06 Dec 2023  |   05:16am IST

The return of caste politics

Caste politics can truly become an anti-dote to Hindutva politics. Therefore, by taking the issues of castes, the Opposition seems to have chosen the right ball to play
The return of caste politics

Victor Ferrao

There is no one way of reading Friedrich Nietzsche. There are several readings of Nietzsche.  Maybe, we can also understand caste v/s Hindu nationalism in the light of Nietzsche.  It might open to us the play field of politics in our country.  The Congress and the other Opposition parties are vocal for a caste census, while the ruling BJP is opposing the same. Hence, the question does arise, are we back to the Mandal and Kamandal politics in our country? Will the coming of the caste question dismantle the Hindu nationalism that is waiting to gather momentum in the wake of the new Ram temple?   Will this falling back on caste and social justice drift the political discourse that is centred on Hindu majoritarianism? Both caste and Hindu majoritarianism are identity politics. 

The effort of the Opposition to counterpose Hindutva politics with caste census is a way of highlighting caste and other issues of social justice.  It appears that issues centered around caste might undermine larger issues of the nation, Hindu faith and culture that seem to have captured the imagination of Indians for some time now and draw attention of the people to injustices that they suffer in the intimate existential conditions of their life. 

The way the slogan, ‘Hindu khatre mein hai!’ worked could also mirror  ‘Hamre caste or jati katre mein hai!’ This means the Opposition has found counter-impulsions to get the voter rally around them. Both are using human security needs to use the language of Abraham Maslow to get the people to become political. The political is generated and maintained around a sense of insecurity by the ruling BJP and the Opposition but they do not work in the same way. We have seen how the temple visits of Rahul Gandhi failed to produce electoral dividend. Thus, mere mimicry of the Hindutva politics produces little or no favourable political results. This means against hard and rabid Hindutva, soft Hindutva did not really work.   

Caste politics seems to be the real Other of Hindutva Politics. Hindutva politics blurred caste fragmentations and took people to focus on larger identities such as the nation and being a Hindu. It was the Ram temple issue that erased the Mandal politics in the 1990s.  But the fact the Hindutva politics has been blind and insensitive to caste oppression and has often appeared to be on the side of powerful upper castes. Caste politics does and can make a difference. Thus, caste politics can truly become an anti-dote to Hindutva politics. Therefore, by taking the issues of castes, the Opposition seems to have chosen the right ball to play. Will this play hit the ruling party out of the playfield as a hitting of six does in a Cricket match? Only time can answer this question. 

Caste v/s Hindutva (and not my Hindutva is better than your Hindutva of the old days) can implode the Hindutva politics. Caste politics has similar teeth to bite.  But both have different metaphysics. Hindutva politics is based on what Nietzsche would name as the metaphysics of transcendence. Hence, the individual has to transcend individual and caste identities and embrace general or large identities (Hindu or Indian). Caste politics unmasks the mask that hides the forces that propel social injustice. Like Hindutva politics, caste politics also needs an enemy. 

If Hindutva converted the Muslims and other minorities as enemies. Caste politics does not just convert upper castes as enemies but Hindutva politics of the ruling BJP as the enemy too. The enemy is no longer an outsider. This indicated that history seems to be repeating today. If the issue of the Ram temple had dismantled the Mandel politics in the 1990s, we can see the return of caste politics with the building of the Ram temple is ready to contest Hindutva politics. Is this the eternal recurrence that Nietzsche celebrates? 

This eternal recurrence is not the second coming of the myth of Sisyphus (return of the past with no purpose) nor it is the return of Hermes (return of new meaning and purpose). It is the return of the old with new energy and purpose.  It is a return of Dr Ambedkar. Perhaps it will bring possibilities of new ways of doing caste politics.  It will set in a new play of forces. Caste is the most exterior to Hindutva politics and is, therefore, the real   Other of Hindutva. 

The Other of Hindutva politics is not a Muslim/ Minority. Muslim/Minority as other of Hindutva Politics is within its political dynamism and does not pose any threat to it.  It is caste politics that can dismantle Hindutva. Often, we wrongly think that this Other of Hindutva are the minorities. Minorities are only a cover of the real battle of Hindutva.  The real battle is waged to bring everyone under Manusmriti. This is why caste politics have the teeth to bite Hindutva.  Hindutva adherents may like us to misunderstand who their real enemy is. The real enemy is certainly not the minorities. The real enemy is mainly caste politics. Therefore, by igniting it again, the opposition in our country may hit upon a potent way of contesting and dismantling the Hindutva politics. Thus, we may ask, will Hindutva implode or explode? Politics, thus, appears to be poised on an edge in our country. The Opposition holding fast to caste injustice is dynamising politics by framing Hindutva with its real Other. The caste Other is (insider) immanent to Hindutva politics. This is why caste politics can break from within. The dynamism of force and power that breaks from within is more dangerous.  Does this mean caste politics will lead to the springing forth of Hindutva nihilism? Will the herd mentality no longer attract its members? Will it lose its binding glue over the individuals? Will the slave morality of the herd/ nation/ faith die and shall we see the outcastes become the masters of their destiny?  Hence, quoting Nietzsche (with a little modifications), can we ask? Does ‘Nihilism stand at the door’ of politics in our country?  If it is so, in true Nietzschean sense, we are living in revolutionary times.

(Fr Victor Ferrao is an independent researcher attached to St Francis Xavier Church, Borim, Ponda)


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