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In a State of Confusion

New Delhi: Acronyms are in fashion these days. And sometimes can take on great, heftier meanings and acquire gravitas. Just why CONFUSION is sitting pretty in Uttar Pradesh.

SOMEHOW IN THESE WINTRY, misty, smoggy months the Tibetan Buddhist word ‘Bardo’ comes to the mind while decoding the elections in Uttar Pradesh. Deconstruction, instead of decoding, would be a better word—weightier, but it carries academic nuances and is, with its overuse, inherently boring and tepid in conveying meaning. Sociologically, many communities are in a flux; politically there is a churn; and scientifically, for those looking for quick clues and answers, there is only confusion. In the Muslim areas around the pokey city of Amroha, this miasma of confusion hangs thick; in the farm-rich Jat areas around Shamli, its stubborn thinness refuses to dissipate; in western UP, as a whole, we are in a state of Bardo—somewhere between death and rebirth. Limbo, in short. Being in limbo only means being in deep confusion. In the Bardo. Many old assumptions are dying and there is no clarity about what is emerging or what is being reborn in their place.

Acronyms are in fashion these days. Generally they tend to jargonise, but sometimes they effectively can project many meanings. Prime Minister Modi has a penchant for them and uses them, sometimes effectively, to serve his political ends. Let’s try and put politics in western Uttar Pradesh under the microscope of CONFUSION.

Nothing suggests on the ground that there is a Hindu consolidation happening anywhere in the gullies and largely broken highways of western UP. The Jats are going their way and planning to vote for Ajit Singh, and even among the lower castes there is no clear picture emerging how they will cast their vote. A Jatav says something, another says a completely contradictory statement. It’s largely Muslims who are en masse looking to gravitate towards the Akhilesh-Congress combine. Mayawati, everyone says, was a strong force some months ago and some Muslims would have inked their fingers for the elephant, but now the Muslim vote overwhelmingly seems to be going Akhilesh’s way. Will this trigger a reverse consolidation? For now there are no signs of that.

In these feudal lands, obedience was a trait that was common among Jats and Muslims. An important cleric said something and the entire community of Muslims would line up and do his bidding. That explained the importance of imams like Delhi’s Syed Ahmed Bukhari and Lucknow’s Kalbe Jawad. Even netas, primarily from the Congress, used to make a beeline to their citadels to seek blessings. It is clear, from traversing these still-feudal lands, that Muslims are not giving a hoot to the clerics these days. Across, among Jats, it is not the writ of the elders that runs these days. The young Jats shape their own destinies and take their own decisions. Not for them the diktats of panchayats. For Muslims, too, the fatwa is not something to be taken seriously.

Demonetisation, the epochal policy step taken by the Modi government, has taken its toll on politics. Mayawati seems to be suffering the most. Her electoral fortunes have taken a sharp dip after India voided 86% of its currency on November 8. Many in UP feel it was a masterstroke by Modi to propel BJP into power in India’s politically pivotal state. But even if this rampant speculation is discounted, it is still abundantly clear that SP, the ruling dispensation, used whatever tools it had at its disposal to buck the negative effects of demonetisation. Stories abound on how SP innovatively emerged from currency woes to give a tough fight to the saffron party. Also, demonetisation has had a deleterious effect on what is considered BJP’s core constituency: traders. There are reports that in some bazaars of western UP traders are actively campaigning against the saffronites.

Well, India still has not crossed over into the post-fact and post-truth camp. It is amply clear that voters, thanks to social media and other tools, are aware of the shenanigans of politicians and are taking their penchant for fact fungibility with a pinch of salt. With Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, it has become increasingly difficult to fool voters. Any attempts at befuddlement are swiftly countered. Even among Muslims there is sharp awareness. Because their community has been subjected to asinine fatwas and bogus diktats always, the Muslims this time are not taking any chances. Any fast-and-loose with the facts is being swatted away with great alacrity. There may be some fake Indian news stuck in the algorithms of social media giants but for now that is not giving any heartburn to anyone.

Jats are angry this time and their reasons are innumerable. The bizarre fact that Haryana has a Punjabi, not a Jat, chief minister has made Jats in western UP angry. And there are grievances about reservation and sundry other things. How a Jat in west UP is riled because a Jat in Rajasthan has been snubbed, is something only sociologists can explain. Egos, mighty egos perhaps, come into play. Cultural pride is another. And still, despite many changes being wrought in the country, there exists a strong and muscular brotherhood of Jats cutting across states and territories. The only community that rivals Jats in its quickly-feel-strongly-for-wronged-brethren streak are Tamils, who were out in large numbers protesting against the Jallikattu ban. With Jats too, that can happen. A Jat in Alwar suffers a slight and, as a consequence, Jats in Shamli will take out a protest march. We can’t help it. Jat’s the way.

Silence, said Confucius, is a true friend who never betrays. And Muslim clerics have taken this maxim to their hearts and gone quiet. Not a fatwa, not a squeak from them ordering their community members on how and where to vote. Bukhari has broken the pledge, but his commands are taken as seriously by Muslims as a serious lover takes whimsical decrees issuing from the chatty mouth of a fickle girlfriend. And this time the Muslim populace is also silent on which way they will vote. Not only have most clerics in UP taken a monkish vow of silence, but Muslims in general are quiet about whom they will go for. Their allegiances are hidden and that is something that is giving grief to many parties clamouring for their votes here. Some Muslims are promising everyone who comes visiting their votes, keeping their real intent hidden until the day of the polling.

There is a palpable sense of anger among people. Everyone wants progress, everyone wants jobs, everyone wants development and everyone wants to be an active participant and enjoy the fruits of reforms. Muslims want their pound of flesh, Jats want theirs and Dalits, too, are passionate about embracing change. And their patience is wearing thin, dangerously thin. A Jat in Kairana asks why he does not have a job, a Muslim in Rampur wants Modi to do something for them and a Dalit in Saharanpur seeks something concrete from Akhilesh. No one wants any handouts anymore; everyone wants a piece of action. And most are convinced all the action is taking place in the cities and are concerned why the engine of turbocharged capitalism is not travelling to their bastions. There is impatience everywhere. And, if not tackled properly, it can easily build up into an undying rage.

Asaduddin Owaisi is furiously on the stump here and has put up many candidates in this belt. But Owaisi’s labours will come to naught as Muslims in these areas just ignore him. Some think he is a BJP stooge; some say he is just not serious to make any impact here. It is rather strange to find Owaisi in these parts because these are areas where Muslims have always had their own leaders. They have never been devoid of their netas. They have had Muslim, Hindu leaders. Owaisi has not dared to set foot in and around Rampur, which is the home of another fire-breathing Muslim strong man: Azam Khan, of the SP. Both Azam and son are fighting elections and Owaisi maintains a huge distance from their pocket boroughs. Who is supplying Owaisi with money and muscle? No one knows. Can Owaisi answer? Perhaps not.

There is a sense of trepidation about what comes next. The best way to predict your future is to create it, Abe Lincoln said somewhere. How does one create future? When the past in ancient and present in a flux, future-creation becomes an arduous, mind-numbing task? But everyone—Muslims, Jats, Dalits, OBCs—are trying to grab their present to have a stake in the future. The Muslims are trying desperately to think out of the community box; the Dalits are thinking of walking without the elephant; the OBCs are promising to walk with anyone who can give them a decent, humane living. Benedict Anderson, studying the origins of nationalism, developed the concept of imaginary communities. India, with its many diverse communities, has always many nationalisms at play. Attempt to foist one-size-fits-all Hindu nationalism on entire country has not succeeded. So, the country now needs an imaginary community of lift-everyone-by-their-bootstraps development. Let’s hope our combined future creates one.

Acronyms sometimes can take on great, heftier meanings. Acronyms can acquire gravitas. But that’s not the attempt here. The political winds are blowing so hot and cold that it is becoming increasingly difficult to take their temperature. A set of people says something; another says something that is totally contradictory, totally at a distance from what the first is saying. Politics is the art of the possible, but can it contain a multitude of impossibilities? The entire world is now confusingly grappling with change as many shibboleths continue to die in slow, sometimes meaningful, sometimes meaningless explosions. In India, too, politics now encapsulate a million impossibilities. Some of these changes will make the country better in the coming years; some of it will remove the old, bloody antagonisms; some of it will resolve old, deep-seated resentments. Yet some of the conflicts will continue to fester and trouble us. Some wounds and plenty of scar tissue. Until there is a sort-out, until there is clarity, until some light penetrates the miasma of confusion, politics—and we too—will continue to stay in the Bardo. Between Death and Rebirth. Amen!