Monday, Feb 17, 2003
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By V. Krishna Ananth
IF THE discovery of an assault rifle, a few cases of ammunition and some lethal weapons during a raid on an MLA's residence warrants invocation of POTA and other criminal law provisions, several politicians, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, would find it impossible to carry on with their "normal" activities.
For, these include ensuring that their control over the instruments of power is not diluted by an excess dose of democratic ideas and egalitarian principles the Constitution guarantees. They consider themselves the "natural" rulers and the transition from feudalism to democracy is welcome only as long as their own authority and their "right" to preserve their own privileges are not affected.
Raja Raghuraj Pratap Singh, the Uttar Pradesh MLA now in jail, and his ilk firmly believe that the Constitution vests in them the right to remain rulers and hence are not apologetic at all about their feudal ways. This is not a new phenomenon. This distortion of democracy was achieved by hundreds of British vassals who had hoped, until the very end, to remain dominions under the crown even after the rest of the country achieved Independence.
They had aimed at this through the Liberal Party in the United Provinces, the Unionist Party in Punjab, the Justice Party in Madras and similar such platforms in the other provinces for several years from 1909 by accepting the notion of representative government that the British peddled as the Minto-Morley Reforms until 1937, when the Indian National Congress threw a spanner in the works by forming its own Governments in the provinces. But then, these Rajas also equipped themselves with English education and through that the knowledge to occupy positions in the democratic institutions. Thus, they were not marginalised in the republican scheme of things either. They could find a place in the Congress even before Independence. Nehru seemed to believe that the feudal vestiges would be broken by the advent of industrial enterprises as in the West. This strategy failed and the task of building a modernist civil society and a democratic set-up on that basis did not take centre stage for the Congress. Instead, the Congress took into its fold the representatives of the old order because its leaders were convinced their own interests would be protected better this way than by the chaos that was bound to be caused by orchestrating a movement for social and economic transformation. The memories of the militancy witnessed after August 9, 1942, were still fresh among those Congressmen.
The erstwhile Rajas and the Brahmans, among whom ownership was vested of vast tracts of agricultural lands in the Gangetic plains, made common cause with the Congress. An upper caste alliance was put in place under the Congress and invoking the Mahatma and his legacy at one level and the gory images of the riots that accompanied Partition at another, the party could depend, with comfort, on the upper castes, the Dalits and the Muslims. The salient feature of this era was that the leadership of this alliance was firmly with by the Brahmans, while the Rajas (the Rajputs) were reconciled to playing second fiddle.
Despite the rise of the socialist platform, of which the OBCs constituted the muscle, the willingness of Ram Manohar Lohia's followers in his own time to compromise on the need to fight against landlordism (and by extension the feudal ethos) reduced the agenda to merely confronting the Brahmans rather than the Brahmanical order as a whole. This helped the Lohiates (through the 1960s) draw a whole lot of Rajput chieftains into their fold.
The Congress, under Indira Gandhi, reacted to this (in Uttar Pradesh) by setting up a V. P. Singh or a Vir Bahadur Singh as Chief Ministers; but the fact is that Brahmans were in command in Uttar Pradesh for the most part when the State was in the Congress kitty. This did not go down well with the Rajputs who were unwilling to give up what they considered their natural right to lord it over all they surveyed. This forced them to search for alternative political platforms.
Their estates could not have been retained (and even expanded) without control over the democratic institutions. Raja Bhaiya and his ilk cannot stay immune from the "infectious" notions of democracy and egalitarianism and continue to monopolise fishing rights in lakes that belong to the state without becoming legislators or, even better, Ministers.
But then, the political equations in Uttar Pradesh have been such that the elite among the Brahmans have managed to retain their hold in recent times by not hesitating to subordinate their "inherent" rights to Mayawati, because the agenda of Dalit assertion in this case is restricted to the realm of political institutions and is not substantive in the realm of economic transformation. In other words, they do not see any threat to the land-owning patterns from the BSP. And even in the political realm, playing second fiddle to the Dalit leadership is a better bargain for the Brahmanical elite than the possibility of power being captured by the intermediate castes, wedded so firmly to anti-Brahmanical tenets, represented by the Samajwadi Party.
These are the dynamics of the Raja Bhaiya episode. For the BJP, whose fortunes at the national level depend entirely on winning a substantial number of the 81 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh (the party now has less than half the seats from here), these developments should be a shock. The party's inability to convince Ms. Mayawati against sending Raja Bhaiya and his father to jail is causing an exodus of one of its key support bases, the Rajputs, to the Samajwadi Party fold.
That Raja Bhaiya and his ilk have contempt for the idea of social justice (one of the two cardinal principles on which Lohia envisaged the socialist movement) has not stopped Mulayam Singh Yadav from standing up for him at this stage. Mr. Yadav has his eye on the Rajput vote bank. The Rajputs constitute nearly 10 per cent of the State's population and the several Rajas among them control large estates and the wealth that accrues from them.
No wonder then that some of the BJP's Uttar Pradesh leaders are agitated over the law taking its own course and that too in such a selective manner. They know that many more `luminaries' now associated with the ruling dispensation are no different from Raja Bhaiya, whether in their attitude towards democracy or in the number of lethal weapons they possess. As for Ms. Mayawati's agenda, there can be no illusions that her moves will cleanse the political stables. At best, she will manage to replace one set of lords with another.
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