The Lakhimpur Kheri incident, in which Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra has been accused of crushing four protesting farmers to death, raises fundamental questions about the culture of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its associates.
The BJP is the political wing of the RSS and the training of leaders on their behavior and motives comes from there. Ajay Mishra and his son are part of this organisational structure.
Though there is discussion on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the issue, the RSS’ quiet on the Lakhimpur Kheri violence too speaks a lot. Neither Mohan Bhagwat nor Dattatreya Hosabale has spoken a word on it. This raises a fundamental question on the character and outlook of the RSS vis a vis the productive masses of India — farmers and artisans who mainly constitute the Shudras and Dalits. Are human rights, democracy and the Constitution of India safe under the thumb of this organisation?
Here, I examine the fundamental differences between the Indian National Congress, the party that led India to freedom and kept democracy surviving, and the RSS, in the context of their respective outlook towards farmers and other productive masses of India.
The Indian National Congress was formed by both Indian and Scottish anti-colonial freedom lovers in 1885. Dadabhai Naoroji, Allan Octavian Hume, Dinshaw Edulji Wacha were among the first founders of the INC.
While Dadabhai Naoroji and Dinshah Edulji Wacha were Parsis, Hume was a Scottish libertarian. There was no Indian Brahmin or Bania leader in the beginning. The lamentation of Wacha, a famous cotton businessman who had many things to lose in confronting the British rulers, was “how many figures, such as Pherozeshah Mehta, who would have made capable leaders, eschewed total alliance with the Congress for fear of damage to their private careers”. Despite this lack of support from Indian leaders, Wacha did acknowledge “the vital role that the Scotsman, Allan Hume, played in maintaining the Congress” in between sessions. Wacha had said: “He is the man to give us steam.” Pherozeshah Mehta was another Parsi leader who was working for the Congress. He was a lawyer turned politician for the sake of freedom.
By that time, there were many Brahmins, Banias, Kayasthas and Khatris in India who got educated in England and were practising law. Most of the English-educated Dwijas were working with the colonial government as officers even when the British administration was running in Persian language, and after it shifted to English in 1835. Dwijas were eschewing an alliance with the Congress, keeping their careers in mind. Of course, they joined the party once it gained momentum and became its leaders.
But for Shudra farmers, English education remained inaccessible. The first English-educated Shudra farmer, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, was born in 1827. He was educated only up to 7th grade. In government service and courts, only the English-educated Dwija youth were working and making money. The Shudras were mostly involved in farming and artisanal tasks. Yet, the peasant revolts against British taxation took place in several parts of India, even before 1885 — Bardoli and Champaran being the most well-known.
The first English-educated Shudra farmer to became a lawyer and join the Congress was Vallabhbhai Patel in 1917. He had shown a way to the Congress and Mahatma Gandhi on how to organise the farmers. Patel, a good lawyer with a good practice, led several peasant movements in Gujarat, including in Kheda and Bardoli. It was he who made inroads into the villages and into the minds of the farmers as an organic intellectual, though he took a Right-wing path within the party in an era of socialist peasant revolutions.
But it was not until 1931 that he became the president of the Congress. After becoming the first person with a farming background to become the INC president at the Lahore conference, he said: “You have called a simple farmer to the highest office to which any Indian can aspire”. Historian Ramchandra Guha writes that “in 1931, the Congress had been in existence for more than four decades. Yet in this time, it had never before elected a person born in a peasant household to head the organization, this despite Mahatma Gandhi’s own claim – and exhortation – that ‘India lives in her villages’.”
And the RSS
The RSS was established in 1925 by Maharashtra Brahmins with no Parsi or Sikh or Buddhist on board — leave alone a Muslim. It never said anything positive about the farmers and artisans in any of their ideological documents. They never participated in any of Sardar Patel’s farmer movements. Even after Independence, they never organised any farmer agitation. How and why the farmers and artisans, broadly known as Shudras, trusted them once the RSS came up with the Ram temple issue, is a mystery. Now they are seeing the real face of the RSS.
The RSS, which came with the slogan of ‘one nation, one culture and one ancient heritage’, has never allowed a farmer’s son to head the organisation in its 96 years of existence. It seems for the RSS, the farmers aren’t part of the nation or its ancient heritage. This is the difference between the INC and the RSS. The INC was part of many farmers’ struggles in its living history, not the RSS. The organisation is drawn only as a muscle power force to fight against the minorities.
The farmers’ agitation—on issues that affect their survival—has been treated by the Right-wing as anti-national, as if India belongs to a small section of Hindutva forces who have nothing to do with farming. Their cultural nationalism does not consider agriculture as part of nationalism and it is limited to Hindu temples where the children of farmers have no right to head and lead. The RSS’ nationalism exists in ancient Sanskrit books that do not talk about agriculture and Shudra/Dalit masses.
Ashish Mishra’s confidence that he can allegedly drive his vehicle over food producers of the nation, as if they are less worthy than street dogs, came from this heritage of the RSS, one that is based on caste, culture and organisational support lent to arrogance. The farmers’ heritage includes food production by Shudras, for the whole nation. But they haven’t understood this difference yet.
It is time that the nation understands Ashish Mishra’s heritage. The farmers and the whole nation will have to survive. The RSS as an organisation came into existence without farmers being part of it. Its cultural nationalist agendas have no love for farmers and farming. Yet they are ruling the nation with the same farmers’ vote. This is a paradox.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. His latest book The Shudras–Vision for a New Path, co-edited with Karthik Raja Kuruppasamy. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)