The reactionary stance of the Jat and Patel agitations sits well with BJP’s ultra-nationalist mobilisation but militates against it too, pointing to a deeper crisis.
Counter-revolution is like a Matryoshka doll. Wherever there is one, inside it sits another. The latter is, at once, the source of the former’s strength and the cause of its weakness.
The electoral ascendancy of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government to power in the summer of 2014 officially inaugurated a neoliberal offensive in India. If there was ever any doubt on that score, the no-holds-barred political and ideological onslaught the Modi dispensation, together with its Sangh Parivar patrons, has launched on the so-called anti-national students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, ought to completely dispel it. This onslaught is being driven jointly by the repressive apparatuses of the state and goon-squads activated by the current regime through various techniques and tactics of reactionary mass mobilisation.
However, even as the BJP-directed JNU drama was unfolding, public attention was captured by the violent Jat stir that erupted in the neighbouring BJP-ruled state of Haryana for reservation in higher education and government jobs. There could not have been a bigger, or a more ill-timed, blow to the politico-ideological claims of the party and its Union government that they indubitably represent a homogeneously unified Indian nation.
BJP’s JNU offensive and Jat stir are connected
We would do well to note that the Jats who launched this agitation in Haryana are the dominant social group in that state, which the BJP electorally captured last year with a significant 24 per cent spike in its vote share. In such circumstances, it would not be entirely incorrect to say the following: the regressive (and often violently coercive) forms and idioms of Jat socio-political mobilisation, something this traditionally dominant and intermediate social group is known for, connects well with the reactionary ultra-nationalist concerns, forms and techniques of mass mobilisation the BJP and the Sangh Parivar unapologetically espouse.
This connection between two kinds of reactionary socio-political articulation does not, however, amount to a seamless and untroubled continuity between them. That has been borne out not only by the Jat agitation in Haryana — where the BJP emerged as the ruling party for the first time last year — but also by the Hardik Patel movement in Gujarat in August 2015, where the BJP has been a dominant political force for long. The Hardik Patel-led mass riot for job and education reservations for Gujarati Patidars, once again an intermediate caste that is socio-economically and politically dominant in the BJP-ruled state, gives the recent Jat stir in Haryana a precedent and makes it part of a larger pattern.
That Hardik Patel’s political language during the agitation turned out to be an even more aggressive version of the BJP’s nationalist reactionary idiom, shows this movement for Patel reservations, not quite unlike the recent Jat stir, was a family feud gone wrong.
New anxieties, old articulations
But why do such reactionary constituents of a larger restorative political project end up militating against it? Be it the Jat stir in Haryana or the Hardik Patel agitation in Gujarat, their articulations are about preserving social privilege rooted in the traditional cultures of caste hierarchy. However, the disaffection and the anxiety that is at the core of such articulations is real; it stems from a situation of increasing marginalisation in society as a whole, and an intensification of socio-economic precariousness.
The absence of any progressive political project which would enable such disaffected social groups to develop a modern political language to articulate their anxieties is the main problem. And, it is to fill this glaring lack that such social groups fall back upon their traditional locations of caste location and privilege.
Such heightened marginalisation, and all-round precariousness of the socio-economic situation, can be traced to the current phase of capitalist development in which an unparalleled rise in the automation levels of the production process is accompanied by an equally unparalleled spurt in productivity. It means an unmatched intensification of work — relatively more production in relatively less time; hence, an exponential increase in drudgery and toil for labour, and a drastic reduction in the value of labour power.
Moreover, high automation levels in the production process have led to a technology-induced functional simplication of the labour process, which has led to a relative increase in the de-skilling of labour. All this has exacerbated the precariousness of social labour as a whole (by which one means the social fabric created by the activities of people working together). Thanks to a record surge in the labour supply market marked by competitive pressures, a marked decline in wages has been the unavoidable consequence.
There’s a history to these agitations
It is no accident that reactionary politico-ideological expressions such as the Patel and Jat reservation movements should come from traditionally elite caste groups who were historically part of the ryotwari area covering what is now Haryana, Delhi, western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Gujarat. These were areas in which mutually-competing, tax-paying, individual landholding farmers dealt directly with the colonial state.
The ryotwari system was in stark contrast to the system of Permanent Settlement, characterised by large landowners (zamindars) lording it over a rather complex hierarchy of tenants and sub-tenants, mediating between them and the colonial state.
Hence, unlike the zamindari system, the ryotwari areas have had a much longer history of capitalisation and industrialisation of agriculture. These areas have experienced inter-generational fragmentation of landholdings and land alienation, and conversion of rural-agrarian assets into urban-industrial capacities. And that is exactly why agrarian social groups from these areas, including their elite, are among those who have been badly hit by this phase of capitalist development.
On the one hand, more and more members of these traditional agrarian social groups have less and less agriculturally viable land in their possession. On the other hand, the modern urban-industrial capacities — mainly education — of the average Jat or Patel have been rendered pretty much fruitless in the face of rising levels of de-skilling brought about by the increasing technologisation of the industrial process. Hence there is a grave disconnect between their self-perception, shaped by their traditional agrarian culture and consciousness of being the dominant social elite in the region, and the precariousness of their real economic position.
No wonder the reactionary local politics of such groups, have proved to be amenable to mobilisation for larger projects such as those espoused by the BJP. At the same time their unmitigated precariousness at work has, soon enough, also resulted in them militating against the larger project to continually undermine and disrupt its manufactured homogeneity.
The current political developments aptly bear this out: On the one hand, the current BJP-led political regime is drawing upon the reactionary self-representations of objectively valid anxieties of traditionally elite social groups such as the Jats to mobilise them into lynch mobs against the so-called anti-national student movement at JNU. On the other hand, and virtually at the same time, we find that it has to rely on the repressive might of the state to quell the uncontrollably violent Jat agitation for reservations in the neighbouring state of Haryana.
Nationalist project’s internal contradictions
Unless this dialectic is properly grasped by progressive political forces — which claim to be committed to resisting and defeating advance of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar — they will not be able to devise an effective political strategy. The larger project of nationalist regimentation is, of course, destined to keep breaking down under the weight of its own internal contradictions. But that, by itself, provides us with no cause for cheer.
In the absence of an adequate strategy to politically defeat it, such continual breakdown of the larger reactionary project will keep producing more and more reactionary movements. So much so that every oppressed social group shall seek to further oppress and marginalise every other group to overcome its immediate crisis.
In such a situation, the state will be less and less successful as a form of representation of the totality of social relations, and will increasingly become an agency of sheer coercion, enabling and deepening the logic of oppression at every level of society. That is the only way for the state, in a situation of extraordinary precarity, to secure its legitimacy, and thus exist as its own naked crisis.
This crisis of the modern state is, as is clearly evident now, a symptom of the decadence of capital — a moment Marx had presciently termed barbarism — characterised by the common ruin of contending classes. So, let us not run away from facts and signs. The current political regime in India, and the nationalistically-articulated counter-revolution it unambiguously stands for, marks the culmination of the barbaric moment of capital in the Indian subcontinent.
Pothik Ghosh is a member of the editorial board of the Marxist web journal Radical Notes