Friday, 7 October, 2022
HomeOpinionUP elections 2022 are warming up. Guess who's at the forefront—it's chhutbhaiyya...

UP elections 2022 are warming up. Guess who’s at the forefront—it’s chhutbhaiyya netas

Lives of chhutbhaiyya netas are like a Bollywood film. Some dream to be MLAs, and others deepen the democracy in India.

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The campaigns for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh elections are warming up. Rallies are being organised by various political parties nowadays. In organising them, the local, grassroots leaders and chhutbhaiyya netas, or young local leaders, play a very important role, especially in bringing more numbers. Do you know these netas? The chhutbhaiyya neta phenomenon is getting active again. You will see them garlanding leaders, drumming up support for them, and sloganeering in order to ensure the pot remains boiling. At rallies, the candidate stays behind the Lakshmanrekha of the election podium, and it is these fringe chhutbhaiyyas who do the groundwork. They separate the leaders from the people, but also bring the two closer in a way. Next time you see a poster clipped to a tree in a small town crammed with faces of leaders you don’t recognise, know that they are the chhutbhaiyyas of democracy.

Who are the chhutbhaiyya netas?

You can find them at many places—sitting in the courtyards of big leaders, in SUVs following the ‘lal batti gaadis’ (cars of elected representatives), with followers of important leaders, in political rallies, katcheris, and police thanas.

Chhutbhaiyya netas don’t address themselves with the ‘title,’ it is the people around them who do. They are neither cadres nor important leaders. They are somewhere in between and constantly struggle to become Member of Parliament (MP), Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), or mantri (ministers) through electoral politics. Some of them get successful and fulfil their dreams, but most of them turn ‘netanuma’ contractors or leaders, who spend their lives as local leaders earning their livelihood by helping people in thanas, katcheris, and various government offices. Leaders such as Ramapati Shastri of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Atul Anjan of the Communist Party of India (CPI), and Ram Govind Chaudhary of the Samajwadi Party (SP) rose from the grassroots through their hard work and secured their place in politics.

Some of them also make a lot of money doubling up as contractors constructing roads, organising tours and travels by running local buses, working in real estate by using the influence of the leaders with whom they work. Most of these chhutbhaiyya netas work under the patronage of big leaders.


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Humble beginnings, ambitious aspirations

Chhutbhaiyya netas are the people who start their political careers in their youth. Some of them become leaders through student politics, or work with prominent student leaders as their followers. I met KCT (name changed) who is working for a political party as the president of its local unit. He is known to be close to Harshvardhan Bajpai, the MLA of his constituency.

As a follower of his leader, he aspires to become the MLA of a neighbouring assembly constituency with the support of Bajpai. It is interesting that despite being an ardent supporter of his leader, he wishes to replace him if he is denied a ticket by the party, or when Bajpai will become MP. KCT started his political career as a student leader of a local intermediate college, and became an avid follower of another influential student leader after joining university. He has helped his supporters get quotas, permits, and contracts, and they helped him financially and politically. He says, “In rajneeti (politics), everyone invests in the making of everyone, and this is the way we survive.”

I met another chhutbhaiyya neta named VR (name changed) who comes from a marginal community. He won the Zila Panchayat (DPC) election recently. When I asked him how he became a leader, he said, “Once a local influential person incriminated me in a false case. To face that case, I had to go to the thana and katcheri. In that process, I learned how these systems operate and how to get things done. Then I started helping people to get their work done and evolved a network of my own beneficiaries. My network emerged through providing relief to people from the police, thana, court, katcheri and helping them benefit from various state-sponsored welfare policies and getting small naukris (jobs). It is these people who encouraged me to become a neta. So, slowly I emerged as a neta and contested the DPC elections. I came into politics without any patron, working for the Bahujan Samaj Party.”


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Those who don’t make it

During my fieldwork, I met a chhutbhaiyya neta who left politics at the age of 50 without any success. He makes his livelihood with a kirana shop (general store), which he opened when he realised that he had no future in politics. Whenever he is drunk, he claims he is the chief minister and starts ordering people in that tone. When sober, he expresses his failure in politics and starts crying before his friends, wife, and children. In fact, the lives of some of these leaders go in vain, for they invest their time and energy into the making of so-called big leaders who appear in the news. Sometimes, they also draw electoral moods of the public in favour of their patron.

The lives of such unsuccessful chhutbhaiyya netas are full of suffering, hope, despair, and various kinds of emotional tragedies. The lives of some of them are dukhaant (tragic ending), and a few may get sukhaant (happy ending) like the characters of Bollywood films.


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Chhutbhaiyya netas are important for democracy

Even if they are unsuccessful, many of them contribute to the deepening of democracy in India. They appear as an agency between the State and grassroots for successful implementation of government-sponsored benefits and disseminating them to the poor. They emerge as one of the important political classes for disseminating democratic benefits to the public because they know the language of the State and translate it for the commoners.

It is true that some of these chhutbhaiyya netas help people just to bring them under their fold. But there are also those who take money from the beneficiaries to get their work done in a system that is lethargic, to say the least.

The author is Professor and Director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He tweets @poetbadri. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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