Just a day before the Indian Parliament passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill on the question of Other Backward Class reservation, the general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Dattatreya Hosabale, gave an unusual statement, given the history of his organisation. He said that reservation is a historical necessity for India, it should continue as long as there is inequality being experienced by a particular section of society. He also said that “the history of India would be ‘incomplete’ without the history of Dalits”.
The statement of its new general secretary goes against the repeated statements that Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has given against reservations. On 10 August 2021, the OBC reservation Bill, which is meant to uphold the Maratha and other state-level caste reservations, was passed unanimously with a two-thirds majority in Parliament at a time when the Parliament did not do any other useful work by Narendra Modi’s BJP government.
This Bill put the Congress in a fix, because when it was in power, it never took such a significant step.
The RSS knows that the Shudra agrarian communities across the country now are in a mood to reassess their status in all spheres of life — spiritual, social, educational, and economic. The Tamil Nadu government’s decision to appoint trained archakas (priests) from all Shudra/Dalit castes also goes against the very traditional (in the garb of nationalist) idea of Hinduism of the RSS. It never openly stood against the practice of only Brahmins getting priesthood in the temples. But now it cannot go against such a move because it knows that to remain in political power in Delhi and also in other states, the Shudra/OBC votes are critical.
It also knows that all its anti-Muslim battles were physically fought by the Shudra/OBCs with the hope that they will get equal rights in Hinduism with the support of RSS. If they do not get equality when they are in power, the Shudra/OBCs will rebel against the RSS’ Brahminism. This is why the strongest anti-OBC reservation forces in that network are grudgingly silent.
The issue of caste census
Another very contentious issue in the organisation is the caste census. Since the Vajpayee-Advani days (1999-2004), the RSS has been resisting the demand for a caste census. But the statement by Dharmendra Pradhan, the current education minister, who is an OBC himself, shows a serious intent that has otherwise been missing all these years. He said during a debate in the Rajya Sabha, “caste-based census is a revolutionary process.” At an ideological level, the Shudra/OBC demands of extending reservations in education and jobs, access to temples, priesthood to all Shudra/Dalits who accept themselves as Hindu, and caste census, have existed irrespective of parties. There are more such people in the Bharatiya Janta Party and RSS than in any other group as of now.
These issues are not that of the RSS. The sangh parivar’s issues were the Ram temple, abrogation of Article 370, the Uniform Civil Code, and so on, which have implications for the Muslim community. The theory of RSS came from the Brahmins, but in practice, the anti-Islamic muscle power came from the Shudra/OBCs. Ever since Narendra Modi claimed that he was an OBC, just before the 2014 election, the Shudra/OBC forces felt that the future government would be theirs. In the latest cabinet reshuffle, Modi has included more OBC/Dalit/Adivasis than ever before.
This kind of caste-identity issue was not anticipated by the RSS theoreticians who officially owned Manusmriti as their great ancient constitution. K. B. Hedgewar, M. S. Golwalkar, even and later Sarsanghchalaks were not at all convinced by the present Constitution, which could empower the Shudras, OBCs, and Dalits in Delhi and other states, and even shift the power base. The Congress also resisted such a shift in power, which some liberal intellectuals lament as a ‘total shift in power elite.’ While the Shudras/OBCs/Dalits do not understand the Euro-American jargon, they do now know the power of caste and numbers. The Left-liberals, coming from the dvija social background, think the Modi era has disempowered the so-called well-educated power elite.
Ideological opposition in BJP and RSS
An ideological opposition to Modi and Dharmendra Pradhan kind of OBC practice can be seen in the recent writings of Ram Madhav. Madhav, who is a Brahmin from Andhra Pradesh, came from the RSS to the BJP after Modi became prime minister and went back to the RSS with definite ideological differences. In many of his recent articles talking about the dangers of ‘elected authoritarianism dictatorships’, it is easy to understand who he is referring to. He bemoans how a democratic government cannot be run by elected representatives alone. Perhaps he wanted to be a Pramod Mahajan in the Modi government but was not allowed to. In his recent book, Because India Comes First: Reflections on Nationalism, Identity and Culture (2020), Ram Madhav upholds Manusmriti in the same ideological reverence as Hedgewar when speaking about Manu’s laws.
As I have written in The Shudras: Vision for New Path, Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, praised Manu’s laws as greater than those written by Lycurgus and Solon and says, “In our constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia…. But to our Constitutional pundits, that (Manu’s laws) mean nothing.” (Introduction XXV) He had no respect for the Constitution that Ambedkar instituted.
However, it is the same Constitution that enabled an OBC, Narendra Modi, to become the Prime Minister of the nation in 2014. Since Modi is still the Prime Minister, Ram Madhav in the very introduction of his book, says “Through its living history of over five millennia, India has offered invaluable gems of wisdom enriching all of mankind…This wisdom was proclaimed in Manusmriti, one of the oldest constitutions of India.” He further quotes a Sanskrit sloka from the Manusmriti to say “Men all over the world would come to beseech lessons in character through the lives of the great men born in this country”. No Shudra/OBC/Dalit man or woman can accept this view of Manu even if they are from the RSS/BJP fold. In one of his articles in the Indian Express Madhav says, “this pandemic has become an excuse for some leaders to usurp more powers and become more authoritarian”. In his book, he develops this line of argument further.
In a 2014 internal RSS meeting, Bhagwat also said that “the Sangh should not get into eradicating or opposing caste. Caste is a system (though now perverted) that exists in society. It would remain until the society believes in it.” Hosabale’s view of caste and reservation is opposite of this view of Bhagwat.
We know that Brahmin intellectuals working with all parties and institutions share similar sentiments about Manu, Kautilya and the caste system, but no Shudra/OBC/Dalit who has studied them and experienced caste oppression can agree with that view.
The opposition to reservation and caste census comes from such Brahmanism and its support from Shudra/OBC/Dalits comes from their socio-spiritual and historically oppressed status. The Shudra/OBC/Dalits working in the RSS/BJP have more serious reasons to ask for equality in every sphere because they have invested their energies and resources in anti-Muslim campaigns. Modi’s location as a ‘claimed OBC’ and Ram Madhav’s location as a Brahmin ideologue of the RSS seem to clash on such issues.
However, one can see there are two strong opposing ideological positions in the RSS and BJP. Let’s wait and see what happens in the future.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist and social activist. He is the author of The Shudras: Vision For a New Path, co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)