REMAPPING INDIA: New States and Their Political Originsby Louise Tillin. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2013.
DESPITE the formation of the States Reorganization Commission (SRC) in 1956 and the redrawing of state boundaries along linguistic lines, the issue of reorganization has remained alive in the post-independence period. The recent division of Andhra Pradesh and the formation of the new state of Telangana after a long struggle has brought the issue to centre-stage once again. This makes the book, Remapping India: New States and Their Political Origins by Louise Tillin both timely and of contemporary relevance. Tillin, in a well researched, insightful and cogently argued book, not merely examines the creation of three new states in 2000 – namely Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand – but delves into the manner in which new states have been formed in India after 1956. The formation of states in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s represented the completion of largely unfinished tasks from the late colonial period.
Two aspects make this book significant: it analyzes the political origins of the creation of new states which are markedly different from earlier divisions, being located in changes that have taken place in independent India. Second, it is the first time that smaller states have been carved out of the large states of the Hindi heartland, which until 2000 were kept intact despite the feeling that they were huge blocs and, therefore, it was often argued, backward. The three states also provide the first example of reorganization in keeping with the discourse that smaller states can provide better governance, greater participation and faster economic development.
The book deploys a historical-cum-institutionalist framework to understand the formation of states in India’s federal system. It argues that the location of state boundaries helps to strengthen and reproduce patterns of power and that the formation of a new state offers the possibility of creating a new type of regional polity in which distinct or territorially concentrated, cultural or ethnic groups might be given greater representation, local communities might acquire direct control over resources, and in which new relationships can be forged between local state sectors and sectors of the economy such as agriculture, industry, forestry or mining. Thus, the attempt is to construct a theory of formation of states in the Indian subcontinent and more particularly in the context of the Hindi heartland.
Examining existing explanations for the formation of these three states, the author finds them wanting. She uses four dimensions to explain their formation: sociological, arising out of movements for recognition of distinct identities which were mobilized; political, the manner in which political parties, in this case the BJP, created new states in keeping with its electoral interests in a changing political scenario; political economy, arising out of competition and reorganization of space and economic activities due to the need for more resources by elites, and administrative efficiency, leading to better governance, democratic participation and faster development. Tillin argues that multiple causes need to be taken together to understand the creation of a new state. Hence, it is a comprehensive study of all the arguments advanced to explain the creation of these three states.
The historical institutionalist framework also helps explain why over time state borders have become less stable and subject to change in some parts of the federation and not in others. Borders, understood as a form of institution, rest on the notion that they are a critical element influencing competition among groups. Struggles over the size and shape of the state are part of the ‘rules of the game’: which interests are legitimate, what resources can be mobilized, the questions that are open for debate, and how these change. While there may be no routine challenges, these may emerge from time to time, and changes in boundaries and the hegemonic space are deeply contested by other elite groups until finally the Centre decides whether or not to divide the state. In the Hindi heartland, governments have been more responsive to arguments in favour of unity than division, which has reinforced the ‘stickiness’ of state boundaries as opposed to fluidity. Finally, it is important to understand the semi-autonomous timetables of how the dynamics of federal restructuring works, moving from the sub-state, state to national politics.
However, despite this comprehensive framework, it can be argued, as is clear from the study itself, that by 2000 when the three new states were created, statehood demands were mainly political in nature with various political actors interested in obtaining benefits. These states, therefore, emerge as a compromise between interest groups competing for position rather than reflecting a radical break in the distribution of power. Recognizing this, the author argues that it is necessary to undertake a deeper analysis into the longer-term processes of the socio-economic and political dimensions listed above or ‘politics in time’ to capture the slower moving, incremental causal processes. For this purpose three major changes are selected and examined in detail from the 1970s onwards.
First, the way in which the emerging ‘new social movements’ in parts of the country were accommodated into electoral politics. In Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, interactions between old historic movements and the new social movements and emerging regional/state political parties with a younger generation of non-Congress politicians, together helped create a more determined focus on statehood in these regions. Second, the questioning of upper caste dominance in the Hindi heartland and mobilization of the OBCs, who became politically important throughout the region, provided new leadership to these movements. Third, the BJP changed its earlier unitarian approach to federalism as it became a national party, accommodated Hindutva with diverse regional patterns across the country and thereby challenged the hegemony of the Congress. In combination, these three processes, linked to the changing party systems of north and central India, helped to produce a good measure of support for a reorganization of state boundaries. But it is clear that this explanation applies primarily to the Hindi heartland and not to other regions.
Using this framework, the book first examines the ideas underlying the approach that central governments have adopted to the question of reorganization since independence and how it was carried out in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. While this history has been narrated in earlier studies, what is new is the focus on political changes in the Hindi heartland, which eventually led to the formation of these three states. In studying the same conjuncture across three different regions, the book provides new insights into the accommodation of social movements and emergence of new political parties from the 1970s onwards. Here the story of formation of smaller states is tied up with the decline of the Congress system, the challenge to Brahminical hegemony from below, the rise of the BJP and Hindu nationalism, and a fragmented multiparty system leading to a new federal political order from 1989.
These shifts together with some movements created the possibility of new states, which the BJP seized upon when it came to power in the hope of gaining more seats in Parliament or support from political parties from these new states to the central coalition. The book then locates the creation of Jharkhand and Uttarakhand in the social movements, such as the older tribal and Chipko movement in these regions, which were supported by political parties hoping to capitalize on them by transforming them into electoral movements, which then became movements for new states.
Chhattisgarh, in contrast, is a good example of a state formed by a new sub-regional elite – from amongst the OBC and not the tribals – keen to gain control over economic resources and political power. The Congress, which was still a strong ruling party in Madhya Pradesh in 2000, tried to build upon an idea of Chhattisgarh and ‘sons of the soil’ movement from the 1950s that led to a clash with the BJP, which eventually gained control over the state. Moving to the state or ‘middle’ level, the author shows how the boundaries of the three states became less sticky and open to question from the 1980s. Finally, both political change and entrepreneurial leaders in the three states – Arjun Singh in MP, Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP and Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar – each in different ways, helped in the formation of the new states.
The story of state formation in the Hindi heartland then shifts to the national level. Once the BJP captured power and formed the NDA coalition at the Centre in 1998, it was able to translate its growing prominence in the Hindi heartland into three new states. The BJP leadership had by then ensured that the three state assemblies duly passed resolutions demanding statehood. This explains the timing as there were no movements at this point in these states, most of them having exhausted themselves much earlier and whose form was quite different.
Why were no states formed in the non-Hindi speaking regions despite long-standing demands for Telangana, Vidarbha or Gorkhaland? The author argues that the states of the Hindi region, which had no common identity at independence apart from the Hindi language, gradually acquired a common identity through caste based movements and politics of the OBC and the Dalits against the upper castes who formed the ruling elites in the region. It was political parties such as the BSP, SP, RJD and the BJP that provided them social and regional identification with the country’s heartland and as new sub-regional elites decided to form new states.
In contrast, borders in linguistic states in southern and western India have remained more ‘sticky’ in post-independence India due to strong movements through history based on region, language and caste identities, and more recently political leaders and regional parties that have mobilized around linguistic nationalism with a pan-state reach. There is also the centrality of mega-cities of Hyderabad and Mumbai to the economies of (former) Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra which had made these states difficult to divide. This helps explains the long struggle for Telangana and the violent opposition in Parliament to its formation and to Hyderabad being made the joint capital with Seemandhra for ten years during the passage of the act which recently divided Andhra Pradesh.
It is perhaps too early to examine the issue of the economic and political impact of the formation of the new states, but they remain highly contested spaces within India’s federal structure. While commentators have pointed to higher growth rates in these smaller states, it does not follow that problems of governance, representation and economic development have disappeared. Both Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have large tribal populations that remain poor and backward. In the former state, Maoist insurgency, repression by the state, exploitation of natural resources and grabbing of land for mining continue to be worrying factors. In Uttarakhand, despite better growth, migration and unplanned urbanization in the hills remain problems to be tackled. In all three states the representation of the disadvantaged and poor groups remains low and political instability continues.
Some significant conclusions emerge from the book that enhance our understanding of how reorganization has taken place in India’s federal structure and which could provide lessons to political leaders and policy makers who will have to deal with this contentious issue in the future, particularly after the formation of Telangana. First, the historical experiences, culture and social structure of various regions in India is different. A major divide is between the Hindi and non-Hindi speaking regions, but there are differences within these regions and with other parts of the country. As the study argues, it is more difficult to divide states in southern and western India which have strong regional and linguistic identities developed over a long time. Similarly, demands for new states in the Hindi heartland in post-independence India need to be understood in a distinct, situational context. They are the consequence of the political dynamics of a multilevel federal structure in the context of the decline of Congress dominance, rise of lower castes and the emergence of Hindu nationalism.
Thus, the same solutions may not work at the same time in all the regions; a central intervention to create a federal architecture or design will be difficult and require close attention. Second, while identities are important in multicultural federations, this study draws attention to the role of social movements and political parties that link identities, protest movements and politics to the territorial design of federal institutions and thereby to democracy and development in the country. Third, a mere reduction in size by itself does not necessarily resolve problems. While small states such as Kerala, Punjab or Himachal Pradesh seem to be performing well, the experience of the three new states, though still early to assess, suggests that longer-term histories of regional political regimes and political economies remain important in shaping the conditions for economic growth. Finally, in India, internal reorganization remains an unfinished task and an ongoing process which is part of a larger, complex process of nation-building. Remapping India contributes greatly to our understanding of this process by locating it in state and local politics and state-society relationships.
Professor, Centre for Political Studies,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
MORE THAN MAOISM: Politics, Policies and Insurgencies in South Asia edited by Robin Jeffrey, Ronojoy Sen and Pratima Singh. Manohar Publishers, Delhi, 2012.
THE political manifestation of Maoism in contemporary India reveals multidimensional facets. It represents powerful and divergent political views, variously described as the ‘greatest recorded utopian experiment’, ‘biggest threat to the democratic country’s internal security’, and ‘reflection of anger by the poorest strata for whom governance and democracy have become distant dreams.’ The Maoist dominated ‘red corridor’ in the eastern part has geographically become the biggest insurgency area in India. The government’s ‘control, hold and build strategy’ to prevent a political stalemate and tensions in the changed political scenario of globalized India, has only created further complexities in the country. The book, More Than Maoism: Politics, Policies and Insurgencies in South Asia is a timely intervention by academicians, journalists and security experts. It is an anthology of 22 chapters and 12 interviews on the wide-ranging phenomena of Maoism and its varied dimensions as a movement both at the ideological and practical levels in contemporary South Asia, with special emphasis on India.
The first section titled Maoism: Travels and Travails of an Idea, provides a historical and country-wide account of the emergence, experiences and influence of Maoist ideas across South Asia, presenting a detailed analysis of the Indian Maoists’ decades long engagement with democratic processes and attempts to capture state power. Prasenjit Duara’s introductory chapter provides a comparative analysis of the role of spatial aspects in the Chinese revolution and Maoist insurgency in India. By focusing on the specificities of location as a necessary initial condition of peasant revolutionary uprising, the author argues that remote areas with spatial peripheries in India, along with a section of marginalized people, offer promising intellectual and geographic locations for a full-fledged movement. Referring to ethnographic studies and genealogies, John Harriss presents a lengthy review of available literature about the involvement of human and economic factors in the Indian Maoist movement. Sumanta Banerjee, in describing his own experiences, captures the memories of students in Calcutta during the 1960s and ’70s.
Contributions on Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka attempt to trace various circumstances and reasons for the comparatively mild presence of Maoists in situations where the political atmosphere is entirely different and constrains their ability to raise their voice powerfully. In Pakistan, the Maoists successfully used revolutionary ideas to foreground the rights of workers and peasants, but nevertheless failed to occupy a prominent place in Pakistan’s political fabric. Yet, at the same time, by functioning on the strong platform of revolutionary left ideology, they were able to influence substantial stretches of the country for decades. Similarly in Bangladesh, the overall political atmosphere ensured that the Maoist movement, despite conducive objective circumstances, failed to grow. Finally, S.D. Muni’s explains how the Nepal Maoist movement is essentially a by-product of economic underdevelopment, socio-political marginalization and political exclusion of a large number of people.
Clubbing the left revolutionary experiences of four smaller countries along with India, the section provides a brilliant overview of the political atmosphere in South Asia. It explains these countries’ long journey of adopting the ideas and methods of the successful Chinese revolution according to their particular national political situations and why their native upsurges failed to attain their revolutionary dreams.
The next section presents varying perspectives exploring the socio-economic dynamics for insurgencies in India. Nandini Sundar’s scholarly article provides a comprehensive analysis of the basic underlying reasons behind Maoist insurgency in contemporary India. She argues that a combination of sharpening inequalities, creation of new states, a liberalized national mining policy, a growing emphasis on industrialization and Maoist unification are some key reasons for the ongoing bloody war in India. The author stresses the point that, ‘justice, political overtures instead of mere economic packages, development to benefit citizens, not corporates and, apologies for the past rather than homilies for the future would all go a long way toward negotiating peace.’
S. Narayan explores the socio-economic causes behind the revival of the Maoist movement in the 1980s. He states that the base of Maoist organization got strengthened and its importance as a political option widened during the early years of globalization in India since, at the beginning of the 21st century, greedy capitalists were searching for new opportunities to exploit the resource-rich regions of the country. The chapter discussing the PESA Act of 1996 argues that it could not provide meaningful powers of local government to their communities due to lack of proper implementation. The dilution of the act resulted in a rejection of self-governance rights and ultimately led to the nourishing of left wing extremism. A data base of 35 ‘left wing affected’ districts by Pratima Singh explores the capacity of the district authorities to produce useful resources with the help digital technology to empower people.
Akanksha Mehta’s narrative explores gender and power relations inside the organization and elaborates on the agency and role of women in India’s Maoist insurgency. She argues that both state and party discourses continue to revolve around the notion of ‘victimhood’ and not ‘agency’, stressing that even feminist analysis of militant women often ignores their agency.
The southern state of Andhra Pradesh is considered a key site from which ultra revolutionary activities spread because of the movement’s ability to incorporate aspects like caste, gender and class in its strategy. Highlighting the state’s current negotiation tactics to tackle the politico-military threat of Maoists, Om Prakash’s chapter deconstructs the role of deliberative processes as a method to temper political insecurities and replace them with healthy negotiations.
Overall, this set of essays asks why people even now continue to rally in the name of a dead Chinese dictator. The diverse perspectives on the root causes, new social structures and economic conflicts focus on the material conditions existing in the country as possible answers to this question. But problem-resolving suggestions in the form of people’s participation through technology, viz., ‘a more important step lies in using websites to involve citizens in a more participatory and responsive system of governance, which might make the entire system work more efficiently’ provides less hope. An evaluation of current material conditions makes it clear that a large section of people in the Maoist affected areas lack minimum education and political representation even at the local level. Access to computer based development in such conditions is unlikely to make a notable change. The history of state-Maoist negotiations in the past too does not infuse hope.
The collection then offers five detailed accounts of direct or indirect interactions of journalists and experts with the Maoist leaders and activists. It provides a fresh reading from the heartland of Maoist uprisings. Suvojith Bagchi’s outstanding essay, ‘Red Star Over Bastar’ is an account of his 34 day engagement with Maoist activists of Chhattisgarh in 2010. His interactions, detailed accounts of everyday life of revolutionaries and reflections as an observer, give a unique insight into Maoists who are ready to sacrifice life at any point of time. Harivansh’s lengthy account is conversely an extremely critical analysis of the movement, pointing to its internal contradictions and search for possibilities. He views Naxalism as a big threat to society but at the same time blames unethical political practices which prevent healthy development in the region.
Sudeep Chakravarti’s work focuses on India’s unfinished agenda of all-round development and progress. According to him what the prime minister misses is that India’s socio-economic ills and deficiencies pose a far greater threat to internal security than the Maoists. Shoma Chaudhury highlights that the policy of neo-liberal land grabbing and denial of tribal rights fuels discontent in insurgency areas. She questions the credibility of military operations as the only and best answer to insurgency. ‘Soundings from the Maoist Territory’, Kunal Majumder’s interactions with Maoist leaders in Chhattisgarh, underlines that unlike the more conventional Marxist-Leninists, the Maoist movement adopted the cause of the downtrodden and thereby gained the capacity to survive, thrive and expand. He views conflicts over mining and forest lands as prime reasons for the insurgency.
Even as the different political discourses of the authors and their insights display a diverse reading, most of them do share a general notion. Their analysis focuses on conflicts over acquisition and redistribution of land, and attempts to corner untapped resources, all of which result in the marginalization of common people as the major reasons for insurgency. But Harivansh sharply criticizes the credibility of the present Maoist movement and challenges its claim to meaningfully address issues of caste, religion and region. In his view, a liberalized economy and resultant economic prosperity has largely inspired the people to take a different path. He traces the newly developed face of villages in central Bihar which were previously under the control of Maoists. Nevertheless, indicators such as road and electricity cannot be considered as signs of development unless there is social equality, security and justice. The above mentioned regions are notorious for land based rivalries, caste atrocities and dalit massacres, a tendency which is likely to deepen following the recent judgement on the Lakshmanpur Bathe massacre.
P.V. Ramana’s detailed data-based analysis of Maoist violence and attacks on infrastructure resulting in escalated demands for strengthening the armed forces, traces the central government’s security and development measures as a reaction to the increasing militarization and urban penetration of the Maoists. In his view, a lack of uniformity in policy, strategy, perception and consensus among the affected states has created a negative impact and helped the Maoists. Given his long experience in security studies, he feels that it will require some more time to effectively build up the combat and intelligence capabilities of the security forces in the affected states. Shoma Chaudhury’s question whether military offensive provide a solution, is relevant here.
The next set of essays highlight the importance of shaping ethical and moral approaches by giving proper training to media persons and state authorities. Robin Jeffrey’s article makes it clear that the use of the term ‘Maoist’ is itself a tactic by both sides – helping the Maoists by invoking the legacy of a successful leader and the government by reducing the issue to one of patriotism. It attempts to explore how both sides are developing media policies. The article by Divya Iyer tries to explain the specific ways in which Indian media handles the Maoist issues by discussing the coverage around the killing of Francis Induwar. She states that the weakness of television news today is that it covers events and not the issue.
The articles are followed by a series of interviews with Maoist activists and experts which provide first-hand and authentic information about the movement’s journey, the challenges it faces and the evolution of organizational mechanisms. Reporting through direct interactions is enough to demonstrate that it is more than a law and order situation.
The book goes well beyond a mere depiction of ideological struggles; rather by foregrounding the complex socio-political and economic milieus of contemporary India, it brings together contrasting perspectives to provide an incisive analysis of Maoism. Throughout the book, the authors generally use the term insurgency and counter-insurgency, begging the question about who is initiating insurgency and who is countering it. Are we discussing the reasons behind the troubles or detailing solutions? A focus on the issues can to a certain extent provide an answer to this question. Most of the authors share the perception that India’s years of misgovernance, corruption and lack of socio-economic development creates a fertile soil for the growth of Maoist insurgency. In short, the book fills a major gap in the study of Maoism and provides an opportunity for the reader to ask the question – just who is outplaying whom in this political game?
Research Scholar, Centre for European Studies, JNU, Delhi
A HISTORY OF PREJUDICE: Race, Caste and Difference in India and the United States by Gyanendra Pandey. Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2013.
Gyanendra Pandey, a significant scholar in subaltern studies, has handled the history of prejudice with reference to caste in India and race in the United States (US) in the study under review. Pandey has traversed across time and space by comparing the plight of the marginalized, discriminated and disenfranchised ‘ex’ untouchable castes from India and African American social groups in the US, who had ‘ex’ slaves as their ancestors. Apparently, any venture to compare prejudices related to caste and race across spaces in rather distinct sets of social settings seems odious. Nevertheless, by working out comparable categories, without losing sight of complexities of either of the two plural societies of India and the US, the author has ventured to compare and contrast the plight of these two marginalized groups. Pandey certainly has a remarkable grasp of literature that inhabits this entire field. In fact, his uncanny penchant to distinguish between the particular and universal eventually succeeds in challenging the very claim to single overriding ahistorical universalism.
For analytical convenience, Pandey has deployed the terms ‘vernacular’ and ‘universal’ to view the very notion of prejudice. The former is local, localizable, relatively visible and even acknowledged. For instance, prejudice against blacks, untouchables, gays, Jews, women, indigenous populations and other minorities is a case in point. It often tends to stem from deep undercurrents of casteism, racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity and reductive monoculturalism. There is also another rather widespread form of prejudice that is almost ‘universal’ and considered as natural. Even though it is apparently invisible, it emanates from a common sense of the modern society, state and its laws. This form of prejudice is rarely acknowledged. In fact, there are underlying structures of power and privilege that perpetuate caste and race related prejudices. Pandey argues that prejudice often parades as difference. It is in the attribution of difference that the logic of dominance and subordination finds expression. It also needs to be noted, as Pandey has argued, that the vernacular prejudices are often sustained by the universal, and by the very pretence that this universal is not vernacular.
Pandey has dealt with a wide variety and range of questions concerning the Dalits and African Americans. He discusses several important issues concerning individual rights versus community rights, the idea of separate electorates for Dalits, the impact of affirmative action to uplift the marginalized in both countries, the rise of underprivileged groups in the social ladder, issues related to Dalit conversions to Buddhism to attain equality, the urge of marginalized groups to change names to erase their identity, or an incessant urge of the underprivileged groups to be accepted by upper castes or white races. Indeed, by converting en masse to Buddhism in India in 1956, argues Pandey, the Dalits were inaugurating a new body, new community and a new culture. In spite of certain marginal improvements, however, the prejudices pertaining to caste and race in both countries remain well grounded, resisting easy erasure.
Ambedkar’s struggles, individual as well as collective, to seek dignity and self-respect for the Dalits did make some difference as Dalit groups began to experiment with self-respect. However, structures of prejudices built over centuries can hardly disappear in a short time. The emancipatory struggles of the Dalits still have a long way to go before they are able to uplift substantial portions of Indian society from practising vicious prejudice. Likewise, the African Americans carry on their struggle with the same zeal because they continue to be treated as inferior, and victims of prejudices that govern their social world. What is more, even a person like President Obama, a non-white, who was able to capture the highest office in the US, could not escape scathing attacks involving his Luo-Kenyan/ African ancestry from his conservative critics. Owing to the hierarchical social structures in both the societies, the black skin or their being ‘ex’ untouchable, makes these marginalized groups victims of unjust perennial casteist and racist attacks in social life.
Unsurprisingly, if Dalits are oppressed by the upper castes, the so-called creamy layers among them like the Mahars, who are better educated, dominate the social groups that are below them. The logic of casteism persists through another agency till the lowest ladder. Similarly, as the book argues, in the context of household gender discrimination, domestic violence, male alcoholism and exploitation of females is rampant in Dalit social life. While reading Pandey’s work I was reminded of Frantz Fanon’s work, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), where he argues that the colonized subject does not want to end the act of persecution, but subconsciously aspires to replace the persecutor rather. Like the Dalits, African Americans, after the passage of Jim Crow laws in the 1860s that legalized and perpetuated social segregation, had to wage long drawn out struggles through the civil rights movement in the 1960s and even later, to fight for their dignity against racial dominance, militarism and masculinity. Even today the middle classes among the blacks find it hard to find residential accommodation in white dominated localities and face prejudice that stems from well established discriminatory practices.
Pandey has also shed light on the everyday existence as well as day-to-day struggles of the African Americans and Dalits. Pandey assert that the ‘self’ in a memoir or autobiographies of the subalterns is somehow less egotistical and more collective. Thus, in his perception, the autobiographies that he has discussed speak for their communities as well. By discussing the autobiographies of select African Americans and Dalit’s, Pandey has tried to underscore the nature of underlying social and historical forces that caused such existence itself possible. The manner in which he presents Viola Andrews’s (1912-2006) autobiography is particularly insightful. The author vividly portrays Viola’s role as a woman, mother, sharecropper, writer and religious educator from Georgia. He also engagingly narrates the main events in the autobiographies of Babytai Kamble (1929-2012) and Dr. Narendra Jadhav (b.1953), both of whom came from relatively better off families. Babytai’s writings do open up to the kind of demeaning existence that Dalits were leading. Thanks to his upbringing in Mumbai, Narendra Jadhav’s autobiography not merely gives insights into the incipient Ambedkarite movement in Maharashtra, but effectively demonstrates how it led to one of the success stories. Jadhav rose to become Vice Chancellor and later a Member of the Planning Commission of India.
Having presented the essence of Pandey’s oeuvre, let me make two pertinent points concerning epistemology and everyday struggles involving social life. Epistemologically, Pandey has subversively assailed notions of nationality, the so-called mainstream, and rationality, among others, that came as a package with the project of enlightenment and modernity. This project indeed dominated developments in West Europe and North America or the global North. Consequently, the industrially advanced countries of the global North captured the centrestage of world politics through power asymmetries between the post-industrial and industrializing world, which in its turn allowed the global North to determine the sphere that is often termed ‘Universal’. It privileged certain values and carved out yardsticks to decide what was morally praiseworthy or condemnable, across time and space.
Besides, as the notions of territorial state and nation, including the project of nation building became globalized, as it were, the northern dominance that represented a queer melange of power and its nexus with knowledge began to throw up the so-called ‘Universal’ rather aggressively by homogenizing/hegemonizing ideas about knowledge, life and the social world. By viewing the reality of prejudice from the point of view of marginalized groups, Pandey sheds critical light on the very epistemic constructs that drive research and pedagogy in the social sciences. Pandey’s gutsy and yet cautiously critical flair makes this work seminal.
Finally, while understanding everyday struggles of the oppressed, Pandey is acutely sensitive to structural violence. Strangely, Pandey’s thought provoking work is disturbing, like Vijay Tendulkar’s plays that are often sensitive to mute forms of violence!
Visiting Professor, South Asian University, Delhi
HANDBOOK OF POLITICS IN INDIAN STATES: Regions, Parties and Economic Reforms edited by Sudha Pai. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2013.
Pai’s edited volume of essays on politics in Indian states is a very useful book, presenting a range of provocative and engaging arguments about the rising significance of state politics in Indian federalism. In the two and half decades since the 1990s, states have become important political actors, and the arena of their politics is seen as ‘distinct and relatively autonomous from national politics’ by the editor (p. 1). Although this may seem like stating the obvious, as we view Indian politics in a contemporary frame in relation to the first principles of democratic India as it was set up in 1947, this strong, political assertion of states is rather unanticipated. Going back in time, and viewing the nation from a formal institutional perspective, the key features of the political system – a single written constitution and one-party dominance – conveyed the impression of a unitary system, held together in a top-down manner. What we have now, especially after the 1990s, is a fraying of these cardinal principles, and a loosening of the original design of the rigid mould of federalism. Yet, what is puzzling is that the idea of the nation and the region exist simultaneously, rather than pose a threat of balkanization. The contributions in this volume explore these basic puzzles, unanticipated in original design, and counterintuitive to expectations of sub-national assertions leading to fragmentation. The essays will help the reader understand the empirical ways in which politics obtains in reality.
Although it is unclear whether the political moment that Pai cites as a departure is, ‘since the 1990s’, or more specifically, a decade later (in 2000), by when she finds that India had a ‘post-Congress polity’ with a changed electoral structure based on multiparty/competition. Her approach to time is chronological/evolutionary, and these two decades are dealt with in broad brush strokes, where all developments since the 1990s are seen as having led to a collapse of the older polity dependent on single party dominance. She finds three principles as important in leading up to a differentiated polity with a focus on states as the unit for a political understanding of the ‘national’. These are (i) state reorganization, (ii) democratization and regionalization of politics, and (iii) economic policy reforms. The three principles set out the context and motivation for state and political actors to make their moves regionally, and also shape citizen imagination along these boundaries.
The contributions in this volume are meant to examine the political dynamics in states along these three axes, and cover a wide variety of themes across multidisciplinary perspectives. There are underpinnings of political geography in understanding the significance of sub-national boundaries, of political history in setting out the contested context of India as a nation with regions, of political sociology in understanding the dynamics of caste and social assertions, and of political economy, especially as states become economic actors as well following policy reforms in the 1990s. Of course, vast ground is covered on the conventional political theme of party-political mobilization and electoral contests and outcomes. While most articles use the small-n case method, there is some use of quantitative methods and survey data as well. It must be pointed out though that the use of statistics is largely descriptive, and not used for inferential purposes. Also missing are comparative case studies, especially as variations in state performance becomes an important theme for those seeking to interrogate the contemporary dynamics of India’s federal political economy.
Since it is difficult in a review article to include the wide substantive coverage of an edited volume, especially one that commits itself to describing the differentiated variety on the ground, I use the following questions as entry points for the arguments that follow:
1. How relevant is the selection of the three variables of state reorganization, democratization and regionalization as organizing principles of state politics after the 1990s? What is the distinct import of each?
2. How far do the selection of articles in the volume justify this initial thematic structuring?
3. In the light of practical political developments on the ground, as also substantive insights from the articles in this handbook, are there additional or alternate principles that need to be taken on board for future volumes on state politics in India? Also, has enough ground been covered in terms of the selected cases?
The question of eliciting the appropriate principles for drawing sub-national boundaries has been an important and continuous theme around which state politics has veered, even prior to independence. That the appropriate rationale for forming new states continues to be a matter of contestation, and an issue around which the sub-national imagination is mobilized, is testimony to the relevance of seeing this as a key principle of analyzing state politics. The first two essays in the volume by Ainslie T. Embree (pp. 24-39) and Asha Sarangi (pp. 41-54) aptly bring out the duality of the nation and the region, and of boundary making, both external and internal, as a political act. Embree explores the central colonial dilemma as to whether there is an all-India civilization, or is India’s political geography made up of perennial regions, where the structures of regional geography act as a boundary within which state politics plays out? Sarangi moves forward in time and looks for a procedural rationale for drawing up the lines of demarcation post-independence, especially through a reading of the text of the States Reorganization Commission (SRC), 1956.
While the colonial state administered its parts by excessive use of military and administrative power, following independence, it was the spirit of the national movement, placing emphasis on the wishes of the people and the linguistic unity of the area, that guided the deliberations in this respect. In its extensive use of census data, and numerous interviews eliciting opinion across the country, there is a definite imprint of the unbiased ‘scientific temper’ so characteristic of the Nehruvian era. Maya Chadda’s essay (pp. 55-72) brings the discussion to the last big reorganization in 2000 when new principles of reorganization, aimed at management of ethnic identities within Hindi speaking states, led to the creation of the new states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. Chadda calls this a third wave of democratization, reflecting a new balance of power between the states and its federal units. Electoral calculations amidst a changed landscape where the Bharatiya Janata Party and regional parties exercised greater power are said to be an important motivator. This represents a substantive change from the SRC and the Nehruvian moment. With the inclusion of case studies from Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, this section provides a deep and textured analysis of the long duree of both the principles and the politics. The inclusion of a case study on Chhattisgarh politics – in this section or elsewhere – would have been a logical conclusion, and appears to be a gap.
The second theme of democratization and regional assertion is seen through two specific lenses – party politics and electoral mobilization, and assertion by subaltern castes and ethnic minorities. The rich and substantive contributions in the two sections portray a vivid picture of the changed political terrain as it obtains at the state level. Based on an analysis of electoral data, Eswaran Sridharan provides a strong institutional story of the mechanisms of alliance politics in building the fortunes of a national party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (pp. 123-146). Sanjay Kumar too demonstrates a clear shift towards regionalization in national politics (pp. 147-165). Sridharan’s article also makes a strong methodological contribution in terms of understanding the framework of institutional incentives within which the new moment of state politics after the 1990s can be conceptualized. He argues that the BJP has engaged in a strategic exploitation of coalition opportunities in which it has used the federal incentives (of ministerial berths, or resources) to win allies. This theme is furthered by Jenkins (in a later section) where he affirms the use of federal resources and incentives in his analysis of the working of SEZs in Indian states.
The strength of this section is the clear demonstration of the dynamics of the local and the regional affecting the myriad varieties of state politics, which make up the national mosaic. This is done through case studies of state politics and regional political parties – notable inclusions are the Asom Gana Parishad, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Telugu Desam Party, Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu, and the Left in West Bengal. Although these cases are narratives of the ‘small’, they provide an explanation for the change we see at the national level. John Harriss and Andrew Wyatt (pp. 180-196) reveal the extraordinary dynamics of Tamil politics, emerging in a Dravidian identity and politics, and led by two Dravidian parties. Their shrinking base has meant that they do not enjoy complete sway, and fragmentary alliances hold the balance. The most dramatic is the case of the TDP analyzed by K.C. Suri (pp. 167-179) – a precursor of regionalism in a citadel of the Congress. Its ascendance can be traced to the use of political-sociological cleavages, which had a national impact in terms of giving a fillip to other regional parties, making them more assertive. But its inability to ensure a responsive and corruption free government left it as a party indistinguishable from the Congress. The AGP too rose as a regional party from a movement against foreign nationals, forming the government in 1985. Over time, however, its problems have come from within its ranks on account of leadership and personality disputes, as also in terms of its unclear policies on electoral alliances.
The most significant decline of a regional citadel, however, has been that of the Left Front in West Bengal, analyzed by Dwaipayan Bhattacharya (pp. 212-230). Notwithstanding a remarkable victory in the 2006 assembly elections, it faced a series of poll debacles in panchayat elections, which demonstrated a shift in its urban as also rural base. The latter was particularly shocking, as it meant that its ethical stock of enacting land reforms had depleted, more so when combined with agrarian distress and shrinking incomes. This ultimately led to a collapse of the party-society relationship, and a Trinamool-Congress coalition dislodged the left after 34 years in power. Further narratives of caste and social assertion in the state strengthened the belief that the sub-state political dynamism is not one of monopoly of power. A combination of popular grievances, and old caste based identities or loyalties, are used to mobilize change from below.
The third principle around which the special significance of understanding state politics after the 1990s as a distinct departure has been emphasized is the policy of economic reforms. While boundary making, formation of new states, political assertion of the subaltern classes and electoral mobilization refer to overt political actions, this one is different, as it talks about an economic variable motivating change. The transformed political landscape, following this policy change, is well brought out in the essay by Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph (pp. 316-338). They point out that this change has helped evolve a different India based on principles of imagined federal economies, just as the nation has been visualized as consisting of imagined communities. This shift is structural – from a command economy to a federal one, with states emerging as the principle site for investments. Following these changes, new actors have emerged as important, especially chief ministers of states, overshadowing the role of many actors of the Nehruvian state. The authors stress the political import of these changes – it is as if India’s sovereignty were being shared. A regionalized multiparty system is the consequence of this change. The diversity of state performance is a natural consequence of this change, a feature examined in some detail both by the Rudolphs and Baldev Raj Nayar. For the latter, globalization related changes have resulted in enhanced growth, per capita incomes, and reduction of poverty, although there is an increase in inequality. But it is somewhat dispersed, with only states of eastern India as outliers, mostly for historical regions.
The two in-depth case studies are important – one focuses on a high growth state, Andhra Pradesh (AP), and the other belongs among the laggard outliers, the state of Bihar. Interestingly, in both cases, the claims of growth due to reforms have been contested by the authors – Jos Mooij for AP and Chirashree Dasgupta for Bihar. Mooij underlines the hype and management skills used by the leadership to claim reforms and development, whereas in reality the substance of reforms did not show any break from the past, and benefited the special interests of a newly emerging middle class. Dasgupta argues that the credit for recent trends of growth and development in Bihar should not be given to a sushasan model of development in Bihar by the NDA alliance led by Nitish Kumar, but more to cyclical structural trends, which predate Nitish and the NDA. Interestingly, both articles contest the widely believed personification of the policy reform process, and call for a modest understanding of the role of agency.
The contribution that best brings out the theme of variation in state performance, notwithstanding similar federal incentives and resources, is Rob Jenkins’ examination of the working of Special Economic Zones in different states.
In a volume of this kind, there is always the temptation to argue that more could have been included. Yet, highlighting a few shortcomings here is more in the nature of underscoring the future direction of thinking and analysis on the issue. One important theme missing in the volume is the rising significance of social sector schemes for the poor, extended as third generation welfare rights. Incumbent state political leaders have pursued such an agenda to carve out their own identity in governance and claim distinction from the Centre, very much in line with Pai’s understanding of them as autonomous political actors. A few examples of this type of state action are the Janmabhumi programme of Naidu, Digvijay Singh’s Education Guarantee Scheme in Madhya Pradesh, and reforms in the Public Distribution System in Chhattisgarh identified with Raman Singh. Very often this type of policy action, coupled with efficient implementation, has returned incumbents to power, in turn giving a fillip to emergent types of policy entrepreneurship by state political leaders.
A second theme worth exploring is that of decentralization and the introduction of a third-tier of governance within states. This form of sub-national state power is a challenge to established state leadership, and a possible reason for weak institutionalization of panchayats in the North Indian states. On both these themes, just as in the conventional parameters of economic growth, the variations in state performance have been immense – inclusion of more comparative case studies highlighting these aspects would be a useful addition.
I also tend to disagree with the editor’s conclusion that in a ‘redefined federal system, with region based party system and competitive market economy, there is a need for strengthening of the centre so that it can play a more active role in holding together India’s federal democracy’ (p. 17). In the economic sphere, the development of a federal market and taxation to suit this type of system requires a cooperative model rather than a strong Centre. For example, the proposed Goods and Services Tax can be rolled out by the Centre only based on cooperation, and not by asserting unequal power. In politics, the hold of regional parties and of regional leaders within national parties only confirms the irreversible trend of regionalization. The rules of the game need to change more in order to respond to these realities. And the institution that requires strengthening is the one closest to the people, the local state in the form of panchayats. But, my disagreement is reflective more of a difference in normative view of what federal institutions should look like, especially as democracy deepens on account of greater political participation of hitherto marginal groups. In the meanwhile, Pai may well be right that boundary making in India is a competitive political act, averring the duality of the nation and the region. The recent formation of Telangana as India’s 29th state underscores this observation in an empirical way.
ICSSR Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi