The history of contemporary social movements requires a classifier, someone differentiating the struggles of our time in terms of style, language, origin, tactics and organisation rather than reporting them through the standardised mulch of politics. The language of politics varies, and with it, its accompanying speech of threat or persuasion. One wishes one had a more detailed ethnography where struggles were identified like butterflies. For example, Dalit struggles speak the language of justice, of oppression but dominant caste struggles speak more the language of grievance, of complaint, of missed opportunities. For example, the Jat, the Gujjar and the Patel struggles speak the language of grievance. Here the act of waiting for a demand to be processed is seen as a ritual of insult. Dominant castes are not used to waiting. They like to be waited upon. Their language of protest is not a plea for justice but a threat, where demands sound more like menu cards listing out requirements rather than pleas for justice.
One thing marks all three movements. It is problematic of time but time has a different semiotics. All three movements have simmered, sputtering into violent action and then became muted. Often the announcement of impending action is a threat to violence not a plea to justice. The threat of violence often shows contempt for the long-windedness of politics. Time is seen as a currency the dominant groups do not want to spend. They want their demands fulfilled and now. There is arrogance in all three movements and the threat to violence marks them all. The Jat agitation a year ago left Haryana a mute spectator, while properties and shops of non-Jats were targeted with impunity. In Rohtak, which is often considered the epicentre of the movement, over a 1,000 properties were destroyed. Worse, policeman were not just mute spectators but active participants. Few sociologists look at the trauma such violence causes.
The Jat struggle like the Patel battle is a volcano that is simmering again. The same rituals of politics are being played out — threats, the language of grievance and the litany against wasted time as if time as delay is an insult to the power of the dominant castes. For castes and power groups that set the rules of the game, to play within the rules is difficult. Since the Supreme Court has capped reservation, the idea of obtaining a piece of the pie in a constitutional sense is elusive. The Jats know that when committees take over, a movement can fade out. Rule by delay is an old strategy of parliamentary and electoral politics.
The urgency of politics needs to be speeded up and time can only be forced through threat or violence. The Jats understand the mechanisms to produce this. They have already condemned the ‘bargaining mode’ of the BJP as a ritual of delay and outlined the following plan. Jat leaders, led by the almost legendary, Yashpal Malik, have announced the phases of a non-cooperation movement. Jat leaders have requested their communities not to pay utility bills and bank loans. They have also asked the community to cease supplying milk to Delhi. Threat they feel is the only way of calling a bluff. The Jat understands that the underbelly of the struggle is not other castes, but Delhi. Blockading New Delhi adds a power, a fire to the struggle and turns it from local to national news.
Piloting all this is a man whose mana as a politician is increasing day by day. Malik already has shades of the legendary Mahendra Singh Tikait. Like leaders of all local struggles, he adds a cosmopolitan whiff to his campaign by slamming the elite. The political class, he claims, has lost all sense of accountability. He mixes metaphors here to create a lethal move. He claims that just as RSS controls the BJP and acts as an anecdote to counter it and restrain it. Malik, a retired air force corporal believes his struggle has possibilities of such a counter-movement. He seeks to create a wider network of OBCs to create such a pressure group.
Meanwhile the Jats realise that threat has to graduate from promise to urgency to immediacy. The attempt to dig the SYC canal has becoming a classic case of hydro-politics. One saw evidence of it last year when the Jats virtually immobilised the Munak canal bringing Delhi close to a standstill. The INLD, which is supporting the Jat agitation, is threating to dig the SYL canal. The area faces a new kind of law and order problem as police barricade the two states.
As tension mounts, one reflects on such struggles realising that the politics of festering wounds and perceived grievances creates a deep vein of violence in our polity. It is this that worries one as different agitations waiting for a resolution combine to create a crisis. It almost makes one believe that unless a crisis level is triggered, politics does not find resolution. One senses the Jats are clear that given their potential for violence, the years of waiting are over. Unconstitutional solutions are as welcome as constitutional ones. This might be the great irony of dominant caste politics.
Shiv Visvanathan is author of ‘Theatres of Democracy: Between the epic and the everyday’
The views expressed are personal