To put the matter baldly: It is not the politics of class that gives the right-wing bad dreams. The politics of caste does.
Hindutva ideologues know well enough that there is no proletarian revolution in the offing.
They also know that the poorest Indians would rather have a roof they could call their own rather than be drafted into the liquidation of the regime of private property.
And then there is their faith in god. Most religions, as we know, say that what assets people have or do not have flow from the will of god, or, in Hindu thought, from the omissions or commissions of previous incarnations.
Caste, however, is a birth defect embedded incurably within the entrails of Hindutva, one that may neither be denied nor owned.
Far from contemplating an era of state-supported social revolution through widespread inter-caste marriages, Hindutva, all its demurrals notwithstanding, continues to look at such occurrences as ‘polluting’.
Those that owe allegiance to the politics of “social justice”, unlike leftists, do not characterise religion as merely a “superstructural” construction that will inevitably disappear as class inequality ends. They remain ensconced within the majority community as devout Hindus themselves.
Their agenda is one that seeks an end to discrimination at the hands of those who proclaim themselves custodians of Hinduism.
They ask, if all Hindus are one, why can’t some ride a horse to their weddings, walk upright past an upper-caste door, enter a temple without hindrance, become temple priests no matter how learned they be, not be ostracised, lynched, occasionally murdered if they fall in love with ‘upper’ caste women or men, not be picked to do menial chores, even from among a class of school students, not to speak of suffocating to death in poisonous drains as sanitation workers. And then be called “spiritual” workers who, allegedly, remain deeply gratified by the job they do.
And what of verses even in the most hallowed Ramcharitmanas which seem to reserve reprimand for “Shudra”, and “Nari” (woman), along with the lumpen elements in Hindu society?
It is often a defensive Brahminical claim that the Varna Vyavestha, or caste system, accords caste status not according to birth but attainments. Thus, if a Shudra acquires learning of a high standard, he becomes a Brahmin, and so on.
Alas, however, this sleight-of-hand is never in evidence as a discernible reality on the ground in Hindu society.
Were this to be true, why would the most learned of Indians, Bhimrao Ambedkar, chairperson of the committee that was set up to draft the Indian constitution, no less, have felt compelled not to die a Hindu, even as he could not help having been born one?
Or take the case of an ‘upper’ caste judge who, upon taking over from a Dalit predecessor, had the court precincts “purified” with waters from the Ganges. Surely a Dalit judge ought to have been regarded a Brahmin if the claim about the true nature of varna vyavestha is to be believed?
The conundrum of the ‘dwija’ or ‘twice born’ is that even as the Sangh’s majoritarian-totalitarian politics requires that it call everyone a Hindu, it needs caste discriminations – as they flow from such texts as the tenth Mandala of the Rig Veda and the Manusmriti – to claim a permanent hegemony over Sanatan Dharma.
And, proponents of class analysis are right when they point out that this social-religious hegemony is kept in place largely through class domination; this is the reason why the bulk of all positions of authority – be it in the bureaucracy, in higher and high-skilled education, in controlling religious pulpits and practices – remain preponderantly with the ‘upper’ caste Hindu, and why Hindutva feels so threatened when Hindus designated ‘socially unequal’ seek parity in accordance with their ratio in Hindu population.
No wonder then that the RSS-BJP opposes tooth and nail the idea of a census that might tell the country how Hindu society is actually divided.
And for two reasons: one, since Hindutva politics seeks to divide citizens between Muslims and Hindus, and presents thereby the so-called raison d’être for majoritarian-sectarian prerogatives. Its worst nightmare is that Hindus themselves should come to be so divided as to deprive that project of all logic and political clout.
What wonder, therefore, that the chief of the RSS has just felt impelled to claim that caste divisions are not made by god but by the priesthood, as voices once again gather force demanding “social justice” – the ghosts of the first Mandal agitation clearly distress the Hindutva oracle.
One only has to examine the controlling institutional social structure of the RSS to realise that caste, after all is an all-too-real phenomenon.
Two, if a census shows, as it is bound to, that those that lord it over Hinduism are but no more than 10-15% of Hindu society, the Hindutva applecart is set to so overturn that only a very small portion of the material class-pie may remain with it in time to come.
After all, not only did the mighty Achilles sport a fatal heel, even the eternal Lord Krishna did.
And, the denied among the Hindu fold know nothing menaces that heel as much as consolidation along the lines of the first Mandal revolt.
Those that see through the totalitarian project of Hindutva will not but welcome this second rise of the Bahujans.
It remains for the ideologues of the Left and of Social Justice to work out between them a modus vivendi that could bring the rich progressive potential of class and caste consolidation to forge a new politics of “we the people”.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.
Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty
This article was first published on The Wire.