Mainstream, VOL LV No 11 New Delhi March 4, 2017
Proxy War of Times in Uttar Pradesh
Sunday 5 March 2017
by Pradeep Bhargava and Anant Ram Mishra
As the elections for the Legislative Assembly are in progress in Uttar Pradesh, the diversities in people’s lives and their contradictions come into play. A majority of people are subsistence farmers and labourers, some small artisans and service providers working their own tools, mostly primitive; we call them living in subsistence times. Then there are some goons, thekedars and power brokers whose religion seems money and they live in money times. And yet others, who have imbibed the new modern technologies of ideas and action, of invention and experiment, of information and knowledge, may be referred to as living in technology times. Between these times are liminal times and hybridities and some people freely moving between these. People living in different times think and act differently, relate to society, economics and politics differently. Each time could be identified with a leading political actor of the present, in fact, Bahin Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Modi-ji respectively. These times, as we shall see, are at wars with one another in a manner where people participate in elections, as if to write their own destinies but end up being figurative objects in a dramatic act wherein the perceived reality is but a farce.
Local Time: the Will for Self-determination
The first is the subsistence time. People living in these times work their fields or their tools hoping to receive just enough for their family and a little for the one who passes by, said Kabeer; this little obtained from hard work is seen as a gift of the divine. Call this local time of the rural or durable time. Those living in advanced times need to see to believe. The Ganga-Jamuna doab is so well endowed that with one bigha (0.16 hectares) of land, a cow or a buffalo a small family ekes out its living, simple and happy. Thousands of devotees come to the sangam, stay in tents in the cold fog of the month of magh, mid-January to mid-February, take a dip in the Ganga every morning and eat simple self-cooked meal, unattracted to the burgers and chips outlets in the periphery of the mela, an attraction for the tourists and people of the advanced times. Instead, they experience the stillness and silence in life in the cold sands of Ganga.
There lived, seven centuries ago, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya of Badayun, settled in Delhi. The Auliya ate only once in a day the food cooked in their khanqah (a common kitchen for all), no food saved for the following day. Restless on his death bed, Hazrat Auliya asked his khidmatgar as to what was there in their khanqah. The disciple told him that there remained some rice for tomorrow. Said Auliya, ‘hata, hata, ise hata, tabhi meri ruh parwaz nahin chadh rahi (take it away, it is this that my ruh does not transcend)’. Not to this extreme but many farmers and artisans would not accumulate beyond their immediate requirements. When Babar came plundering these villages, he found that the costs of plunder far outweighed the loot. Not that these people were saints, they spent, wasted, celebrated festivities and sacrifices but they were happy with the little of what they produced and exchanged.
We have millions of such people in the state. Colonialism and post-independence capitalism had taken away the means of production from many of these people. The rest is economic history. Still many people have resisted their transformation into free labour. By saying this, we mean that the feeble efforts of self-determination are not over and done away with. Their spirits remain unconquered. Even a cursory visit to the rallies of Bahin Mayawati would show streams of earthy people coming in to keep their spirits high, not worrisome of two squares meals of the day. There is little to accumulate and what their women did for emergent needs, for gifts to daughters and sons-in-law was taken away by Modi-ji, some-thing that Babar also did not. In local times people had made and are still subjects of their own histories, their own songs, myths and memories, howsoever unsung or maligned by others. They have amongst them people who would converse, and listen and deliberate; there a collective wisdom is continually formed, many a times ignored and even derided by people of the advanced times. Nevertheless, new communi-cations that mesmerise are overpowering people’s wisdom. The Bhim button shall now record their little money histories. The money time is set to replace the local subsistence time.
Money time: Minting Money, Minting People
The second is the money time, the time for production to be sold in the market for money. This time is also the industrial time of machines producing more machines, producing things, time for fictitious commodities of labour and money to emerge and bloom, time for finances to accumulate and money making more money; also the time when an ancient civilisation around Ganga and Jamuna has to be made literate, has to be educated (else face the Senian and Drezian wrath) for the new industrialisation and new India, the unskilled India has to be skilled for the market.
There is money and money everywhere, the process of rationalisation and utilitarianism is still incomplete when millions throng to the sangam and other fares round the year or sit ‘idle’ at home. In rational times people are expected to crave for money, those who have money want more. Those who don’t have money pull out their caste card and demand a job; tens of thousands spend years to pass a competitive exam for jobs with the government. All goods and bads of money emerge. The spurt in industrialisation in the formal sector, both public and private, had almost come to a halt in Uttar Pradesh with the end of the rather stable governments of the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal regimes by 1977. Thereafter with rather unstable govern-ments, the money times created money goons who made money at all costs. Many small and large farmers rented out their agricultural lands and became thekedars, both small and big. The smaller ones purchased tractor trollies, the larger ones became commission agents for various government jobs.
Akhilesh Yadav, The Chief Minister tried to put some breaks on the goons and is now facing a split in the party. He has made his presence felt, however, with expenditure on large and visible infrastructure and distribution of laptops. He has promised smart phones for the unemployed for free and has over a crore applications in his kitty, many expected to transfer into votes. In a sense, he has stolen the “development” agenda from Modi from right under his nose. However, the agenda of Akhilesh is as fictitious as that of Modi. The role of governments to build public goods is undisputed and most expected. The downside has been on the cultural front epitomised by the Saifei cultural events, which became the epitomes of vulgarity, repeated infinitum across the State by goons. A deculturisation of community has happened.
The money times faced demonetisation of its currency leading to deprivations of a very large order in the informal sector and with migrant labour; the resentment among the migrant labour and women is high. They have nowhere to go and resent or wail, except perhaps in their own homes. The money times are characterised by people wanting money to survive and people wanting more and more money. People are now to be metamorphosed in a mint: some into small coins, others into medium or gold coins. This seems to be their destiny. Not enough, this identity has to be melted into plastic under strict surveillance of the technology times.
Technology Time: Real and the Hyperreal
The third is the technology time. This time is created, it is simulated, using signs and images that flow through cable and satellite television, facebook, twitter and other facets of the internet. The most popular image has been one from a chaiwalla to a Prime Minister whose imagery of India and his manners and idioms captured the imagination of all, collapsing all boundaries of castes and class, and perhaps religion. A well- dressed fakir, hunting for dollars abroad to build a strong India, installing factories of fighter jets and other armaments, and all other images shape our thoughts and behaviour. All entertainment, information and communication technologies added on to create a hyperreal world.
For Baudrillard this is ecstasy of communi-cation. People are reduced to an entity in the hyperreal world. People would quarrel at the ATM, which would not open, for their monies, they would die hailing the demonitisation, the legitimacy of the move is unchallenged, people are seduced to think of themselves as martyrs in the war against black money, if jawans can bear the chill in Ladakh, so could the young people of India. Images are appropriated for “the” agenda. Gandhi, Patel, Ambedkar are assigned roles of cleansing, surveillance and as a single button of Bhim app. New politics and new culture are produced. The cynicism of the rule is multiplied by the cynical and seductive power of the media. A Hegemon is created wherein the objects reign the subject, a move towards total control, a gift of globalisation. Undoubtedly, the youth of Uttar Pradesh, the unemployed in particular, and the aspirant middle classes are victims of this terror. The youth constitute a little more than half of the total voters in the state.
The times will now be at a war in this Assembly election; a war of the real, the modern and the hyperreal, a war of identity, youth and sexuality, a war between the simple, the ordinary and the complex; a war between dignity, fictitious money and total control through deceit. Between these times are liminal times and hybridities and people freely moving between times.
The war, however, is a proxy war. For example, the hidden agenda behind demonetisation being increasing tax revenue by recording transactions in the informal sector remains unchallenged. Even a cup of tea from a street vendor, if paid using the Bhim button or a private player’s app will bring revenue to the government and returns to the private entity including the global Alibaba. A little less than half of the GDP originates in the informal sector and by and large avoids taxation. Even if this be justified, the means to bring this through excessive control over money supply cannot be justified. The end does not justify the means.
The three times represent various stages of alternation wherein people are no longer able to march with history and history goes beyond their control. People in Uttar Pradesh had scripted the history of the spiritual and the national movement in the country, showed resilience and potential of being the fastest growing State in the country. That was once upon a time. As fate would have it, the traditional crafts died out and industries other than those in the public sector remained largely non-starters, except the traditional clusters of the informal sector.
Migration, especially from East Uttar Pradesh, became the means of survival. The highest number of labour migrants abroad are now from Uttar Pradesh and not Kerala. Subsistence and liberty are not necessarily amenable; when faced with starvation, people prefer security to liberty. And they did so in the local time, longing for security and state benefits. Subjects of their destiny became objects for others’ destiny as labour was valorized as a marketable commodity either as free labour or in government service against a quota. The technology time of the Hegemon makes the prisoner love his cell because he knows nothing else; this is called sadomasochism. Love for the tormentor is immanent.
Those intellectuals who do understand the images and the illusions and dare to speak in public are ridiculed and are branded as traitors. The foot soldiers of Modi-ji, the bhaisahibs, play a very active role. They are the organic intellectuals of the Hegemon. Within the bhaisahibs, those up in hierarchy talk of high ideals of nationalism and the Hindusim, while the lower ranks are known to do the ‘needful’, quietly in the ‘bhaisahib’ sweet-talk. The Muslims hardly have leaders that would command respect across communities. Bhaisahibs have taken care of this with meticulous hard work.
Where lies the Congress
The Congress had laid the foundation stones for all the three times, the local time with Gandhi, the money time or industrial time with Nehru, Patel and Ambedkar, and the technology time with Sam Pitroda and Manmohan Singh. The mentors of the local time have been appropriated by the Hegemon and put to good use. Nehru became meaningless after Manmohan ushered in technology, market, tourism, information and homogenisation with globalisation. The Hegemon uses skeletons of the old Congress leaders from the grave to bring about the Congress-mukt Bharat, which also means an end to the universally known values of human rights, liberty, culture, respect for nature and difference and democracy. The foundation-stones are unsung. The pinnacles of glory are admired.
Illusions, Rama and Ravana, Choruses
from the Rocks
The illusions of the pinnacles are appreciated and revered. The illusions are to be sustained by transient images to be created very frequently. An image is created and before its impact is fully comprehended, a new one emerges: gharwapsi, beef eating, surgical strike, notebandi, Modi-ji settling an arms deal abroad, or Modi-ji spinning the charkha, to name a few. They are like images on the whats app or tweets, which appear briefly and disappear from our minds; they are images without the real. There seems to be a kaleidoscope where images are created and multiplied making difficult for all, the simple happy farmer, the youth or even a professor to ascertain the difference between the real and its image, truth and untruth, the certain and the uncertain, the real and the hyperreal. Modi-ji has excelled in this art and has no parallels; not even a starter. The technology time is the time of illusion for the masses, a deliberate creation by the Hegemon. It is creation of wants and illusion of its fulfilment at the same time. Vastly different from what Rahim Khankhana said, if there are no wants, there are no
worries, there is only freedom; the one who does not want anything is the Shahanshah (or the fakir!).
Tulsidas Ramcharitmanas is the soul of Uttar Pradesh. Herein Rama says, it is not difficult to win over Ravana, it is difficult to win the Ravana inside us. Sadly, this is not on the agenda of any political party. Besides, it was Rama who could see through the maya or illusions created by Ravana. Shall real people with Rama in their heart break through the illusions of the Hegemon or wait for Kalki?
Come elections, as political parties exchange sludge, make alliances, invoke caste affiliations, charms, rituals, lures and snares, the simple question of people wanting to create their own history shall remain buried along with democracy. The farce of 2017 will be described as historic, though.
Choruses from The Rock sing for us, “All our knowledge brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God... The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.” Or, is there a distant light that is not seen, a distant voice that cannot be heard?
Pradeep Bhargava is the Director and Anant Ram Mishra is an Associate Professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.