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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

A Plan for Revival of Indian National Congress in the Hindi Belt

By Syed Shahabuddin

The Milli Gazette Online 


Today the INC holds power only in 3 States, Haryana, Delhi and Uttaranchal with 9.5% of its total population, in the Hindi belt. On the other hand, the BJP exercises power in 4 States: Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand with 36.1% of its total population. In UP (with 36.3% of its total population), the Samajwadi Party rules and Bihar is under President's Rule. The INC lost Jharkhand by the skins of its teeth and failed to make a presence in Bihar, with 18.1% of its total population in 2005. Why? Is the situation remediable? 

But first let us look at the social demography of the Hindi belt.
Social Demography of the Hindi Belt: Broadly, the overall social demography of the Hindi belt is as follows. The high castes include the Brahmins, the Rajputs, the Bhumihars, the Vaishayas and the Kayasthas make up 15% of the population. The OBC's or the Shudras are clearly divided into 2 groups: Forward Shudras e.g. Yadavs, Koeris and Kurmis forming 20% and the Backward Shudras, who are as backward as the SC's and ST's, totalling to 30% of the population but divided in many sub-castes on occupational basis and widely scattered. Similarly the SC's and the ST's consist of a myriad of widely scattered Achhut sub-groups led by relatively big sub-groups like Chamars in UP and Dusadhs in Bihar. The Muslims are also broadly divided into relatively more educated and well-placed Ashraf (about 1/3) and non-Ashraf baradaris (2/3) defined by hereditary occupations.

Present Political Status of the INC
Coming to the INC it remains a prisoner of the past - both in terms of remembrance of its past glory and of hope of reviving the social combination that sustained it for decades after independence, indeed, since 1937. But all of them, the High Castes, the SC's, the ST's and the Muslims have been partially or wholly lost over the years by the INC, to other parties. Today the INC has no vote banks to stand on. 

To regain its lost social constituencies the INC continues to play without much effect the old tune of 'national' politics and harp on its disdain for 'communal' and 'caste' politics. Times have changed. In any case this approach is historically inaccurate and somewhat mired in hypocrisy. Right from the first election in 1937, the INC, in fact, played both communal and caste cards but the deal was limited to the elite voters. Even after independence, its real base consisted of the Brahmins, the Bhumihars, the Rajputs, with some Vaishayas and Kayasthas thrown in, and some Muslims, Harijans and Tribals co-opted. Politically the INC continued to operate through the elite of all social groups, which had 'fought' for freedom, made great sacrifices, spurned lucrative professions and gone to jail. Naturally they formed the post-independence political aristocracy and manned legislatures and governments and ran the State with the support of the bureaucracy which was also packed with their kith and kin from top to bottom.

With democratization based on adult franchise, new players, representing newly emergent groups, conscious of their identity and their numbers, have entered the arena. With traditional linkages alone, and that too shrinking, the INC is unable to compete with the caste leaders like Laloo Prasad/Mulayam Singh/Nitish Kumar among the Shudras (OBC's) Mayawati/Paswan among the Achhuts (SC's) and Soren/Marandi among the Adivasis. Having been thrown up by the process of democratization coupled with the impact of the Green Revolution, new social constituencies have been carved out, which have sought and obtained due representation in the political structure through contesting in for the legislatures, in the name of their formations.

Caste linkages have an inbuilt limitation: They ultimately reflect Hindu linkages because all caste groups which benefit at various levels from public employment, government contracts and staffing the educational machinery, generally to the exclusion or at least marginalisation of the non-Hindus basically Muslims, are Hindus but not all the Hindus of this vast region. Thus the polity has both a communal and an elitist aspect.

The national parties including the INC still continue to be dominated by the high castes. Legislatures remain packed with high castes though slowly admitting the forward Shudras. While the Achhuts and the Adivasis, though beneficiaries of reservation, have elected representatives who are dependent on the goodwill and support of the traditional leaders. The Panchayati Raj Institutions, like Rural Credit and Agricultural Subsidies have been monopolized by them. The culture of Sifarish and Pairvi in the bureaucracy, the institutionalized corruption and nepotism, despite the occasional concessions to the masses, have combined to make the strong stronger and the rich richer increasing economic, educational and social disparities. Development schemes for the masses are not implemented or their benefits are swallowed by the rural rich. Development schemes for Muslims, only token in any case, have made little impact.

In the event, empowerment or participation by the masses in governance remains a dream. Deprived masses seek benefits and vicarious satisfaction in the glory of the leaders with whom they identify. New community and caste equations come into play during elections.

Unfortunately in this regard, even the Left -- also a product of the Freedom Movement and dominated by the high caste elite -- has failed to recognize the implications of the emergence of caste as an operational factor in grass-roots politics or use it as a force for change. 

In the meantime, elections were managed. Where influence did not work, money worked, where money did not, muscle worked. The terrorized Muslims and habitually subservient sections of the Shudras, the Achhuts and the Adivasis, look longer to wake up. But wake up they did. First the Forward Shudras declared independence, enriched by the abolition of Zamindari and the impact of the Green Revolution. Then came the SC's and the ST's, conscious of their perennial woes and deprivation but proud of their new leadership. Finally even as the Muslims saw themselves steadily sinking to the level of the SC's and the ST's, they looked around for new winning and sympathetic combinations.

New Politics to Empower the Marginalized
The objective of New Politics should be to seek out the deprived, the under-represented, the exploited, the suppressed, the oppressed, the marginalized, give equitable share of power to every definable, self-conscious, social group or combination of sub-groups and offer them the hope of equality and justice, of having a finger on the levers of power, of a place in the sun. This approach is bound to make a universal impact on the majority of the people but it will not be popular with the traditional rural elite. The INC is the only national party which is capable of understanding the social dynamics set into motion by universal franchise and the impact of education and technology and which, at the same time, has a national perspective to embrace all social groups and retains a modicum of appeal for all of them. Today every other political party has a defined social constituency. One may say that every social identity is developing a political party. The OBC's and the SC's even the ST's have picked up the power game. The Muslims feel handicapped by the fear of reviving pre-Partition phantoms. On the whole, political terrain has changed. All suppressed and under-represented identities are rising and demanding equality and social justice.

All national parties must:

  • Recognize caste and religious identities;

  • Give all identities equitable representation in the party structure and in the list of candidates at the time of elections'

  • Promise them due partnership in governance;

  • Promise them due share of welfare and development resources.

Democratic Decentralization
Election is the key to political power from Panchayats to Parliament. In the existing First-Past-the-Post system any social combination which commands 25-30% of the votes in any constituency is likely to win under the existing electoral system. And a party with a social constituency or an alliance of parties which wins half the seats plus one will hold the keys of the kingdom! The governments generally represent only 20% of the electorate because of the average turn out of 60%. The winner is often a party identified with a social group or an alliance of similar parties. This is divisive politics, which the INC must eschew.

The INC should stand above divisive politics. It is a national party, a party, which equally cares for all sections of the people, all segments of our segmented society, for all communities, for all social groups. No other political party can compete with the INC in this universal approach. Its motto has been and should be 'sab hamare hain'! Its structure from the village right upto the Union, should, therefore, equitably embrace all social groups within the jurisdiction of the party unit at all levels. In elections to Panchayats, Samitis, Zila Parishad, State Assemblies and Lok Sabha it should give equitable representation to all social groups, in distributing its tickets and ensure that
n Each social group gets due number of tickets, even the mini and micro sub-groups among the MBC's and the SC's and the ST's.

 

  • It selects persons who command confidence of their sub-groups/groups.

  • There is no mismatch between the social identity of the candidate and the pre-dominant social demography of the constituency.

    The INC should not spend sleepless nights over the inevitable discontent among the high caste groups. They will feel unhappy, uncomfortable and discontented and may not support the party. But some will, particularly in places where they know they are in a minority and the Congress puts up the best available person from some other group. In any case most voters of the high caste are likely to turn to the BJP, in the hope of reaping the benefits of Hindu consolidation, which has proved to be a mirage, more often than not, to the perpetual chagrin of the Hinduvadis.

  • The INC should not worry about the Forward OBC's, the Yadavs, the Koeris and the Kurmis and the Jats. They will vote for their parties as they will not forsake their well-built 'homes'. But a section of their voters will vote for the INC if they find that the INC candidates of their castes enjoy mass support and are winnable. 

  • The INC should make every effort to attract the MBC's (the Backward Backwards). No one cares for them. No one goes to them; with hope and high expectation, they shall all run towards the Congress.

  • The INC should not worry much about the SC's - as neither Mayawati nor Paswan represents all SC's. 50% who belong to the comparatively deprived sub-groups among them will vote for the INC, if they see it giving them their due.

  • The INC should not worry about the Muslims. There are no Muslim parties on the horizon. The INC will attract 75% of the Muslim votes, once the INC develops a critical core. They had had enough of OBC rule. 

  • A hypothetical political model for the an administrative unit would be. Assuming it has X number of identifiable and self-conscious social groups and sub-groups, let us call them G1, G2 ... Gx whose population in the given administrative unit - Panchayat, block, district, division and state, is P1, P2 .... Px. The number of places in the party structure or constituencies offered to them N1, N2....Nx should have the same proportion to P1, P2 ... Px. In case Px is too small to merit a seat at a given level and remains unrepresented, Gx should be compensated at the next higher administrative level and finally at the state level. If no group or sub-group is under-represented in the INC list or structure, this will motivate the members of the group to join and vote for the INC all over the State and contribute their vote to the success of the INC candidates at the time of election.

To take a concrete example, UP has 400 Assembly seats. Any group which forms 0.25% of the State population is entitled to one seat, that with 0.50%, to two seats, with 1%, to 4 seats and like that. And the nomination should begin from the bottom. The smallest group should given the first choice of seats and offer their best candidates in Assembly elections.

Development Programme
Apart from selection of its candidates on the basis of social demography of the constituencies, the INC must adopt a Socio-economic Development Programme based on Equity and Social Justice, which must include

  • Panchayati Raj: Due representation of all social groups and sub-groups, through election, in the structure of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, in accordance with the population in the respective jurisdiction.
  • Implementation of Land Reform and redistribution of surplus land to the landless - whatever the caste or religion, in each village and the remainder to those from contiguous villages, with production subsidies for each beneficiary family and marketing facility for its saleable surplus.
  • Universal Education - at least at primary level - not with para-schools and para-teachers but regular schools with pucca buildings and 3 teachers, who should be recruited from among the local graduates, irrespective of caste or community - then from the other villages of the Panchayat, then from the other Panchayats of the Block, then from other Blocks of the District, all to serve under social control i.e. under the Panchayat, which should be empowered financially and administratively to run all local welfare programmes.
  • Universal Programme of Scholarship, irrespective of religion or caste or race or language - to economically backward students, boys and girls at a uniform rate for secondary education and for vocational training as well as universal support to the meritorious but poor for higher studies and professional education.
  • Recruitment of Public Employees: Local functionaries like school teachers, para medical staff for health centres, staff for Panchayat and block and district offices should be recruited from within the jurisdiction as far as possible.
  • Rural and Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme should cover all jobless adults among the urban and rural poor who volunteers for work on projects decided by the Panchayats or the higher PRI's.
  • Universalization of Health Care: Establishment of a Government Dispensary in every village and a Primary Health Centre in every Panchayat with locally recruited medical and para-medical staff in the same manner as the teachers.
  • Universalization of Minimum Shelter through grant of free homestead land with a housing subsidy for every homeless family.
  • Universalization of all Welfare Schemes operated at the base level for the eligible common man, irrespective of caste or community.
  • Universal Distribution of Benefits among all eligible persons at the village/Panchayat/district level in proportion to the population of various groups.
  • Allocation of Development Resources: Allocation of central and state development resources direct to the Zila Parishads with clear directions for territorial sub-allocation and devolution of administration authority and inancial powers.

Only a national party, like the INC, armed with the slogan 'all groups are ours', 'proportional representation of all social groups, big and small in the structure' and in the candidate lists and a programme of universal welfare and grass roots development can penetrate through the stone walls of Hinduvad, Yadavvad, Kurmivad and Dalitvad! 

 

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