Nobel laureate and musician Bob Dylan may never have heard of Uttar Pradesh or the Samajwadi Party but these sentences from his iconic song `The times they are a-changing’ could be good advice for people like Mulayam Singh Yadav -- “Don’t criticise what you can’t understand/ your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.” It could also apply to a younger generation, which is increasingly shaping politics in the country, if not by active participation in politics but at least through their vote. The power and appeal of the young should never be underestimated as Mulayam Singh has discovered to his discomfiture. When it came to the crunch, a substantial number of people did not listen to his command. They wanted fresh faces, fresh thinking, and fresh ideas. We have seen this in these assembly elections, particularly in UP, the crucible of Indian politics.
The BJP tried to downplay the old temple issue in its manifesto but old habits die hard and it could not refrain from bringing up its tried-and-tested Hindutva card. But a new generation cares little for a temple, which may or may not be built. It cares little for a mosque which was cruelly pulled down by screaming Hindutva hordes. If anything, most Indians are embarrassed by the image of India that this demolition conveyed to the world and mindful of the deep psychological scars it left on the Indian mindset.
The BJP realised this last time around and went in for a development plank, keeping Hindutva firmly at bay. But since its development plank has now been hijacked by a young Akhilesh along with the Congress, it thought that it would fall back on the old formula. Well, the bad news is that it is not working but it is too late to change horses midstream now.
In the past, certain political formations took their vote bank for granted. I refer to that other wily player in UP Mayawati. Remember the time when she would appear in a cloud of pink, dripping with diamonds to be garlanded by the faithful with python-like currency garlands. The Dalits will feel proud, we were told, that their leader is holding her own among the beautiful people.
No longer, Mayawati has toned down her over the top appearances, no one is any longer enamoured of her forced arriviste displays of power. The Dalits today are not quite as willing as before to be trapped forever into the underdog matrix. Sections among them are becoming upwardly mobile and they will choose the party that will give them a better quality of life not a notional feeling of equality.
This inability of any party to lay claim over any single vote bank has had a positive disruptive influence on politics. You can no longer go to the electorate and say I am a Yadav therefore you should vote for me, or I am the guardian of secularism, so you must throw your lot in with me. Sure, the Muslims are wary of parties like the BJP with its Hindutva ideology but this does not mean that they are migrating en masse to another formation which claims to have more sympathy for them.
This is the age of individualism and the majority of people want to know what is in it for them. The party which promises a better quality of life has the advantage over the one that hopes to cash in on caste and religion. Which probably explains why Akhilesh Yadav does not speak of these issues, rather he talks about laptops and education, jobs and safety. This also explains why after being the lord of all he surveyed, Mulayam was so rapidly pushed to the sidelines and left to mouth angry oaths and imprecations about the alliance his son cobbled together.
And not too many in UP are shedding tears for the ageing leader.
The fact that caste and religious groupings can no longer be taken for granted is the main reason why these elections are very difficult to predict. For example, the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab is not appealing to any caste or religion just the promise of accessibility and a better quality of life.
It is clear as these elections show that the voter has moved on, his concerns are far more about bread and butter issues but the politicians are not able to shake off the old shibboleths.
The Dalits both in Punjab and UP are not looking to a community messiah, they are looking to cast off the stereotypes which have kept them down. Such a splintering can only improve our politics, it will mean that people are forcing politicians to address real issue and not esoteric caste-class ones which at one time gave people a psychological feeling of well being but which they now realise doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
I am not saying that caste, religion and class have vanished, no they are around. But it is that much more difficult for the politician to use them and fool all of the people all of the time. It has become that much more difficult for politicians to issue edicts and hope people will fall in line. Since I began with Dylan let me end with some words from the same song. It contains sage advice for the politician stuck in a time warp. `Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call/Don’t stand in the doorway/Don’t block up the hall/For he that gets hurt/Will be he who has stalled.”