On March 4 one of the most widely circulated English dailies in the country organised a debate in the august burrasahibs' club in Kolkata, the Tolly Club, on issues of governance, coming elections, and respective political visions of the major political parties. The debate and discussion for the most part went along traditional lines. The Congress spokesperson was derisive of the AAP for its naivete and ignorance of the simple fact that when in power you have to govern and cannot think of the issues you had agitated over. The BJP spokesperson also gunned for the AAP over its street character and had little to say about the Congress. The underlying tone was, why flay a dead horse? The CPI(M), not to be left behind in proving responsible to the respectable, asked the AAP spokesperson if their oppositional conduct was moulded on the principle of responsibility.
The English daily could certainly take credit in not only bringing these four parties together around the same table, but also perhaps inadvertently revealing the emerging fault line in Indian parliamentary politics, which will be around respectability or irreverence, accountability or non-accountability to the system, responsibility or irresponsibility, and finally political adaptability of the party or its incorrigible street character. The clash between the parlour game and dust bowl will become only more fierce.
The full significance of this emerging fault line can be understood only in the context of the neo-liberal project of restructuring of the State which is to redefine the latter's shape and functions, not its destruction. The contradiction with which the neo-liberals constantly struggle is that a strong State can just as easily thwart their programme as implement it; hence they are inclined to explore new formats of techno-managerial governance that protect their ideal market from what they perceive as unwarranted political interference. One way to achieve this and restrain political democracy is to bend the State to market logic pretending one can replace "citizens" with "customers". Consequently, the neo-liberals seek to restructure the State with numerous accountability devices and impose rationalization through introduction of some kind of new public management, or, better still, convert State services to private provision on a contractual basis. Hence, we find new buzzwords as accountability, responsibility, governability.
Yogendra Yadav, the AAP spokesperson on the round table, in his usual polite way asked the CPI(M) spokesperson Sitaram Yechury back, when had the principal party of the Left chosen responsibility to the system over faithfulness to its own principles and ideas? And when had Sitaram Yechury, of all Indian politicians, taken on the responsibility to defend the system? He left his question with the observation whether this fetish with responsibility had not encouraged the mindset when the CPI(M) had no problem in opening fire on peasants in Nandigram. Clearly, the round table had slid into the frame of the divide of our time — party, establishment, wealth and stability on one side and street existence, continuous maverick interface with unorganised sections of population and new irreverent political tactics on the other. Yet this divide is too clean, too understandable.
Yogendra Yadav is a good friend of mine. I also respect him for his integrity. Therefore, I found something disappointing in his all too candid and too polite play. The smoothness could not hide the chink that may become a fault line, within the bigger one I have spoken of, in years to come. Politics is less like a barricade divided street and more like a concentric circle.
In the ensuing discussion after the presentations someone from the audience expressed her disappointment with AAP's declared credentials of being a common man's party given the fact that AAP had extended support to the Khap panchayat system in Haryana and Western UP. Yogendra replied that he had been misquoted by the media. All he had told was that, so long as the Khap panchayats were involved in adjudicating local, social affairs, they were ok. But these panchayats should not and should not be allowed to cross the limits of law and enter the boundaries of criminal jurisdiction. He found nothing wrong with Khap acting within limits, if you want to put it that way. Was not this answer too facile and could persuade only the gullible? When did Yogendra Yadav start thinking that local matters were not criss-crossed with caste and gender? Or, that the social meant primarily cleaning schools and collecting charity for the needy? After all, we know what have happened all these years in Haryana and western UP in the name of adjudicating local and social matters by the principle of kinship.
Kinship as a problem of governance is as old as the business of government itself. Look at the Mahabharata, where kin ties had to be re-negotiated and re-interpreted according to the necessities of rule and administration of kingdom. In India, colonial rule had intervened with several legislations in the sovereign operations of kinship ties, which brought out the crucial position of women — the woman — in the affinitive arithmetic sometimes known as the grammar of caste ties, tribal ties, village ties, family/marital ties, clan ties, etc. As a result, kinship was perhaps for the first time brought face to face with the reality of modern administration, whose social aim was to bring the modern nuclear family at the centre of re-organised modern society. Today kinship has become not a tool to further money relations. Blood ties and imagined blood ties have become crucial in politics from village to capital level.
The enactments on personal law, alimony, property management, and measures on common property resource, conversion, inter-faith relations, and several other associated issues all prove this point.
Endogamy is being sought to be strictly enforced now in Khap lands in some cases, and in others cases interpreted in new ways, where a girl cannot be married within the supposed clan, at times the village being interpreted as the clan, and hence within the same village. We can refer to some panchayat rulings in Haryana, strictures on various marital ties crossing fictional divides including religious and caste divides, leading to killings, torture, and expulsion of women particularly belonging to Dalit groups. Typically, thus new social boundaries of exclusion are being drawn.
Consider this situation: A cluster of villages peopled by Jats is claimed to be united by caste and geography. The main rule is that all boys and girls within this cluster are considered siblings. The panchayat governs the cluster (khap) formed by same gotra (clan) families from several neighbouring villages. Those living in this cluster are not allowed to marry in the same clan or even in any clan from the same village. Many young boys and girls were killed in the past defying khap rules. The panchayat imposes its writ through social boycotts and fines and in cases of defiance sometimes ends up either killing or forcing the victims to commit suicide. All this is done on the grounds of honour and brotherhood. The few men constituting the panchayat settle disputes and control the lives of the young. Young girls are routinely threatened, abused and killed under the verdicts of these so-called clan councils.
Human knowledge tells us that kinship is the pre-condition of the human. It also tells that wherever that precondition has been violated, such an act has been treated as a crime — crime for violating caste, clan, property, and existing communication structures.
The AAP spokesperson was, therefore, either being simplistic or self-deceiving. AAP has to be more daring, or as the philosopher says push thought to the extreme. Then its contribution regardless of what happens to it in the elections will become durable.
The author is Director, Calcutta Research Group