Dispatch #17: Weekend Linkfest

Here is a curated list of a few good articles from the world of policy, politics and development. There is a bonus lecture video as well in this dispatch

Today is Ambedkar’s 64th death anniversary and 6th December is regarded as ‘mahaparinirvan diwas’ .

Here is the two part speech ‘Annihilation of caste’ which is regraded as Dr Ambedkar’s classic and a fierce attack on India’s caste system:

Annihilation of caste- Part 1

Annihilation of caste- Part 2

1) Movements, not parties, are the true flame-keepers of Dalit politics:

Amit Ahuja’s book ‘Mobilizing the marginalized: Ethnic parties without ethnic movements’ is an insightful book to understand modern Dalit politics in India. Ahuja argues that the reason why Dalit political parties in UP and Bihar are successful electorally as compared to their counterparts in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra is the sequencing of social mobilization and political mobilization. In UP and Bihar due to the absence of a prolonged and consistent social mobilization, political mobilization and became the only way to get political power and access to the state. This did not happen in TN and Maharashtra because these states had a rich legacy of social mobilization. As a result, the Dalit political parties in UP and Bihar are electorally more successful than the ones in TN and Maharashtra.

In this article, Amit claims that in the current political context in India, it’s the Dalit mobilization in social and cultural front that represents the politics of the marginalized. He writes, Dalit social mobilization is made up of stories of resistance that parents and elders tell their children, then passed on and amplified in protests and agitations, in theater, in literature and music, and in community gatherings during festivals and prayer meetings. It offers a crucial vehicle for this historically marginalized group to develop and express their political voice. The threshold for successful social mobilization is smaller and more flexible, compared to electoral collective action. Even at this smaller scale, Dalit agitations are able to give voice to demands, draw attention to group concerns through disruptions, and make the Dalits visible. Importantly, Dalit movements represent the group’s agency.”

He further adds, “Today, Dalit protests ground the roots of Dalit politics. Dalit activists see protest politics as an ornament of democracy; “Loktantra ka gehna”, as they call it. Protests are an increasingly popular form of politics across the world. According to government data, India clocks above 300 protests per day. In an analysis of caste-based protests at Jantar Mantar, Delhi’s most prominent state-designated protest site, between 2016 and 2019, Rajkamal Singh and I find that out of the 333 caste-based protests, close to 50 percent of protests were organized by Dalits. The significance of this finding cannot be overemphasized in this political moment.”

2) Muslim politics and the 2020 Bihar Election:

In this brilliant piece, Julien Levesque, has unpacked the issue of Muslim politics in the recently concluded Bihar elections. He writes, “When looking at Muslim political participation in Bihar, one of the interesting characteristics of the state is that it includes both Muslim minority and majority (or near-majority) areas. This leads to two distinct political dynamics. In areas where they are not in a majority, Muslims seem subject to a kind of minority syndrome and thus more concerned with security than with collective assertion. In the Muslim majority areas, on the other hand, a space opens up for ‘Muslim politics’, that is, a political discourse that stresses the need for Muslims to be politically represented on their own terms and to voice community-specific concerns.

3) The Unconstitutionality of ‘Love Jihad’ Laws:

In the current issue of The India Forum, scholar Burhan Majid writes about the unconstitutionality of love jihad ordinance passed by the UP government. He writes, “As a corollary, laws criminalising inter-faith marriages violate an individual’s fundamental right to freedom of religion guaranteed under the Constitution. The state should have no role to play in imposing its choice of religion on its citizens (Mustafa and Sohi 2017). This applies even to cases when one wishes to convert to another religion for the sake of marriage if she or he is doing so with a free will. Restrictions on the freedom to convert have a “chilling effect” on the freedom of religion. Laws against the so-called ‘love jihad’ incentivise vigilantism and hooliganism, and sound a death knell to the constitutional liberty and privacy of inter-faith couples. They provide leverage to anyone to misuse the law and state authority against an inter-faith couple. At a time when efforts should have been made to improve the Special Marriage Act — the only law that allows inter-faith marriages without the need to convert — the BJP is instead treading the wrong and dangerous path toward the communalisation and criminalisation of love and marriage.”

4) How Elites Connect with Society Might Be Associated with the Rise and Fall of Civilizations?

In this Broadstreet post, Yuhua Wang, explores how the connections of the elite into a society determine its development. The political economy literature is filled with the narrative that a society remained underdeveloped because of the ‘elite capture’, Wang delves deeper in this post. He talks about 3 types of elite networks- star, bowtie and ring network. He writes, “In each graph, the central nodes are national-level elites; the peripheral nodes represent local-level social groups, such as tribes, clans, or ethnic groups. The edges denote connections, which can take multiple forms, such as membership, social ties, family ties, or electoral connections. National elites are agents of their connected social groups; their objective is to influence government policies to provide the best services to their groups at the lowest cost. In a star network, two central nodes (national elites) directly connect every peripheral node (social group) located in different areas. In a bowtie network, each central node is connected to a different set of peripheral nodes, which are linked to their immediate neighbors, but not to any nodes in the other community. In a ring network, each peripheral node is connected to its immediate neighbors, but none is connected to the central nodes.

5) Secularism in the Constituent Assembly Debates, 1946-1950:

In this 2002 piece, Shefali Jha, writes about the CADs on secularism in the Constituent Assembly between 1946 and 1950. She talks about the 2 approaches that the members used as a framework to deliberate on religious practice, religious minorities, uniform civil code and political safeguard of minorities. These 2 approaches were- no-concern and equal respect positions. It’s these two positions that have always been contentious in all our conversations around secularism.

She writes,"On this issue we can see three alternative positions in the controversy around the preamble. The first – which we call the noconcern theory of secularism – saw a definite line of separation between religion and the state. Given the principles of freedom of expression and religious liberty, it was upto the individual to decide whether to be a believer or not, or to adhere to this religion or that. Therefore the preamble could not contain any references to god, and neither should the constitution establish links between the state and any religion. This argument of religion being an individual’s private affair, was extended during the main sessions of the Constituent Assembly to include the more radical claim that religion must be relegated to the private sphere. The equal respect theory of secularism – also began with the principle of religious liberty, but held that in a society like India where religion was such an important part of most people’s lives, this principle entailed not that the state stay away from all religions equally, but that it respect all religions alike. In this view, instead of distancing itself from all religions or tolerating them equivalently as sets of superstitions which could be indulged in as long as they remained a private affair, a secular state based its dealings with religion on an equal respect to all religions “

6) Political Radicalism of Ambedkar's Spirituality:

In his classic ‘Annihilation of Caste’, Ambedkar wrote, “I must not be understood to hold the opinion that there is no necessity for a religion. On the contrary I agree with Burke when he says that ‘True religion is the foundation of society, the basis on which all true Civil Government rests, and both their sanction. Indeed, I am so convinced of the necessity of religion that I feel I ought to tell you in outline what I regard as necessary items in this religious reform. . you must give a new doctrinal basis to your religion—a basis that will be in consonance with liberty, equality and fraternity”

Ambedkar never advocated for a society bereft of any religious moorings. He wanted to abolish the caste system within Hinduism. In this insightful piece Mihir Shah writes about Ambedkar’s spiritual journey and why he adopted Buddhism. He writes, “Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me hasten to clarify that Ambedkar is not here making a case for a theocratic state. His emphasis is on the fostering of values that would engender a humane society, based on loving kindness, an impeccable Buddhist virtue. The question he asked himself was: what would foster such a society, imbued with these values? And his clear answer was that this requires a process of inner transformation, without which all activism and all social engineering would come to nothing.”

Bonus Lecture Video:

Recently Pratap Bhanu Mehta gave a brilliant lecture on dissent in Indian democracy and why criminalization of dissent in a liberal democracy like India is a paradox.