Dispatch #34: Weekend Linkfest

Here is a curated list of a few good articles from the world of policy, politics and development.

1) Jats into Kisans- The Unmaking and Remaking of the Farmer Identity in Western UP:

In this brilliant article, sociologist Satendra Kumar writes about the Jats in the Western Uttar Pradesh and their political identities. The presence of Jats and Muslims, in the mahapanchayats, called by the BKU, indicates that the cracks in the relationship between the two communities after 2013 riots is now filling up. Satendra argues that the agrarian crisis, unmet social aspirations of Jat youth in urban areas, pandemic and the recent farmer protests have brought these two communities together.

The author writes, “The independence from jajmani, combined with universal suffrage, created political and economic competition between the Jats and their clients. The younger generation of these formerly subordinated castes now demand equality and assert their right to be respected in everyday interactions. This assertion by marginalised groups has created tensions that often lead to skirmishes and conflicts. The disintegration of vertical relations and decline in everyday interactions between different caste-communities, and the growing disconnect of the younger generation from the village’s social norms have weakened the capacity of the rural society to absorb and resolve everyday conflicts. 

The political empowerment and rise of the backward Muslims, particularly the erstwhile kamins (clients), rearranged political relations in western UP. The caste and reservation politics of the SP and BSP eroded the farmer identity and the strength of the BKU. The rump of Charan Singh’s Lok Dal, renamed as Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) by his son Ajit Singh,gradually shrunk in Jat populated districts. These changes reduced the ability of the Jats and to use their power and resolve conflicts in their favour. The feeling amongst Jats that they were losing political ground to Muslim lower castes were increasingly capitalised on by the BJP and RSS.

He further adds, “The everyday hardships changed their perceptions about each other. The realisation that they need each other has compelled farmer leaders across caste and religion to organise joint Hindu-Muslim Kisan Panchayats in 2017 and 2018. Rakesh Tikait under the banner of the BKU organised a massive rally just before the 2019 elections and led a march to Delhi. Both Hindu and Muslim farmers participated in that rally. 

The ongoing farmers’ protest has shown the potential to heal the wounds and unite the polarised western UP society, simultaneously bringing together big, small, marginal and landless farmers as well as the youth for the cause of farmers. This rising farmers’ identity has a great potential to change the political equations in north India.

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2) Jat Power and the Spread of the Farm Protests in Northern India:

Jens Lerche in his piece writes how the current farm protests led by the Jats in Western UP looks inclusive because of the presence of Jats and Muslims in the mahapanchayats. But the movement should also try to break barriers with the marginalised groups like dalits, in order to create ‘lasting solidarity’.

Lerche writes, “This broad alliance against the farm laws and the BJP government is no doubt useful for the struggle to repel the farm laws and to vote the BJP out of power, a target all the constituents agree on. However, it is questionable how much further than that the alliance can last. Most of the interests of Dalit rural labourers and their dominant farming caste employers are opposed to each other. As recent as 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdown, farmers would often seek to lower wages or rely on machinery instead of labour to save money, creating even more hardship amongst the labourers.

Caste-class differences are reproduced outside of the agricultural sector. The relationship between better-off workers and the most precarious, mainly Dalit and Adivasi, workers is often adversarial. Higher ranking castes and dominant farming caste households, who are more likely to be landholders, tend to get the better jobs— that are more regular, better paid, and less backbreaking and dirty. Dalits and Adivasis, who tend to be landless, get the insecure, informal, poorly paid and menial jobs.

3) Among the Believers:

If there is one article that you should read on West Bengal politics, then it has to be this insightful piece by political scientist Sajjan Kumar. Kumar writes that TMC’s political repression and corruption paved the way for the BJP.

He writes, “To use the cake as a model to deduce the beginning of BJP’s rise, it seems that more than Hindutva, it is the level of anti-incumbency against TMC that is responsible for creating a space for BJP. Anti-incumbency in Bengal is not normal as we saw in a state like Bihar in 2020. It is instead characterised by fear of, and by extension hate against, the ruling party. Under TMC, the nature and scale of corruption as well as physical assaults on political adversaries allegedly underwent a sort of paradigm shift. Unlike under the Left Front, corruption has grown manifold but, at the same time, it has been monopolised at the local level. Revealing stories paint a picture in which only TMC leaders or their representatives could participate in the parallel economy. Thus, corruption in Bengal was the result not of any normative outrage among the masses but of the exclusion of multiple stakeholders from its benefits. This could explain why the 2016 Assembly election proved to be a spectacular success for TMC despite scams like Saradha and Narada being raised strongly by the combined forces of Congress and the Left. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s popularity was intact on account of largescale welfare outreach which provided people with tangible benefits. Hence, the alleged corruption proved to be a non-issue electorally in 2016. Nevertheless, an overwhelming number of respondents pointed out that since the beginning of its second term in power, on the back its electoral success, TMC got blinded by hubris. This led to the unleashing of a reign of terror against its political rivals as well as a plunder of public resources. This, in turn, triggered a largescale alienation of people from the ruling party. The pent-up anger of the masses kept building till the political blunder committed by the incumbent in the 2018 panchayat polls. The systematic violence during the panchayat elections proved to be a watershed.

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4) If Modi govt doesn’t control vigilantism, history will compare it to Indira Gandhi Emergency:

Pradeep Chhibber writes, “Why does the BJP government not act against these vigilantes? The new political culture works to the advantage of the BJP government. For the first time in decades, the ruling party in India has a clear parliamentary majority. And the BJP is using its political power to cement its authority and ideological agenda. Government officials and many citizens who seek access to the State understand that they are dealing with a dispensation that does not hesitate to use its power to undermine its political opponents.

Hence, to have its will, the government no longer needs to issue official and open directives. Power is exercised silently. From the bureaucracy to the police and citizenry, vigilantes take it upon themselves to further the BJP’s agenda, and the government, through its silence on the excesses, creates more vigilante actions.

5) Workers are moving off Indian farms but where are they going?

In this article, economist Vidya Mahambare and others, delves into the issue of labor shortages in rural India. Using the data from the Employment & Unemployment Survey 2004-05 and Periodic Labor Force Survey 2018-19, the authors argue that there was a dramatic reduction of labor in agriculture across India, between 2004-05 and 2018-19.

The authors write, “Our estimates show that there has been a dramatic reduction in prime working-age Indians engaged in agriculture, with their share falling to 23.3% in 2018-19 from 40% in 2004-05. Even in rural India, only one in three prime working-age adults was employed in the sector in 2018-19. There was an even sharper decline in the share of young adults (20-29 years) who work in agriculture. Only about 14.4% of young adults were working on farms in 2018-19, down from 34% in 2004-05.

A decline of young people in agriculture work partly explain reports of shortages of agriculture labour. Further, this also means that the median age of agriculture workers has increased to 40 years in 2018-19 from 35 in 2004-05.

They further add, “A decline in the farm employment-to-prime-age population ratio in India is in line with historical experiences of structural transformations of countries towards industry and services. However, what is particular to the Indian experience is that this decline is not mirrored in a corresponding increase in the proportion of prime-age adults taking up non-farm jobs. Rather, it is reflected in an increase in the share of prime adults leaving the labour market.”

6) For reforms, create a coalition of the willing:

BJP’s biggest failure has been its inability to form coalitions and get buy-ins from other stakeholders while drafting policies.

Milan Vaishnav and Jonathan Kay explain the reason why the BJP is reluctant in forging coalitions, “First, the BJP 2.0 appears enthralled with the idea of One Nation, One India. The Goods and Services Tax, simultaneous elections, new farm laws — all of these have been defended as necessary steps on the road to One India. This economic thrust aligns well with the government’s political modus operandi. This brand of politics relies on strict uniformity, an erasure of federal differences, Hindu unity, and an all-powerful executive. This helps reinforce what political scientist Neelanjan Sircar refers to as the politics of vishwas.

Second, there are also strategic considerations at play. Collaborating with state governments or opening legislation up to parliamentary debate requires more time, effort, and risk of failure than executive decree. After all, there is a reason that issues such as market reforms have long been seen as intractable. The Modi government may simply prefer the speed and certainty of policy by fiat.

Third, there is the issue of credit-claiming. Much of Modi’s success in projecting an image of delivering for the aam aadmi (common man) has stemmed from sweeping welfare initiatives such as rural electrification, toilet construction, and the distribution of LPG cylinders that can be clearly tied to Brand Modi.

A common minimum programme places the party, instead of the PM, upfront. And if states ruled by non-BJP forces mimic the BJP’s approach, Modi’s rivals could assume credit for the changes he initiated.

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7) Modi’s centralisation of welfare delivery has a cost that BJP’s state leaders are paying:

On the politics of ‘vishwas’, Neelanjan Sircar writes, “This extraordinary centralisation of power, not just institutionally but also within the BJP, implies that the voter is increasingly likely to “attribute” (that is, give credit for) the delivery of economic benefits to Modi rather than the state-level leader. This contrasts with much of the 2000s, where, after a spate of fiscal decentralisation, a number of state-level leaders built their reputations on the ability to deliver benefits. Many of these leaders, like the aforementioned Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, were BJP leaders, and others, like Nitish Kumar in Bihar, were allied with the BJP.

This has affected state elections in three important ways. First, as economic delivery is increasingly attributed to Modi, many state-level leaders have lost their core public appeal. Second, although not necessarily maximizing electoral returns at the state level, this pattern of economic centralisation and attribution to the center empowers Modi and his coterie to centralise power within the BJP—as it adversely impacts the independent bases of support for strong regional leaders with the BJP. Third, with the attribution of economic delivery being centralised, regional leaders must increasingly distinguish themselves along dimensions other than economic welfare. For the time being, these incentives may benefit existing regional leaders, who often have formidable support bases in caste, linguistic, and identity-based terms.

8) Why BJP’s Hindutva runs into the Tamil wall?

In this brilliant article, Vignesh Karthik and Ajaz Ashraf, write how the Dravidian movement under Periyar integrated Muslims into the larger Dravidian politics. It is this syncretism and caste solidarity that has resisted the entry of the BJP into Tamil Nadu.

They write, “In 1920, a debate in the Madras Presidency Legislature on Indianising the administration was sparked by a motion moved by CV Venkatramana Iyengar. The motion asked for Indians to be given certain posts in the police along with the Europeans. Dr. Natesa Mudaliar, the founding member of the Justice Party, sought a revision in the motion and asked for the usage of the phrase ‘Non-Brahmin Indians’ as an additional category to socially diversify the police. He framed non-Brahmin Indians as a collective comprising non-Brahmin Hindus, Mohammedans, Indian Christians, Jains, Parsis, and Anglo-Indians.

A fascinating account of the process of integration involving Muslims is provided by late social scientist MSS Pandian, in his paper Being ‘Hindu’ and Being ‘Secular’, which was published in the Economic and Political Weekly. Pandian credits the process to Dravidar Kazhagam leader EV Ramasamy, who founded the Self-Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu and is popularly revered as Periyar.

Periyar’s method of mobilisation was to portray Muslims as Dalits who converted to Islam to escape the caste oppression integral to Hinduism. But, even more significantly, he advocated the conversion of Dalits to Islam as a method of overcoming untouchability. He extolled the idea of equality central to Islam and praised it for allowing widow remarriage and divorce, at the same time vehemently critical of it for the purdah system.”

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