June 11, 2017

India: Hindutva’s Tweaking of Ambedkarite Iconography Versus Declining Politics of Social Justice (Abhay Kumar Dubey)

The Wire, 11 June 2017

BJP’s politics of ‘social engineering’ aims to create a united universe of nationalism and poses an ideological challenge to the ‘separation’ thesis of the Ambedkarite movement.

Credit: Wikipedia
Under strict monitoring by the Sangh-BJP strategic command, the dispensation headed by UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, it seems, has finally decided to execute a complex plan–a plan that old timers would call the politics of ‘social engineering’ in the state. If everything transpires according to this script, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, riding this strategy might emerge as ‘the first national leader of backward classes,’ by the time we approach the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The chain of events that have unfolded during the last one and a half months, has betrayed a certain pattern that reveals a covert as well as overt dimension of this plan.
The plan is premised on a two-fold structure. First, it involves installation of statutes of those Dalit and Other Backward Classes (OBC) icons who have been routinely overshadowed by the dominant Ambedkarite narrative of Dalit-Bahujan discourse and politics.
Second, this exercise will be combined with the strategy of installing statutes of ‘anti-muslim nationalist’ warriors of upper caste lineage such as Rana Pratap and also of leaders like Chhatrapati Shivaji, who are not of such upper caste lineage. Among non-Ambedkarite icons, priority will be given to King Suheldev, who has lately emerged as a deity of the Rajbhar community and Nishadraj Guhya, who is known to fire the political imagination of the community of boatmen in and around the Allahabad region. It would not be surprising if Jhalkari Bai, a Lodhi warrior who fought alongside the Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmibai, also finds herself on the list of statue-worthy leaders, primarily because Lodhis have been the mainstay of BJP’s support among UP’s OBCs.
Since these statutes will be placed inside the memorials and parks built by Mayawati, they will serve a dual purpose.
First, they will pose an ideological challenge to the ‘separation’ thesis of the Ambedkarite movement based on a Babasaheb’s saying that though born a Hindu, he would not die as one. This thesis creates a radical ambience under the influence of which a discourse has gained strength over the years.  This discourse argues that since ex-untouchables are not the part of the Hindu fold, it is better that they separate from it either through conversion or by accepting the creed of rationalists. The co-existence of Dalit-Bahujan icons with minor ex-untouchable and OBC icons alongside a few anti-Muslim Hindu martial personalities will refute that claim and that cultural yearning for a space outside of the Hindu normativity.
Second, it will construct, at least in the form of memorials, a palpable image of an anti-Muslim focus and a  united universe of nationalism driven by Hindutva. One should not forget that the politics of iconography provides a number of instances whereby the anti-Muslim aspects of folklore and hagiographies can be appropriated to achieve a certain purpose. The constructed history of King Suheldev is a case in point, which is being put to use by Sangh parivar strategists. They are trying to make a Hindu conqueror out of the king, who, as they say, had defeated Salar Masood Ghazi Khan, or Ghazi Mian, who over centuries mutated into a sufi figure revered in many parts of UP. The RSS has reasons to be uncomfortable with this kind of syncretism.
Only at their own peril can the secular forces forget that post-1974, the RSS has painstakingly honed the strategy of appropriation, the first victims of which have been the likes of Phule and Ambedkar. The names of these two are not only included in Pratahsmaran (the morning prayer) of shakhas, but also they are unproblematically declared ‘Hindu reformers’. The spadework for this social engineering was done by Dattopant Thengdi. However, the RSS couldn’t have done it without the path breaking lecture delivered in Pune by the then Sansanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras. In his inimitable style, Deoras, in the lengthy bauddhik, declared that vanra vyavastha has become redundant for Hindu society, and that no energy should be wasted in rebuilding this moribund system. In a way, the utterances of Deoras contradicted Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s thesis of Integral Humanism which argues that Varna system should be seen as a source of social egalitarianism. Nonetheless, the 1974 lecture promptly became a key policy document of the Sangh parivar and has since guided the organisation. The strategy of ‘social engineering’ is one among many such innovations born out of it.
The significance of the attempt to tweak the Ambedkarite iconography cannot be fully understood without a political reading of the plan’s covert sub-text. Only a discerning eye can detect the BJP’s deliberate in-action policy in the developments that recently unfolded in the Saharanpur’s Shabbirpur village. In this part of western UP, a former untouchable community has been reeling under violent attacks perpetrated with impunity by members of the Rajput community. The upper caste aggressors know that the state administration will not come to the rescue of this particular section of scheduled castes. The BJP would have swiftly neutralized the situation, had the attacks been levelled against any scheduled caste community other than Jatavs, who have consistently refused to vote for BJP in recent elections. Clearly, the BJP considers other smaller scheduled caste communities part of their newly consolidated ‘Hindu Vote’ even as the party wants to send a stern massage to Jatavas, the most numerous and politicized lot; the message warning the community of facing dire consequences unless they fall in line in becoming part of the ‘Hindu whole.’
Paradoxically, the rise of the Bhim Sena because of its over the top emphasis on ‘The Great Chamar’ identity, has added to the efficacy of Hindutva design. Sensing opportunity, the ever-alert BJP has begun to play a game that might give the party a three-fold advantage. By criminalising it’s leader, Chandrashekhar ‘Ravan’ Azad, the party aims to provide a feel-good effect for the upper castes. At the same time, by allowing a certain playing field to Bhim Sena, the party aims to create problems for Mayawati’s yet to be challenged sway over the Jatavas.
Third, the BJP wants to use the loud assertion of ‘The Great Chamar’ slogan to drive the non-Jatava communities towards Hindutva. The rise of Jatavas as a dominant caste among scheduled castes in the past decades has put the BJP at a vantage point for unleashing its anti-Jatava propaganda. Just like Yadavas among OBCs, Jatavas too have ended up helping the Hindutva cause by usurping mostly all benefits of reservation as well as benefits accrued from their proximity to political power. They simply do not care for smaller and poorer communities.
The last two and half decades have seen slow but definite decline of the Lohiaite and Ambedakrite variety of the politics of social justice. The social engineering of the Sangh parivar has always been at loggerhead with this kind of politics. It has always been a fight between anti-brahmanism that is inherent in the solgan of social justice and the Deoras dictum of ‘level playing field for every caste under the great Hindu tradition’.  The turn of events in last three years tells us that the scale has tilted heavily in favour of the followers of Deoras. But it begs the question whether Lohiates and Ambedkarites will let the Hindutva ‘Vijay Rath’ pass without giving it a last scare?
Abhay Kumar Dubey is a professor at CSDS, Delhi and directs its Indian Language Programme