India versus Subaltern

The May 12 Karnataka assembly election involves two development models, namely the “India Model” that the BJP/Modi represent and the “Subaltern Model” driven by the Siddaramaiah/Rahul Gandhi leadership. For the first time, these two models will compete with each other for political power and space in the state. Clearly, these models have transformed the political language, narrative and discourse in the run-up to the polls.

The “India Model” emerged during the 2017 Gujarat election and now manifests in the Karnataka polls. It reflects the idea of an industrialised India affiliated to sub-themes like Vibrant India, Start-up India, Skill India and Superpower India. The nation-state has been imagined in multiple ways. This model perceives the country’s future through the lens of capitalism, associated with high rates of growth, among other aspects.

On the contrary, the “Subaltern Model” proposes to address the issues of Dalits, OBCs, and minorities from the perspective of poverty and backwardness. It identifies and targets the poor and marginalised through a series of “Bhagya” or populist programmes. Its flagship programmes include Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya, Arogya Bhagya and Krushi Bhagya, which amount to a diluted version of the welfare state model. This model attempts to be inclusive and identifies people from the margins to provide them political spaces.

However, this does not mean that these two models do not cut across each other’s boundaries. There are spaces where they intersect. But there is one fundamental difference — the fact that the “India Model” also revolves around cultural nationalism. So much so that cultural nationalism and the “India Model” operate simultaneously and co-exist without dislocating each other. On the contrary, the “Subaltern Model” subscribes to the concept of composite culture, which recognises the presence of the “other”.

Today, the question is whether the “Karnataka Model of Development” can be equated with the “Subaltern Model”. The “Subaltern Model” evolved with the implementation of affirmative action or the reservation policy during 1920s. This helped a large number of marginalised people to participate in the political process much earlier than in North India. The three revolutions that transformed Karnataka are the 1974 land reforms, which made thousands of tenants owner-cultivators; the 1970s reservation policy, which again provided the marginalised people with identities; and the third revolution pertains to decentralisation during 1980s that led to the Panchayati Raj Act of 1990s nationally. All these brought about a paradigm shift both from within and without the state.

Karnataka’s political history is replete with the “Subaltern Model” rather than the “India Model”. Invariably, every regime — Deve Gowda, Kumaraswamy, Veerappa Moily, etc — concentrated on the “Subaltern Model”, where development is viewed from a “bottom up” rather a “top down” perspective. This model visualises a country where the peasantry, tribals, backward classes, minorities and the poor, benefit from development.

It appears that both models overlap each other. Both have long histories that can be traced to the colonial era and have evolved over the years. The argument that the “Karnataka Model” cannot be replicated in other parts of India is a half-truth. Clearly, the “Karnataka Model” is specific to the socio-economic-political profile of Karnataka. This explains why neither the “Gujarat Model” nor the “Kerala Model” can be equated with the “Karnataka Model”.

Interestingly, the Yeddyurappa-led BJP government in Karnataka followed the “Subaltern Model”. The government had a budgetary allocation exclusively for agriculture. On the other hand, former chief minister SM Krishna sought to sell the idea of modern India through the Bengaluru/high tech city concept but failed to connect with the voters. However, the “Subaltern Model” received a fillip the day Siddaramaiah assumed office in 2013, when he introduced the Anna Bhagya programme. This spawned a series of other ‘Bhagyas” or populist schemes, which may be considered the fourth revolution in Karnataka.

The ‘Bhagya’ programmes attempt to address social problems like poverty and backwardness. These populist programmes were introduced without any dislocations, dispossessions or deprivations. Siddaramaiah’s political discourse in the run up to the election heavily bank on these populist schemes.

Today, Siddaramaiah’s politics has transcended the AHINDA — Minorities, OBCs and Dalits — social categories alone. It is now AHINDA-plus, which includes those social categories that are immediate beneficiaries of the ‘Bhagya’ programmes. Ideologically, it incorporates a new idea of socialism that is distinct from Lohia-ite, Marxist and Nehruvian Socialism. Siddaramaiah appears to have inherited an Ambedkar-Lohia tradition of socialist thought. To that extent, the AHINDA-plus number has swollen to constitute the majority classes, too. The question is, whether or not this majority will translate into political votes.

A major weakness of the “Karnataka Model” is that it has been unable to exercise influence in different power structures, which includes the media, both print and television. On the contrary, the “India Model” is comprehensive to subsume the “Subaltern Model”, given the fact that it has infiltrated different structures of political power, which includes the media, bureaucracy, judiciary, legislature both at the Centre and in several states. To that extent the “India Model” pervades everywhere — except Karnataka. For the Modi-led BJP, winning the 2018 Karnataka assembly election is critical because it would herald an ideological shift in Indian politics and become the gateway into South India. Besides, it would also prove the popularity of the “India Model”.

In Karnataka, the political reality is that the BJP has to bank more on Modi than Yeddyurappa as the local leaders have failed to generate alternative political discourses. This is why this assembly election cannot be treated simply as a contest between the BJP and Congress but has to be viewed as a larger battle between two development models.

(The writer is a Professor of Political Science and Special Officer, Raichur University (Proposed), Raichur, Karnataka)

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