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The relationship between the rise of Hindutva and Dalit assertion

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The power of a leader like Jignesh Mevani today, amid the emboldened sway of Hindutva forces across the country, is not a mere coincidence.

History is one but it has many shades. The recent series of events set off by the commemoration at Bhima-Koregaon provokes a new analysis of an old pattern in Indian politics: the relationship between the rise of Hindutva, and Dalit assertion.

The power of a leader like Jignesh Mevani today, amid the emboldened sway of Hindutva forces across the country, is not a mere coincidence. Conceptually, of course, Hindutva pride and anti-caste strife are antithetical, but history also offers us ample examples of the political emergence of the two occurring in contemporaneous periods.

By the turn of the 19th century, the Congress party was organised as the new voice of Indians. And before the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress was led by two Chitpavan Brahmins: Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. But with Gandhi’s entry, power slipped from the hands of Brahmin leaders of Maharashtra. Unfortunately, Gokhale and Tilak died within a period of five years. It can be a matter of academic investigation, but it appears that the seeds of the formation of RSS in 1925 could also be found in the feeling of powerlessness among Brahmin elites vis-a-vis a baniya leader, i.e. Gandhi.

The RSS proclamation for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra would have certainly sent a warning signal to Dalits, and would have alerted them about the repeat of the ill-treatment meted out to them during the years of the Peshwas’ rule.

The RSS’s formation was indeed followed by the rise of Ambedkar as a national leader. In 1927, Ambedkar led the Dalits to Mahad to drink water from the Chavdar Lake, and later, in 1930, he launched the Kala Ram temple satyagraha for the entry of Dalits in temples.

Ambedkar said: “We will not die if we are not allowed in the temples, nor are we going to be immortalised by gaining entry; we are fighting for equal rights as human beings.”

According to Ambedkar, equality was anathema to the Hindu religion. A Hindu Rashtra would mean the perpetuation of inequality. “Ambedkar formed the Samaj Samata Sangh and Samata Sainik Dal in 1927 with a view to aggressively pursue the agenda of social equality,” writes Narendra Jadhav.

Ambedkar was vehemently opposed to a Hindu Rashtra. He had said that Hindu Raj would be the most dangerous thing for the country, and had to be fought at any cost. Ambedkar, in his famous treatise Annihilation of Caste, said: “You must destroy the religion of the shrutis and smritis; nothing else will avail.”

After Gandhi’s assassination, Hindutva went on the defensive politically. But in the late 1980s, both Hindutva and Dalit assertion began to re-emerge.

In 1984, Kanshi Ram formed the BSP and sought to take the Dalit movement a step ahead in the post-Ambedkar era. It can’t be a coincidence that the same year, as Christophe Jaffrelot writes: “The first Dharma Sansad unanimously adopted a resolution demanding the liberation of the site at Ayodhya. In May and June, the VHP established a militant wing, the Bajrang Dal.”

The 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid and the manifestation of aggressive Hindutva also ran parallel to the rise of the Dalit leadership of Mayawati, who eventually became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, transformed the politics of India’s largest state for two decades, and continues to be a formidable presence.

Narendra Modi’s entry in national politics, his election as Prime Minister, and subsequent events have proved that the RSS/BJP may have finally succeeded in their agenda that Swami Chinmayananda had laid out: “Let us convert Hindus to Hinduism and then everything will be all right.”

Today, Hindutva is unassailable. If a Hindu Rashtra becomes a reality, then Dalits would be the first ones to feel the heat. The suicide of Rohith Vemula, the brutal beating up of Dalits in Una, the riots in Saharanpur, and the arrest of Bhim Sena leader Chandrashekhar Azad have acted as political catalysts.

Today, social media has provided the Dalits a platform which connects them with each other and helps them mobilise far more effectively than in the past. There are many Jignesh Mevanis. They are young. They are revolutionised by constitutionally-guaranteed equality and liberty; and they are demanding an end to the imposition of Brahminical Hindutva.

They are on the war path, like they were in the past. History is on their side; at least they believe so.

Ashutosh is spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.

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  1. Vedas never preached caste system perhaps one of best advanced egalitarianism was the preaching
    A miniscule section of the Brahmins in spite of Vedic knowledge practised many differences Hi and low Casts Many among Brahmins were lowest middle or even lower casts and poor. Among the Non Brahmins many outside Dalits and backward by and large v v Rich ruling the roost keeping the leaned Brahmins happy with Awards and riches
    Thus the system got pollutted rottenly untouchability is not in sanadana darma Now the remedy dies not lie in any hindutva or sakit rising All children of God are equal.
    Just follow what the greatest 19th centuary son of India Dr BRA. strictly adhere to what he advised. All corrections amendments and Ambedkar dissents be corrected. Immediately post independent we failed to do many fundamentals. Failed to educate 100% Dalits and poors compulsorily and empowering them
    Now let us be One United Equal with opportunities encouragements and motivation
    As per Tamil old Lady philosopher AVVAIYAR there are no casts but Two one Charitable and Fair and the Second the uncharitable looters
    It is Vasudeva Kudumbam the motto Saree Mano Sujin vaangi

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