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On the Desecration of Nehru's 'Temples': Bhilai and Rourkela Compared

The major steel towns built in the wake of the Second Five-Year Plan were to be "temples" to India's industrial future and secular "modernity"; but soon they were desecrated by ethnic and communal violence. Focusing on two of them, this article shows that the extent of the violence was markedly different, and asks "why?". Attention is drawn to the kind of ethnic mix in their workforces, to their different experiences of "modernity", shop floor cultures and histories of displacement, and to the different agendas of state governments and the way they shaped civil society institutions.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200847On the Desecration of Nehru’s ‘Temples’: Bhilai and Rourkela ComparedJonathan Parry, Christian StruempellThe “temples” of our title are the public sector steel plants projected in India’s Second Five-Year Plan, drafted in 1954-55: Bhilai (built with Soviet aid) in what is now Chhattisgarh but was formerly Madhya Pradesh; Durgapur (built with British collaboration) in Bengal, and – in Orissa – Rourkela (with West German expertise). We confine ourselves here to Bhilai and Rourkela, because these are the two of which we have first-hand experience.1 “Temples” because that is how Nehru him-self had described them – temples to India’s industrial modernity that would abolish centuries of economic stagnation; beacons along the path of “progress” that would allow the new nation to “catch up” with the developed world. Not just about forging steel, they were as much about forging a new society. Employment pro-vision was a major objective; and since both were built on green field sites in sparsely populated areas where the local peasantry had little industrial experience, skilled workers would inevitably be drawn largely from outside. Their townships would be melt-ing pots, exemplars of unity in diversity, symbols of national inte-gration. As peasants turned proletarians, the grip of primordial identities would weaken inexorably. The steel towns would thus also be temples to Nehru’s vision of a secular India. With hind-sight, it was perhaps naïve to suppose that this iconic role could be perfectly enacted. Soon they were desecrated by the ethnic and communal violence on which this article focuses. We show, however, that the sacrilege was far more severe in one case than the other, and ask why. In a recent study of post-independence discourses on the Indian state, Roy (2007) devotes a chapter to charting what she repre-sents as a rapid slide into disillusionment from the millennial optimism that surrounded the steel towns when they started. Within 15 years, these “exemplary national ‘dreamworlds’” of the late 1950s came to be seen as “exemplary national catastrophes”. Of particular relevance here is her claim that ethnic, caste and communal antagonisms were (or were believed to have been) reproduced in them in intensified form. The “postcolonial re-vitalisation” of “the discourse of communalism”, she even con-cludes, took place in the steel towns (2007: 150). It is true that Bhilai and Rourkela have much in common. Con-structed over the same period, their first blast furnaces were com-missioned within a day of each other (in February 1959), reflecting the prestige race that the Russians and Germans were running. In the early years, both were managed by Hindustan Steel; and since the 1970s both have come under the Steel Authority of India (SAIL), which means that – with minor variations – their regular workforces are the beneficiaries of the same pay scales, perks and The major steel towns built in the wake of the Second Five-Year Plan were to be “temples” to India’s industrial future and secular “modernity”; but soon they were desecrated by ethnic and communal violence. Focusing on two of them, this article shows that the extent of the violence was markedly different, and asks “why?”. Attention is drawn to the kind of ethnic mix in their workforces, to their different experiences of “modernity”, shop floor cultures and histories of displacement, and to the different agendas of state governments and the way they shaped civil society institutions. Jonathan Parry ( anthropology at the London School of Economics. Christian Struempell ( is a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany.
SPECIAL ARTICLEMay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly48conditions. “Beneficiaries”, because SAIL wages are munificent in comparison with other industrial employment locally available, making their workers the unquestioned aristocracy of labour. And, at least superficially, the two company townships look simi-lar. With regard to ethnic and communal antagonisms, however, Roy’s homogenised characterisation of them is misleading – as the following vignettes suggest. – In 1984, Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards sparked anti-Sikh riots and killings throughout the country. Not in Bhilai. Surinder2 is a Sikh and one of four brothers, the sons of a Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) worker. The family were living on the wrong side of the tracks from the BSP township, next to the Tata Lines with their notoriously rough – and predominantly Hindu – population. Theirs was the only house in that neighbourhood with television, and following the murder their front room was packed for every newscast. Not once, Surinder insists, did any of the family sense the slightest danger or hostility against them. At that time his wife and the wife of a younger brother were young girls in Rourkela where their fathers were also steel workers. The former lived in a joint household in a big resettlement colony for displaced people called Jalda. They were eating their mid-day meal when they heard loud cries from the street. ‘Catch them …. kill .. kill’. Some neighbours rushed in to urge them to flee forth-with. Her father’s brother’s son was living with them, and he had two wives – an Oriya and an adivasi. The family of the latter, also Jalda residents, helped them escape. Subsequently they were taken under police escort to a township gurudwara where they camped for the next five days. Their house was ransacked and all their possessions looted, including jewellery recently purchased for her elder sister’s upcoming marriage. When peace was restored, the Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) assigned them quarters in the “sectors”. Returning to Jalda was judged impossible and they sold their house at a knockdown price. Though Surinder’s younger brother’s wife’s experience was less traumatic – her family lived in the township – she too vividly recalls their urgent evacuation to the gurudwara where they sheltered some days. – Abdul’s family are settled in Rourkela, but his cousin Hassan has a job in Bhilai. Abdul reports that – as a Muslim – Hassan finds it much more relaxed than Rourkela. There he had lived in a Muslim enclave. In Bhilai he rents in a predominantly Hindu col-ony where the neighbours are neighbourly and he feels secure.– Rajiv – an exceptionally capable BSP manager with family ori-gins in Uttar Pradesh – is destined for the top. But as he is pro-moted up the ladder he will become liable for transfer to other SAIL units, and who – he reflects – would want to wind up in Rourkela where only Oriyas thrive. It is a familiar complaint. Ethnic Violence in Rourkela3Writing of the 2002 bloodletting in Gujarat, Amita Baviskar (2005) identified two novel features: the involvement of adivasis and the extension of such violence to the villages.4 If there is one lesson of which the history of Rourkela should remind us it is that neither is new. If there is another, it is that different forms of eth-nic violence – between caste blocks, religious communities or regional-cum-linguistic groups – often display a protean charac-ter and morph into each other quite rapidly. Ahmedabad [Nandy et al 1997] and Mumbai [Hansen 2001] are two examples. “Com-munal” violence cannot be seen apart from other forms of ethnic violence that are proximate to it in time and space. From the start there were tensions between Hindustan Steel and the government of Orissa over the ethnic composition of the RSP workforce [Zinkin 1966:122]. Particularly in higher grades, Punjabis and Bengalis (many displaced by Partition) were dispro-portionately represented; clerks were often Malayalis. These tended to be better qualified; large numbers of Punjabis were shipped in by the many Punjabi civil contractors on site, and there were repeated accusations (as in Bhilai) that senior plant man-agers – overwhelmingly outsiders – persistently skewed recruit-ment in favour of their own countrymen. In April 1959, a state government-appointed commission of enquiry found that out of the still relatively small regularRSP workforce (2,630 as against around 37,000 by the end of the 1980s) less than 12 per cent of Class 1 and 2 employees were from Orissa [Sperling 1963]. This compared with around 33 per cent in Class 3 (foremen, clerks and master craftsmen), and around 61 per cent in Class 4 (skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers) – figures that would never-theless compare very favourably with the proportion of Chhattis-garhis in the regular workforce in Bhilai. The commission’s rec-ommendation that preference should henceforth be given to Orissans was not well received byRSP management who regarded it as political interference and stood on the principle that candi-dates should be selected on merit, and that in a central govern-ment enterprise all Indian citizens should be eligible. Apparently in retaliation for their “uncooperative” attitude, the government of Orissa initially obstructed outsider industrialists setting up on Rourkela’s private sector industrial estate(ibidp46). The massive influx of outsiders – around 76,000 by 1961 (ibid p 22) – was undoubtedly a source of dismay to the local peasantry, more than two-thirds of whom in villages displaced by the plant were from scheduled tribes. But they largely lacked the skills to aspire to anything other than labouring work, and it was better educated Oriyas from the plains who protested most loudly that they were done down. And that often – in what they claimed as their own “homeland” – by Bengalis too, from whose “arrogance” and sense of cultural superiority they had suffered sufficiently. Most vociferous, it is said, were Rourkela Oriyas who had formerly worked in Calcutta. The adivasis, however, had other ideas about whose “homeland” it was, and had historical reasons for regarding these katakiyas5 as cuckoos with predatory designs on their nests. In union turf wars they were consequently more likely to support labour leaders from outside the state than their Oriya rivals. But although Oriyas were the main instigators of violence directed at out-of-state migrants that repeatedly erupted in the early years of the plant, adivasis were also involved [Sperling 1969:38]. In March 1958, seven Germans witnessed 19 Sikhs being beaten to the point of death by a large Hindu crowd outside one of the German bungalows. In August that year, violence against south Indians resulted in 300 arrests. From incidents during Holi in the following year, at least nine Punjabi fatalities resulted. Then, in rapid succession during August 1959, there were large-scale dis-turbances between Oriyas and Punjabis, Oriyas and “Madrasis”, and finally between Oriyas and Bengalis. “All work came to a stop
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200849for days on end” [Sperling 1969:123]. About 5,000 Punjabis fled to Calcutta and violence broke out inside the plant. The 1964 PogromAll this was small scale in comparison to the communal savagery unleashed against Muslims in March 1964. The Rourkela riots – the most bloody in the Indian sequence and the first of a communal kind in Orissa [Kanungo 2003] – were at the crest of a wave that started with the disappearance of a relic of the Prophet from a shrine in Srinagar. Disturbances within Kashmir were followed by appalling carnage in East Pakistan provoking the flight of huge numbers of Hindus across the border. Trouble flared in Calcutta (resulting in some 400 deaths [Guha 2007:376]) and spread into the countryside around. From Calcutta, refugees were packed onto special trains to be taken to resettlement schemes in Madhya Pradesh, and these made long halts in Jamshedpur and Rourkela for passengers to be fed. In both towns it was their harrowing plight that supposedly sparked the subsequent slaughter, though in reality it was not so spontaneous. Many of these refugees were initially destined for Mana, a transit camp on the outskirts of Raipur and within 30-odd miles of Bhilai. In neither place was violence provoked.As soon as the refugee trains began arriving at Rourkela it became clear that the small contractor who had the task of feeding the traumatised passengers could not cope with their numbers. Concerned citizens, including some Muslims, brought food to the station, but RSS and Jan Sangh activists quickly muscled in to orchestrate the operation and incite the crowds through loud-speakers. The violence began when one refugee vomited after sup-posedly eating bread donated by a Muslim baker, and the rumour spread that the Muslims were poisoning them. A handful of refugees were themselves Muslims and were the first to be killed. From the station, the violence spread rapidly into the slum bastis surrounding it, home to a large semi-criminalised migrant popula-tion of unorganised sector labour, many of whom had worked on the construction of the plant but were now laid off. Over these neighbourhoods, both RSP and the state government disowned jurisdiction – the first on the ground that they were not on com-pany land; the second on the ground that it was nevertheless land encroached by workers for whom the company was responsible. Before long the whole urban area was engulfed. “It was absolutely terrifying”, a family friend of Zinkin’s (1966:151-2) told her. “The mobs from the shanty towns round the station were roaming the steel town shouting slogans armed with crow bars and steel rods which had been sharpened at one end into becoming spears. And there was not a single policeman to be seen anywhere”. In fact, there were only 72 of them in the whole of Rourkela, for a popula-tion of roughly 1,00,000 living in an area of 32 square miles. This is not to gainsay the resolute lethargy of the local administration, who failed to heed (or chose to ignore) the obvious omens. Senior RSP management was also asleep. It was only after the violence had begun that they took steps to prevent workers doing what numbers of them had been doing for days under the indulgent eye of some officers – making weapons [Chatterjee et al 1967:33]. The worst slaughter – indiscriminately directed at men, women and children – occurred in and around the resettlement colonies of Jalda and Jhirpani in which many displaced local adivasis had settled. But fleeing Muslims were also hacked down in the streets of the township; and Muslim servants of foreign technicians were killed at the back of their bungalows. A few Germans tried to inter-vene but were threatened “by a howling mob” [Sperling 1969:124]. One of the handful of American experts confided to Zinkin (1966:152-3) that he had been too petrified to do anything but drink whisky as his servants were butchered, and that he was later scared off from offering evidence by a senior Bengali colleague. The poison soon infected the countryside, and vehicles from Rourkela were touring the villages to spread the message that Muslims were gathering to attack them and that the adivasis should get in first. Though now shamed by the memory, Japun recalls “Punjabis” and “Nepalis” arriving in his village, intimidating them about their imminent danger and bullying them to identify the houses of local Muslims. When they set off to burn them, the adivasis were sent ahead with their bows and arrows. Some were suppos-edly told that Nehru himself had sanctioned it, and that for each dead Muslim the government was giving a five rupee bounty. The violence lasted a fortnight, during which large numbers fled Rourkela. It is impossible to say how many were dead by the end, though it is certain that the great majority were Muslims and that the count was many times the 34 fatalities officially reported.6 Zinkin (1966:151) records that “the current guess” a short time after was about 5,000 dead. Though that is probably inflated, S K Ghosh (1981: 92-3) – who served as additional inspector general of police in Orissa – estimates 2,000 in and around Rourkela. Given that in Jalda alone “hundreds were butchered and all the (Muslim) houses burnt” [Chat-terjee et al 1967:35], given the number of other bastis that are pointed out today as places from which Muslims had been eliminated, and given informants like Aziz who claims more than 50 members of his ‘khandan’ (lineage) were murdered, Ghosh’s figure seems credible. It is clear that some of the RSP workforce were implicated in the violence (though some hid the wives and children of Muslim col-leagues in the plant). Although our sources include others, all identify Punjabis, Bengalis, Oriyas and adivasis as the main aggres-sors. More than 20 different “tribes” are present in the area, though Mundas and Oraons predominate. A significant proportion of the latter are Christians. We do not know whether some of these groups were more involved in the riots than others. We do know that the participation of Christian adivasis was discouraged by their priests [Zinkin 1966:153], but it is widely alleged that not all heeded them. What can definitely be said is that local adivasis from villages displaced by the plant played a prominent role, and that a disproportionate number of Muslim victims were also local. In the aftermath, Muslim employees of RSP were granted three months paid leave and sent back to their ancestral homes; and when they returned (some did not), were given the option of moving into a newly completed block in the township. Over 700 families (mainly outsiders) did so and it became an ethnic enclave. Others (largely locals) shifted – with the same result – into neighbour-hoods in “old Rourkela” that already had a sizeable Muslim popu-lation. Within the plant, they remained members of the work groups to which they had formerly belonged. They were not worried, they say, about the shop floor but about the dangers outside. No communal violence has recurred in Rourkela on anything like the same scale, though – as we have seen – there was
SPECIAL ARTICLEMay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly50anti-Sikh rioting in 1984. Property was looted; some remember Sikhs being forcibly shaved or badly beaten, and a few claim pos-itive knowledge of two or three deaths (though these we have been unable to confirm). Activists from the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) tell of being appointed “special constables” and patrolling the streets as peacekeepers for almost a month. Subsequently, Sikhs (unsuccessfully) demanded a special block in the township, like the one that Muslims had been given. Changes in the Ethnic Fault-linesThough with this exception, the communal temperature has been more or less stable since 1964, antagonisms based on regional ethnicity continued to re-surface and ethnic skirmishes contin-ued to plague the town for years. Within four months of that pogrom, there was renewed tension between Oriyas and Benga-lis and many Bengalis went into hiding. Relations between the two remained dangerously volatile up until the mid-1970s; while those between Oriyas and adivasis remain so today. Since the 1970s the regional composition of the RSP workforce has changed significantly. In 1968, the ministry of labour in Delhi made it mandatory for public sector enterprises to fill regular posts that paid less than Rs 500 per month from applicants regis-tered at local employment exchanges [Weiner 1978:339]. Prior to thatRSP policy was to give preference to those who had worked for some years on its “muster roll” or asRSP contract labour. This included large numbers of local adivasis and out-of-state migrants, whose expectations of a secure government job were suddenly shattered. Not only did they lose seniority, but in the new system the cards were stacked against them – against adi-vasis because their formal qualifications were generally lower than other candidates; against outsiders because the employment exchanges were staffed by Oriyas who were suspected of relegat-ing their applications to the bottom of the pile, and because the state government had its placemen on all appointment boards. Their plight was compounded when, in 1989, eligibility to even register became contingent on a certificate of residence in Orissa. Though born and bred in Rourkela, many young men of “out-sider” ancestry found themselves excluded because the require-ment for 10 years continuous residence had been disrupted by short periods of childhood spent in their “home” states, or because their families lived on encroached land for which they could not show title deeds [Meher 2004:146]. The result was a progressive “Oriya-isation” of the RSP workforce, a high water-mark of which was the appointment of an Oriya as the managing director. The whole process has led to a realignment of the ethnic fault-lines. While the contest between Oriyas and “outsiders” has been largely decided in favour of the former, that between them and the local adivasis has acquired a new edge. It is in this context that the recently rejuvenated campaigns to redress “wrongs” done to local adivasis displaced by the plant should be seen. Significant agitations had been staged in its early years, had reached a new crescendo in 1969 when a large demon-stration was brutally dispersed by the police, and had faded away until the late 1980s – a lull during which there was some progress in providing the RSP jobs that were promised as part of their com-pensation package. In the last couple of years these agitations have received fresh impetus from the campaign against Orissa’s new industrial complex at Kalinga Nagar, and the deaths in police firing of adivasi protesters. In solidarity with them, and watched by sev-eral battalions of armed police, in Rourkela adivasi demonstrators carrying bows, arrows and axes blocked the supply of iron ore to the plant for some days. Shortly after, adivasi villagers nearby invaded a sponge iron plant that they claimed was polluting their land. For several years now, young adivasis have protested daily outside the additional district magistrate’s office, demanding the land requisition files be reopened and they be given at last the RSP jobs that their grandfathers were due. Periodically they step up the pressure by burning tyres across the busiest roads. If not by all-India standards, then at least compared to Bhilai, Rourkela seems riot-prone, suggesting that we might appropriate Brass’s notion of an “institutionalised riot system” to explain the difference. This model – with the key (indeed almost definitive) role it assigns to “conversion specialists”, prototypically goondas expert in fanning the flames when it suits their political patrons – has the apparent attraction of illuminating the protean quality of ethnic violence that we earlier alluded to. They are aptly named since they may be supposed adept not only at converting peace into violence but also one form of violence into another. In other respects, however, we question the analytical leverage the concept provides. This is firstly because, like anywhere else, Bhilai has its goondas and unprincipled politicians. It is therefore only ex post facto (after repeated riots) that it is possible to say that in Rour-kela an institutionalised riot system must exist. The model does not predict which town will have one, and nor does it explain why Bhilai does not. To do that, we would secondly need to know something it does not tell us: what it is that allows such unsavoury characters to persuade large mobs, that presumably include some normally rational citizens who do not usually place much faith in goondas and politicians, to commit such barbaric atrocities – not just commit them but momentarily believe they are “right”. The Ethnic Air in BhilaiIn previous publications, Parry (1999a and b, 2003, 2008) has described the generally benign character of ethnic relations in Bhilai. Here we focus on the underside of violence. The contrast with Rourkela is not just its actual incidence but also in the way it figures in popular consciousness. Though in fact Bhilai’s record of ethnic harmony is not unblemished, that is how its inhabitants characteristically represent it – mostly in good faith. “Here peo-ple from all corners of the country live together in peace. There were never communal troubles here”. It is said with pride and, for the many who strongly identify with Nehru’s “dreamworld”, it is part of what it is to belong in Bhilai. Perhaps because it was on a comparatively small-scale and confined to a limited locality, very few of those old enough to remember have any recollection of the one communal outbreak that occurred. In Rourkela, by contrast, nobody of an age to remember the 1964 riots can fail to do so – even if they are reluctant to recall them. Of those who express anxieties about the future of ethnic rela-tions in Bhilai, the overwhelming majority – especially amongst Hindus – identify the threat, not as communal conflict, butas conflict between sons-of-the-Chhattisgarh-soil and outsiders.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200851In the early years, however, local resentments appear to have been more muted than might be expected. In the area around Rourkela, the Jharkhand movement had established a significant hold in previous decades; as recently as 1948 there had been vio-lent resistance to the region’s incorporation into Orissa, and well before the steel plant was built the adivasi population had devel-oped and asserted an identity in opposition to that of exploitative dikus (non-adivasi outsiders). In the villages surroundingBhilai, by contrast, it was not until the plant wasunderconstructionthata self-conscious sense of being Chhattisgarhi wascrystallised.With-out much contact with outsiders the issue had hardly arisen before. Even now, it was slow to assume a confrontationalformasthere wasplentyofemploymentavailable to those who wanted it, which most of the local population did not. One conventional explanation for that is that they were con-vinced that hundreds, if not thousands, of human sacrifices (pujvan, bali) would be required to establish such a gargantuan industrial complex – sacrifices for which they were reluctant to be victims [Parry 2007]. Though it is certainly possible to see these stories as an expression of the fear and awe with which the outside world was regarded, there was little actual resistance to it, and none in the form of collective violence towards its harbin-gers. Local wariness of plant employment did however have the effect of enhancing demand for labour from elsewhere, with the result that theBSP workforce was (and still remains) significantly more dominated than Rourkela’s by migrants of out-of-state origin. And they did indeed come from every corner. Only a small proportion were from other parts of Madhya Pradesh, and it is reasonable to suppose that the sheer heterogeneity of its popula-tion is one reason that Bhilai has remained relatively peaceful. No group was in a position to claim the hegemony that plains’ Oriyas sought to establish in Rourkela. As is inevitable, people of different ethnicities sometimes come to blows and the trouble then blamed on the innate propensities of this or that group. And it is true that neighbourhood conflicts often run in ethnic grooves. The crucial point, however, is that this does not result in randomly targeting individuals from the other ethnic group who are not associated with the main pro-tagonists. It is not “Biharis” in general who are taught a lesson, but rather those loud-mouthed “Biharis” from down the lane who misbehave with our girls. That is very different from picking on strangers in the streets and beating them to death because they are identifiably of this or that ethnicity – which is on occasion what happened in Rourkela. By the time that the main construction phase was over and the risk of becoming a bali was deemed to have receded, by the time their compensation money had been reinvested in fields further out or drunk to the last drop, and by the time that public sector pay had begun to take-off, local Chhattisgarhis had abandoned their scruples and were clamouring for jobs in the plant. Indeed they were now demanding preferment. But by now regular BSP jobs were harder to get, and in competition for them locals were disadvantaged by their lower educational attainments, and – they claim – by discrimination. Discrimination or not, what is certainly the case is that even today people of outsider ancestry (of whom most would now have been brought up in Bhilai) are proportionately over-represented in the regular BSP workforce, whereas those who work as contract labourers in the plant on comparatively derisory rates of pay are overwhelmingly Chhat-tisgarhis. On the large private sector industrial estate nearby, it is much the same story. Nearly all of these factories are owned by outsiders and nearly all employ mainly outsiders as regular com-pany workers. Chhattisgarhis are concentrated in the ranks of contract and supply labour. It is these inequities that create anxi-eties about the town’s ethnic future. And there is resentment. “They say they are ‘dharati-putr’ (sons-of-the-soil) and that we should go back to our own pavilion after all our toiling-moiling”, as a long-serving Malayali clerk put it in English. To date, how-ever, these sentiments have not been violently expressed. It is true that at the beginning of the 1990s, and earlier in the townships attached to BSP’s captive iron ore mines, there was bitter fighting between the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha that was championing the cause of contract labour, and (Communist Party of India-affil-iated) All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) unions that stood pre-eminently for the interests of company workers (and many would say of employers). Inevitably this set Chhattisgarhis against “outsiders” (Parry, in press). But to represent it as an ethnic strug-gle would be a distortion. The idiom was class, not ethnicity, and both sides had activists of the “wrong” ethnic category. In both Chhattisgarh and Orissa, the proportion of Muslims in the population is tiny (around 2 per cent); and although that figure would rise to between 5 and 10 per cent in Bhilai andRourkela,itis still very small. In both towns, Christians compete in numbers. In neither can the Hindu majority claim to be threatened. In rural society in this part of Chhattisgarh, the main social cleavage is between the (ex-untouchable) Satnamis and the so-called “Hindu” castes – which typically include almost all others in the village hierarchy. Where Muslims are represented, they generally bathe from the “Hindu” ghat at the village tank and draw water from the same sources as the “Hindu” castes. In opposition to Satnamis, Muslims seem to count as (honorary) Hindus! Or to put it differently, “Hindu” has historically been defined primarily in opposition to Satnami rather than “Muslim” [Parry 1999b]. Perhaps related to that, no generalised hostility towards Muslims has taken firm root in the local population. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been active in Chhat-tisgarh since the 1930s [Jaffrelot 1996:134]; and in Raipur by the early 1990s the Shiv Sena had established a following that directed some violence at both Muslims and Christians [Heuzé 1992]. The main preoccupation of the RSS, however, has been with combating Christian influence amongst adivasis in more northerly districts and – apart from a riot in Raigarh in the 1960s – the Muslims have escaped largely unmolested. In Bhilai, nei-ther theRSS nor the Shiv Sena has ever acquired significant influ-ence, and the Jan Sangh made little electoral headway. With a gap between 1998 and 2003, the BJP has however held the Bhilai assembly constituency since 1990; and since 1998 it has held neighbouring Durg (which includes part of Bhilai). But these suc-cesses have more to do with disillusionment with Congress and its factional in-fighting than with the appeal of “Hindutva” senti-ments. Though a thorn in the flesh of the chief minister, it was widely said by those in the know that the latter had nevertheless
SPECIAL ARTICLEMay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly52strongly supported the Bhilai constituency’s sitting CongressMLA for the party ticket in 2003. He would need a Muslim in govern-ment and it was only from Bhilai that he could hope to get one.7 The 1970 IncidentThe biggest blot on Bhilai’s record of ethnic peace was a riot that broke out on January 26, 1970 in a basti called Boriya built on BSP land just outside one of the principal gates to the plant8 – a squatter settlement inhabited by contract workers, pettycrimi-nals involved in recycling plant property and some regular BSP labour. It was triggered by the discovery of beef brought for sale in the basti by a Muslim butcher, wrestler and goonda called Kallu Khan. Perhaps it came from cattle markets in Vidarbha; perhaps it was carrion brought for the tigers inBSP’s zoo. A huge hue and cry was raised, and a tempo mounted with a loud-speaker was soon circumambulating Boriya broadcasting the news that the Muslims had slaughtered a cow. People quickly appeared from the nearby township with weapons. Muslims were attacked, their houses and shops looted and set on fire, the mosquerazed. By the time the police arrived, three Muslim corpses were lying on waste ground, and 23 Muslims were badly wounded, two of whom died in hospital. Five dead wastheoffi-cial figure. Simultaneously, there were small incidents in the township apparently intended to spark a more general confla-gration that failed to ignite. Next day, a cow was attacked with a knife and the severed head of a calf was tossed into a Hindu house (by agents provocateurs, it is assumed). That evening, a Jan Sangh leader delivered an inflammatory public speech and many Muslims fled Bhilai. Meanwhile, those evacuated from Boriya were camped out in the compound of a police station in the township and in a Durg community hall. Both dead and wounded were all Muslims. Of the former, all were young men, regularBSP employees and “Mauhadayyas”. That is, all originated from a group of predominantly Muslim vil-lages in the vicinity of Mauhada, a small town in the UP district of Hamirpur, which was where Kallu Khan also came from. True, the shops and houses of other Muslims were also destroyed, but Mauhadayyas were specifically targeted. By whom is less clear. What is established is that a Sikh woman who had political ambi-tions, and later became a small-time Congress leader, instigated the hullabaloo about cow slaughter and laid on the tempo and loudspeaker. Some of her ‘biradari’ (kin group) had tried to restrain her and we know from several Muslims that Sikhs had hidden and protected them. Others appear to have led the may-hem. The “communal” character of the riot is thus ambiguous. The principal victims were Maudahayyas, not Muslims in gen-eral; Sikhs were prominent among the aggressors, but some tried to thwart them. As Brass (1997) has convincingly argued, the “communal” tag is an ex post facto construction, and it is political interests that determine whether or not it is applied to a particu-lar incident. Though in the case of the 1964 communal riots in Rourkela, it is difficult to imagine how they might otherwise have been labelled, in the present instance it is not. It might easily be represented as reflecting animosities between two regional groups (one of which was disunited); as a ghastly episode in a neighbourhood vendetta that had nothing to do with religious identities (which is how a government minister who visited Boriya immediately after was anxious to portray it).Its timing was significant. The violence began early on the morn-ing of January 26 when it could be safely assumed that all available police would be on duty at Bhilai’s official Republic Day celebra-tions. A parliamentary by-election was coming up shortly and Nai Dunia’s reporter insinuated Jan Sangh chicanery.9 Cow protection had been a highly emotive issue in the previous general election [Jaffrelot 1996: 221]. Moreover, this was a time when the labour market was depressed. As we have seen, the 1964 Rourkela riots had their epicentre in slum neighbourhoods in which many now laid-off construction workers were hanging on in the generally forlorn hope of RSP posts. In Bhilai at that point the demand for labour was buoyant as the plant’s capacity was being more than doubled. By the time of the Boriya riot, however, that work had been completed for more than two years, and the next major expansion would not begin for another five. In both cases, then, ethnic violence erupted during a period in which the livelihoods of many had become increasingly precarious. It was also a time of intense factionalism within the recognised (INTUC-affiliated) BSP union; and there are reports of one INTUC leader (a Hindu) using the riot as an opportu-nity to set on another (a Muslim), and of a third being implicated in the attempt to foment trouble in the township. After the riot, the widows of the five victims were given BSP jobs. Boriya basti was bulldozed and BSP workers who lived there were offered quarters (deliberately) dispersed throughout town-ship. Others had to fend for themselves. Many Muslims shifted to Durg or Raipur to live in Muslim-majority areas; some wenthome to their villages, and a handful built houses on what wasthen empty land but is now the thriving colony of Faridnagar. Faridnagar today is a large Muslim enclave – the only one in Bhilai. In the township there are no ethnic ghettos. Outside it, there are colonies originally set up by associations of fellow countrymen – Ayyappa Nagar by Malayalis, Smriti Nagar by Maharashtrians and so forth – but this ethnic core has rapidly been diluted by large numbers of others moving in. Bhilai does not dis-play the strong tendency towards residential clustering by caste and ethnicity that Meher (2004:125f) emphasises for Rourkela. A Muslim of Maharashtrian origin, who was asked whether he had ever contemplated moving to Faridnagar from the ex-village-cum-labour colony in which he has resided for some years, wanted to know why he might wish to live amongst all those clannish and backward-looking Mauhadayyas when he could not ask for better neighbours than he has? He had once considered shifting to the township, but Ankalaha’s old mother (a Chhatttisgarhi) had wept in his house and begged him not to go. A Problem with ‘Modernity’?The “temples” were desecrated, though in varying degrees; and to many today Nehru’s faith that modern urban industrialism would inexorably dissolve the primordial identities of the workforce seems Pollyanna-ish. “Modernity” was not the solution but the problem. Communal violence is the consequence of “the urban-industrial vision of life”, zealotry “a pathology of modernity” [Nandy 1990:83-4]. Or, according to Hansen (1999:7, 90, 212) the xeno-phobic discourses of Hindu nationalism reflect the “fundamental
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200853ambivalence” with which the “large and expanding” (and very vaguely specified) “middle class” regards modernity, and result from “the larger processes of urbanisation and capitalist development”.Seen from Bhilai and Rourkela, modernity looked different. Zinkin (1966) heads her section on Bhilai, “recipe for success”; on Rourkela, “… for failure”. Bhilai was a “buzzing beehive”; and when she first visited both projects in 1956 she was sur-prised to find that – though the Rourkela contract had been signed two years earlier – Bhilai was equally advanced. With the one that was signed, only a “miracle” would have made Rourkelawork.Around 40 West German companies (relying on a chain of more than 3,000 suppliers), and about 70 (mainly) Indian civil engineering firms were involved [cf Sperling 1969:ix]. Theresultwas chaos. Work was suspended after rain because excavations were flooded and nobody had thought to order pumps; or cranes for unloading at the station, which was now so clogged that it was impossible to bring in more equipment. On site it was difficult to move even by foot – or to locate any-thing needed – for the mountains of crates. The contract, more-over, gave the German experts only easily over-ridden advisory roles. Theplant was handed over on completion, with the re-sult that inexperienced Indian management was left with the serious teething problems that soon arose. With Bhilai, the So-viets were shrewder. Control was much more centralised and they were to see the plant into production. Indian engineers sent for training in theUSSR were required to do all the same jobs as their Soviet counterparts and there were no commer-cial secrets to keep from them; those sent to West Germany wereallowed no hands-on experience and excluded by the obsession with patents. Technologically, Rourkela wasstate-of-the-art – a racehorse in comparison with carthorse Bhilai, the German chancellor boasted [Krishna Moorthy 1984:94]. But Bhilai functioned well from the start; Rourkela– which had eight general managers in its first nine years – did not. Even if only carthorse provisioners, at public relations the Soviets were far more sophisticated. Stories critical of Rourkela were planted in the press. There was much to criticise, not only in the management of the project, but also in the conduct of its per-sonnel. In pay and conditions, there was a huge disparity between Germans and their Indian counterparts. Sperling (1969) – who was director of the German Social Centre in Rourkela in 1958-62 – provides a warts-and-all portrait of his compatriots that sug-gests why they were sometimes unloved (though probably less so than the British in Durgapur). The mechanics drank heavily, brawled frequently, trashed furniture in the club and chucked bearers into its pool. Most were uninterested in anything Indian, except the young women. Many kept adivasi “ayahs” as concu-bines. Rourkela produced more bastards than steel, it was said. Reminding readers of Sita’s passage through fire to prove her chastity, one newspaper complained that Rourkela women were sacrificing theirs to heat “a crucible of steel” (ibid p 93). Even worse, Germans of a different temper who gave their Sundays to “good works” in the villages were assumed to be missionaries. The Russians in Bhilai were on a tighter leash – no alcohol, no servants, and standards of living more comparable to those of their Indian equivalents. When a Russian delegation from Bhilai attended a cultural event at the German Club in Rourkela,and though none knew the language, they presented a beautiful recital of folksongs in Hindi, leaving not a dry Indianeyeinthe audience. The Germans sang German “pop” (ibid p 20). But there was more to it than tact. In the first 12 years of its effective functioning, BSP was in profit for five; and – even through the worst recessions – has remained so in every year since 1972-73. Rourkela has frequently run in the red and failed to meet produc-tion targets. That’s partly because it has had a much more troubled record of industrial relations than Bhilai, in the history of which there has not been a single strike of real significance amongst its production workers. Moscow did not want its most lustrous sym-bol of Indo-Soviet collaboration to be tarnished. The local party was charged with curbing any over-enthusiastic challenge by its union activists to the hegemony of a management-friendly recog-nised Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) union (Parry, in press). In Rourkela, by contrast, there have been frequent strikes – some seriously disruptive. So what was the problem with modernity that it (allegedly) led to horrors like the Rourkela riots of 1964? Except in its association with secularism, which at its most strident backs believers into too tight a corner [Nandy 1990:79], the precise nature of the link is left unclear. Nor does the thesis explain why the urban-industrial vision of life should produce violence in Rourkela on a scale unknown in Bhilai. But perhaps the answer is obvious – that the danger lay not in modernity, but in modernity that conspicuously failed? Obviously it cannot be simply because blast furnaces con-tinually breakdown and account books do n0t balance that Hindus murder Muslims. But it does seem reasonable to suppose that where modernity has manifestly not worked, people are less willing to buy into its dream. In Bhilai, many more were pre-pared to do so because the Nehruvian project seemed more credible – and that project involved accepting the “melting-pot”. Shop Floor CultureIn neither Bhilai nor Rourkela today are the steel plants the only industry; but in both they are by far the most important ones and their employees are the local labour aristocrats who in many ways set the tone for their towns. As Steel Authority of India Lim-ited (SAIL) subsidiaries, there is much in common in the way work is managed in the two plants; but their shop floor cultures are nevertheless significantly different. Part of that difference can be traced back to legacies left by their foreign collaborators. A trivial but telling example is that in German factories it was not done to exchange greetings with colleagues at the start of the day; and in Rourkela this avoidance was maintained [Sperling 1969:15]. In Bhilai it was (and remains) the practice for all to shake hands at the start of their shift – Hindus and Muslims, dalits and brahmins, line-managers and men. More important, however, is the much more heterogeneous composition of BSP work groups. Take Satyanarayan, a UP brahmin and a recently retired crane operator in the Wire Rod Mill. Crane operators regard themselves as a cut above other workers and tend to form a clique whose members socialise mainly amongst themselves during breaks. Satyanarayan’s included a Nagpur Muslim, a Punjabi Sikh, a Malayali Christian, a dalit from Andhra and a Bihari yadav. That is
SPECIAL ARTICLEMay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly54not at all atypical. The membership of most work groups is fairly stable over long periods of time; and the work itself may be dan-gerous and demands not only cooperation but trust. Some tasks are more arduous and unpleasant than others, and partners rotate them. Even after the down-sizing of the permanent labour force over the past two decades, manning levels remain generous and many teams run their own informal duty rosters that permit them to show up for only half their shift and sometimes not at all. Even so there are long fallow periods between bouts of productive acti-vity during which there is little to do but gossip and drink tea. A strong sense of solidarity and fast friendships develop. Regardless of caste, those who work together eat together, shovelling delica-cies brought from home onto each other’s plates. Not that primor-dial identities disappear. A certain tenseness about regional identi-ties is expressed in licensed joking that plays on ethnic stereotypes; and regional ethnicity is a major factor in union elections at shop floor level. Most striking, however, is the extent to which identity issues are muffled by a robust institutional culture. The effects of it wash over the perimeter walls. Many work groups run rotating credit societies, tour groups that travel together to spend a few days at some tourist site, and dining clubs that convene to eat meat, booze and banter. Hindu or Muslim, entire work groups are gener-ally invited to major life cycle rituals celebrated by the household, and it is de rigueur that at least some attend [Parry 1999a and b].As theRSP workforce has been “Oriya-ised”, that kind of ethnic heterogeneity can hardly exist. “Outsiders” are scattered in ones and twos in work groups dominated by Oriyas and adivasis. Sometimes one might say “or adivasis” since they are heavily con-centrated in the least skilled operational jobs in the hardest shops, while it is overwhelmingly Oriyas who man the mills [cf Behera 1996]. In Rourkela too there are clubs for shop floor col-leagues, but – unthinkable in Bhilai – adivasis have in some cases formed their own. Nor are there the same informal visits to the homes of workmates of different ethnicity that are routine in Bhilai. Few Oriya workers would ever set foot in the house of an adivasi colleague. One day, Struempell was talking with an adi-vasiRSP worker in a lane of the Munda basti of one of the resettle-ment colonies, a lane used as a shortcut to the plant by Oriya workers from the colony next door. An Oriya workmate drew up on a bike to remark in astonishment: “So this is where you live? I had never thought we were such close neighbours”. The response was sour: “What did you think? That I live in the jungle?”At the risk of labouring the point, this contrast in shop floor cultures does more than reflect a difference in the ethnic air of the two towns. It is also what helps to constitute it. The Legacy of DisplacementAt least as important is the history of displacement. Remember that in Rourkela’s early years many of the victims of Oriya aggres-sion, as well as many of the perpetrators of the anti-Muslim pogrom of 1964, were Punjabis and Bengalis, often displaced by the Partition. Those we focus on here, however, are the more than 15,000 largely adivasi inhabitants of the 32 villages that lost their houses and fields to the plant. Even before the initial agreement for Rourkela had been signed there was significant local opposition to it;10 and in 1953 a Steel Plant Site People’s Federation – headed by both adivasi and diku village headmen – had been founded to fight the villagers’ corner. Site preparations were disrupted and locals refused to work on it. Opposition oscillated between outright rejection of the project and pragmatic concern to leverage the best terms possible. Dikus and many Catholic Oraons favoured compromise; other adivasis took a harder line – predisposed to do so by their long history of resistance to outside incursions. In Gangpur and Bonei – the erst-while princely states that make up the present district of Sundar-garh in which Rourkela is located – the rulers’ attempts to enhance their revenue by bringing in non-adivasi tax farmers from adjacent areas had led to rebellion in 1897. In Gangpur, another significant uprising followed in 1939; and in 1948 there were violent protests against the region’s incorporation into Orissa [Mallick 2007; Bailey 1959]. The terms eventually extracted included monetary compensa-tion for the land they were relinquishing; the promise of a job in the regular RSP workforce for one able-bodied member of every household from which land was requisitioned, and the establish-ment of three resettlement colonies for the displaced on the periphery of the township. In these, the government provided house plots and building subsidies. In addition, the villagers were assigned unbroken land for cultivation in one of a dozen or so reclamation camps within a 100 kilometre radius of Rourkela, and an allowance for breaking it. Though the package might sound generous there are many complaints. The compensation rates are said to have been totally inadequate, and many people got nothing at all. This was because the revenue records in Gangpur state had been so poorly main-tained that they could not prove legal title. The promised jobs often took years to materialise, and sometimes never did. Finding that they could earn more with a private contractor, those who got them early on had often relinquished them before public sec-tor wage inflation had made them really valuable. Others were fired in a major purge of the labour force that screened out absen-tees. In the reclamation camps, epidemic disease was recurrent and the terrain so inhospitable that “even tigers could not live there”. House plots in the resettlement colonies were granted only on usufruct and could not be legitimately sold. In fact they often were, and many non-displaced people – mainly adivasis – moved in but had no legal rights. For present purposes, most crucial was the concentration of displaced malcontents in reset-tlement colonies on the edge of town, especiallyof younger men who hung on in the hope of secure employment but actually eked out a meagre living from irregular casual labour. Not sur-prisingly, these colonies rapidly became hotbeds of Jharkhand militancy, and were at the centre of horrendous violence in 1964 (as of anti-Sikh rioting in 1984). Resettlement colonies had other enduring consequences. Dis-placed adivasis (and others who joined them) became ghettoised. The township is overwhelmingly inhabited by Oriyas and other dikus; the resettlement colonies are overwhelmingly adivasi, and between the two there is little interaction. Adivasi children are educated in state government-run colony schools in which stand-ards are significantly lower than inRSP schools in the township. There they are unlikely to acquire the educational qualifications
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200855or cultural capital that would allow them to compete with town-ship kids on the labour market. The separation and subordination of adivasis is seamlessly reproduced.In Orissa at large, Christians have more often been victims of communal violence than Muslims. In Rourkela they have never been targeted. A substantial majority are adivasis, whose soli-darity against outsiders affords them protection. But what had adivasis got against Muslims, especially local ones? In one way, their victimhood seems fortuitous in that it is easy to imagine adivasis picking on some other diku community. In others, the targeting of them seems over-determined. Muslims had been brought in by the local rajas to serve as policemen and other petty functionaries, and thus stood for the previous generation of exploitative interlopers. More had been traders, and were now big in the liquor business. Many adivasis drank heavily and were deeply indebted to them, and that led to frequent demands for sexual favours from adivasi women [Ghosh 1981:92-3]. During the 1964 riots, it is claimed, some Hindu traders with a lustful eye on the liquor trade instigated adivasi violence. In Bhilai displacement took place in a different historical con-text, and its consequences have been much less antagonistic, though the number of villages (96 in all) and the population affected was much larger. Few were adivasis. Records of recent land sales were examined for each village, distress sales (due to indebtedness, widowhood and so forth) scrupulously excluded, and a market price established that reflected soil quality. As in Rourkela, one member of each household that had sacrificed land for the plant was to be offered a BSP job; and as in Rourkela there was often a long gap before these promises were honoured. In the end, however, they generally were. What was most different, how-ever, was that there were no resettlement colonies or reclamation camps. Each household made its own decisions about where to resettle and where – or whether – to reinvest in land. In Bhilai too, today many claim that the rates of compensation were derisory. It is also alleged that the sudden influx of cash drove up prices in surrounding villages, making it difficult for the dispos-sessed to buy replacement holdings of equivalent productivity. A study of the records, however, provided no evidence for either claim. But what is certainly true is that land was compulsorily pur-chased in separate tranches over several years, making it difficult for the villagers to reinvest rationally. Moreover BSP requisitioned much more land than it actually needed for the plant and the town-ship, and by 1966 was using the surplus to run 23 sizeable “officer farms”. The matter went to court, the farms were liquidated in 1979 and the land was made over to a Special Area Development Autho-rity who proceeded to sell much of it off to speculators. Vast profits were made; but not of course by the villagers. If only it were now theirs to sell. It is largely this that lies behind the outrage they now feel about the rates at which they were compensated – an outrage compounded by the significant reduction in plant manpower over the past two decades. Even if it has to be partitioned, land can be passed on from one generation to the next. But the BSP job that was offered in lieu went to one brother only and was not heritable. Such resentments notwithstanding, displacement has not been the running sore it has remained in Rourkela. We see two princi-pal reasons. The first is that there was in Bhilai no comparable pre-history of deep political antagonism towards outsiders. As far as ethnic violence is concerned, the main structural cleavage in local society was moreover not between Hindus and Muslims, but between the so-called “Hindu” castes and the Satnamis. In the case of Rourkela, by contrast, the local adivasis were almost pre-programmed by the previous half-century or more of their history to violent resistance against dikus; and – for reasons just given – had motives for singling out Muslims. The second expla-nation is that, in Bhilai, the displaced were dispersed throughout the general population. In much policy-oriented literature, the recommendation is that displaced communities should as far as possible be kept intact.11 As far as the ethnic tensions that often accompany large-scale development projects are concerned, however, out comparison suggests that strategy does not always produce the most desirable outcomes. In the case of Rourkela, the local adivasis were – as we have suggested – largely ghetto-ised, largely unable to take advantage of the lucrative and pres-tigious jobs that were now available, and were condemned to reproduce their own inferiority. It should not be surprising that they felt a sense of betrayal and were tempted to vent their resent-ment on outside “interlopers” with a venom far more virulent than that ever manifested by the displaced Chhattisgarhi peasantry.Civil Society and the StateThis article has followed Varshney (2002) in attempting to gain some insight into communal riots by juxtaposing two similar urban settings that are differentiated by their levels of ethnic vio-lence. For Varshney, the crucial variable is the extent to which civil society institutions bridge the communal divide. The state has little explanatory significance. With the first of these proposi-tions we have sympathy; with the second none. Not only is it hard to credit in the light of Gujarat’s recent history, but the two dimensions are not clearly separated. Civil society institutions are often decisively shaped by the state. The ones we focus on here are the unions. Remember the CITU “special constables” patrol-ling Rourkela in 1984 to prevent anti-Sikh violence from spreading. BSP’s recognised union was from the start a Congress-affiliated INTUC one. In the early days there was industrial strife, but this was largely limited to the temporary construction labour force. Regular BSP production workers held aloof, as did their union. 1969-73 was a time of crippling factionalism within it, during which Bhilai’s one “communal” riot occurred. Some lower-level union leaders were certainly involved and through it appear to have prosecuted plant rivalries. Under pressure from senior management and the steel ministry, INTUC national leadership eventually intervened to order fresh elections in 1973. From these Ravi Arya (a Punjabi) emerged as the union’s general secretary (it is said with backing from the steel minister himself). For the next 30-odd years, Arya remained its most powerful figure. He and a small coterie developed a com-fortable relationship with senior management that ensured uncon-frontational labour relations. Those lower down the union hierar-chy were discouraged from dissent by perks and free trips, exemp-tion from normal duties and by the power and patronage that was put their way. Shop floor representatives acquired a lien on the workforce that rivalled that of line managers. Over the past few years, however, the union has fallen back into factional disarray.
SPECIAL ARTICLEMay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly56There has been no undisputed leadership with whom management might talk. Indeed, for much of this time the union has been sus-pended by the courts (Parry, in press). For present purposes there are two crucial points. The first is that throughout BSP’s history the recognised union has (unless by internal rivalries) remained unchallenged. One reason was the restraint Moscow placed on its most plausible (CPI-affiliated AITUC) rival. A more important one is that worker-management relations have been governed by the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act (1960), which requires management to negotiate with a recog-nised union chosen by a majority of its workforce, and with that union only – which means that most workers see little point in join-ing any other. The most salient feature of the legislation, however, is that the formal procedures for replacing one recognised union by another are so complex, protracted and subject to manipulation that without the direct backing of the state the prospects of doing so are negligible. The second point is that although the split between Chhattisgarhis and “outsiders” is important in shop floor elections, regional ethnicity plays no significant role in union poli-tics at higher levels. Few major players are Chhattisgarhis, and no “outsider” can construct a winning coalition-based on his own countrymen. In the BSP mines, and on the private sector industrial estate, predominantly “outsider” company labour and predomi-nantly Chhattisgarhi contract labour were for a time represented by different unions (respectively affiliated to AITUC12 and the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha) that were in sometimes violent con-flict with each other. But as we have already pointed out, their struggle took place in the idiom of class, not ethnicity. In Rourkela, by contrast, ethnicity is central to the way in which workers represent union rivalries, and within the plant competition between unions has been more meaningful. RSP is governed by an Industrial Disputes Act that provides rival unions with a realistic chance of supplanting the recognised one, which has happened twice in its history. Given the context, it is hardly surprising if unions that compete on the same turf should be identified with ethnic categories that are also in competition. The earliest unions were the Gangpur Labour Union and the North Orissa Workers’ Union, both champions of local Sundar-garhi labour and backed by the Ganatantra Parishad, the party created after the hill states merged with Orissa, ostensibly to pro-tect their people from colonisation by coastal Oriyas. Though sig-nificant in the mines, neither established much influence in the plant, where the Rourkela Mazdoor Sabha [RMS] (affiliated to the union wing of the Praja Socialist Party) was the first to gain a real foothold as the guardian of local interests. By the late 1960s, how-ever, it had become closely identified with workers from coastal Orissa. Opposed to it were an INTUC union (Hindustan Steel Workers’ Association [HSWA]) associated with out-of-state migrants, and the far-left Rourkela Workers’ Union with a largely adivasi following and Bengali leadership. At the time of the 1964 riots, the RMS and HSWA were the main competitors, though up to that point there had been no recognised union. RSP management was in the proc-ess of getting the RMS suspended for staging wildcat strikes; and just as the riots were petering out recognised the HSWA. RMS activ-ists were accused of fanning the flames. By 1966, they were back and had staged an electoral coup that gave them a stranglehold on the Works Committee. Three years later, however, they lost out badly on account of the strong resentments their pro-Oriya influ-ence on recruitment and promotions had aroused. Rolling the clock rapidly forward, in the late 1980s and early 1990s a Malayali RSP clerk launched a campaign on behalf of the approximately 10,000 contract workers in the plant, and by the mid-1990s had got almost half of them regularised. Most were locals and many adivasis, which again significantly shifted the ethnic balance of the workforce. The union that grew out of this victory became the recognised one in 1995, and with substantial adivasi support still is. Enough said, we hope, to establish that Rourkela unions tend to be identified with particular ethnic lobbies. The corollary is that ethnic violence has been concentrated during periods of intense union rivalry, and a lid kept on it when rivalries were muted. Varshney is right. Civil society institutions do help explain the vari-ations over space and time. What is less convincing is his bracketing out of the state. As we have just seen, the industrial relations legisla-tion in force makes a significant difference to the degree of competi-tion between unions, and thus to the extent to which ethnic rivalries are expressed through – and exacerbated by – union politics. Civil society institutions are not sui generis. They are moulded by state interventions and agendas; and – not only with regard to the law – these have differed in their impact on Bhilai and Rourkela.Compulsions of Regional NationalismMadhya Pradesh (MP) was patched together from fragments that were just assuming stable shape when the BSP project was start-ing. It had little self-conscious sense of a singular identity and nobody gave much thought to creating one. Throughout the early years of the plant, the state government had a generally harmoni-ous working relationship with the centre, which the local political elite in Chhattisgarh had no desire to disrupt. Though by the mid-1960s there was clamour for sons-of-the-Chhattisgarh-soil to be privileged in recruitment to plant jobs, the demands of the local leadership were generally restrained, and it was never seriously claimed by Bhopal that people from other MP regions should be preferred for BSP employment over people from other states. In fact, the former were always hugely outnumbered by them. In short, BSP management was on the whole allowed to manage without “interference” from state and local political lobbies. The Orissa state government faced greater compulsions and was much more assertive in its claims on RSP jobs. Some were – like massive under-employment in the densely populated cyclone-prone coastal districts – economic; but just as pressing were politi-cal ones. In 1948, the Feudatory States had tried (some violently) to resist merger, which roughly doubled Orissa’s population and gave the eastern plains access to the natural resources of the west-ern hills. But from the point of view of their inhabitants, this was a katakiya state and its representatives were occupiers. In the 1952 elections, Congress managed to win only 26 of the 72 constituencies in the hill areas; and in 1957 it was reduced to 14 out of 74. In that election, Congress fared badly throughout Orissa, in large measure because of the passions aroused by the recent States Reorganisation Commission award of Oriya-speaking Seraikella and Kharaswan to Bihar. Following it, Con-gress could only retain power with Jharkhand Party support; its
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200857hold on it was extremely precarious throughout the late 1950s, and its sense of insecurity was exacerbated by the knowledge that the chief minister was not on good terms with Nehru. Hence what Bailey (1963:8) describes as “the disproportionate tenderness which the ministry showed to even the least of its supporters”. Since the majority of these were plains’ Oriyas, a vigorous assertion of Oriya rights over Rourkela jobswas an obvious way of shoring up their political fortunes.But there was more to it than practical reason. There was also an ideological mission to build a viable Oriya “nation”. That meant incorporating the hills, which – given their “primitive” population – made it a civilising mission as well. “It was a Herculean task to turn this area into Orissa”, one of Struempell’s Oriya informants explained, to sage nods from his fellow teachers. RSP – representing modernity brought to the jungle – encapsulated that heroic task. What the Nehruvians intended as a “temple” to modern industrial India became a “temple” to Oriya nationalism – and the state government led the campaign to restrict entry to it. Though it may not have actually sponsored the violence directed at outsiders, it certainly laid the ground forit. But how were these purges of migrants from other states transformed into a pogrom against Muslims? Everybody had their reasons. Those of the adivasis we have already discussed. Many of the Punjabis and Bengalis had experienced the horrors of Partition. Many had earlier been the target of Oriya violence and now was their opportunity to show who the “real” outsiders were. As for the Oriyas, central to the self-definition of Orissa is that it is a Hindu province [Kanungo 2003]. The Oriya nation being built in Rourkela should therefore be Hindu. Thus the state, we are arguing, created the conditions in which civil society institutions became ethnic lobbies, in which “sons-of-the-soil” turned on “outsiders”, and in which the meaning of these categories was continually redefined through violence. In Bhilai things went differently. Notes1 Parry’s field research in Bhilai – undertaken between 1993 and 2006 – has extended over approximately 26 months. He gratefully acknowl-edges the invaluable research assistance of Ajay TG and the patient clarifications that Lalit Surjan provided in connection with this article. Struem-pell’s fieldwork in Rourkela has extended over approximately 18 months during the period 2004-08. He thanks Amar Kumar Singh and Rajat Singh for their research assistance. 2 We employ pseudonyms throughout. 3 We use “ethnic” as a catch-all for caste, commu-nal and regional identities. 4 Similarly, Saumya (2008) has recently suggested that in Chhattisgarh adivasi participation is a post-1990 phenomenon; while Nandy (1990) has claimed that communal riots are a specifically urban affliction – a point properly disputed by Brass (1997:18). 5 Though the term derives from the town of Cuttack, it is generically applied to all plains Oriyas. 6 This is the figure cited in an appendix to Chatter-jee et al (1967:127), though the main body of their text – based on extensive interviews conducted some six weeks after the riots – makes it obvious that they did not believe it. Though she does not cite sources, Roy (2007:148) reproduces it, but then modifies it shortly after to ‘at least’ 28 (p 151). Kanungo (2003) says 72, but appears to have confused the death toll with the number of police-men in Rourkela. 7 In the event, however, Baddrudin Quereshi was defeated in Bhilai, and Ajit Jogi’s government was ousted. 8 Our account of these events relies heavily on the Raipur edition ofNai Dunia during late January and mid-February 1970. The most informative investigative article, by Rammu Srivasatava, appeared on February 6. These sources are supplemented by interviews with several individ-uals then living in Boriya and with the widows of two of those murdered. 9 The party was not itself fielding a candidate, but was in electoral alliance with the Samyukta Socialist Party that was. 10 Apart from data collected during fieldwork, our summary account of this opposition calls in particular on Behera 1996, Meher 2004:68f and Sengupta 1983:38f. 11 An assumption reflected in a ruling – in the event ignored – of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (Frontline, April 22 – May 5, 2006; see also Drèze et al 1997:186f). The principle is laid down in a World Bank ‘Operation Manual’ on Involuntary Resettlement ( /OpManual.nsf/toc2/CA2D01A4D1BDF58085256B19008197F6?OpenDocument)12 Though INTUC has the plant, the recognised union in the BSP mines has always been an AITUC one. 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Meher, R (2004): Stealing the Environment: Social and Ecological Effects of Industrialiasation in Rourkela, Manohar, New Delhi.Nandy, A (1990): ‘The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance’ in V Das (ed), Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots and Survi-vors in South Asia, Oxford University Press, Delhi.Nandy, A, S Trivedy, S Mayaram and A Yagnik (1997):Creating a Nation: The Ramjanmabhumi Movement and Fear of Self, Oxford University Press, Delhi. 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