Plutocratic Politics of the Punjab 2012 and An NRP’s Guide to Understanding Punjab Politics


WARNING: This is long!

Last week, the Punjab election results surprised many.  Most pundits had believed the cycle of anti-incumbency would continue and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) would fall to the Congress Party, under Captain Amrinder Singh’s leadership.  The results were stunning and after the final count the Akali Dal (56) combined with the BJP (12) had a majority (68) of the 117-member Punjab Legislative Assembly.  The Congress Party had finished with a dismal 46 and 3 seats were claimed by Independents.  The much-heralded (at least in the diaspora and on the internet) Punjab People’s Party of Manpreet Badal finished even worse than expected, with the main leader himself finishing in 3rd place in the two constituencies he contested.

Now the debate has shifted to making sense of the elections.  In the diaspora, laments such as that of my fellow langa(w)riter decrying corruption and the social ills that have been broadcasted – farmer suicides, drug addiction, etc.  Writers in Punjab, such as Yadvinder Curfew saw the victory not as that of the Akali Dal-BJP combine, but of a new ‘experiment’ by Sukhbir Badal and the shift in politics from issue based politics to one of media and money.  The Badal family has control of both.  Friends across social media spaces have provided their own analysis – from the business classes aligning with Sukhbir now that the populism of his father is dead [pagh salute @VehlaComrade] to swing voters, especially cash voters (aligning with the ruling AD-B) and ‘educated netizens’ (splitting between PPP and Congress) [pagh salute @askang – not the singer, mind you!] tilting votes in favor of the Akali Dal.

Now I get to add my voice.  Hopefully in doing so, it will also help diasporic Sikhs and Punjabis understand the politics of Punjab and understand why seemingly irrational choices (those that everyone knows are corrupt) can still be rational.

I turn to political science explanations, although I am no political scientist, in order to help understand the results and the specificities of the politics of Punjab.  I cite some of the most common explanations and offer some rambling comments, criticisms, and reflections.  Hopefully in the comments section, you will add yours and we can have a great discussion.

On Identity Politics – most analysts of Indian politics usually turn towards the easiest categories of analysis – region, caste, gender, age, etc.  Eyeing the map, there were changes in the regional scene.  Malwa, which had voted for Congress in 2007 (Congress winning 37 out of 65 seats), swung back to the Akalis, partially due to Badal pandering to Dera Saucha Sauda’s leader Ram Rahim (SAD-B won 34 out of 69 seats this time, nearly doubling its total from 5 years ago).  In Doaba, from 20 out of 25 in 2007, the SAD-BJP fell to 16 of the 23.  And Majha saw quite a bit of change, with the Congress winning only 4 out of 27 in 2007, more than doubling their total this time to 9 out of 25.  So while there were regional shifts, this does not give us enough information.  Caste as a means of analysis also does not tend to hold in Punjab, as it does in other states.  Despite Kanshi Ram being from Punjab, he was never able to create a third party in the state with his – Bahujan Samaj Party.  Currently the 2 party system accommodates caste and those from groups that have been traditionally discriminated have found their place within the 2 main parties.  As Jodhka writes, this is the ‘idiom’ within Punjab.  Thus, the calculus of caste plays a different role in Punjab.  Religion is still used by ill-informed analysts as a divide in Punjab’s politics.  If this was ever so, it is no longer so.  Thus, I do not think these factors are the most important in understanding contemporary Punjab politics.

On Ideology – many diasporic Sikhs tend to think that ideology plays an important role.  Even some Indian analysts talk about secular v. religious and other naïve divides.  In a place like Punjab, I do not believe that ideology has any role.  Yadvinder Curfew called Manpreet Badal’s PPP as “idealist” or “aadrshvadhi.”  I, too, believe that the politics of idealism in Punjab is not the political moment, although I never thought Manpreet was very ideal to begin with – see my previous post on the “Great Basanti Hype”.  I mean think about it.  What does the Akali Dal- Badal stand for?  What does the Congress of Amrinder Singh stand for?  I think Amrinder Singh is a bit less of a corrupt person than Prakash, but I don’t really believe that either of them stand for anything.  There are ‘ideological moments’ and times where the politics of ideology can play a role.  The 1989 Lok Sabha election was the last one in my memory. Currently, that is not the period we are in.  We are in the politics of plutocracy.

On Corruption – There are generally 2 mutually contradictory hypothesis on the impact of democracy on corruption.  The one I feel most common amongst diasporic Sikhs runs something like – democracy reduces corruption, because of increased transparency, checks and balances from an independent media and civil society organizations, and accountability as voters will not return corrupt leaders to office.  The reality is probably something far more nefarious and akin to the negative hypothesis that states political corruption undermines and perverts democracy.  As candidates believe they can increase the likelihood of their success by providing illicit incentives to voters, especially in a context of poverty and deprivation, then corruption will spread.  Corruption is related to political patronage and this is a point to which I will return.

On Media – In Punjab, and this is a key point, Sukhbir Badal has accumulated media assets.  There is not an independent media in Punjab, especially that of television news.  Day and Night News is probably the closest thing and even they have had to do battle with Sukhbir’s cable mafia.  With an ill-informed public and a media that is the sycophant of a ruling party, this may be a space for NRP’s to intervene.  This does not mean that political insurrection requires a media – the Arab Spring has shown that it does not – but rather it does help to create a groundswell. Satellite television brings new possibilities.  One can dream that serious investment and long-term vision could help create an al-Jazeera in Punjabi that connects to the issues of the day and is not afraid to speak truth to power.

On Patronage Networks – This analytical tool I believe can both help us understand the politics of Punjab and the reason to not expect change anytime soon.  In a “patronage-democracy”, the state monopolizes access to jobs and services and elected officials have discretion in the implementation of laws. The most important point of a “patronage-democracy” is not the size of the state, but the power of election victors to distribute the vast resources controlled by the state to voters on an individualized basis.  The Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress Party are not really “political parties” but really networks mobilize in order to enjoy the spoils of victory.  If their party wins, they will block their factional opponents from everything – having judicial cases reviewed, getting permits, etc.  They will initiate false police cases and other impediments upon the losing parties.  Whichever patronage network can mobilize its constituents better is the victor.  The PPP has not created a patronage network for itself and thus why it was obliterated in the elections.  The Congress Party decision-making committee made HUGE blunders in how it allocated its sources.  By not giving seats to key local patronage networks it cost itself the elections.  The Congress Party still finished with a higher percentage of the total vote (40.1%) than the Akali Dal-Badal (34.8%), but they had alienated key individuals and their local networks.  Thus the debacle was due to the mismanagement by Amrinder Singh.

For diasporic Sikhs, it is important to understand, voting for politicians that are “corrupt” is not the choice that most voters are making.  They are choosing to support their “patronage network” that is vital for their survival and success for the next 5 years.  Thus choosing corruption is indeed “rational” amongst these choices.  The winners must then dole out for their networks.  This is the game in Punjab.

Why the SAD-B has an additional advantage and is able to go toe-to-toe with the Congress Party that offers far more advantages on a pan-India level is due to the coffers of the SGPC.  Prakash Badal was successful in undermining this Sikh institution and raising himself to unchallenged power.  When Badal entered Punjab politics there were three poles of power.  There was the Presidency of the Akali Dal, the Presidency of the SGPC, and then the CM candidate.  Post-1992, the Akali Dal went through huge changes.  One of the most important was in 1996 when Badal named himself President of the Akali Dal, sidelining members of the old guard such as Jagdev Singh Talwandi and decreasing the poles of power from 3 to 2.  It was in February of that year in Moga that Gurcharan Tohra, the President of the SGPC had objected and had remarked that there should be a “one man, one post” rule in the Akali Dal.  Badal in 1999 was able to launch a coup and dismiss Tohra for the challenge.  It was thus in 1999, during the tercentenary celebration of the Khalsa, that Prakash Badal transformed the problematic, but democratic Akali Dal to his own personal fiefdom.  Slowly he elevated his unscrupulous son, Sukhbir Badal sealing the coffin on the Akali Dal from a “Panthic Party” to now just a “dynastic patronage network.”

The dynastic element is extremely significant.  The largest families in Punjab have married into one another.  Prakash Badal married his daughter with the grandson of Pratap Singh Kairon, Congress leader of Punjab during the 1960s.  Sukhbir Badal’s wife, Harsimrat, is part of the famed Majitha clan of Majha.  Harsimrat’s brother, Bikram Majithia married the granddaughter of the former head of the Radha Soamis of Beas, an extremely rich and influential group.  It is from this slim group of family members and close friends that Sukhbir is concentrating his authority and power.  Thus patronage networks are also connected to that of kith and clan.  Through their patronage networks they connect with local gundas and badmaashes to distribute alcohol to purchase votes and threaten those that may oppose.

This is our state of affairs for the next 5 years and the foreseeable future.

However, ever the eternal optimist (forever in chardikala), there are possibilities and some that involve NRPs (non-resident Punjabis).  One is the promotion of an independent satellite news channel.  Maybe it can be a bridge for both Punjabs, providing powerful commentary on the affairs of Punjab both east and west.

Ideas focused more within Punjab has to be the promotion of civil society groups that have social interests and can thus form constituents.  There has to be more at stake for the general population of Punjab than only for the patronage networks.  If people in Punjab form to create interest groups and can pool money, there demands will be met.  The current dynastic parties do not rely on an independent civil society association for mobilizing support.  They rely on their patronage networks and some Dera-based religious formations.  This is the reason for Prakash Badal pandering to Dera Sacha Sauda, his marriage connection with the Radha Soamis of Beas, and even his promotion of Bibi Jagir Kaur, former SGPC president and head of the most important Dera amongst the Labana community – the Baba Prem Singh Dera.  Business groups, IT groups, women’s groups, drug recovery groups, hip hop organizations (projects like that of Mandeep Sethi), etc. are needed to give new possibilities of leadership formations and to create competitive constituent interests.  I’m dreaming of a #occupypunjab with #occupyludhiana #occupyamritsar #occupybhatina #occupychandigarh, etc.  When we see the growth of civil society organizations that go beyond the one-man show and engage large numbers of individuals, then we will begin to see new horizons.

The SGPC has to be detached from the Akali Dal.  Unfortunately SGPC elections, as we saw late last year, are run along the same lines as the general elections.  Still this must be the site of contestation.  In the future I do not believe that Sukhbir will wield the same level of control of the religious institutions as his father did.  Sukhbir did not come out of the Akali struggles and his rise to power has been in the post-1996 period of Akali politics.  This is a potential opening, but it will require a new brand of Sikh politics that seems still far away.  The greatest potential is for Bittu and other Panthic groups to concentrate on social issues and on building a base of support within the SGPC.  Rather shameful, but as Babbu Mann aptly sung, the “diamonds of our Nation (Qaum) smiling face the gallows, willing to give up even their eyes and lives, while the murders (are appointed) run around free and carry the flags of their political parties.

Sukhbir has helped usher in a new type of plutocratic politics in the Panjab.  As widely reported in the press, the new legislative assembly is made of ‘crorepathis’ (those with worth over Rs. 10,000,000).  The phenomenon is not unique to the Akalis as it is largely the case with the Congress Party as well.  Unfortunately except at local levels and without the fostering of civil society groups, I am not sure of a way out of this dilemma (we see this in the United States as well).  However, it does have the potential to sow the seeds for its own destruction.  By inducting the richest and most powerful families with their patronage networks into the 2 party political system, the formation of ‘dynastic’ politics will severely limit the potential for the young and ambitious.  Eventually they will split apart (as we saw with Manpreet Badal).  While it does not seem to me it was much of a determinant in this year’s election, eventually a third party will resonate, even if just for a single election cycle.

A true “third front” seems to me not one that will develop from the political realm, but that of civic social groups.  Those that can mobilize most easily are “religious formations” and hence, as cited earlier with Bibi Jagir Kaur and Bikram Majithia’s marriage to Charan Singh Radha Soami’s granddaughter, Ganieve Grewal.  Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was the only person with actual Panthic intentions.  However the religious landscape has changed and such an independent-thinking individual is very unlikely to rise in the current cronyism.  The other potential is through the formation of a Dalit idiom in Punjab’s politics.  So far, the Akali Dal and Congress have accommodated individual leader’s interest, partially because these leaders have not challenged land distribution, wealth, and other issues that would actually cause strife.  I think this may be one place where change will occur in future, as the Dalit diaspora will assertively fund new political potentials.  Despite this prediction, it still leaves little for the future of Punjab.  These interjections, whether religious or caste, do not have the potential to change the future of Punjab.   Again, it will depend on the people of Punjab fomenting a lively civic society and interest groups that can pool reserves.  The diaspora can play a role in helping the development of such groups, but in the end it will be for the people of Punjab to decide.

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24 Responses to “Plutocratic Politics of the Punjab 2012 and An NRP’s Guide to Understanding Punjab Politics”

  1. Thriller says:

    boycott jazzy b –

  2. [Part 1 of 2]

    A timely and pertinent analysis — plutocratic is the word which came to my mind as well! This should be circulated around a bit. I went through two-thirds of the piece, will finish the rest later. But here are a few points, in addition or in contrast to yours, which I would I like to humbly submit:

    1.True, the subversion of media as a democratic institution is one of the saddest things to be witnessed here. I still remember Baljit Balli, who heads PTC, standing amidst the Badal posse after the swearing-in. Since when did the editors become so openly supportive? And we know for sure that PTC is not the Fox News and Baljit is not the Rush Limbaugh of Punjab.

    2.I would beg to differ on the voting trends of Dalits aligned with the deras. Call me a dreamer but it seems as if the cult-like grip of the deras is giving way to the underlying Dalit consciousness and assertion (which were the actual reasons behind their rise!). It would be wrong to assume that even this time, the followers went blindly with the diktat of their head. The patterns are showing some minute anomalies which should to be analyzed in detail. It might have happened that a substantial minority of the followers exercised their own discretion out of the disillusionment with the vote-bank politics, marking the beginning of the end of these manipulative institutions.

    3.You hit the nail on the head on the Manpreet phenomenon. The upwardly mobile, educated and urban peasantry and the middle-class were the only ones rooting for him in the beginning. The more astute and conservative village voter balked at his open rebellion, which challenged the clannish and parochial ethos of rural life. How could he sling mud at the very family that gave him a platform and a voice in the first place. Rest, he went too far-out with the Bhagat Singh thing and focused too little on the fundamentals. If it was for him, the voting should have happened in Brampton or on Facebook!

    4.On Amarinder being less corrupt that Parkash. We must not ascribe corruption as a money-making phenomenon only. It signifies the decay of human values and intellect. While Parkash’s corruption is based more on political expediency, Amarinder personifies the immoral squalor so typically associated with the royalty.

    [Continued below…]

  3. [Part 2 of 2. Continued from above.]

    5.On your paragraph, “On Corruption”: I think it highlights an inherent flaw in the first-past-the-post system of electoral representation. Our citizenry is pliant, self-serving and parochial. This produces a fundamental bias of representation in our democracy. Haven’t the expectations and awareness of the venal electorate been overburdened with a cultural affinity towards tribalism and a misplaced sense of history? I’d written a small piece to a political leader in the same regard, inspired by the referendum held in the UK on choosing the proportional system of representation, which was rejected by its peoples. Please bear with my indulgence:

    The proverbial bias of representation in a democracy

    Dear Mr. XXX– As you may better understand, such prescience and lucidity of thought does not percolate to the higher echelons of politics. Not that the leaders are incapable of having the much-vaunted depth and foresight (as is generally assumed), but these existential observations necessitate one to be a mere observer, dissecting the situation with the scalpels of intellect. An empathic doer, on the other hand, would rather choose to succumb to the expectations of his people. It is the same susceptibility and an innate ability to tap the collective consciousness which rewarded him with the mantle of leadership in the first place. As it often happens, this overarching responsibility and the proverbial bias of representation which comes with it can overshadow moral righteousness and prudence. This peculiar dichotomy can best be seen as the trappings of populism. However, there comes a time when the flow of rightful democratic expectations ebbs, when the order of enfranchised representation should be reverted, when a balance has to be struck between the rights of an individual and his social contract with the state, when ideological course correction should take precedence over populist appeasement. For it is not only the leadership which falters, the electorate can also fail to understand the pluralistic aspirations of the state or overburden themselves with a misdirected sense of history. Conscious of this stark dichotomy, the leader should take the brave and selfless decision of calling for an overhaul, thus rising to the hallowed pedestal of a statesman rather than a mere politician. The zeitgeist in Punjab is calling for such an inward and inclusive overhaul.

    6.On media activism: I think a revolution can’t be hatched using just the media. As Gil Scott-Heron so rightly said, “The revolution will not be televised.” We need a grassroots movement to break the traditional and cultural glasshouses that Punjabi people like to live in. Tactically speaking, with the Akalis being retained, a media agitation would have to survive the onslaught of a dangerous and unforgiving mafia. 3 crores a channel was the going rate, the last time I checked. While interacting with a senior Akali leader last year, when their chances of winning looked dim, we shared a common conclusion that Punjab also needs a good and diligent opposition; a shadow cabinet that would keep the government on tenterhooks. Development cannot and should not be directly equated to rule; projects and ideas can also be nurtured by pushing forward an incisive debate that the establishment cannot escape from. But then the question arises, is there any one left "clean" enough to take that charge? All the closets are full of skeletons.

    7.On marriages that crisscross the party line. Don’t be surprised; they are the natural results of our feudal leanings.

  4. I also wish that you use the word "Jatt " with the same alacrity like "Dalits" in this article.

  5. rocco says:

    brilliant article.The best article of all time on Langar Hall. He hit everything right on. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was the only leader to think along Panthic lines from Panjab

  6. G Singh says:

    I just read this article or scanned it I am very impressed– Mr Pukhrah and the author have basically nailed the ISSUES to the T. More importantly family take over the incestuous relationship between families that control Punjab future. It bodes ill for panth when SGPC is being treated as personal banking system and catering to aspiration of handful of folks. There was also an attempt to Tag Khalsa College as Univ and then Majithias could run it!. Sikh Panth forgot SGPC was amongst the first truly democratic system British were forced to set up in India after sacrifices by Sikh jathas the common simple folks. Punjabis and SIkhs in particular will need to undergo the same struggle to get rid of this stranglehold by handful. NRI or Sikhs or Punjabis involvement is a good thought but they dont have means to fight this although they can sponsor such endeavors but believe me its not easy to fight or takes sacrifices to fight the establishment. Its a sad thing SAD and COngress are doing to Punjab actually its all SAD for next many years since Congress worker base will be wiped out . In the mean time Self reliant and respected Punjabis are getting addicted to freebies doled out by Govt like free power etc not realizing the great financial quagmire they are sinking into. Because money is coming out of public funds not from leaders. Shall post later but keep up the good work

  7. Sanehval says:

    Pukhraj got it with the disappearance of "Jatt." Those who don't deal with caste politics in their lives will bring the term to the forefront of any analysis of Punjab politics. Great article though.

  8. DeepH says:

    Khalistan is the answer to this whole mess. Only then will Panjab be free of all these vices and peoples.

  9. Amrit Randhawa says:

    What a article it had good thought put behing it

  10. M Kaur G says:

    The real problem is Jattism in Punjab politics. It has corrupted the mind of an average Jatt at many levels. Jattism is the real cause of downfall of Punjab. Period.

  11. jsa says:

    First, I am in complete agreement that there are few constituencies that are likely to amount to anything in terms of a challenge for Badal. As we have seen in the case of patron networks through a large state sector (I think this might be a pretty significant factor, but only with certain segments of the population), control of bureaucratic functions, and, most appropriately, simple financial benefits and manipulation of the legal system, most of the politically-animating segments of society are co-opted first. This was the case in Mubarak's Egypt for much of his rule–the expansive civil service rendered left white-collar technocrats dependent on his system.

    I might be wrong, but I suspect that industry and business is not a likely source of resistance; Punjab has less industry than one would expect. Scholars have come up with one explanation: that Punjab's geographical situation at the border of Pakistan precludes the Center from sponsoring industrial development there. I'm utterly unfamiliar with the business climate in Punjab outside of that snippet, but I presume that Badal's insistence on maintaining agricultural subsidies would serve two purposes: on one hand, it obviously keeps small and medium-scale farmers, struggling with the price of water and farm capital, in his pocket. On the other, I think that it might retard labor mobility that would ordinarily shift increasingly unprofitable operations from farming to other spheres, such as general labor and possibly even business. My impression is that most of the IT expertise in India is located in areas like Maharasthra and West Bengal (I wonder if the labor restrictions that so bothered Sikhs in the late 70s and early 80s still exist, if in mutated or mitigated form), so it'd seem logical that domestic opposition is unlikely to emerge in these areas, based on my limited knowledge of the subject.

    Historically, many states held together by patronage networks have been pierced by foreign investors (in terms of FDI and mutual funds, though I wonder how effective the latter is), who tend to seek clarity and rational legal process to protect their investments. While inflows of capital would obviously serve to line Badal's pockets, I wonder whether the tradeoffs–the possibility of improving institutional control to the point that patronage networks are threatened or squeezed–would leave him feeling that the incentives are strong enough. In any case, I think that this case may not necessarily be applicable to Punjab, which lacks the gold mine resources that the Middle East has.

    The question of Dalit mobilization is interesting to me, especially given the gap between their demographic significance and the representation of their interests. However, I wonder if their empowerment will fundamentally call the legitimacy of the system into question, or merely alter the allocation of benefits to a more equitable balance. While I suppose that this would be upsetting to Badal's original constituents, it would a) possibly still be better than the alternatives, whose chances victory are less certain, and whose track record as patrons are more questionable (in any case, in context of the lack of an ideologically-organized political spectrum, does it even matter to us if Congress or SAD wins?), and b) replace those constituents with a more numerous new constituency, where the returns on each rupee spent as patronage would probably initially be higher, given Dalits' lower earning power as compared to currently-entrenched groups.

    Finally, although religion seems an unlikely site of resistance, I think that, if handled correctly, the egalitarianism of Sikhi could be of value and take on aspects of social security. Without attempting to stretch too far, the Muslim Brotherhood did this for many decades under Mubarak, and managed to field some independent candidates competitively. However, the key difference is that the MB managed to exploit, to use your term, a pole of power that was independent of Mubarak's plutocratic apparatus, a reality which simply isn't present in Badal's Punjab.

    We've had the discussion about the need for a politicized and critical media in Punjab, and in India generally (I read a statistic that up to 88% of television channels are subject to government ownership, but the data might be old), and I think that this is still a critical need that maybe NRPs can fulfill in part or whole, with local cooperation.

  12. dass says:

    I will post a contrarian view here
    1. You talk about Badals controlling media through cable network and using it to their advantage. How many of the voters do you think, actually have access to TV and are able to afford cable connection.
    2. Its wrong to say that religion is no longer a factor. If Akali Dal polls 35% votes, then 25% will be such that they will stand by SAD come what may. For that 25%, Congress is the villian and any note to a third party is an indirect vote to the congress. So they continue to stick with SAD.
    3. When you say that Congress finished with higher percentage of total votes than SAD, you are misrepresenting the facts. SAD contested 93 seats while Congress contested 117. If SAD’s vote share is normalized over 93 seats, it comes out to be 43.34%, higher than Congress
    4. The shift in Malwa is not due to Dera Sacha Sauda voting for Akalis but staying neutral. If the dera wielded any power, Baba’s relative wont have lost from Bathinda.

  13. We have some really productive views here but the "contrarianism" needs to be tapped accordingly. Can I request Jodha ji, the author of this piece, to gather a discussion group around the people who have submitted their comments. I, for one, am trying to foster a grassroots movement in Punjab. Such a feedback would be immensely contributory.

  14. jodha says:

    Dear All,

    Thank you for your wonderful comments and insightful comments. I'll take them in the order received. As per @Pukhraj Singh's suggestion – you can email me (if you are interested) – jodha [at] the langar hall [dot] c om – and we can continue discussions there as well.

    Now on to your comments…

  15. Jodha says:

    Dear Pukhraj Singh,

    First off thanks for your insightful comments and criticisms.

    1) The nexus of media and politics is indeed pathetic. Your example of Balli rings so true. @Dass had some comments about the importance, so I will explore the importance of television news there.

    2) I hope you are right about a down-turn in votes aligned with religious formations, be it the Sant Samaj or various Deras. I don’t think that voters ‘blindly follow the diktat’ of the baba, but rather I feel that most don’t care about the choices. Their particular baba has provided for them somehow materially, religiously, spiritually, with “luck”, a son, etc. etc. and since they see very little relevance in the political process, they are willing to give their vote to the baba. The baba on the other hand has an absolute interest in the political process and can leverage with or against the two-system, however they see it fit. I don’t see this as a “reaction” to vote-bank politics, as I believe in the “patronage networks” of the two parties more or less have constituencies that are willing to “sell” their votes for something. This is a rational choice; it just does not serve Punjab in the long-run and maybe not even their interests.

    3) You and I are on the same page about Manpreet and his attempt at biting the hand that fed him. It was a debacle, but Prakash will forgive his ‘patheeja’ to close the rift with his brother. Sukhbir and Manpreet won’t be able to close ranks and Manpreet will largely go the way of other Akali politicians. Appreciated by some, but soon forgotten by the masses. It’s not even like the Congress situation where they can just exist in random committees. For the Akalis, it seems the only choice is political oblivion. I don’t think that Manpreet has even the capability of creating a social movement as he doesn’t even know the idiom of the people. It is a telling contrast that Manpreet used Khatkar Kalan to stage a political spectacle, while Prakash used Chhappar Chiri for his most recent. It speaks volume about the way that Prakash has an astute understanding of the psyche of the masses in Punjab, in a way that Manpreet (and even Sukhbir) will never have.

    4) You may be right about your contrast between Amrinder and Prakash. Maybe in my head, I still give some credit to him for taking a stand on the river water issues, even if just a show against both his party’s high command. Prakash never had the guts to do even that. In 1984, Amrinder showed some convictions; Prakash didn’t. But in the larger picture you’re right, fighting over royal nepotism and an unscrupulous plutocratic is hardly a debate worth having.

    5) Thanks for sharing your letter. Prescient indeed!

    6) Agreed that a revolution cannot be hatched just using the media. Lazy media commentators that have used this weak debate to understand the events in Egypt and Tunisia last year have been refuted by more sophisticated analysis that have emphasized civil society such as factory worker communes and labor unions.

    7) Not surprised at the marriages, though I do think they should be highlighted. It would be an interesting project for someone to chart family trees of even the 20 most important political families in Punjab. It would largely tell you the wealth of the state as well.

    8) I’ll try to take up your suggestion of discussing Jatt politics in my later comments as others have asked this question more directly.

  16. Jodha says:

    PART 1

    @JSA – thanks for your comments as well. Haha, finally a political science student!

    1) You are absolutely right that neither business nor industry will be a site of resistance. Growth during the 5 years of Badal reign largely occurred in the tertiary economic sector, especially with regards to the hotels and restaurants. I need not emphasize who largely owns the former. Many so-called “public private partnerships” include the same family. You are right that in the literature, scholars have cited East Punjab’s proximity to Pakistan as the reason for the FDI not investing in Punjab. Despite West Punjab’s proximity to the same border, Lahore has found investments and I always thought this line of argument was spurious at best. It seems the phenomenon you are talking about with regards to Badal’s brand of populism, seems less to be about a lack of labor mobility, but possibly incentives against entrepreneurship and new forms of capital investiture. Labor is highly mobile. In the primary and secondary sectors of the economy, labor from other areas of South Asia have come to the state for jobs and opportunity, largely solicited to do this by rich Jatts. Others from Punjab have showed their mobility by leaving the state. I would venture every Eurasian nation-state west of Punjab (from Pakistan to the UK, inclusive of Central Asia, West Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe has Punjabis currently in prisons for not having proper documentation. This probably includes a large number of South American counties as well). So again, it isn’t making labor immobile, but I think your right unprofitable operations continue. With every country in the world now clamoring to create “IT hubs”, I am not excited about Punjab’s future in this world. There is a hub at Mohali and it has attracted companies such as Quark, Dell, and InfoSys to name a few, but many of these jobs are related to service centers and are extremely limited in their hiring potential.

    2) Your point about the long-term ramifications of foreign investors in intriguing. I have not looked at it in any depth but there is a book that explores Sikh diasporic philanthropy –

    It may be an interesting addition to this conversation.

  17. Jodha says:

    @JSA – Part 2

    3) On the question of Dalit mobilization, reserved seats still show a huge wide gap between demographics and representation. An additional question is that even in these paltry numbers, do the elected individuals represent the interests and consciousness of the constituency or do they seem to be the same more or less as all representatives. Out of the 56 seats held by the Shiromani Akali Dal, 21 were won by Dalit Sikhs (out of 29 total reserved seats), thus nearly 40% of all Akalis. My point in the original post is that caste interests presently have been accommodated in the 2-party system, meaning those of a particular community seem that there is more opportunities within the existing SAD-Congress framework than a third option. I think your point about “questioning the legitimacy” vs. “alter the allocation” is important, but I do think they are linked. If the point is that a few “rich Dalits” get elected with some “rich Jatts” and a few rich Sainis, Khatris, etc. and all of them just enrich themselves during the process, you’re right it isn’t much different. This is the current situation. If the possibility arises where people question the system and think that the future of Punjab is for all of its peoples, especially those that have faced inhumane and unjust discrimination. My own conjecture and in some way it is informed by my reading of Sikh history is that when the Panth’s concern has been about the downtrodden (read Giani Ditt Singh and Professor Gurmukh Singh and the Singh Sabha Lahir as the most recent period), the Panth has risen to great heights. Most Sikhs have abandoned this spirit for social justice and so they languish and are taking the state down with them. If the reallocation of resources into the hands of the masses becomes the focus again, I think a new future would lie ahead. Not just religious sloganeering, but actual material changes.

    I agree on your point that currently it does not matter whether SAD or Congress wins. I think many of us want to see a change. That is the point.

    4) I think your comment about the Muslim Brotherhood is intriguing, but I see no Sikh religious formation in Punjab that has any legitimacy. The sycophants that parade themselves as a Sikh papacy are only there at the whim of Badal. Everyone knows that – from the Akal Takht Jathedar to the SGPC President to even the DT head. They are cronies. Amongst most dera religious formations, there influences are localized and not pan-Punjab. To continue with your discussion on MB, it wasn’t so much that they exploited a ‘pole of power’, but that they were willing to face state persecution and then turn away from the state in the face of Mubarak’s brutality to ‘create a pole of power.’ Remember it was Gamal Abdel Nassar, followed by Sadat and Mubarak that broke the back of the ulema and al-Azhar, just as Badal has done with these institutions. The MB became a real voice amongst a particular constituency and gained legitimacy by actually having an ideology. Most of these jokers on the Sikh stage or even various Babas desire state privileges and access, not principles and values.

  18. Jodha says:

    @dass – great points! I'll respond to some of your excellent corrections and intriguing questions tomorrow. Work awaits! My apologies for now.

  19. JSJ says:

    Great post.

    Ajit out of Jalandhar is another newspaper which is basically a mouth-piece forthe Akalis. Some paid new there maybe.

    Once people become use to freebies, why should they give up. Human nature. I am thnking about Manpreet's idea of balancing budgets and farming subsidies provided only to marginal farmers. Power, water is provided free to farmers(what a waste of water on rice/paddy farming). Why should poor populace of the state support subsidies for rich farmers?

    Some stats.

    "Debt -ridden state sees its population prosper".….

  20. Jodha says:

    Dear @Dass,

    You raise important points and I stand corrected on some matters:

    1) You raise an important point about television access. The answer for Punjab is QUITE HIGH. According to recent statistics:

    Against the national average of 47.2 per cent, as many as 82.6 per cent households have television sets in Punjab. –….

    2) I don't think those that support the Akali Dal today do it largely out of religion. There are 'family traditions' as such; if the Congress is the villain, then it is due to 'political' events of the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

    3) Excellent point on the normalization of votes. I hadn't considered that and had only considered aggregate numbers. It was a mistake. Thanks for catching this.

    4) DSS' shift towards a 'neutral' position after the 2007 election could only be read as a nod to the Akalis. Which relative are you referring to?

    Thanks for the comments!

  21. dass says:

    1. When SAD is accused of using cable mafia to ensure that rival channels (read dayandnightnews) are suppressed, the only place where they can allegedly wield influence is where people use cable network (wired lines reaching home, not where they have antenna or dish on roof). What number out of these 82% will have the cable tv. and those who have dish tv, they can access day and night news, the government power can do nothing in that case. Also note that wired cable exists majorly in cities and towns where the seat share of both parties is very close.
    4. I disagree. Backing congress, backing akalis, staying neutral are 3 mutually exclusive and independent strategies. dera backed congress in 2007, akalis(in bathinda) in lok sabha elections 2009 and were neutral this time. Congress' bathinda urban candidate's son is married into Baba's family.

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