How do we reshape electoral discourse: can we go beyond caste and communal agenda
The election commission had to first time issue an advisory to all political parties to shun use of basal identities for invoking participation of people in the festival of democracy that is election. Why has discourse in the biggest democracy of the world descended to this level?
Identities are important driver for shaping our proclivities for forming social association. When we want to be recognised for what we stand for, we use these identities. More basal the identity, lesser seems to be the stock of social or individual achievements that I can be proud of. Larger the aggregation level of identity, say caste, weaker are my claims to be distinctive in other social, professional, disciplinary or occupational identities.
Why are we clinging to primordial identities even today? Why has mobilization of masses on caste or communal identity been a preferred mode of engagement in our society? It is not that only we are bothered about it. Yugoslavia broke up into smaller identities by recalling few hundred year old identity conflicts. Jews have used the identity pf persecution/discrimination to unite and forge social solidarity. But then by achieving their excellence in numerous social, scientific, business, investment and other occupations, their influence is far higher than their numbers. Why have many communities failed to create similar pursuit of excellence as a binding principle, a point of reference for larger social discourse. Let me take example of Sikhism. It is one community which has not produced practically any beggar. No other community can claim similar distinctiveness. Yet, the same community falls for free water and electricity and hurts its growth and sustainability prospects.
Bihar has been one of the biggest provider of out-migration though some slow down took place in the recent years. In Surat, industrialists made the terms of employment so much more attractive to lure them back. But we are not changing the terms of developmental discourse. Every party is pigeonholing local leadership in primordial identities and not elevating them to more optimistic, more achievement oriented identities. Manjhi caste becomes a point of reference but Manjhi the achiever does not. Where have we gone wrong? why has persistence of Poverty and social discrimination become tolerable? why have we forgotten that Mauryan empire, 321 BC-185 ebc was called as golden period of our history. And mauryans were shudra kings. Need we say any thing more?
Let me identify four pillars of transformation from narrow to wider, futuristic identities: a) political discourse must identify achievers across local regional, ethnic and social identities whose aspiration could not be fulfilled because of institutional constraints, b) articulate the policy and programmatic changes by which innate talent of people could be unfolded and unleashed, c) create new identities around new categories of thoughts in different domains, say outstanding archery experts were found among tribals in central idea, outstanding sports person from north east ( why Bihar and UP have highest share in civil service!)m Bihar has high productivity of several fruits corps, winter maize and so on, why not build upon those successes and replicate those in other sectors, and d) build cross cultural alliances for societal transformation. When a girl of eighth
Reinforcing the tendency to vote for a person on ethnic, religious or cultural identity is to undermine human potential on other more manipulable grounds. I cannot change my caste, or ethnicity but I can change my destiny through education, hard work and entrepreneurial initiatives. I can be innovative in art, culture, craft or farming or industrial activities. I can bring about social change through natural resource management or by creating public goods. Do we identify communities through their contributions for self-reliance, or through competitive politics of claiming to be more backward than others.
A community which otherwise is very prosperous craves for reservation in government jobs, but does not create reservations/ freeships/scholarships for poor students in the community managed private colleges. Social identities are used to create dependencies but not for raisings self-esteem, autonomy and agency.
Indian development hinges closely on the new identities we forge and reinforce. Archaic categories of social classification will keep us arrested in worn-out mind-sets. Social progress requires electoral politics to be pursued with a new language, new metaphors and new means of mass mobilization. The voters must also reflect on their responsibility to demand positive politics of performance and not just promise. Unless voters demand more, and stop pandering to older identities, new social coalitions and collaboration will not be forged for taking our society forward. Manthan is on, both nectar and poison will come out. We need Shiva of future leadership to swallow the poison and share the nectar, will our leaders prove worthy of this aspiration of real India?