Reducing Dalits to Mere Beneficiaries: The Neo-Brahmanism of the Sangh Parivar in Karnataka

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh parivar in Karnataka have been pushed to a peculiar paradox by their own ideological brethren after the state accepted the Justice H.N. Nagmohan Das committee report, which recommended an increase in reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

The BJP government has even implemented the same in a hurry, through the Ordinance route, keeping the fast-approaching assembly elections in mind. Whether this will pass judicial scrutiny seems to be of no concern to the ruling party, which wants to bank on the electoral gains the move will deliver.

However, the BJP government had to face ideological embarrassment from unexpected quarters for accepting the report.

The Deccan Herald, on November 1, published a story about the sociological, anthropological and constitutional basis on which the Justice Das committee recommended the increase of the quantum of reservations for SC and ST communities. The story, citing the report, read, “The Justice H.N. Nagamohan Das Commission, whose report led to the increase in SC/ST reservation, has blamed the “emergence of Vedic philosophy” for social inequality and the caste system.”

The news article also referred to a portion of the report which held “Brahmins, Upanishads, epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana” responsible for the emergence and acceptance of the caste system and social inequality. Further quoting a chapter titled ‘Origin of Castes’ in the Justice Das report, the newspaper wrote, “The truth is that ethnic system has disintegrated with the advent of the caste system. From the very inception Karnataka came into contact with North India, there entered the Vedic system into Karnataka. Its influence has been greater than that of other religions.”

“Of these, the most important is the caste system,” the report said. “In India, Aryan culture played a major role in transforming the culture of tribal communities into caste communities.”

The Herald report elaborated further by reporting that in the chapter titled ‘Caste Inequality’, the Commission’s report quoted B.R. Ambedkar heavily. “Education and knowledge have been made the monopoly of Brahmins,” the report said. “Military and administration was for Kshatriya, trade and commerce for Vaishyas and Shudra were made to undertake hard, indecent and filthy work and kept at the lowest state of social order. Beyond chaturvarna, there created an untouchable class of people. The caste-based inequality… is all-pervading in society. There is an inequality in economic, social and cultural fields.”

The report also quoted from the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita to say that the four varnas (castes) have been created to reflect character and profession, according to the newspaper.

The day after the report, a not-so-fringe Hindutva organisation, the Hindu Jana Jagruti Samiti – a sister organisation of the Sanatan Samstha, from which those accused of the assassination of Gauri Lankesh claim their ideological inspiration – raised a big hue and cry against Justice Nagmohan Das, accusing him of being “anti-Hindu” and “anti-national”. The Samiti urged the government against having him in any committees.

The Samiti’s leader, Mohan Gowda, was furious about Justice Das ‘misrepresenting’ Hindu Gods. According to him,  “Lord Sri Rama was not only a benevolent king, but also a harbinger of equal opportunities to lower caste people. There is a … reference in Ramayana that he appoints a ‘Nishad’ (Dalit) person as king. He takes the lead in picking and appointing this Nishad person. How can Justice Das misrepresent facts in his report?” Gowda told the Herald.

Now, even though the BJP government is in complete concurrence with the HJV’s objections about the arguments of Justice Das, it cannot revert its decision on the recommendations it made. Hence, it is playing down the HJV’s opposition, since it has come at a wrong time.

This unenvious contradictions of the BJP and Sangh parivar are manifest in their stand on reservations as well as on Ambedkar. Electoral compulsions forced the political BJP to concur with the recommendations of the Das Committee, but the ideological BJP can never reconcile with the fact that the exclusion based on the Manusmriti and the Chaturvarnya social system necessitated affirmative action to undo historical injustice.

This contradiction also reflects its need to appropriate Ambedkar as a social reformer, but the difficulty in downplaying the politics of caste annihilation of the social revolutionary.

For example, in its protracted plan for Hinduising public and secular spaces, the BJP government in Karnataka is introducing the Bhagavad Gita as a text of moral education on the plea that the Gita is a supra-religious text.

On the other hand, Ambedkar in his seminal work on Hindu philosophy describes the Gita as the Manusmruti in a nutshell, justifying and imposing the Brahminical supremacist caste order.

While the HJV hails Rama as the king of human virtues, Ambedkar, in his magnum opus, Annihilation Of Caste, explains how ‘Ram Raj’ was based on the hierarchical Chaturvarnya and how Rama was duty bound to protect the same by punishing those who ventured to transgress caste borders.

Thus, in complete contrast to what the HJV and Sangh parivar want the people to believe, Ambedkar argues in Annihilation of Caste:

“That without penal sanction the ideal of Chaturvarnya cannot be realized, is proved by the story in the Ramayana of Rama killing Shambuka. Some people seem to blame Rama because he wantonly and without reason killed Shambuka. But to blame Rama for killing Shambuka is to misunderstand the whole situation. Ram Raj was a Raj based on Chaturvarnya. As a king, Rama was bound to maintain Chaturvarnya. It was his duty therefore to kill Shambuka, the Shudra who had transgressed his class and wanted to be a Brahmin. This is the reason why Rama killed Shambuka. But this also shows that penal sanction is necessary for the maintenance of Chaturvarnya. Not only penal sanction is necessary, but the penalty of death is necessary. That is why Rama did not inflict on Shambuka a lesser punishment. That is why the Manu-Smriti prescribes such heavy sentences as cutting off the tongue, or pouring of molten lead in the ears, of the Shudra who recites or hears the Veda. The supporters of Chaturvarnya must give an assurance that they could successfully classify men, and that they could induce modern society in the twentieth century to re-forge the penal sanctions of the Manu-Smriti.”

Thus, it is not Justice Das who said Rama was the protector of Varnashrama, but Ambedkar himself. But the HJV or Sangh parivar would never dare call Ambedkar ‘anti-Hindu’.

Nevertheless, the Sangh parivar, through such measures like the half-hearted implementation of the Justice Das Committee’s recommendations, the depoliticised co-option of Dalit icons like Ambedkar, and ideologically upholding the caste order, wants to harmonise the contradictions that the ideological BJP has with the compulsions of electoral politics.

A little delving into the history should make bare these contradictions.

For example, both organisations like the HJV and the new, aggressive discourse by the BJP post-2019, through the National Education Policy (NEP) and other similar moves, want to establish a myth that the ‘oppressive caste’ in India was an invention of the colonial British.

In fact, the position papers of the Karnataka government, presented to the new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) in the making, declare that the caste system was an ingenious invention by our forefathers to bring in social stability and the peace in a society riddled with the turbulence of ‘varna sanakara‘ (the inter mixing of varnas). They want to bring Ambedkar on the same page by reducing him to a social reformer who fought only against untouchability.

Ambedkar’s early attempts to question Hindu society by demanding entry into temples are considered by these new custodians of Hindu History, but not his denouncement of attempts to humanise the Hindu religion as an impossible task because Hinduism is based on the Vedas, Puranas and Smritis which make observing the caste system a religious duty.

Ambedkar, after this scholarly autopsy of Hinduism, concluded that destroying the authenticity of Smritis and puranas was the only path to destroy the divine sanction. He also made the prophetic declaration that the realisation of a Hindu Rashstra would be greatest catastrophe for the country since it is antithetical to the values of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’.

But the Hindutva forces will surely like to gloss over these conclusions, never wanting to be reminded of them.

Thus, by sanitising the revolutionary Ambedkar as a reformer seeking innocuous concessions like temple entry, they would promote Savarkar to the same page – as a Hindu reformist sojourner with Ambedkar– because in 1931, Savarkar helped build a Patit-Pavan temple exclusively for Dalits, which Savannas never even cared to recognise. Moreover, this was when Ambedkar had already abandoned his hopes on Hindu society,

But as much as they want to robe Savarkar and Golwalkar with caste reforms, and establish Savarkar and Golwalkar as the founders of a new and harmonious Hindu Rashtra, their own declarations regarding the glory of the Brahmanical order and caste system embarrass this project.

For example, Ambedkar had declared many times that caste is the biggest anti-national factor standing in the way of India becoming a homogeneous nation, Hinduism becoming a religion in a divine sense, and a Hindu becoming a natural human being. In contrast, Savarkar, in his Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, declares that, “Brahmin rule is the model for a Hindu nation.”

While Ambedkar declared the Battle of Bhima-Koregaon as a historical battle of Dalits against Peshwa Brahmindom, Savarkar mourned the defeat of the Peshwas, saying, “…here in 1818 lies the grave of the last and one of the most glorious of our Hindu Empires.” (Six Glorious Epochs).

Golwalkar, the second Supremo of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), goes a step further by condemning Ambedkar for hailing the Bhima-Koregaon battle as a Dalit quest for liberation. In Bunch of Thoughts, he remarks:

“In their hearts of hearts, very few of those anti-caste experiences the sense of unity that can transcend the present-day perversities. Anti-caste tirade has verily become a mask for them to strengthen their own positions among their caste fellowmen. To what extent this venom has entered our body-politic can be surmised from an incident which occurred some years ago. There is a ‘Victory Pillar’ near Pune, raised by the English in 1818 to commemorate their victory over the Peshwas. An eminent leader of the Harijans once addressed his caste-brethren under that Pillar. He declared that the pillar was a symbol of their victory over the Brahmins as it was they who had fought under the British and defeated the Peshwas, the Brahmins. How heart-rending it is to hear an eminent leader thus describing the hated sign of slavery as an emblem of victory, and the despicable action of fighting as slaves of a foreigner against our own kith and kin as an achievement of glory! How utterly his eyes must have been blinded by hatred, not able even to discern the simple fact of who were the victors and who the defeated! What a perversity?” (Page 111)

While Ambedkar renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism, considering it the path for liberation from the oppressive Hindu Caste system, Savarkar, in Six Epochs, considers Buddhism as the ‘anti-national’ philosophy whose preaching of non-violence and equality emasculated the Kshatra (valour) in Hindu masculinity and made him susceptible to foreign aggression.

Golwalkar, again, goes a step further and says:

“We know as a matter of history that our northwestern and northeaster areas, where the influence of Buddhism had disrupted the caste system, fell an easy prey to the onslaughts of Muslims. Gandhar, now called Kandahar, became completely Muslimised. Conversion took a heavy toll in East Bengal also. But the areas of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, which were considered to be very orthodox and rigid in caste restrictions, remained predominantly Hindu even after remaining as the citadels of Muslim power and fanaticism for a number of centuries. (Bunch of Thoughts, page 100)

Thus, a small dribble can uncover the Brahminical supremacist philosophy that masquerades as Hinduism today. Nevertheless, Hindutva politics has been greatly successful in harmonising the inherent contradictions that exist between their political pretensions and ideological project.

Thus, the Sangh parivar would increase reservations for SCs and STs as suggested by the Justice Das Committee, without publicly endorsing the logic and reason offered by the same. It would also allow a campaign against Justice Das, accusing him as ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-national’ for quoting Ambedkar thoughts which revealed the source of the caste system as the Vedas, Smritis and Puranas, but would dare not extend the same accusations against very author of that perspective, Ambedkar.

This is a well-crafted ploy to sanitise Dalit consciousness and make it docile and dormant under the new Brahmanism of Sangh parivar. And without reclaiming the radical Ambedkar and radical Dalit politics, these paternalistic Brahminical ploys can not be understood and defeated.

The BJP’s claims of being pro-Dalit for increasing the quota of SC reservation, while at the same time upholding the Brahminical supremacy in a myriad ways, such as attacking people like Justice Das, is a farce. It is another way  of preventing the emergence of a radical Ambedkarite consciousness by deeming Dalits as mere beneficiaries.

Shivasundar is a columnist and activist in Karnataka.

Featured image: Basavaraj Bommai (centre) with BS Yediyurappa and other BJP leaders after being chosen as the new Karnataka chief minister. Photo: BS Yediyurappa/Twitter

This article was first published on The Wire.