ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 2015 Gram Pradhan Elections in Uttar Pradesh

Money, Power, and Violence

The 2015 gram pradhan elections in Uttar Pradesh present a distinct picture of local elections as compared to state-level and national elections. Three factors— money, power, and violence with localised overtones— have driven the course of elections lately. Large-scale monetary benefits accruing from the position of pradhani motivate the contestants to make substantial investment in elections. The second important element is power that is primarily based on caste status. Although caste positions have changed, the power of caste remains intact. Middle castes have gained salience but relative empowerment of certain communities within the Scheduled Castes is a notable feature in rural societies. The most visible expression of power assertion is violence which is colloquially referred to as dabangai.

The paper is based on a field study conducted at three gram panchayats of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. The paper was presented at London School of Economics at the "From Identity to Interests: Quantitative and Qualitative Explanations of Electoral Change in Rural and Urban India" Conference, 7–8 June 2016. The author duly acknowledges and appreciates valuable comments of the referee that helped in shaping up arguments in the paper.

Panchayat elections are critical in understanding the social and political dynamics of Indian villages. They show how the social and political spheres have undergone a noticeable transformation in villages in the recent past. While the electoral patterns are marked by a process of continuity and change, current trends present a vividly unusual picture of social interaction, political economy, and cultural peculiarities. Past practices are reshaped by new trends that seem to be emerging in the context of greater interlinkage between rural and urban. For instance, village life that was far removed from the rigours of urban economic processes associated with globalisation is now very much a part of it. Globalisation has not only exhorted urban commercialisation, it has also brought rural areas within this fold. People who move to and fro between villages and towns are commonly referred to as rurban. A wealthy class, generally termed as the neo-rich, clearly identify its economic fortunes with representation in local politics as it opens new avenues for amassing wealth. Therefore, local elections become an eye-opener for those who are interested in understanding the social realities and political economy dynamics of India’s villages.

Three vital elements—money, power mainly centred around caste and changing caste configurations, and violence form a critical part of political analysis. They have determined the course of panchayat elections. There is an intricate relation between the three. There are powerful caste leaders who contest fiercely or make their agents contest in reserved seats. Alongside, there is intensive competition with and for money implying that elections involve heavy investments for getting higher returns through the misappropriation of welfare funds. Assertion of power combined with prestige to win elections and acquire economic benefits takes the form of violent clashes between rival individuals and groups.

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Updated On : 19th Jun, 2018
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