Monday, February 1, 2010

The young and the restless in Gujarat

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    • Mona G. Mehta
    • Rahul Gandhi recently addressed an important Youth Congress training event in Ahmedabad, asking his party workers to introspect on why the Congress had been out of power in Gujarat for more than two decades.
    • The key to winning Gujarat will lie in the ability to understand why the state has been particularly hospitable to the politics of Hindutva — a cocktail of Hindu unity, security from Muslims and Singapore-style neoliberal economic growth.
    • trategies to revive the Youth Congress must recognise two enigmatic realities of Gujarati society.   


      First, Gujarat has one of the highest rates of urbanisation in India that is fast producing a new aspirational middle-class. This new class is predominantly from the backward castes (OBC, SC, ST), non-rural, numerically significant and younger. Unlike the traditional middle-class that was mostly upper-caste (Savarna), this new middle-class is a product of a complex set of processes let lose by caste based reservations and economic liberalisation. The BJP’s political rise is linked with its ability to tap into this new middle-class since the 1990s. Its ascent is also enabled by popular gurus, kathakars and religious sects that propagate a seemingly monolithic “syndicated Hinduism.” This new Hinduism and Hindutva politics circulate similar tenets of an exclusionary Hindu polity and consolidate each other’s respective yet overlapping audiences. For instance, an upwardly mobile and educated Dalit professional who migrates from a rural setting to Gandhinagar is likely to join an influential sect such as Swaminarayan. As part of a process of social mobility or “Sanskritisation”, this person may also become sympathetic to the programmatic agenda of Hindutva. These new demographic realities indicate that the traditional caste framework in Gujarat is increasingly unstable. The Congress will have to shed its old apathy to the traditional middle class and recognise the new aspirational middle-class. It will have to offer an alternate vision of modernity and development that catches the imagination of this emergent class.   


      Second, Gujarat’s Youth Congress can capitalise on the state’s own history of popular mobilisation. The party will do well to take seriously the words of a senior Gujarat Congress leader who notes that “Gujaratis are a people of movements”. From the Mahagujarat movement of the 1950s, the anti-corruption Navnirman movement of the 1970s, the anti-reservation agitations of the 1980s, the Narmada dam mobilisation of the 1990s, to the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign — Gujarat has been a hotbed of mass movements. Politics in Gujarat is marked by game-changing mobilisations that typically occur in decade-long cycles. These mobilisations ride on specific ideas that impact the politics of their respective eras.  

    • The writer researches political science at the University of Chicago and is co-editing a forthcoming book on Gujarat.

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