Gurgaon mein jahaan aakhri mall khatam hoti hai na, udhar hi tumhari democracy aur constitution bhi khatam ho jaati hai (Where the last mall in Gurgaon ends, the rule of democracy and the constitution ends as well).” This one dialogue delivered aptly by a rustic Haryana cop in the 2015 movie NH10 succinctly describes the limitations of modernity and modern institutions in India. The character playing the police officer goes on to explain that we drive on the left because Ambedkar’s Constitution mandates this, but in rural India, it’s the writ of Manusmriti that prevails.
But this dialogue is a half-truth. Recent series of events in Noida, a New Delhi suburb, where a woman resident was publicly abused and threatened by a ‘rustic’ local leader, has shown that India is changing for good and the writ of the Constitution and democracy are definitely going beyond the last shopping mall. At the same time, the malls are also mushrooming far beyond the city centres. Urban rich are rightfully claiming their higher position in the hierarchy, and the rural feudal rich are feeling the pinch.
With these changes, the limits and horizons of democracy and the Constitution are also expanding. After all, as former BJP MP late Dilip Singh Judev famously said: “Paisa khuda toh nahin, par khuda ki kasam khuda se kam bhi nahin. (Money may not be God, but it isn’t less than God either).” Finally, a secular entity—money, and not the accident of birth—is deciding the hierarchical structure in Indian society.
A video clip of Shrikant Tyagi, a BJP leader according to his wife, went viral on social media. He was recorded hurling choicest abuses against a woman for speaking up against his encroachment of land in Grand Omaxe housing society of Noida Sector 93. After four days and following his wife’s detention, Tyagi was arrested from Meerut. He has been sent to judicial remand for 14 days.
Rural feudals are decaying
The Noida incident demonstrated that the space for rural badlands and lawless NH10s is shrinking. The feudal rustic uncouth musclemen are also losing their power and aura. Noida events display that the State, even if it is ruled by the BJP, is not shy to side with the mall modernity and is ready to snub or crush the ego of rustic rural feudals.
It’s not a struggle between urban rich and rural poor. Rural feudalism is represented by rich, land-owning ‘upper’ caste peasantry. Their power is vested in land ownership and in their position in the caste hierarchy. The uncouthness of the language of rural feudal has its genesis in the power structure. Only the higher-up in the hierarchy of caste, gender or land ownership can abuse the lowly persons.
With land prices going up in the vicinity of metropolitan boundaries, lands owned by rural feudals are fetching good money. But gentrification is a time-consuming process and can take generations. It can be quite uneven too. When these newly prosperous but unsophisticated classes come in contact with the urban populace, conflicts begin.
This is the uniqueness of societies like India—modernity is not necessarily a result of rupture or departure from the past or tradition. It’s not an easy question for a French or German to answer “Aapka gaon kidhar hai?” (Where is your village?) But in India, most conversations between two strangers start like this. Obviously knowing each other’s caste also helps.
Even those from villages who shift base to an uber-rich urban setting or are working in a corporate setup after university education see their linkages with the past and village continue. This is even glorified as ‘zameen se jude hona’ or being rooted. The scholars studying early Bombay Mill workers have noticed that every year many of the labourers actually go to their villages during the sowing season. The rural feudal can use their rough language with pride and also show the power associated with it. It works. But in an urban setting, it might not be as effective as Shrikant Tyagi is realising now.
Premise of Noida
How does one make sense of the event in Noida? The New Okhla Industrial Development Authority was supposed to be developed as an industrial township. It was established by an Act in 1976, on the eastern bank of the River Yamuna. Geographically, it is like a part of greater Delhi. Noida is hardly 15 km from Delhi’s Connaught Place. Later on, it expanded and became more of a residential township with lots of multi-storied apartments, villas and colonies coming up in the river plain and adjoining agricultural land tracts.
At the same time, the old villages became semi-urbanised. Many of the rich and neo-rich villagers also started owning houses and flats in the apartments and colonies. But their umbilical cord with village and village communities remained intact. In the apartment blocks, rural locals and urban folks share the same spaces. Their relationship can be harmonious or cacophonous, depending on multiple factors.
As a resident of a Noida apartment, I have seen that in the elections of residential welfare associations, the tension between locals and outsiders often becomes overtly palpable. Especially in elite apartments, rural rich remain in the margin and may hold a grudge against urban elites. That’s why, the verbal ruckus and the turf war between Tyagi and other residents of Sec 93 society is hardly surprising.
Capitalism’s changing caste relations
What surprised me is the promptness on the part of police and administration against the Tyagi family and the way the local BJP MP and MLA reacted to this controversy. The nature of the ‘crime’ was not ‘serious’. At best, it was an abusive rant with threats like ‘dekh lunga’ of a man seemingly drunk on political power. The police often negotiate a settlement in such cases.
But police actions in this case like detaining Tyagi’s wife, announcing Rs 25,000 reward for Tyagi’s arrest and a press conference announcement by the commissioner himself give an altogether different angle to an otherwise mundane controversy. Local MP and former Union minister Mahesh Sharma sided with the other apartment owners and reprimanded the commissioner for “laxity.” “We are ashamed that it’s our government in Uttar Pradesh,” he said on record.
The police action and the way the BJP leadership acted in this case tell us a bigger story—that capitalism is pushing back rural rustic feudalism in a big way and it is of no consequence that the feudal forces are represented by powerful caste groups or ruling political parties. While acting against Shrikant Tyagi, the BJP government did not take the caste factor into consideration. Tyagis are among the dominant castes in this part of the UP. The government action must be a shocker also for the community, which organised protests against the police action.
Tyagi caste organisations may think that they still carry the same weight in the power structures. This time around, they may force the government to go slow in the case against their caste brethren. But the fact remains that in the historical process, they are representing a decaying force. Capitalism and modernity might look like a meek force in such a ruckus, but as we have seen in this case, the urban English-speaking gentry has the voice and the capacity to build public opinion through social and legacy media, which plays quite an important role in the decision-making process in any democratic setup.
Yogi Adityanath now wants to make his way into the hearts of urban middle classes, on his way to Lok Kalyan Marg, an ambition that can play out over the next decade.
Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)