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The caste of election analysis

 

Bobby Kunhu

kunhu"Christ is born, my wise Solomon, my wretched pen-pusher! Don´t go picking things over with a needle! Is He born or isn´t He? Of course He is born, don´t be daft. If you take a magnifying glass and look at your drinking water-an engineer told me this, one day – you´ll see, he said, the water´s full of little worms you couldn´t see with your naked eye. You´ll see the worms and you won´t drink. You won´t drink and you´ll curl up with thirst. Smash your glass, boss, and the little worms´ll vanish and you can drink and be refreshed!" – Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

 To be honest, I am also one of the people that were exhilarated with the election results. Personally, two candidates that I rooted for in Kerala --with excellent credentials, one from the LDF and another from the UDF -- won, apart from the fact that most of my reading of the electoral pulse turned out to be correct. But, what got my goat and triggered this essay is the absurd casteist, classist and chauvinist post-election analysis that has been flooding both the mainstream media as well as social media.

Camouflaged as liberal, Tamil Nadu results saw the most amounts of patronizing and condescension, ostensibly because while Kerala had routed BJP and West Bengal had contained them, Tamil Nadu gave four seats to them. A closer look would show that despite having piggy backed on AIADMK through blackmail – the BJP could only garner a meagre 2.6% of the total votes polled as against 11.3% in Kerala and 38.1% in West Bengal! Moreover, a cursory glance at the history of electoral politics of Tamil Nadu would clearly demonstrate the deep seated antagonism that the Tamil Nadu population holds vis-à-vis the sangh parivar. Every political formation has lost elections in Tamil Nadu miserably whenever they allied with the BJP; why even someone like Jayalalithas, despite her ideological closeness with the BJP, preferred to keep them at bay!

To add insult to injury for the Tamil Nadu voters, many would attribute the DMK alliance victory to the election "consultant" Prasant Kishor. The oligarchic overtones of the institution of electoral consultancies aside, these largely non Tamil savarna "theorists" would like to insinuate that a political formation that has a 71 year old history and that has been kept alive through a vibrant cadre could not have won if not for the "advise" of a 43 year old savarna man who hasn't spent any part of his life in the Tamil Nadu political reality!

The screenshot below illustrates the cowbelt savarna intellectuals' imagination of India, because they refuse to read leaders with local mass base without referencing them to cowbelt politicians who are responsible for the fix in the first place.

caste analysis 1

Stalin is unabashedly called a "rogue" student leader, whitewashing his political career through the ranks of DMK and various positions he has occupied as an elected legislator for eight terms, as the Mayor of Madras for one term, as a Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj and the Deputy Chief Minister. There is no doubt that Stalin's political entry was facilitated by the privilege of his family lineage, but that doesn't mean that his life work can be dismissed so daftly with extreme prejudice. As if to snub these people and what they obviously wouldn't acknowledge, Stalin displayed his constitutional and political acumen, when he responded that he would work with the "Union" government, in the interest of increased federalism, to the congratulatory tweet from Amit Shah on behalf of the "Central" government!

Before, commenting on the way that Pinarayi Vijayan has been projected, I have to turn to another political milestone that Tamil Nadu has achieved that has gone completely unnoticed. The Dalit Panthers (Viduthalai Chriuthaikal) broke many stereotypes by winning in two general constituencies out of the four seats that they won.

While Stalin was dismissed as a 'rogue', Vijayan is conveniently classified as a dictator and compared to Modi, because the LDF managed to secure a second term in these elections under the stewardship of Vijayan. There is no doubt that an unhealthy personality cult has evolved within the CPM around Vijayan, to equate his victory to Modi's is arrogant and intentional ignorance at its best. To start with, this observation refuses to see the processes that the CPM, being a cadre party, follows in engaging with elections; and secondly Vijayan, at no time had control over institutions that could influence or manipulate elections. On the contrary, his government had to face multiple odds in the form of false prosecution that the union government had mounted.

However, the left sympathizers in and outside Kerala seem to have gone berserk in their celebration of LDF victory, starting with the so-called complete rout of BJP from Kerala inasmuch as they lost the lone seat that they occupied in Kerala assembly. However, the reality is starkly different. While, BJP vote share dipped from the 2019 parliamentary elections, overall in comparison to the last assembly elections in 2016, they have bettered their performance from 10.5% to 11.3%. Moreover, BJP has come second in 9 assembly segments as against 6 in 2016. Further, the fact that the RSS –- parent body of BJP -- has the largest number of daily shakhas at 4500, and the second largest number of shakhas after Uttar Pradesh at 6845, in Kerala is conveniently glossed over. The numbers are only increasing.

The second and third claims are linked, the former being an ahistoric claim that attributes LDF victory to its caste sensitivity and the latter being a politically naïve claim that this electoral victory is a measure of progressiveness. It is argued that because Pinarayi Vijayan and Shailaja Teacher, two senior members of the LDF ministry won with large margins and that these two are from traditionally backward castes – their ascend can be attributed to the left and therefore LDF is caste sensitive. History is witness to the hollowness of this claim.

While the grounds and the vanguard for the communist movement in Kerala was facilitated by the anti-caste movement pioneered by stalwarts like Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyankali, Palpu, Sahodaran Ayyappan etc., with a predominantly savarna leadership, the left movement obstinately refused to engage with caste as the primary and most material factum of hegemony in South Asia until very recently. The empowerment of the left is because of the mobilization of the castes that Vijayan and Shailaja belong to and not vice versa. Even the current engagement leaves much to be desired. The performance of successive LDF governments in Kerala, be it the lack of action on the Wyanad Adivasi land struggle or more recently, the outpouring of derision on Pembilai Orumai for demanding rights for plantation workers, stand testimony to the inability of the left to engage with caste with any kind of sensitivity. If projecting a Thiyya as a Chief Minister is a measure of caste sensitivity, then the UDF having propped C. H Mohammed Koya as the only Muslim to have ever become the Chief Minister of Kerala, would claim that they are devoid of any communal propensity despite the existence of leaders like Shashi Tharoor and Ramesh Chennithala.

With respect to the argument that electoral victory is a measure of progressiveness, the less said the better. Any rookie of political studies can demolish that. The First Past the Post parliamentary system is lopsided and very amenable to oligarchic and autocratic dispensations. The two greatest exponents of this system, Great Britain and India, are suffering from this and Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi are living proofs. Electoral victory is not a sign of political correctness, but on the contrary is a mark of how much confidence the winner's politics, whether it is good or bad, enjoys with the populace. If anything it is a comment on the voters.

On West Bengal, with the caveat that my information is hearsay – mostly mainstream media and social media -- and with advance apologies for any factual errors, my opinion is that the situation looks bleak despite the containment of the BJP juggernaut. While BJP has increased its vote share from 10.16% to a whopping 38.1%, TMC also increased its vote share from 44.9% to 47.9%. However, as the screenshot below points out, the fluidity of people across party lines to the BJP seems to suggest that people believe that there is a political future for BJP in the state. Exaggerated stories of TMC violence and calls for violent retaliation by the parivar only drives home the point.

caste analysis 2

On a positive note, these assembly elections (including the Assam results to a small extent) are hopefully pioneering a paradigm shift from a "national" polity to a federated polity. The national parties have got a drubbing except where they have been able to ride the local wave, like Tamil Nadu. However, these results have gotten self-styled progressive savarna liberals either trying to gather themselves together into AAPisque or Twenty-Twenty like political formation, where their imagination of the "national" emanates from their seats of prestige or condescendingly searching for potential "informed" and "educated" leaders similar to themselves, from the measly offerings that the victors of these elections provide, like Shashi Tharoor or Mahua Moitra or even Prashant Kishor, over the actual engineers of the victory. These people, either out of ignorance or deliberate choice, close their eyes on the primacy of universal adult franchise for a working polity. Without undermining the importance of education in social, economic and political empowerment, I would like to point out to these people that some of the best leaders at home and abroad had little formal education, be it Periyar, Kamaraj, Ayyankali at home or people like Lula da Silva, Rosa Parks or Malik el-Shabbaz abroad!

~~~

 

 Bobby Kunhu is a lawyer, researcher and writer.

 

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