Aakar Patel | The caste factor and the BJP-RSS' Hindutva politics in today's India

The fact is that Hindutva wants Indians to worship caste, but it doesn't want them to talk about it

The 103rd Constitution Amendment, which was upheld by the Supreme Court recently, has been appreciated by our middle class, the core votaries of Hindutva. The opening up of reservations to all demonstrates the view that Hindutva is inclusive. Other parties are divisive because of their propensity towards casteism but, and this is the thinking, the BJP is above caste.

But is it? Does it reject caste, and if not, then what sort of relationship does it have with the primary fault line in Hindu society? Hindutva is intellectually underpinned mostly by the thinking of one man, M.S. Golwalkar, who had led the RSS for over 30 years from 1940 and is the individual responsible for its ideology and its success.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written a fawning biographical sketch of Golwalkar in which he has compared him to Buddha, Mahavir and B.R. Ambedkar. If there is a Hindutva view of caste, it comes from Golwalkar, and so let us examine it.

Golwalkar’s main work is a book called Bunch of Thoughts. He defines Hindus as being those people with the “urge for realisation of God”. However, this was not God in the form that most people identified with, Golwalkar wrote, but a living god and not an idol or immaterial form. “Nirakar (formless) and Nirgun (without attribute) and all that leads us nowhere.” Idol worship, he said, “does not satisfy us who are full of activity… We want a ‘living’ god, which will engross us in activity and invoke powers within us”.

This living god was the Indian nation, but according to Golwalkar, the nation-god did not include all communities but only one. In his words: “Our People Are Our God — is what our ancients told us. But not all people. Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Vivekananda said ‘serve man’. But Man in the sense of humanity is too wide and cannot be grasped. It should be an Almighty with certain limitations. Man here means Hindu people. Our ancients did not use the word Hindu but they did say that the sun and moon are His eyes, the stars and skies created from his navel and that the Brahmin is the head, King the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet.”

He continues: “This means that the people who have this fourfold arrangement — the Hindu People — are our God.” Service to this society is then service to God. This caste-based society should be worshipped in place of the self.

To Golwalkar, the social order through caste is not discrimination. The feeling of high and low in caste is of recent origin, due to the “scheming Britisher” and his “divide and rule policy”. The Gita says that individuals who do their assigned caste duty are worshipping God.

Indeed, he saw the caste system as beneficial to India instead of destructive. Writer Chandrabhan Prasad has said that for millennia Brahmins alone were in charge of knowledge and India has the most illiterates on earth; that the Kshatriya was in charge of defence but India was one of the most invaded places on earth; and that the Vaishya were in charge of commerce and India is one of the poorest nations on earth.

Golwalkar takes the opposite view. He says the caste system is not responsible for our downfall, writing: “Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated by his own caste-relation Jayachand. Rana Pratap was hounded by Man Singh. The defeat of the Hindus at Poona in 1818 was under a fellow caste-man of the Peshwas, named Natu, who hoisted the British flag.”

Golwalkar writes that India was able to withstand the onslaught of Islam. But Afghanistan, which was Buddhist and caste-free, became Muslim. It is caste which has ensured the survival of Hindus. He felt that the divisions of caste kept economic power (Vaishyas) away from the hands of the state (Kshatriyas). It deprived people producing wealth of all political power.

“And above all, these two powers were subjected to the supervision of such selfless men as had no axe to grind.” These selfless men were the Brahmins.
“It is the continuous tradition of such persons, holding the sceptre of spiritual authority, who were ever on the alert to undo any injustice perpetrated by any of these two powers, while they themselves remained above all temptations of power or riches, that formed the real breath of the glory and immortality of our ancient nation.”

Golwalkar had the same views on caste as our middle class does today. For example, he felt that using phrases like Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe produces separatism. Why shouldn’t everyone just be called “Hindu”? To Golwalkar, the problem of temple entry was not that of discrimination but of maintaining anonymity. If Dalits do not announce their background, then the priests will let them pray. To him, the stories of atrocities on Dalits are exaggerated.

In UP, he said, “the papers flashed that the Harijan community had been attacked by caste Hindus, but not a single family of caste Hindus was residing there. Obviously, the attack of Muslims on Harijans was given the perverted colour of atrocity. I have a suspicion that some foreign hand is behind this systematic and subtle propaganda Otherwise, there is no reason why such news items should be played up so prominently”.

This, then, is the thinking that has produced the 103rd Amendment, that is supposed to put reservations above caste. The fact is that Hindutva wants Indians to worship caste, but it doesn’t want them to talk about it.

Next Story