In UP, break the cycle of antagonism

Political parties have a choice. They can either contest the upcoming polls on the basis of the past, or they can contest the election on the basis of the future 
In Indian democratic politics, parties find it far easier to mobilise large groups of citizens on the basis of existing identity categories; weave coalitions that club together enough social groups to enable a poll win; and craft this coalition in antagonistic terms vis-a-vis other groups. (HTPhoto) PREMIUM
In Indian democratic politics, parties find it far easier to mobilise large groups of citizens on the basis of existing identity categories; weave coalitions that club together enough social groups to enable a poll win; and craft this coalition in antagonistic terms vis-a-vis other groups. (HTPhoto)
Updated on Nov 15, 2021 08:02 PM IST
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ByHT Editorial

For the next four months, India’s public sphere will be dominated by news from Uttar Pradesh (UP). UP’s political parties have a choice. They can either contest the upcoming assembly election on the basis of the past — with a focus on contested history and mobilising various caste and religious groups based on real or manufactured grievances and anger. Or they can contest the election on the basis of the future — with a focus on improving the lives and livelihoods of citizens, ensuring rule of law, protecting individual rights across communities, and dealing with economic and environmental challenges.

Unfortunately, while the latter is desirable, recent controversies show that the former is likely. In Indian democratic politics, parties find it far easier to mobilise large groups of citizens on the basis of existing identity categories; weave coalitions that club together enough social groups to enable a poll win; and craft this coalition in antagonistic terms vis-a-vis other groups. This, then, skews the governance culture and power structures — because if certain groups have enabled your victory, and other groups have been antagonistic to you, then political incentives are aligned in favour of catering to the former and not the latter. Take the Samajwadi Party (SP) — because it had the unequivocal support of the Yadavs and Muslims, when in power, it often turned a blind eye to excesses by members of these groups and alienated other groups, from upper castes to Dalits. Or take the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — because it came to power without the support of the Muslims, and indeed on an explicit political plank based on a degree of hostility to them, its stint in power was marked by decisions that the minorities saw as victimising them.

This pattern is, however, not static and sees occasional ruptures. Three are noteworthy in the current context. One, the BJP has today crafted a wide Hindu social coalition across castes. Its success in UP rests on this mix of inclusion (of Hindus) and exclusion (of Muslims). Two, in west UP, there is the renewal of a class-based solidarity among farmers beyond the religious divide against the BJP. Three, the SP is making a conscious effort to widen its base beyond Yadavs to include other backward communities. All of this will shape UP’s polls, but whether they will address UP’s real governance challenges is the question.

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Friday, December 03, 2021