Pieces of the heartland

Rickshaw-walas in Padrauna, in eastern Uttar Pradesh on the Bihar border — the proverbial Purabias — are happy to risk an accident when they crane their necks and turn back to eloquently describe why they cannot be equated with Biharis, politically or indeed in any way. Never mind that the musical drawl of their Bhojpuri is similar, as are the sowing season, crops grown, or every other statistic thrown up about poverty, health and other social indicators. The “difference”, they convince you, comes from their political arithmetic and to equate it all with the certainty of a Bimaru materialist would be a wild thing to do.

As far as differences between states go, this election will witness the culmination of a process visible for decades now. The answers will really emerge once the results are in, but the bottomline is already clear: looking for similarities even between states often clubbed together is fraught with danger. Consider the southern states. They veered off and have their own very peculiar dynamics: Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu, each one unique and proudly distinct. A fascinating example of how states there have kept their identity, despite being cheek by jowl and integrated in other ways, is the district of Mahe within the Puducherry constituency, which as a result of our peculiar colonial past is situated on the Kerala coast. If you drive by you suddenly see DMK flags for exactly that stretch, amidst a sea of Congress tricolour and Left red — they are quite unaffected by even their geographical location, set as they are amidst a full-blooded battle between the UDF and LDF!

North India did show signs of cohesion, visibly so in 1977, but it is now no longer easy to write about the

Bimaru bunch. As Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar put it in a recent article, the north has become a “political mosaic” in itself. While

Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are more visibly distinct from UP and

Bihar, those two are themselves very different from each other, in ways that have not always been understood — except perhaps by the players themselves, who realise that equating them or looking for a “common strategy” is missing the point entirely.

Their social indicators have been almost the same, and caste has been central. Consider how the Ambedkarite revolution hit UP and not

Bihar. The Dalit population is much higher in UP than in Bihar. Meanwhile, Bihar has seen a polarisation between forwards and backwards for a much longer time than has been visible in UP. While earlier caste wars in Bihar played out more literally, in the form of blood-soaked Senas, UP has been more divided and fractious, and the BSP’s moorings in raising Dalit consciousness (however much it may claim today to be of the Sarva Samaj) explains its core vote even today.