MY Vijayadashami this year was eventful and memorable. I did something which I had never thought I would do. Being part of a move that could gather momentum in due course to become a huge movement with hopefully a transformative effect on society is something that makes one feel elated.
On October 12, I visited Malladi Chandrasekhara Sastry, renowned exponent of the Vedas and Vedic dharma, at his residence in Ashok Nagar, Hyderabad. The Ramineni Foundation was going to honour him with Vishishta Puraskar that evening. I was a member of the jury. I went to him in the morning to excuse myself for not being able to attend the meeting since I was about to hit the road to travel to Nagpur. The eminent scholar wanted to know the reason for selecting him for the award. I said he deserved the honour as a great teacher who had been serving Hindu religion for more than six decades. “What do you mean by ‘Hindu religion’?” was his rhetorical question. “In the first place, it is not a religion. It is Varnashrama Dharma, to debunk which you people have been fighting,” he quipped. I said I am for all that is good in Hindu religion minus varna. He smiled without a comment.
The next day I was sitting on the front row watching a parade by RSS workers at Reshim Bagh in Nagpur, following which Sarsanghachalak Shri Mohan Bhagwat addressed the gathering. He spoke for 50 minutes, exhorting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders and workers to engage in the task of rejuvenating the nation. Mallepalli Laxmaiah, a dalit activist and intellectual, beside whom I sat, and I were hearing every word carefully to know whether a particular reference would be made by the RSS chief in his extempore speech. At the end of his speech, he did make the reference, though not exactly on expected lines. This year’s speech by Sarsanghachalak was truly path-breaking, since in it he made an appeal which no other chief of the RSS before him had made or he himself had made on four such occasions since he has been at the helm. He asked in his written speech translated into English and made available to the media: “By actively addressing the social aspects, can’t we put an end to this centuries-old evil of heresy, hypocrisy and discrimination? Can’t we open our centres of worship, sources of water, and crematoriums to all Hindus so as to enable Hindus to make a new beginning of a harmonious life? This is the only means to make the whole society on the side of sad-dharma and good deeds, and string them together with the thread of ‘Bharat Bhakti’. Also, there is no other way to bring about necessary changes in the policies and system of the nation and to keep it healthy. To provide living examples of such lofty behaviour in every village, colony, lane and by-lane is the only means to accelerate the process of social change”.
Coming from a Sarsanghachalak, this message will have a profound impact on innumerable followers across the country. Mohanji’s illustrious predecessors, from Keshav Baliram Hedgewar to Sudershan, believed that the decline of Hindu nationalism began when the social corporate structure of the original Varna system disintegrated under the impact of Buddhist principles. Vedic social order was characterised by the organic solidarity of the hierarchical Varna. Golwalkar said in his book, Bunch of Thoughts, that there is nothing to prove that it (the caste system) ever hindered our social development; and that, actually, the caste system has helped preserve the unity of our society.
From Raja Ram Mohan Roy, social reformer, to Ram Manohar Lohia, socialist, many modern Indian thinkers dwelt on the vexed subject of caste system. Gandhiji gave priority to abolition of untouchability rather than to annihilation of the caste order. Both Dr Ambedkar and Lohia were dissatisfied with Gandhi’s doctrine of least resistance to caste order (Ambedkar’s words). While Ambedkar wanted annihilation of caste, Lohia argued in favour of destruction of caste inequalities. While Gandhi’s was an egalitarian philosophy, that of Ambedkar and Lohia was radical.
Lohia recognised that castes had endured thousands of years of resistance from within and without. Since caste is built into a power structure, it needs to be related to the theory of power, he said. The politics of Tamil Nadu since 1967 and the post-Emergency emergence of caste-based political parties in the cow belt are manifestations of the power of the subaltern castes. Since annihilation of caste is not immediately possible, it is better to try to destroy the inequalities which are both economic and social.
The Communist parties briefly encouraged, with limited success, inter-caste marriages and other such activities as a way to remove inequalities among various castes. But the SCs and STs have still not yet been accepted fully by society. There is glaring discrimination against the SCs even today when it comes to sharing space in respect of water resources, burial grounds and temples.
The grand success of the inclusive movement in Andhra Pradesh, organised by the Centre for Dalit Studies, under the leadership of Mallepalli Laxmaiah, that resulted in the SC, ST Sub Plan Act, 2013, was unique in the history of Independent India. That the SCs and STs should be developed to the level at par with other communities and the governments have to provide encouragement by way of reservations in jobs, educational institutions and legislatures, besides earmarking special funds, has been a policy that no sane person in the country would oppose. Justice Ramaswamy felt that a special Act is necessary to ensure that the allocated funds are properly spent on development of Dalits and Vanvasis without diversion or lapse. This idea was translated into action by the CDS by mobilising the support of political parties and associations of all hues from New Democracy to the BJP. Even reluctant and non-serious politicians fell in line and a two-day special session of the State Assembly debated on this issue, which in itself was an achievement, considering there has been no worthwhile debate in the Assembly for several years.
That way an excellent model was created for inclusive politics to solve some basic, nagging issues on which there are no differences of opinion; it was innovative and could be replicated anywhere in the country. For instance, literacy, toilets in schools and villages, tackling the issue of malnutrition, women’s empowerment are problems which can be solved through inclusive politics.
We visited some capital cities and met political leaders to explain the SC, ST Sub Plan Act. It was intended to inspire them to benefit from AP’s experience and achieve the same results. An opportunity to meet Sarsanghachalak was provided by Bhagaiahji, head of intellectual wing of the RSS. Laxmaiah had earlier participated in a big gathering of RSS workers at Mahbubnagar addressed by Shri Mohan Bhagwat. Laxmaiah’s speech had impressed the RSS chief. I accompanied Laxmaiah, who had a standing invitation, on March 7, 2013 to Nagpur. RSS leader Shyam Prasad, based in Hyderabad, joined us there. We had spent close to three hours with Mohanji and had lunch with him squatting on the floor. It was during the discussion that Mohanji said: “Pani, mandir and smashaan kee baaree mee sab samaan hain”. Our idea of going to Nagpur was to persuade the RSS chief to put in a word to Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states to go for a similar Act. We did not have to persuade him. He not only readily accepted our request, but also spoke of “Samajik Samarasata Movement” emboldening us to dwell on that subject. He said the goal of all political parties and social organisations is the same: peaceful coexistence. Speaking about conversions, Mohanji said some people are getting converted because they feel they are not wanted in Hinduism. They feel ignored, neglected and insulted.
When we suggested that Sarsanghachalak could give orders to all RSS workers in the country to make it possible for all dalits to enter temples without any problem, to take water from the common well or tap and to bury their dead along with the dead from other communities, Mohanji said no orders are given in the RSS and every worker is free to question, get convinced and only then act. “Dheeree dheeree kareengee hum”, he said. I suggested that he could give an interview to HMTV and The Hans India so that people would know his views. He smiled and evidently put the proposal on hold.
We spoke of the Buddha, Ashoka and Ambedkar and requested him to give public expression to his thoughts on dalit empowerment. Mohanji agreed that Manu Dharma Shashtra is outdated by many centuries and we should have modern dharma shashtra suitable to our times. We told him that he is the right person to preside over such work. The RSS chief had said he was not equipped with the knowledge of the shastras and he would organise well-versed scholars to undertake the work.
Our dialogue with Sarsanghachalak became very interesting when he said that the dalit brothers and sisters should be assimilated into Hinduism at any cost. He said the goals of Swami Vivekananda and Ambedkar were the same, though their paths were different. When we reiterated that his views on dalits and others should be made known to people, he promised to speak out during his speech on Vijayadashami Day and asked both of us to be present at the meeting. We thought he had said it casually and took it easy. When we were reminded of his invitation, we along with Bhoom Rao, a friend from Hyderabad, rushed to Nagpur without second thoughts.
After the parade and the speech and then breakfast we got opportunity to meet Mohanji. On seeing us, he said in his speech (extempore) he had forgotten to utter the words appearing in the printed version. He again spoke of Ambedkar and the Buddha and the need for conciliation among castes. Instead of giving a command, he was trying to change the minds of people through persuasion. There is no use trying to change the institution without changing the mindset of the people. Will Durant, the famous historian, says: “After all, when one tries to change institutions without having changed the nature of men, that unchanged nature will soon resurrect those institutions”.
In dialectical thinking no intellectual is pro or anti somebody. Thought process is an evolution. The goal, as Mohanji said, is the same. Toughest problems could be solved and highest goals could be achieved in a parliamentary democracy we are blessed with, given inclusiveness in thought and action.
Once the contradictions among castes are resolved, the problems between the jatis (races) also could be tackled. I hope and pray that Mohanji would take the initiative forward and rid society of age-old curse of caste-based exploitation, oppression and cruelty.