Lords in Action

Gimmicks sell and they sell like hot cakes in India’s volatile vote market where voters young and old alike, always look vulnerable to populist tricks. Successive Polls in this land of Gandhi and Buddha show that younger Indians, otherwise not illiterate or semi-literate, are much more casteist and irrationally religious than older people. They also show that the sectors of society growing fastest are the ultra-orthodox rightist in outlook, who are not pro-egalitarianism. They are not interested in it at all. By launching cleanliness drive on Gandhi’s birthday—October 2—Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to remain in focus for some time and may help his party—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—in doing good business in the ensuing assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra. Congress Party is in a dilemma as to how to combat Modi’s aggressive plan to involve school students in ‘Clean India’ campaign for a period of five days stretching from Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth day on November 14 until Indira Gandhi’s birth day on November 19. So Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi—all have gone to the Modi camp. Given the changed context, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) seems to be changing its strategy on Gandhi and Nehru dynasty, because Modi cannot initiate any controversial policy without the tacit approval of RSS.

If anything, it is a nice tactical ploy to appropriate rival group’s icon figures while doing very little in terms of addressing the real issues that affect the dalits who are traditionally engaged in cleansing job—scavanging—throughout the country. Modi holding a broom in New Delhi’s dalit slum area may be a staple for the electronic media but it does hardly carry any positive message to the ‘low caste’ society that continues to struggle hard to get rid of social stigma they are being subjected to day in and day out. Modi’s broom cannot stop the continuing atrocities on the dalits. After all caste has social sanction which the Modis don’t talk about. So they indulge in drama.

The ineffective political choices, limited by electoral pragmatism, that the ruling elites, irrespective of their colour, make from time to time, just skip the caste question in its entirety. What all they want is to keep the dalit anger in check within the limits of reservation. Those who have been benefited from reservation never try to improve the lot of the vast majority of their own community—the broom is still in the hands of the Modis who are not in favour of disturbing the status quo in caste equation. The process of co-option and assimilation has marginalised the marginalised further.

Not that ‘upper caste’ people are solely responsible for maintaining this obnoxious institution that stands in the way of social reform. The middle castes, more precisely the Yadav clan of north India, that has moved socially and economically upwards after the implementation of Mondal Commission recommendations, are no less notorious in bashing the dalits. In a sense they practise reverse casteism with a view to preserving this system of inequity because they are the pampered beneficiaries of Mondal politics. They have been in power in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for a fairly long time only to allow the poor to get divided and polarised on caste lines. Their prolonged rule—or misrule—has just strengthened caste prejudices further, instead of weakening them.

Different Janata Dal formations, mostly splinter groups from the original Janata Party that dislodged the Indira regime after the Emergency was lifted, actually represent the neo-rich arising from the middle castes. The so-called ‘socialist’ (or ‘samajwadi’) outfits too are in essence offshoots of former Janata Party evolved through the pro-democracy movement of Jayprakash.

Faced with the BJP onslaught these Janata groupings that thrive on caste solidarity and secular rhetoric are trying, of late, to come together, to protect their fiefdoms. Very recently leaders of various splinter groups of the old Janata Parivar as they call themselves, perhaps imitating the style of Sangh Parivar, explored the possibility of getting united with the sole purpose of defeating BJP in elections. Ironically enough, caste lords looked back for the first time and recalled the political struggles of Lohia and Chaudhury Charan Singh. In truth they have long forfeited the right to claim the legacy of Lohia who never utilised caste as a weapon to further his social movement. His socialism was not for middle castes only as these Yadavs, Kumars, Gowdas stand for. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh apart, how Khap, a highly influential self-styled caste-council, plays a deciding role in the outcomes of polls in Haryana, illustrates among other things that ex-Lohia-ites as they are, will finally end their journey by making appeals to caste-consciousness while mocking at Lohia. Khap being a medieval practice, is not seriously challenged by any party. In other words caste in its multi-faceted forms continues to influence different segments of the society, Lohia or no Lohia.

The Left has no agenda to fight the menace of caste. They think the development productive forces will automatically abolish caste. But the ground reality is otherwise. They came to work in modern factories with all types of caste prejudices. And they retire from job without losing any iota of caste identity.

Political parties these days do hardly raise any serious political issue that affects ordinary people most irrespective of their caste and religious identities. The Yadav parties are too worried about BJP’s communalism, not their policy of wooing multinationals. The high price of life-saving drugs, thanks to Modi’s gesture towards American investors, affect all castes—high, middle and lower. And it affects the downtrodden—dalits—the most. But the middle caste rulers of Bihar and UP are themselves millionaires, if not billionaires, who find no justification to fight Modi’s neo-liberal policies. Their narrow political world revolves around secularism, communalism and reservation and yet they think they are the disciples of Lohia.

Vol. 47, No. 16, Oct 26 - Nov 1, 2014