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India: On Growing Khap - Hindutva Nexus in Muzaffarnagar | Archana Prasad

23 November 2013

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People’s Democracy, November 24, 2013

On Growing Khap-Hindutva Nexus in Muzaffarnagar

[by] Archana Prasad

THE breakout of fresh riots in Muzaffarnagar on October 30, 2013 has once again revealed the open alliance between right wing conservative social structures and Hindutva in the current day political scenario. Though this alliance is not new and has not developed suddenly, the Muzaffarnagar riots showcase its political divisiveness and potency which is borne out of the caste, class and Hindutva nexus. This interrelationship is leading to the communalisation of caste and class politics itself, a factor that has the potential to influence the outcome of the upcoming general elections.

CLASS CONTRADICTIONS, STRUCTURE & CONFLICT

As is well known, Muzaffarnagar has been at the heart of the agricultural growth story that has seen the rising power of the other backward classes since the post-green revolution period. Within this general trend the landholding Jats have arisen as the main social and economic force. The Muslims constitute about 39.7 percent of the population. But as the survey of Muzaffarnagar as a part of the ICSSR project for creating a baseline data for minority concentrated districts (2010) reveals, these religious categories are mediated by both class and caste positions.

The Hindus, who constitute a little more than 60 percent, are divided into the scheduled castes (SC), Brahmins, Thakurs and Jats, with the SCs forming 17.3 percent of the total population and the Jats about 70 percent of the non-Muslim population. The Muslims themselves are divided into the OBC Muslims and the landowning intermediate caste Muslims known as the Mullah Jats. The Brahmins and the Jats (caste Hindus and others) own more than 80 percent of the land, the rest being largely divided into marginal holdings up to 1.5 hectares of land. It is instructive that amongst the 900 households surveyed in the ICSSR project, 78.8 percent SCs, 85.4 percent Muslim OBCs and approximately 55 percent of the general category Muslims did not possess any land. Further, even 51 percent of the non-Muslim intermediary castes have been classed as landless agricultural workers.

In this situation it is significant that only 22 percent of the non-Muslim general category people including Jats are landless. Hence more than 80 percent of the Jats have land, giving them higher social status and economic power. In this context the Muslim peasantry is forced to depend on Jat landholders for work and access to agricultural implements and credit. It, along with the SC labourers, therefore provides cheap agricultural labour to the Jat landlords. At the same time, there has been an opportunistic understanding between landholding Muslim Jats and the non-Muslim Jats in their united exploitation of all the landless labourers. In this situation, a possibility exists of forging a unity of purpose between the Muslim and non-Muslim agricultural workers of the region. But such a strategy has been negated by the nexus between communitarian politics by the Jats and the forces of Hindu nationalism since the early part of the twentieth century.

JAT MAHAPANCHAYATS & THEIR OPPORTUNISM

The All India Jat Mahapanchayat was first formed in Muzaffarnagar in 1905 after a sustained campaign of suddhi or purification. Here the Jats were socialised into Hindu customs and presented as industrious peasant proprietors and functioned as a community through shared social values and norms.

The bhaichara system of landholdings and cultivation only consolidated and strengthened their moral and social cohesiveness which formed the basis of parallel communitarian governance that exists till today. The role of the mahapanchayat in adjudication of disputes concerning marriage, inheritance and other such matters connected to ‘internal community life’ is structured to garner the ‘honour’ of the community, largely through the ‘protection of women and their honour.’ Even though this logic is close to the VHP’s campaign of ‘Love Jihad,’ the Jats were not a natural but an opportunistic ally of the BJP through contemporary history.

However, Jat politics has not always been guided by mahapanchayat morality, rather it has been guided by the interests of a politically strong land holding peasant class under the leadership of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, which managed to unite the middle peasants i.e., Jats, Rajput and Muslims, around farmers’ issues. This farmers’ movement was thus an overarching umbrella movement led by Mahinder Singh Tikait and did not identify itself with any one political party. Rather, its political alliances in the post-Mandal period were largely opportunistic and motivated by the demands for reservation under the central OBC list.

The birth of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) was largely concentrated on converting a farmers’ movement into a political force based on harnessing political benefits from the state system. The movement for seeking OBC reservation through the central list thus became one of the cornerstones of Jat politics in the last three decades. Within this framework, the Jats were earlier aligned with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) at different points in time. They also had strong Congress connections but, gradually and with the ascent of sons of Mahender Singh Tikait, their closeness to Hindutva has grown, especially with the increasing prominence of khap mahapanchayats in the Jat belt.

SOCIAL CONSERVATISM & HINDUTVA POLITICS

This strengthening of the khap panchayats, which in some sense are natural allies of conservative Hindu nationalism since their inception, has been a result of the weakening social reform and welfare in the period since the 1990s. It has also coincided with the strategic expansion of the social base of Hindutva politics that has characterised the rise and reinvention of rightwing Hindu politics in India. Such politics has used the demand for reservation benefits to its own advantage by declaring that the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes or OBCs, who belong to religions other than Hinduism, are not eligible for benefits. It is argued that caste is specific to the Hindu society, and those who convert lose their caste status thereby.

Clearly, this argument is largely designed to create a wedge within the castes and ethnic communities on religious lines, as seen in the case of the Kandhamal riots in Odisha (2008). Whether the demand for reservation for Jats in the central OBC list meets the same fate will depend on the extent to which the khaps have been penetrated by the Hindutva forces.

The first evidence of this penetration is evident in the Muzaffarnagar riots where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad played a key role in making use of the social conservatism of the Jat mahapanchayat. Much before the acts of September 8, the VHP had started vitiating the atmosphere by using moral policing and giving a communal colour to ordinary criminal actions. That the honour of women became the point of polarisation reflects the way in which Hindutva organisations used the recent controversies regarding the khaps to their advantage.

For the Jats, on the other hand, this growing political support has only meant that the Hindu Jat peasantry can consolidate both its landholdings and political interests. The recent spate of killings of Muslims returning to their homes is meant to send a signal to the Mullah Jats that they are no longer welcome in either the mahapanchayat or their own village. This move is likely to counter any attempt to build the political ambitions of the Jat leaders on secular lines. This is clearly evident from the fact that most displaced Muslim families are scared to go back to their homes.

COUNTERING THE HINDUTVA

The hard-line social and political consolidation of the Jat vote bank through the increasing political influence of the khaps has resulted in the politics of polarisation. Here the counter to Hindutva politics is relying on the development of a sectarian Muslim consciousness to reap political benefits, thereby increasing the clout of fundamentalists from within the Muslim minorities. It is clear that the state government of the Samajwadi Party is only using the resultant polarisation to cover up its political and administrative failures in the region. Through this process it hopes to recast the Yadav-Muslim alliance as a cornerstone of electoral victory.

Hence it is not surprising that despite the rhetoric about compensation, rehabilitation and the maintenance of peace, the SP has not been able to live up to any of its promises. Rather, victims are living under threats and no investigations have been started to punish the accused.

Further, such politics has no intention to address the root causes of growing communal politics arising out of the potential conflict between the Jats (mainly represented by the socially conservative mahapanchayat) and those who work for them (i.e., the farm and rural workers comprising a majority of the Muslims and the scheduled castes). In the wake of this political reality, the counter politics of bourgeois parties like the SP is not only facilitating but is also likely to strengthen the khap-Hindutva alliance in the region.

Thus the democratic movement faces the challenge of creating an alternative political discourse as well as a social alliance that can counter all politics of polarisation. But this challenge can only be met by the development of a democratic social consciousness among the exploited marginal farmers and landless rural workers. It is necessary to liberate the exploited classes from the influence of khap panchayats as they are becoming the vehicle of Hindutva expansion and largely represent the interests of middle and large landholders. Such an alliance can be multi-ethnic in character and be built around the common class and sectional interests of dalits, Muslims, oppressed sections of the Jats and other backward classes who are now facing a problem of survival.

P.S.

The above article from People’s Democracy is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use

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