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Casteism versus Communalism in India

by Asghar Ali Engineer, 17 June 2011

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(Secular Perspective June 16-30, 2011)

This is much discussed subject in Indian politics. Why I chose to write on it in "Secular Perspective"? Recently on internet a discussion was raging that all those police officers who are going against Modi in Gujarat are upper caste Hindus and not Dalits or OBCs. Perhaps the idea was being conveyed was that upper castes are not against Muslims as usually thought.

Generally it is believed that Dalits and Muslims and other weaker sections and minorities should come together to fight communalism. Attempts have also been made to form such an alliance. However, it is not a neat solution as it is often thought. It is in fact a mixed bag. In politics, let us remember opportunism and selfish interests are supreme, not ideology.

It is also wrong to assume that all upper caste Hindus are anti-Muslim. It is extremists among dalits who maintain that all Brahmins are against Muslims and they conspire to establish a Hindu Rashtra. Some may be of such views and indeed are. But a sweeping generalization in this respect would be a fatal mistake. There are several Brahmin politicians and officers who are quite secular and sympathise with the plight of Muslims.

On the other hand, there are several dalit and OBC politicians who do not hesitate for a moment to join hands with communal forces to serve their own interests casting away Ambedkar’s ideology. The most recent example is that of Ramdas Athawle, a well-known dalit leader from Maharashtra who joined Shiv Sena and has been addressing rallies from its platform. Until yesterday he used to claim to fight all communal forces. Just because he was denied ’due share’ in power by Sharad Pawar’s NCP, he did not hesitate to join Shiv Sena and found a ’new massiah’ in it.

Thus it would be a great mistake on the part of Muslims to think all dalit leaders are their friends and all upper caste Hindus their enemy. In fact among dalit parties also there are several factions and one or the other faction joins one or the other communal party. Mayawati who is considered dalit messiah in North India herself made alliance with BJP twice to become Chief Minister of U.P.

Of course in democracy there is nothing wrong to make political alliances but to make alliance with communal forces who swear by Hindu Rashtra and are against secular, pluralist India, amounts to betray not only secular ideology but also to betray our constitution, a constitution whose bedrock is secularism. Even secular parties also make alliance with communal parties. Lohia, Fernandes and others are obvious examples. Their hatred of Congress drove them to the fold of BJP.

India is a vast country, one of the largest secular democracy in the world. Its problems are highly complex and regional interests play a large role in its functioning and regional parties often come together to challenge parties like the Congress which has spread throughout India. However to align with parties like the BJP which believe in Hindu Rashtra and target minorities, is not in the national interest.

BJP is also, after all trying to emerge as a national party which is not in the interest of regional parties. Regional parties or dalit parties are tempted to ally with BJP as it is weaker of the two and can offer better terms for alliance. Unfortunately casteism and communalism both go against healthy nationalism and secularism. Politicians are keeping them alive in their own political interests. Unfortunately instead of making attempts to eradicate caste and communal identities, these politicians are exploiting them for their own interests.

In fact truly secular politics should not be (pre-mordial) identity oriented but should be issue-based and primordial identities should be re-placed by values of equality, justice and dignity. Today our elections are completely identity-based and issues and values have no role to play and if at all it plays any role it is incidental or at best marginal. If anything identities have been reinforced and plays ever larger role.

Today there is movement against corruption which claims its origin from civil society. It is debatable whether it is truly independent civil society movement or is hidden agenda of some political parties. That apart I feel not only corruption as is being fought by a group of people from civil society, but also casteism and communalism are equally or even more dangerous.

Thus three Cs i.e. Corruption, Communalism and Casteism are great enemies of people of India and unity and integrity of our country. Since only fight against corruption suits certain political forces they are totally concentrating on it and keep quiet or give secondary importance go to other divisive forces. In fact a comprehensive movement against all three should be launched. Besides exposing communal forces it will greatly strengthen unity and integrity of our country.

India’s political situation is such that casteism leads to communalism. When former Prime Minister V.P.Singh implemented Mandal Commission, the BJP, fearing loss of OBC votes intensified Ram Mandir issue and thus communalism became very strong and communal violence erupted country-wide both when Advani took out Rath Yatra and when Babri Masjid was demolished.

Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi issue once again polarized Hindus and Muslims and created hostile feelings between the two communities. And BJP ultimately came to power in 1999 using this highly divisive issue. Communal forces in this country are desirous of perpetrating upper caste rule but casteism and communalism are so entangled in this country that these forces very cleverly use lower castes against minorities.

These communal forces know that both lower castes and minorities pose a challenge against hegemony of upper castes they do everything possible to keep them divided. Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has coined a slogan Shivshakti and Bhim Shakti should come together to fight Congress-NCP alliance. Ramdas Athawle, a dalit leader was welcomes by Shiv Sena with open arms to topple the Congress-NCP regime.

People readily respond when someone launches movement against monetary corruption but remain unmoved when struggle is waged against casteism and communalism. Only few NGOs take part in such struggles In fact casteism and communalism is worse kind of political corruption and as long as this corruption is tolerated by the people because they can deflect the fight against corruption by using identity or what is called vote-bank politics.

Of course people are becoming quite conscious these days and it is not so easy but nevertheless when some highly emotional identity issue is involved it is easier to play identity politics and it would be difficult to fight against monetary corruption. Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev are not after all so innocent as it appears. Their agenda is controlled, directly or indirectly, by communal forces. In case of Baba Ramdev it is quite obvious though in case of Anna Hazare it is more intricate and indirect.

Though no democratic polity could be totally free of corruption it cannot be allowed to become oblivious of its most crucial function of governance and use identities and vote banks for winning elections. In case of Indian democracy, nothing has remained democratic except five yearly elections. Corruption is increasing, no multiplying and governance has taken a back seat.

People have to take leading role - after all people are most crucial for democracy - in fighting all three Cs i.e. corruption, casteism and communalism if they want democracy to deliver. Today we are, despite high economic growth we are lagging in almost all human development indicators and we are ahead of many developing countries on corruption index. Again it is because of corruption that the gap between rich and poor is intolerably high. Millions are living in places not even fit for living for cattles, especially those belonging to dalits and minorities especially in big cities.

Also, the dalits and minorities should not allow their leaders to play power games at their costs. Both Muslim leaders and dalit leaders constantly jockey for their own power and neglect the cause of their own communities. They are no less corrupt. This should not be tolerated by these communities. Leaders like Babasaheb Ambedkar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were ideal leaders.

These leaders were not after power but they made great sacrifices to empower their communities. Today dalit and Muslim leaders empower themselves and disempower their communities or at best achieve something mere symbolic. The Congress and BJP leaders start some symbolic schemes in the name of these great leaders and try to win over votes of these communities. That is why both dalits and Muslims, despite more than 60 years of independence have achieved very little and still are where they were.