Caste as the cliché goes is the curse of Hindu society. But so effectively has the curse been embedded in the nation that no social reform movement from the Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj in the nineteenth century or neo-Vedanta — a corruption of the traditional Advaita — propagated by both Vivekananda and Aurobindo — in the twentieth has been able to unravel its roots.
It is true to an extent that the British exploited our ancient fault lines, and created some new ones, to counter the emerging nationalism. Only by keeping Hindus disunited could the angrez have retained their colonial stranglehold.
But the bitter truth is also that the fissures in Hindu society are as much a reality 74 years after Independence. More than ever they now threaten to rupture the fledging national unity in the face of the global threat of Islamic terror.
With preparations afoot for the 2021 Census — the sixteenth since Independence — the renewed demand by jaativad parties and their regional chieftains that the survey incorporate caste markers can only exacerbate existing societal tensions.
Imagine the confusion confounded and the feuding that would ensue if the benefits of affirmative action were to be disbursed with mathematical precision between 3,000 Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and their 25,000 sub-castes over and above the quotas for SCs and STs. Because this is roughly what the fall-out of a caste census will entail.
The public posturing of politicians is more often than not at variance with their ambition driven personal motives. The real spur behind Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and other regional cohorts helming the call for a caste count is to revive their sagging political fortunes by running the BJP’s Hindutva juggernaut aground. A perfect case of kahin pe nigahein kahin pe nishana (aim at X to target Y). Delivery of social justice is secondary in their scheme of things.
Nitish, in particular, may ditch the BJP a second time in Bihar if it comes a cropper in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls early next year. By which time Narendra Modi’s stand on the caste census will also be clear.
Quotas or reservations in the name of affirmative action to provide historically disadvantaged sections representation in education, employment, and politics have over the years become a mill round the nation’s neck. Its benefits have been squeezed to pulp.
The Constitution does not recognize or encourage caste identities. The limited allowance it made was to reserve seats for the poorest of the poor, the scheduled castes, in Parliament and state assemblies given their exploitation over centuries, and that too for a limited period.
Reservation in jobs was never contemplated much less suggested. And yet what has been pushed down our throats is a self-perpetuating system in which politicians continue to encourage caste identities to consolidate their vote banks.
Jaativad remains the bedrock of national politics which no political party can ignore regardless of ideology. Every single leader of any consequence right rails against it but willingly employs as a vote garnering tool.
The demand for caste enumeration in the census has a single objective: to create a society in which merit is sent for a toss by the force of brute numbers. In short, a power grab by Other Backward Classes (OBCs) who comprise the bulk of the populace at 52 per cent as attested by the Mandal Commission based on the statistics of the 1931 census.
An updated caste count could in all probability bolster OBC numbers and add to the political churn thereby sowing the seeds of political instability — fertile ground for caste-centric formations like the JDU, RJD, SP, and BSP to thrive.
BSP founder, Kanshi Ram, in fact, had staked the party’s entire future on the principle “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari” (share in power ought to be commensurate with numbers) which intrinsically is no different from the more common saying, “Jiski laathi uski bhains” (he who wields the stick owns the buffalo).
Ironically, Bahujan rule in U.P. spread over four stints under Mayawati’s tutelage (with none lasting a complete five-year term) ended up perpetrating a reverse domination in which her own Dalit group, the Jatavs, prospered. The welfare of other sub-groups (ie. 50 of the 66) were either ignored or neglected.
Ditto the vice like grip of the Yadav community during the OBC dominant rule of the Samajwadi Party. Non-Yadavs were as unhappy as the upper castes during the rule of Mulayam Yadav and his immature son, Akhilesh.
The wheel has turned full circle in the last five years. Desperation is now driving both the BSP and SP to woo the 11-12-per cent Brahmin vote in U.P. to help oust the Yogi Adityanath regime. Intellectual meets (prabuddha sammelan) focused on Brahmin interests are being organized in several districts where they have a 20 per cent vote share. But this is a ruse which few thinking Brahmin voters will fall for.
Mayawati kicked off her Brahmin pleasing campaign from Ayodhya on July 23 amid the blowing of conch shells and cries of Jai Shri Ram and Har Har Mahadev. A couple of days ago she was gifted a statuette of Lord Ganesha and pictured holding a trishul (trident).
Efforts are on to cash in on Brahmin “anger” against the Rajput chief minister in whose rule scores of Brahmins are alleged to have killed. Even the encounter killing of Vikas Dubey, the Kanpur-based gangster, in July 2020 was given a caste color. That there are nine ministers in the 53-member state cabinet is overlooked, three with respectable portfolios like education, power, and law. One of the two deputy CMs is a brahmin.
Studies conducted by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) have indicated that the BJP’s 2017 landslide in U.P. would have been impossible without strong Brahmin backing. Eighty per cent of the community voted for the party, almost double from previous polls.
Jaati all the way
So, either way it’s caste all the way. Factors like development, strong leadership, and the national interest play second fiddle, especially when polls are round the corner.
Successive governments have done almost nothing to temper hardened caste sensibilities. The monster, on the contrary, continues to be regularly fed on thick doses of prejudice bordering on hatred. Ambedkar’s dream of eradicating caste remains a pipe dream. Courts react on reports of discrimination, but seldom inveigh against the practice itself.
The recent spectacle in Chhattisgarh where the CM Bhupesh Baghel, a kurmi, was compelled to have an FIR filed against his own father arrested is one of a kind. This was after Baghel Senior unleashed a hate filled diatribe against the Brahmins while on a visit to poll bound UP.
Invoking the dubious Aryan racial theory, the octogenarian called for a “boycott” of Brahmins since they were “foreigners”. He asked his audience to debar members of the community from entering their villages and send them packing from the river Ganga to the Volga instead. “They consider us untouchables and snatch all our rights.”
Not that the son is more principled. He refused to abide by his promise to make way for his party rival and fellow cabinet colleague, TS Singhdeo, to step into his shoes in the second half of his tenure.
Singhdeo, who hails from the royal family of Sarguja, was the man whom the majority of the MLAs had preferred as CM after the Congress was voted back to power in 2018. Baghel, however, managed to muscle his way into the CM’s chair with the help from Raul Vinci solely due to his OBC credentials.
A caste census in such a toxic environment can only widen social chasms. Asking people to mention their caste in numerous government forms can only end up making them more conscious of their micro identity rather than unite them as Hindus.
Patel’s tough line
Not for nothing did Bharat’s finest home minister, Sardar Patel, reject the demand for a caste census after Independence. This is despite the fact that inter-caste rivalries were not as endemic as today. They were largely subterranean. Tensions were fewer because only SCs and STs were entitled to Central largesse. OBCs did not exist as a separate entity.
What’s more, Patel’s boss, J. Nehru, could have overruled him given his contrarian position on many issues, but chose not to. Why? Because he too realized the damage potential of an inherently divisive exercise which could have done more harm than good.
The demand for a similar census was again raised in 2011 and conducted by the UPA, which however did not make the report public.
After 2014, the Modi government improved delivery of subsidies to the poor. Screws were tightened to prevent leakage and pilferage. Last mile delivery was ensured. Scores of schemes have been implemented. Flagship projects like Ujjwala, toilets for every home, opening of free bank accounts to enable direct credits, Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya), Ayushman Bharat, Kisan Samman Nidhi among others helped Modi romp back to power in 2019.
There is no guarantee that a new caste census will not complicate matters and throw well-oiled systems out of gear.
The mainstream English media has in the last few weeks been flooded with opinion pieces on the benefits of a caste count. It is hardly surprising that most advocates are the usual suspects who earn their living bashing the Modi dispensation and Hindutva.
It will be unfortunate if Narendra Modi accede to their wishes. He may regret the blunder in 2024.
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