By Sanjeev Kumar & Neha Singh
A team of IESAI met Professor Vivek Kumar on 9th February, 2017 at 3:30 pm, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi to discuss the changing dimensions of democracy in the context of electoral politics in general and Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, 2017 in particular.
Professor Kumar is presently working at the Center for Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has taught ‘Social Exclusion and Inclusion in Indian Society’ as a visiting Professor at Columbia University in 2010. He has received a number of fellowships and awards in India and abroad in the field of research and academics. He is an expert on Indian Politics and Political Sociology particularly in relation with the Dalit-Bahujan Politics, Bahujan Samaj Party and issues and theories related to Caste and religion in India. His publications include the edited volumes, “Dynamics of Change and Continuity in the Age of Globalization: Voices from the Margins” (2009); “India’s Roaring Revolution” (2006) and “Dalit Leadership in India” (2002) and Dalit Assertion & Bahujan Samaj Party (2001). He has also served as a Committee Member and Advisory Member in different governmental programmes.
The interview was conducted by Sanjeev Kumar, Assistant Professor at Shyama Prasad Mukherjee College, University of Delhi and Neha Singh, Research Scholar, Centre for the Study of Discriminations and Exclusion, Jawaharlal Nehru Univesity. (Please note that the transcription of the interview is slightly edited for readers’ convenience.)
SK: Sir... if we talk about democracy these days... the status of democracy then what we see in India is that people media and politicians all are basically engaged with the question of who is winning and who is loosing the election and the election is basically premised on certain issues basically caste, religion and these days law and order and...development question have also become important. Now, we look back at the ethics of what Babasaheb Ambedkar had talked about is the attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men so in that sense what do you see...the present political parties, how they are trying to ...you know, do politics to realize such goals or how far they are?
VK: If you really think that India is a democracy then I think that you will be forced to understand that India is only a political democracy. And ... (thinking) in political democracy that means people have got right to vote. One man, one vote and one man, one value and that’s what Babasaheb Ambedkar had long ago had tried to talk about on 26th November, 1946 (actual year is 1949) that said that...yeah from 1st January 1950 that we are going to be you know entering into life of contradictions....you know first in politics we will have ...(ahh)...democracy but in social and economic terms we will be having inequality and therefore we should work....now fast that we should develop our political democracy into social democracy and social democracy and political democracy both into economic democracy but what has happened over the years we have seen that in terms of the political democracy have reduced to elections and that’s where people talk about... in time that there is election and that is why we have democracy. But what about the participation of people in the decision making where are they? ...Are they really taken into consideration??....then within elections also millionaires contest elections or the mafias enter into elections, media enters into elections. So, it becomes a part of mafia, media and money ... but the people are relegated to periphery and this comes an allurement that will start creeping in ... and that’s where the nature of Indian democracy becomes allurement. And that is proved by the manifestos of different political parties....as if there is no ideology. Every political party from right to center is...you know ...and even socialists...they are ready to distribute gifts after gifts...pressure cooker to internet to wifi to smart phone..(pauses)...what is not been given...and it is a hilarious equation that in a place, a state like Punjab where there is abundance of milk and pure ghee ...you know the political party is telling that they will give them ghee so this way we are reducing democracy to ghee. Now, if that is the democracy then I think there is need to be ... you know a very, very different way and very nuanced way to understand that is one aspect....but yes on the one hand we have this deficit of democracy on one hand but there are actually you know other sections or other part of the democracy which have really given space to the voice less people. And, you know they had no right what so ever political, economic, social, educational, religious but it is the Constitution of India which has given them these rights and till 50 or 70 years back they were not allowed to even contest elections and they have formed political parties. They are contesting and they have become Chief Ministers and they have become President of the country ...so we have very different space of democracy in India.
NS: So sir these days...we see many new issues that have come up like demonetisation or the insurgency attack ...so sir what is the status of ....current UP elections that you see...and what do you see...that what is the actual contestation between parties is like?....is it triangular or bipolar...or is there a complete sweep...how do you see it?
VK: As far as demonetisation is concerned ...at the grass roots. One ...and I belong to UP...and...I can tell you about ....UP...that...poor section of the society...the...rural section of the society were ....really badly hit by the demonetisation but...the painful exercise...the real painful exercise was that our mainstream media, the corporate media was not showing that pain and agony and the suffering of the people at the grass root ....and also the politicians in power...also never accepted and even today...they are not ready to accept that there has been this...a very, very...drastic step which has caused a lot of pain, agony suffering to the masses...they don’t accept that demonetisation was totally bad and as well as dysfunctional for the society at large ....now having said that ...in UP there is a triangular fight...now, there I don’t have to mince my words...to say that ..you know... there are three you know...corners...one is of course by Bahujan Samaj Party, the single party which is contesting on its own...led by a single leader ...then there is a Bhartiya Janta Party...and then there is this...Congress and SP alliance corner...so these... ways election is actually taking place in UP.
NS: So sir, as right now you said that BSP is working as a single party under a single leader so...how do you see ...the politics ...of...Mayawati...different from other parties...in terms of realising Ambedkar’s and Kanshiram’s ideas and what has been their contributions and as well as shortcomings...of...other leaderships....you know...including Mayawati as such even in realising such ideas....how do you see that?
VK: First of all let me add a little more on UP politics...the UP politics... National political parties...led by Bhartiya Janta party they are trying to make this election as a personality led election. A charismatic personality in the name of PM Narendra Modi...they want to win the election on his personality...and that’s why they are projecting him as a National leader who can really win their votes...but the problem is that this personality which is being projected as a saviour of the Bhartiya Janta Dal Party, is not contesting election. But there are other 2 personalities...who are really contesting elections that is Mayawati and Samajwadi Party...and the fourth party leader I was talking about was Rahul Gandhi who is also not going to contest election so there are really 2 personalities which are really in contention and therefore I see ...when I look at BSP I look as that is the most formidable political organisation contesting UP election. ...why I say so...there is no confusion as far as leadership is concerned ...the leadership issue is quite clinched...it is one and only one leader is Mayawati...second that party was the first party which decided its 403 candidates for each constituency and that there are having no alliance ...that means there are ...confident enough organisationally that they can contest on their own and rest of the other political parties are aligning here...aligning there....they had confusion which will be their leader like BJP has not at all discussed who will be their leader in the eventuality of their winning. Even in SP there was not even clarity whether that party would contest on its own symbol till one month before the election. So in that context I am trying to argue that in Uttar Pradesh the BSP is number 1 at this moment as per organisationally, structurally as well as candidate wise. Now in this sense, if you see the history as you have asked that what has been their achievement. Now there can be number of ways to analyse the achievements. One, you have to first of all draw a framework to understand the achievement. Now this framework can be of temporal history of how long has been BSP working...first; second...then you have to talk about tangible achievement...that what exactly it has given...so I will say that seeing the temporal history of the Indian society which is hierarchically arranged where have been discrimination, caste ridden society and too also in UP...BSP’s history is very, very meager...very small in history. Say 20-25 years say in 2500 years of history of India...so in that context BSP has really created a furore in the settled social structure hierarchical social structure of UP and the people who were not at all considered worthy to be sitting beside people...they are ruling the country...so that has been the contribution of BSP. Second, (third), BSP has been a democratic political party. The Bahujan movement which has strengthened the movement of democracy by bringing such vast mass of excluded people. Otherwise, you know...they would have gone anywhere...they would have taken red flag in their hand or they would have gone and worked somewhere in sundry and in that context by bringing in such vast mass into political process..it has strengthened the Indian democracy. Also, it has challenged the hegemony of teh upper caste in Uttar Pradesh where if you see from Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant Pandit Tiwari...Pandit...Sri Pati Misra or....you take Bahuguna or Thakur Vishwanath pratap Singh or Thakur Veer Bahadur Singh...all were upper caste people who were Chief Ministers once upon a time. It is only after the entering of the BSP that the social structure which was hierarchical in nature and upper castes were there...political structure also reflected the same...that was broken so in that context ...one, BSP has really contributed in the emancipation of the suppressed masses by giving them voice. Second it has strengthened the Indian democracy by bringing such excluded mass into political process. Third, it has really challenged the hegemony of the upper caste.
SK: Different parties are preparing differently based on their own calculations now what do you see how Mayawati and BSP are working at the grass root level to consolidate the different communities in caste, apart from giving maximum seats to Muslim candidates?
VK: Now if you see....as I told you that there are 3 corner race in Uttar Pradesh. Now 2 dispensations they are talking about developmental plans...there will be development...but they are not talking about social justice...that’s the difference of the BSP. .BSP is talking about social justice...social justice for the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes other backward classes and poor of the upper castes also ...and that’s why they are talking about that look we have given different tickets to different combination of the people. The social base...or the social structure...the diversity in the social structure...the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, backward classes, Muslims and upper castes all are part and parcel of the Indian society and UP society and therefore they should be given the representation.... you compare BJP. BJP has not given a single ticket to Muslim candidates...how can you do your democracy??...how can you strengthen your democracy until and unless you give representation to every hue of the society...so in that sense there is a deficit and you are talking about only development and you are not talking about the social justice so in that context when you start analysing BSP and the famous slogan, “jiski jitni sankhya bhari uski utni bhagedari”...you have to give...you know...representation for making representative democracy a participatory democracy...and unless and until you allow the people to participate in political process you are not strengthening Indian democracy and there were you are not strengthening Indian nation...so to strengthen Indian nation and democracy you need to give representation of every society and that’s why BSP has created this type of representation. Now people are talking about it has given Muslims representation. 103 seats now they are counting but to begin with it was 97...but nobody is taking about it has given 116 seats to OBCs...so OBCs become a very, very formidable ...you know...planned for BSP but nobody is talking about that...people want to give the communal colour to malign BSP that look eying only for ticket but there is a political strategy where she is saying that there is a dalit, backward classes and Muslim alliance also. Brahmins will come because they are floating tickets... they will see where the power is shifting...they will shift and we will see in UP it is going to happen and so in that context BSP has a very formidable equation ...social equation...it is loosing in perception debate because no corporate media is giving representation to BSP candidates...only Mayawati will come others will not... but for other political parties they will give different road shows ...you know...press conferences...and even the rallies of different leaders but BSP is not given that much of coverage...even in ...you know...the way opinion polls were conducted ...we all know how opinion polls are conducted ...and worst part is that the opinion polls are fudged in the sense that there is no formula in any part of the world that where you can change...you know percentage of ...vote into seat but in India it happens...everywhere in the world you are only given percentage of vote but you cannot change it into the seats but here in every opinion poll you start percentage of vote poll by a particular party into seats...now this is something hilarious...and i have given examples that sometimes it happens that the political party which scores less percentage of vote gets more seats and it has happened ....and you know ..sometimes you have more votes but no seats. For example in 2014 general elections Congress got only 7 percent of vote but it has got 2 seats BSP got 19 percent of votes but it did not get any seats...so...similarly in 2009 elections BSP got 19 percent of vote and got only you know 20 seats. on the other hand the Congress...had got 17 percent of votes and got 21 seats. So it happens that the political parties vote share may get scattered and therefore they may not win a particular constituency and in that sense I think the opinion polls are also not giving chance to BSP...in that sense I am saying that BSP is a sufferer of perceptional point of view from the corporate media but at the grass root levels their mobilisation is fantastic.