Samajik Samrasta is the preferred mode of political mobilization of the Hindutva forces. It seeks to promote social harmony by finding points of convergence between the various social communities by blurring the distinction between ‘we’ versus ‘they’ by making references to shared culture and tradition. For many advocates of the left-liberal school, Samajik Samrasta is a tool to continue the dominance of hierarchy based Brahminical Hinduism but nothing can be far away from truth.
In the aftermath of the Mandalisation of polity, the RSS made visible attempts to reach out to the lower castes; the realization of the futility of Varna dawned on it as the nation saw the deepening of social democracy with the voices of the marginalized sections coming to the fore. The BJP ideologue Govindacharya coined the term ‘social engineering’ to make the party attractive to the lower castes and provide them space within the party at strategic points. It is not a mere coincidence that today, BJP boasts of sending the largest number of MPs/MLAs belonging to the backward/Dalit castes to the legislatures; the posts of President, Vice President and PM are manned by non upper castes.
The first brick during the Silanayas of Ram Temple at Ayodhya was laid by a Dalit; top BJP leaders have meal with Dalits at Dalit households and RSS opens schools and holds Shakhas in areas that are heavily populated by lower castes. With the political marginalization of upper castes, the Hindu religion has de-Brahmanized a great deal but this doesn’t mean that the Hindu religion/culture will wane as the lower castes have emerged at the forefront of Hindutva movement. Backward leaders like Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar have been the mascots of Ram Temple movement.
Hindu religion/culture is sought to be preserved by the Sanskritisation of lower castes. Though the hierarchy and castes may not be dismantled in the near future but the situation is a lot more fluid with Dalits getting the chance to act as temple priests in some places. Efforts are on to appropriate the legacy of Ambedkar by the Hindu Right and it is no longer unusual to see RSS celebrating the birthdays of Ambedkar. Many lower caste icons have found a place in the RSS scheme of things to instill a feeling among the lower castes that BJP or RSS belongs to them. BJP is now more or less okay with reservation.
Symbolism matters in politics but it does not work beyond a certain extent. Samajik Samrasta can only work and social harmony can only be restored if no social community feels aggrieved and victimized. No doubt, democracy is a game of numbers but this does not mean that communities who have miniscule numbers be neglected and left to fend for themselves with no state support. To increase the appeal of Samajik Samrasta as a political slogan, it is imperative that segregation of citizens into categories with a view to extend political patronage should stop.
Positive affirmative action programs like reservation should be designed in such a way that no social community feels cheated; benefit to one community should not come at the cost of another community. Secular inclusive criteria for deriving benefits need to be devised in which all the communities can participate. The recent step of the UP Government to install statues of non Dalit icons in Ambedkar Parks/Dalit Prerna Sthal that were built by Mayawati to house Dalit icons exclusively is a welcome development. Samajik Samrasta can only be attained when the public spaces become secular/ inclusive and all the communities feel they have a stake in them.
Samajik Samrasta does not call for annihilation of castes but it certainly wants all castes to have a pride of place within the architecture of Hinduism. It does not advocate segregation of castes but clamors for creation of a system in which there is no untouchability/caste discrimination and all communities can freely indulge with each other on equal footing. It’s about submergence of micro identities within the broader macro identity without their destruction. After all, no one can deny that castes have prevented the disintegration of Hindu society. They may have been a scourge for the lower castes in the later stages of history but they had their advantages too when they were on merit and not birth based.
Samajik Samrasta is about welfare/development of all and appeasement of none. It can only work when policies are not made to exclusively cater to the interests of particular communities based on vote bank considerations but when the concerns of all irrespective of caste/religion/region are attended to. It strengthens inter and intra solidarity between the communities, fosters nationalism and promotes national integration by a unifying thread of belongingness shaped by common culture and common geography under a common law. The Preamble of our Constitution guarantees the Indian citizens equality, liberty and fraternity irrespective of caste/ religion/ colour/ gender. There are provisions to take care of equality and liberty but when it comes to fraternity, the constitution is silent. It is only through the vehicle of Samajik Samrasta that fraternity can be nurtured.
Now, let’s talk about Samajik Nyaya. The left-liberal-socialist spectrum of our polity has always sworn by Social justice in letters if not in spirit. The basic objective behind this policy has been to increase the visibility and representation of lower castes not only in the legislatures but also in public employment and educational institutions. The constitution is often described as the social contract between the Dalits and the state. It gave reservation to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes in proportion to their population. The late sixties saw intense political mobilization among the backward castes under the leadership of Lohia against the political hegemony of the upper castes and ultimately, the early nineties saw the Mandalisation of Indian polity.
Unfortunately, this Samajik Nyaya brand of politics got enmeshed in crude caste politics and failed to take up issues like land reforms that had huge potential to dismantle the feudal structure of our society. Mobilization on caste lines, demanding reservation on caste lines, nurturing vote banks on caste lines, providing patronage on caste lines and framing policies on caste lines became the standard modus operandi of this brand. Unlike Samajik Samrasta, it did not tend to unify the masses but attempted to drive wedges between various social communities in the name of assertion and empowerment. Caste leaders got away despite being involved in corruption/ misgovernance because of their strong community networks and support. What else explains the political ascendancy of leaders like Mayawati, Mulayam and Lalu who were regarded as the messiahs of social justice?
This politics alienated the upper and the intermediate castes. It created intense social animosity and contestations; it led to divisions in society. Since the OBC/Dalit population is highly stratified, those at the bottom of the ladder or those who were in less numbers, were left out of the benefits. Most of the reservation benefits were cornered by the dominant castes/sub castes within the OBC/Dalit communities.
In the name of social justice, ulterior motives of the left radical Dalit groups were exposed. In the name of autonomous existence, parallel cultural narratives began to be weaved. It seemed as if attacking Hindu religion/culture and dissociating from anything Hindu was the only defining trait of left liberal secular polity. All these activities gained ground after BJP formed a government at the Centre. Shouting anti national slogans, supporting Maoists and sympathizing with terrorists in Kashmir and showing disrespect to national symbols were justified under the pretext of freedom of speech.
Social justice politics bred rabid identity politics. People stopped seeing themselves as Indian citizens but were more comfortable with caste/community identities. The polity became more and more centrifugal under the garb of plurality and autonomy. The common unifying thread of nationalism was the ultimate causality. It was the salad bowl system, not the melting pot which tends to assimilate all the social communities into an Indian identity. In managing social/cultural diversity, the liberal school promotes individualism and multiculturalism which privileges social and spatial segregation of communities to maintain harmony. Post colonial framework prepared an autonomous domain of subalterns and contemplated to justify this separation as assertion of the lower castes.
It failed to examine and interrogate as to how mainstream discourse structures subaltern practices. It failed to take into account the social hierarchy that is prevalent among the lower castes. Elections were won on patronages and populism. Institutions of democracy crumbled in Bihar and UP because of rabid social justice politics. As a matter of fact, this polity failed to realize the true democratizing potential of democracy and usher in an egalitarian society. It was government of the community, for the community and by the community; the common people were never its concern.
Today, intense ideological contestations between Hindu Right and Left Liberal secular groups have led to debates over Samajik Nyaya and Samajik Samrasta. The fact that the nation is rapidly becoming saffron is a manifestation of the limitations of social justice politics. Samajik Nyaya politics created Dalit Brahmins and OBC Brahmins who were not concerned about the plight of their fellow brethren but tried to maintain their social supremacy over them. It thrived on divisions. Hopefully Samajik Samrasta would usher in genuine social transformation by creating common meeting grounds between different social communities and fostering nation building.