«This work has attempted to give a comprehensive historical account of Uttar Pradesh caste politics as a whole during the 1930-1990. It provides a ...»
This work has attempted to give a comprehensive historical account of Uttar
Pradesh caste politics as a whole during the 1930-1990. It provides a comparative
perspective on why the lower caste movement did not develop earlier in Colonial UP,
as it did in the other parts of the country. It argues that the numerical strength of the
upper castes in the Uttar Pradesh prepared the grounds for the development of “conservative” ideologies in politics. The Congress in the Uttar Pradesh more or less retained its vote bank among the upper castes and at the most it practised a 'politics of extremes' by appealing to the Dalits in an attempt to widen its base.
The thesis has attempted to explore a history of the political fortunes of three different and historically underprivileged social groups in Uttar Pradesh viz. the ex- Untouchables, officially named Scheduled Castes by India’s constitution, and often also called the Dalits; the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) among the Hindus and Backward classes among the Muslims, who, of late have started calling themselves, Pasmanda.
The chapter 1 discusses Uttar Pradesh: A General Background, this study begins by examining the social, political, religious and demographic structure of Uttar Pradesh. In this process, it explores the historical geography of the state and the validity of it being called the heartland of India. Focus is also on the issue of land distribution, religious profile, and caste structure with deep caste cleavages persistent in the state.
The chapter 2 traces the emergence of political consciousness, participation in politics and parallel attempts to form a new social identity ‘Dalit’ by the SCs. The SC movement has been through phases of ‘integration’ and ‘separation’ from dominant political formations and the social groups they represent. Integration means the attempt to join or support dominant parties such as the Congress. Adaption and accommodation are features of this phase together with little attempt to create a distinctive identity. Separation entails a revolt against the Hindu caste system and often the embracing of a different creed such as Buddhism. During such periods, SCs 210 Conclusion have preferred to form their own party in opposition to dominant ‘elite’ or ‘Brahminical’ parties.
Broadly put, four distinct phases can be identified in the politics of the Dalit Castes in Uttar Pradesh.
1. From 1930 to 1947, studies on identity formation of the SCs in the United Provinces rooted in the quest for tracing the roots of Dalit assertion. In these studies, emphasis has been given to role of important personalities and their contribution for making Dalits a powerful political force.
2. From 1947 to 1969, when after an initial period of accommodation i
4. Since the early 1980s, the SC movement entered into a period of revolt leading to the formation of a separate party, ideology and identity. There has been criticism of, and movement away from Hinduism, though this phase has been more political than social.
The period of 1930-1947 is taken separately because of the historical reasons, During this period for a brief duration (1937-39) “popular” ministries were formed in the political history of India, for the first time, though the central control of the British crown continued, and these ministries were short lived. The British administrators, by this time, had also started taking account of such a populace of India as the Dalits and minorities and showed concerns for the uplift of these segments. It is during this period that a listing of such castes started Simultaneously, The national movement for independence had come up in its full swing. The Indian National Congress had also
manifested its concerns for such groups, identifying them as untouchables, Mahatma Gandhi had given them the name “Harijan” (1933, children of God). When Dr B.R.Ambedkar arrived on the scene, casteism became a real political issue. He himself having experienced the brutalities perpetrated on the untouchables found that the problem could not be solved by making any compromise with the upper-castes. In the course of empowering his Dalit caste fellows, Ambedkar was drawn into an epic conflict with Gandhi, on the critical question of the Dalit location within the Hindu social order. Ambedkar felt that once India got freedom, his people, the untouchables, would once again be subjected to the hegemony of caste Hindus and be forced to scavenge and sweep for them. To safeguard their interests, he proposed that there should be a number of special seats in parliament for the Depressed Classes which would be filled through elections from special Constituencies. While a new constitution for India in the 1930s, the British extended to the Dalit communities the privilege of voting as a separate electoral constituency. Gandhi opposed this constitutional provision with all the strength at his command, since a separate harijan electorates would damage Hindu society beyond repair instead, he offered the Dalits reserved seats in the central and provincial legislatures on a scale more generous than promised by the British. The so-called Poona-pact of 1932 was a triumph for the Mahatma because it ensured the social cohesion of Hindu society.
A remarkable shift in the agenda and tone of Dalit politics in UP took place in the 1940s. Existing historical writings tell us very little about this shift. Instead, they reaffirm the mainstream (Congress) position that these years were insignificant for Dalit politics. The chapter also suggests that Dalits, particularly those living in the urban areas, were disenchanted with the Congress, a position which contradictions the story which existing historiography tells us. The Cabinet Mission award was the immediate moment for the emergence of dissent. Dalits openly aired their anger at being ignored by the British and their outrage at the Congress for accepting the Award. The Congress Harijans of Meerut and Saharanpur loudly expressed their opposition to the Congress. Some of the Congress Harijans leaders went a step further by participating in the begari agitation. Among them, Jaipal Singh’s role in the begari protest was the most remarkable. The process of realignment was evident even within organized Dalit politics. The Jatav, Chamar, Adi-Hindu Ravidasis Mahasabhas, and
the urban Dalit intelligentsia established branches of the SCF throughout UP. Turning back on earlier positions, they came to the feel that to fulfil their agenda, it was necessary to emphasize their achhut (untouchable) identity. The SCF’s impressive performance in the scheduled castes primaries only underlined the rising popular support for the SCF.
By raising the question of untouchability, Dalits were pressing the Congress to address the question of caste-inequality, not at the ‘social’ or ‘religious’ level but more directly at the political level. It has been argued in the context of Uttar Pradesh that peasant movements during 1921-24 had forced the Congress to adopt a radical social programme of zamindari abolition and land reforms as part of the Indian national movement. Despite this radical agenda, the Congress largely failed to address the issue of caste-inequality, despite being repeatedly raised by the Dalits in UP.
Initially, Dilip Menon makes a similar point in his study of Malabar society. This failure of the Congress to address caste-inequality led to increasing disenchantment of the Dalits with the Congress during the 1940s. The economic and social reforms proposed by the Congress as part of the national movement did not prove sufficient to satisfy Dalits and the SCF, thus promoting the emergence of a significant new agenda in the Dalit politics of UP during the partition years.
The rise of Dalits after independence in UP has not been an incremental movement increasing in size and intensity. Rather, it has passed through a number of phases of strength and weakness, autonomy and co-option, which have given it a complex nature. The study of the RPI and more particularly the BSP, circumstances leading to the formation of BAMCEF and BSP, on which this chapter focused, show that a central problem since its formation has been a lack of clarity of both goals and the methods to be adopted for achieving them. The BAMCEF-BSP as a movement and as a political party, revealed a contradiction between its short-term goal of capturing political power and the long-term of social transformation. The contradiction could be said to be its weakness. As a movement, it aimed at breaking the caste system, and the upper castes and all political parties representing them were identified as ‘enemies’. Yet, it did not seek revolutionary transformation of the existing caste and parallel economic hierarchy. As a party, it has adopted the parliamentary path of gradual and democratic change, i.e., it hopes to change the
system but working within it. As a result, capturing political power has become an imperative. However, as SCs constitutes only 20 percent of the population in UP, the logic of caste-based mobilization makes the support of other castes and political formations representing them crucial for gaining power, leading to alliance with ‘manuwadi’ groups. Hence, the relationship between the Dalit/SC parties and other political parties in UP has always been problematic. In the 1960s, taking advantage of the divisions over these issues within the RPI, the Congress succeeded in co-opting it.
In the 1990s, by aligning with the BJP for the immediate goal of capturing political power, the BSP was in danger of losing its distinct identity as a movement for the oppressed achieved after a period of struggle. Yet, by forming a government, the BSP leadership hoped to strengthen its position within the state.
An analysis of the ideology of the movement shows that apart from an emphasis upon organizing the ‘oppressed and exploited’ for breaking the caste system in order to overthrow the rule of the three upper castes, the RPI and BSP, in contrast to their mentor Ambedkar, lack clear ideology or programme. Changing and ‘destroying’ the system are stressed, but the system is described almost entirely in social order based on equality and fraternity-expressed in the manifestos of both parties and speeches of the leaders-an economic programme to be followed after the party achieves power is absent. In the 1980s, Kanshi Ram had argued that only when the struggle was over, a common economic programme on the basis of consensus would be forged. However, no special programmes for the rural poor, such as land reform, poverty alleviation and employment, were framed by the SP-BSP government. Hence, the various agitational and other campaigns of the party, such as bicycle tours and melas, have been ‘jagruti’ (awakening) campaigns at the symbolic and cultural-political level.
However, the BSP has introduced some radical aspects into the ideology underlying the movement which distinguish it from its predecessor, the RPI. In the social field, it has created a new identity and a counter-ideology to the Varna system of ‘Dalit’ and ‘Ambedkarism’, respectively. This has succeeded in removing the hold of the Brahminical ideology and the submissive attitude of SCs, providing them with a new confidence and self-respect. Internal differentiation and conflict remain within
the SC community-for example, among Chamar and Pasis-but they are being progressively eroded.
These achievements have had a significant impact on the political field. They have broken down the vertical patron-client relationship with the upper castes and the accompanying political mobilisational pattern of vote banks and constructed new solidarities on a horizontal dimension. This has contributed to the breakdown of the dominant ‘Congress system’ and the emergence of a fluid party system polarized around four poles-the BJP, BSP, SP and the Congress-which are reflective of the upheaval and conflicts taking place in society.
Then the chapter 3 discusses, the Politicization of the Peasantry in Uttar Pradesh. During the Colonial period initially the Congress was able to gain the support of the landlords as well as the tenants and the smaller peasants. This was because it was a broad based party containing the Conservative Swarajists, Socialists and others who were active in the Kisan Sabhas. Infact, in the 1930s the leadership felt the need to walk very carefully between the Zamindari interests in the Congress and the leftist elements who wanted radical agrarian change. Although the tenant movements in UP and Congress control over the province from 1937 to 1939 resulted in some modest reforms and some amelioration of the condition of the tenantry, the zamindari system remained essentially intact throughout the British rule. The 1939 Act introduced by the Congress Ministry of Govind Ballabh Pant pursued the logic of the earlier measures and granted to all tenants in Agra and Oudh full hereditary rights on their holdings. Thus by this time the zamindar had lost the actual control over land.
After independence, Congress acquired complete control over the government of UP and moved to displace the zamindars and talukdars economically and politically and to substitute for the old agrarian system a new rural social order based primarily upon owner-cultivation of family-size farms. Two major pieces of land reform legislation were enacted by the Congress to achieve these goals-the Zamindari Abolition Act of 1952 and the Imposition of Ceiling on Land Holding Act of 1960.
The Zamindari Abolition Act, as it names implies, eliminated the former system of tax-farming by removing the zamindars and talukdars from their positions as intermediaries between the cultivator and the state. The Land Ceilings Act of 1960