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Political Dynamics in Madhya Pradesh

Political Dynamics in Madhya Pradesh SHAIBAL GUPTA The article,


Political Dynamics in Madhya Pradesh


he article, ‘Socio-Economic Base of Political Dynamics in Madhya Pradesh’ (November 26, 2005), sought to understand the social base of political power, as presently seen in the state. It was primarily seeking an answer to the question as to why, unlike its two neighbouring states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, polity in Madhya Pradesh remains essentially bipolar. While UP and Bihar have seen the emergence of new political forces that has catapulted some authentic leaders of the subaltern groups into positions of power – whether they remain true to their social calling is a matter of different debate altogether – there is a complete absence of such alternative processes of political mobilisation in Madhya Pradesh. Not that leaders belonging to backward and other subaltern social classes in the MP polity are completely missing. However, as I argued in my article that, though there has been a definite increase in the number of upper backward and ST/SC political representatives (in Madhya Pradesh), this increase has taken place under the broad canopy (or acquiescence) of upper casteclass dominance and consequently the isolated leaders belonging to the backward caste-classes are of a more pliant nature. They are, in majority of the cases, a result of a process that has been called by Myron Weiner, an “open elite system”, first instituted by the Congress, both to enable the aspiring social groups to gain a share of power within the party and also to deal with party’s endemic factionalism. This article clearly makes a reference to the point that unlike in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where the recent emergence of upper backward classes and other leaders belonging to lower caste-classes is based on an unprecedented rise of political aspirations among these groups, most of these leaders in Madhya Pradesh have risen to prominence by their co-option in either Congress or BJP politics and are rarely products of social movements within these caste-classes. And perhaps, this is what the discussant (Rahul Banerjee, ‘Madhya Pradesh: Socio-Economic Base of Political Dynamics’, January 7, 2006), also essentially means while referring to the “carrot and stick” policy adopted by the ruling elite, also leading to the marginalisation of the socialists and the communists. At this point, I must say that Banerjee has been unnecessarily harsh on my article by saying that I have not taken into cognisance the strategy of co-option adopted by the ruling elite; however, a careful reading of the same would make it as one of the principal themes of my argument in the article.

Carrot and Stick Policy

The additional point raised in my argument was that the ruling elite adopted this carrot and stick policy with a national implication; however, it did not end up subsuming all voices of dissent across the nation. Within the Hindi heartland, first Bihar and later Uttar Pradesh, were able to offset the policy of co-option and consequently, several regional leaders of lower caste-class social segment with independent bases of power emerged. In Madhya Pradesh, however, the process of emergence of leaders belonging to the subaltern social segment remained confined to the traditional mould of co-option politics.

It was precisely this divergence in the making of “vernacular” and “cockney” elites as opposed to the “traditional” elites, mainly between MP on the one hand and UP and Bihar on the other that constitutes the focus of my analysis. As is widely known about the political context of Madhya Pradesh and Banerjee succinctly puts it, “The net result of the carrot and stick policy was that the socialists and communists were marginalised by the late 1960s and lost their mass following”. However, during the same period, the socialists in Bihar in spite of the carrot and stick policy gained in strength and their intervention was decisive in unseating the Congress from power in the mid-1960s.

Within the parameters of my article, which as I said earlier, mainly focused on examining the social base of current political power in MP. It was obviously not imperative to expand on trends that have failed to make any dent in the character of political power and state policy, though without negating the possibility of their relevance at certain point in history. Nevertheless, the article did engage in trying to understand the absence or marginalisation of parallel trends in political mobilisation in Madhya Pradesh by looking at the material basis of power, mainly the land settlement patterns with special reference to the permanent settlement areas. My article goes on to argue about the lesser incidence of peasant movements in MP as compared to their occurrence in permanent settlement areas, like Bihar. The difference emerged mainly because of more intensive and organised exploitation of peasantry in permanent settlement areas than their counterparts in other patterns of land settlement areas, like Madhya Pradesh. Thus, I have argued for the existence of feudalism in Madhya Pradesh of a more benign kind without precluding the possibility of existence of relations of dominance and subjugation. In the same vein I have argued about the absence of substantive large-scale peasant movement in Madhya Pradesh, but this should not be mistaken for the absence of exploitation of the peasantry in Madhya Pradesh. Thus, in my article I say,

True, the poor peasants in the state escaped(the) large-scale violence and atrocities,but it was not because of the benevolence of the landed gentry of the region, butmore because the mode of production therewas relatively free of exploitative elementsas found in the permanent settled areas.However, whenever the occasion arose, the landed gentry of the region alwaysthrived in reinventing the semi-feudal tieswith the poor peasantry. This was particularly evident in political contestationswhich for many years remained the naturaldomain of the upper castes and other landedgentry, with the subaltern groups contentin siding with one faction or the other.Thus, the absence of patron-client ties inMadhya Pradesh, as it existed between themass of the toiling peasants and thelandowning gentry in the permanent settlement areas, in no way imply the prevalenceof free peasantry. If anything, the absenceof intensive agricultural activities in vasttracts of the region precluded the possibilityof social mobility and also subjected the

Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

masses to a process of complete subordination, in a largely static agrarian society.This explains the absence of widespreadfrictions within the peasant society at largewithout negating the existence of relationsof dominance and subjugation.Elsewhere, in my article this point is

further corroborated in the argument that, “The agrarian scene, though relatively conflict free, has been historically dominated by the upper castes and a minuscule number of middle castes, while the condition of the rest of the population was no different from their counterparts in other places in the Hindi heartland where more oppressive land tenure systems prevailed.”

Other Reform Attempts

The other points raised by Banerjee with regard to reform attempts undertaken during the chief ministership of Arjun Singh and later under Digvijay Singh are, in fact, a reiteration of the points argued in my article. It is beyond my comprehension what gives the discussant an impression that my article makes an exceptional case of these reform attempts. As I have clearly stated “Neither Arjun Singh who favoured a more overt policy by promoting a leader of backward social stock to the post of chief minister, nor Digvijay Singh who continued the policy of social engineering through the more covert means of institutional reforms, were being too radical when they advocated the policy of social engineering. The Congress in the state had already established for itself a radical image on the issue of the abolition of the privy purses.” So far as the policies of Digvijay Singh are concerned, the article did more than providing critical assessment of his social and political policies and this pertains to presenting the structural quagmire from which it became difficult for him to continue any further. The article admittedly does not discuss the everyday repression of the state and the silent mutinies it generates among the masses but was beyond the confines of this article.

Finally, I beg to differ on Banerjee’s assessment of Phoolan Devi and Rambabu Gaderia as lumpens. The raison d ’etre of beginning and concluding an article seeking to explain the absence of subaltern elements in the Madhya Pradesh polity by citing these examples was explained in the introductory note itself, that they must be seen as one of the manifestations of rebellious upsurge within the subaltern class. The fact remains that nuances of class exploitation can only be understood in a better light by a focus on them; no matter if a Phoolan or a Rambabu or a Nirbhay Gujjar appears as pure lumpens in the state and in police records but the perceptions of these characters within their own caste group – mostly lower in the recent period

– forms for the latter groups a rallying point in the general context of widespread subordination of the lower classes. It is this perception which my analysis was seeking to empathise with.



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