blow came with the demolition of the Babri Mosque when the Muslims parted with the Congress to ally with the Samajwadi Party (SP). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a big gainer at the expense of the Congress in UP for a while but its role in decimating the Congress was marginal. Congress lost UP as it failed to really empower the Muslims and SC/STs, being content with tokenism and cooption of the elites. The BJP benefitted because the Brahmins too deserted the Congress to back the BJP on the ‘winnability’ factor. The BJP and Congress are destined to compete for the same limited pool of votes that will swing with those most likely to win. Obviously by pandering to the Deobandi mullahs, the Congress hopes to win back the Muslims.

The BJP benefitted from the desertion of the Congress by the SC/STs and the Muslims but only for a while. Its strategy of polarisation of the masses along religious lines was a gross failure. While it generated a lot of heat and noise, it failed to achieve its principal objective, which was to unite Hindus on the spurious plea that Hinduism was in danger from ‘others’, meaning Muslims. In the immediate wake of the Babri Mosque demolition, not many bothered to ask how a 15 percent minority could threaten an 80 percent majority. The scenario was inherently implausible if not absurd. The lack of credible numbers was glossed over by adding to the ‘others’ category by roping in Christians, Muslims from Pakistan through sponsored terrorism, differing rates of growth of population and a variety of other rhetorical devices. But none of these carried conviction with the voters. Nevertheless, while the BJP’s discourse won it no advantage in UP itself, it did help the party establish a narrative that branded it as an upper class party, distinct and different from the Congress, thus putting it in a position to win the anti-Congress votes. It is no surprise then that the BJP has quietly shed the strategy of polarisation along religious lines in UP even as it keeps up the rhetoric because it is the only narrative it has.
Meanwhile, it is instructive to examine Congress’s original sin of polarising the electorate along caste lines in the context of UP. The BSP used a combination of SC/STs and Brahmins, whom it coopted from the BJP/Congress fold, to forge a winning combination in the last elections. It is all set to repeat that experiment this time again. The BSP did try to woo the Muslims but without much success. In a sense therefore, the BSP has replaced the erstwhile Congress but without full Muslim support. The essential difference is that the SC/STs are not just coopts in the BSP but actually wield power. The real thing has replaced Congress’s tokenism. In a sense, identity politics has come full circle.

Meanwhile, the middle castes, variously called the Other Backward Class (OBCs), never with the Congress and not really with the BJP either, have rallied behind the SP. Congress hopes to ally with them after the elections. Congress’s only real leverage in these elections has been its efforts to rebuild bridges with the Muslim community. Towards this end it unleashed a reservation for Muslims in the OBC quota that is all set to unfold on the national scene as well. Grovelling before the mullahs on the Rushdie issue would have appeared the logical thing to do. With Muslim backing, Congress hopes to play kingmaker in UP.

The BJP has discovered the severe limitations of its temple-based politics of communal polarisation. The Ram Temple is barely mentioned. It has tried to raise the communal temperature through issues in other Hindi belt states with its ban on cow slaughter and teaching of Gita in school, etc, but without any real hope. The electorate in UP is focused on capturing power for real benefits in this world and not in the world hereafter. Not surprisingly, the BJP is without an agenda or issue or a constituency in UP and is expected to fare the poorest.

UP has rich agricultural land, assured irrigation and central location. Investment in tertiary agriculture like cold storages, warehouses, distribution, marketing and transportation could transform UP into a food basket and create millions of jobs. Instead, farmers are selling precious topsoil for manufacturing bricks. UP is one big urban ghetto from Delhi to Kanpur along the railway tracks. Urban housing sprawls horizontally with common walls, no space for public roads, no sanitation and no police access to the ghettoes. It is a disaster waiting to happen. It is a sickening chaos crying for reform. Instead, our politicians remain mired in old mindless games of religion, caste and the rural/urban divide when society and its needs have moved far beyond old paradigms.
With caste and religious identity-based politics having come full circle in UP, it is tempting to conclude that politicians would have realised the futility of identity-based politics. Rahul Gandhi’s Congress had little to lose, and everything to gain, by championing a new paradigm that would have galvanised UP and established Rahul’s claim to national leadership. Alas, there is no glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Must UP wait for redemption till Rahul Gandhi and other politicians grow up?

The writer is a trader. She can be reached at sonali.ranade@hotmail.com or @SonaliRanade on Twitter

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 24, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Your views on Rahul is correct but you underestimate the real ‘RSS’ factor. People are disillusiioned with BSP but instead of benefiting it to SP , OBC are actually titling towards BJP as an option because they are affraid of SP and Congress of quota issues. The Congress late nite drama and SP ‘s reply may have confused minority but has already hurt OBC enough! They are unable to vote to BSP may find BJP suitable for this time!

  2. hitesh kansagra
    January 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    I don’t know write English. Bt I say congress ke leader’s hi Rahul ko Bali ka bakra banane me hi jute hai to hi uski bari aayegi

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