At an event on the discussion on An India Then, an India Now, the panellists explored the transition seen in India through the broad lens of religion, caste and class.
A discussion held in Bengaluru on Tuesday sought to shine a light on the sharp transition in areas of religion, caste and class in India during the last few decades.
The discussion, titled Indian Cities, Livelihoods and Politics, was organised by the Cambridge University Press.
The discussion also sought to highlight how the global image of India has been transformed during this period.
Panellists in the second session of the discussion, titled ‘An India Then, an India Now’ and moderated by Dr Sushmita Pati, reflected upon the religious, and caste- and class-based transition in India during the last three to four decades.
Dr Sushmita Pati is an assistant professor of political science at National Law School of India University, Karnataka.
Describing the 1990s as a “watershed decade”, Pati enumerated the big changes that India underwent during that decade.
As per Pati, these include liberalisation of the economy and major market reforms ushered in by the Narasimha Rao government when Manmohan Singh was the finance minister of India.
They also include the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party on the strength of the Ayodhya Ram mandir politics and through major political actions like the Rath Yatra.
Pati also put the Mandal Commissionreport in the category of big moments of the 1990s, even though the recommendations of the commission chaired by B.P. Mandal were made at the beginning of the previous decade and accepted a year before the 1990s started.
The recommendations paved the way for reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in India.
However, their impact was felt most directly in the 1990s.
The panel for the discussion comprised Dr Adil Hossain, assistant professor at Azim Premji University; Supriya Roychowdhury, associate professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies and Dr Karthick Ram Manoharan, associate professor at National Law School of India University.
Identity and belongingness
Hossain explored how questions of identity and belongingness are increasingly driving politics.
“How can we imagine democratic citizenship in light of politics [of the kind we see today]?”, he asked.
Examining the question in the backdrop of theCitizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, Hossain opined that a document is now being proposed to decide one’s belongingness to the country.
“However, in the present times, documentary citizenship is not enough to prove one’s belongingness,” he added.
Hossain enunciated that questions of identity and belongingness that “mark people through language and religion” also determine “who is to be put in jail”.
According to Hossain, cultural citizenship merged with precarious documentary citizenship is steering the politics in West Bengal.
Rise of welfare politics
On Pati’s question on the change in political consciousness around class, Roychowdhury shared that the future of class-based development is dependent on the Leftist ideological presence that has seen a decline in the last 30 years.
She was of the opinion that the “demise of Leftism”, as can be seen in the disappearance of Leftist ideology in political institutions and sociology, seeps into class-related aspects, including the weakening of the trade union movements.
According to Roychowdhury, the attention on welfare politics is being monopolised by political parties to gain voters.
Welfare politics focuses on providing basic social services and schemes such as food and money to vulnerable populations.
Roychowdhury emphasised that the discourse on welfare politics is replacing the crucial discourse on providing employment and livelihood, which the political parties are unable to cater to, thereby contributing to joblessness.
Agreeing with Roychowdhury’s analysis of the transition seen in class, Hossain reflected that welfare schemes are indeed influencing voting patterns and creating various kinds of constituencies in West Bengal.
Global resurgence of the ‘Right’
Taking the discussion forward, Pati inquired about the role of Hindutva politics in causing a transition in India.
Manoharan commented on the rise of Right-wing populism witnessed around the world.
He pointed out that Right-wing political parties are collating themselves and coming into power in various parts of the world, including Sweden, England, France and Argentina.
With respect to India, Manoharan opined that Hindutva politics “capitalised on the resentment” of those who felt left out, by giving them voices and addressing their grievances through the newly created narratives of tales of past glory, victimhood and persecution.
Manoharan weighed in on the glaring omission of the Left and other progressive parties to address issues of representation of certain communities.
Pati raised the question of the role of regional diversity with respect to the attempt to create one identity in various aspects such as language and religion.
According to Hossain, our political communities are defined by the sub-national identity of language.”
The boundaries of regional languages, which the Right has not yet appropriated, can significantly challenge the notion of “one-identity”, he added.
Roychowdhary highlighted the importance of activism in shaping politics. She remarked that the victory of the Indian National Congress in the recent Karnataka assembly elections was a “gift” fromactivists working at grassroots-level to the political party.
Manoharan opined that while “regional pride” was not previously asserted, it is now being increasingly reframed to address (hyper)nationalism.
The “arrival of regionalism” is welcome as it allows the use of a plural lens in politics, he added.
Manoharan reiterated the need for pressure groups that are not related to any political party to mobilise people, pointing out that the notion of secularism should not be restricted only to “intellectual conversations”.