The Times of India, November 16, 1997
At a time when casteism is equated with Mandalism or Mayawati’s version of dalit liberation, readers may wonder at the title of this article, and its timing. The answer is that I am writing this on the birth anniversary of India’s greatest socialist, Jawaharlal Nehru. I believe his socialism was a sort of secular Brahminism. And I believe the recent alienation of the backward castes and dalits from the Congress party is, in essence, a rejection of Nehruvian Brahminism parading as socialism.
Right through the centuries, the exploited masses – dalits and shudras (peasants, labourers, artisans) -were ground under the heel of the kshatriyas (warrior-landowners) and vaishyas (trader- moneylenders). Power and wealth lay essentially with these two castes.
The Brahmins (priest-intellectuals) used their special relationship with God to carve out their own sphere of influence. Some acquired riches, and some (like the Peshwas) actually became rulers. But religion enjoined asceticism and dharma on them, and many subscribed to it.
They nurtured the philosophy of virtuous behaviour, of keeping duty and selfless service above wealth or power. Similar priest-intellectual traditions existed in a wide variety of ancient civilizations, variations of Brahminism were global.
It is another matter that, when given real power, the priest-intellectuals abandoned dharma astonishingly fast in all countries.
The British Raj conceived the White Man’s Burden. This was in fact a variation of the old Brahminism. It held that the British were duty bound, at great personal cost, to bring civilisation, rule of law and impartial justice to lands that had never known them. Kipling urged his fellow Englishmen,
Take up the White Man’s Burden, Ye dare not stoop at less, Nor call too loud on freedom To cloak your weariness.’ All Indians regard this as breathtaking hypocrisy, aimed at giving a moral gloss to self-serving aggrandisement. But that has generally been true of all forms of Brahminism the world over.
The British brought modem education, enabling people of all castes to acquire the human capital that had traditionally been the preserve of Brahmins. Modern ideology arrived, and created a neo- Brah-minical class that swore by the old concepts of duty and austerity but paid homage to a new God called socialism. Many (from Nehru to Namboodri-pad) were brahmins by caste too, and hence double-Brahmins. Theirs was not the old caste-based Brahminism but a new secular variety, substituting caste-through-birth by caste-through-ideology.
This, then was the situation when India became independent. The backward castes and dalits had for centuries cried out for salvation from the thakur and bania. And the secular Brahmin offered to be the saviour. Nehru and his socialist comrades offered a new deal to the oppressed masses through land reforms, a dominant public sector, and egalitarian laws. He told the masses, ‘Concentrate power in our hands and we will lead you to the promised land.’ He got the mandate, and so socialism arrived. In effect, Nehru told his own party-men, ‘Take up the socialist burden, Ye dare not stoop at less. Nor call too loud on freedom, To cloak your weariness.’
Nehru did not impose government intervention on the people. The people themselves cried out for state intervention to save them from the bania and thakur. Zamin-dari abolition gave the shudras land, and gradually shudra castes (Yadavs, Vokkaligas, Nadars et al) became dominant castes in rural areas over the whole country. New laws against untouchability and job and Parliamentary reservation for harijans and tribals provided them some succour. So they voted the secular Brahmins back to power repeatedly.
Alas, all power corrupts. Socialist politicians gradually succumbed to the temptations of office. They increasingly used controls imposed in the holy name of socialism to line their pockets and create patronage networks. The quality of governance fell everywhere.
Soon the backward castes and dalits realised they were being taken for a ride. Their original saviour, the secular Brahmin, had turned predator (as exemplified by Jagannath Mishra). It was ridiculous for them to depend on the Brahmin to save them through good governance. They saw bad governance was here to stay. So they decided to grab a share of that bad governance, and the loot that went with it.
This led to the rise of Mandalised politics, which created a multitude of backward-caste chief ministers in place of the double-Brahmins that dominated at independence. It also meant the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party, determined to free dalits from dependence on demonstrably undependable Brahmins, secular or otherwise.
The party of Nehru now stands tattered and bereft of credibility? Secular Brahminism has turned out to be just one more variation of the hypocritical Brahminism of old.
Some readers may think it unfair for me to call Nehruvian socialism a form of casteism. in defence, I offer as evidence a pas-i sage from Nehru’s own Autobiography.
“Right through history, the old Indian ideal did not glorify political and military triumph, and it looked down upon money and the professional money-making class. Honour and wealth did not go together, and honour was meant to go, at) least in theory, to the men who served the community with litltle in the shape of financial regard.” (Readers, please note this was Nehru’s own Brahminical viewpoint: non-Brahmins like Shivaji and Jagat Seth would have disagreed. Now listen to the rest of Nehru’s passage).
“The old culture managed to live through many a fierce storm and tempest, but though it kept its outer form, it lost its real content Today it is fighting silently and desperately against a new and all-powerful opponent —the bank civilisation of the capitalist West. Ii will succumb to the newcomer, for the West brings science, and science brings food for the hungry millions But the West also brings ah anti dote to the evils of this cut- throat civilisation —the principles o socialism, of cooperation, and ser vice to the community for the common good. This is not so unlike the old Brahmin idea of service.”
There you have it from the horse’s mouth. Socialism is indeed a form of casteism, says Nehru albeit of a secular kind. Don’ blame me for elucidating it.
Mr Khalid Anis Ansari