Dattatreya Hosabale. Photo: PTI/Files

By Pallikonda Manikanta

The current social and political scenario in the country is marked by multiple dilemmas. One such dilemma is on the subject of caste and reservations. In dealing with this dilemma – and in appropriating the anti-caste radical appeal – the Sangh parivar is fraught with growing inequalities. As its political affiliate, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is in power with an undisturbed majority, the parivar is being forced to deal with the dilemma in a much more organic way.

Focusing on a few such dilemmas that they are dealing with in the current times, RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale’s speech on August 10 (on the eve of launching the book Makers of Modern Dalit History authored by BJP spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan and close associate of the India Foundation Sudarshan Ramabadran) gives us valuable inputs on how to delineate the body politic of the Sangh and its stance towards a sensitive, complex social reality.

Hosabale’s speech covered several areas, including his endorsement of the RSS’s support for reservations. But the most important aspect was his appeal on reading and understanding Dalit history, when he said, “Indian history and Dalit history are not two different things.” He continued, “Without mentioning the contribution of the Dalit community, political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual history would be incomplete, dishonest, and untrue.”

It is true that one cannot deny the contribution of anti-caste history in the making of the modern India – but a question remains for the Sangh: Does it really understand and advocate for the annihilation of caste, or is this just another election strategy? Though Hosabale said that social harmony and social justice are articles of faith for the RSS and not political strategies, what he ignored is the organisation’s history of subverting the goal of social justice after the 1990s, in the wake of the Mandal vs Mandir movement.

In understanding anti-caste history, the question of agency becomes very important. For one, we must know who says what, as Hosabale himself emphasised by citing M.S. Golwalkar’s 1969 letter to religious seers who passed a resolution declaring that untouchability has no place in our religion and society. It was important that it was seers who said it, Hosabale said, since “when it comes from the people who have occupied religious seats from where these things have been interpreted rightly or wrongly in the past…it will go a long way when they say certain things”.

But say we were to extend our understanding of who says what to the current event. How can the RSS general secretary’s speech at a launch of a Dalit author’s book on Dalit history be taken in good faith, when the very points he mentions are conveniently ignored in his own organisations? Meetings of the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha and Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal are regularly filled with Dwijas.

On the other hand, Hosabale made a significant point by citing Golwalkar’s letter: “It [upliftment of Dalits] should not be presented as a dispensation to the pressure of modern times but by abiding principle and way of life in a humble spirit of atonement of our past mistakes.” This is what exposes the Sangh’s self-contradictory nature: they advocate for the empowerment of oppressed sections as a response to the pressures of modern times (for electoral gains and reviving Brahminism in the name of harmony and integration) but not as atonement for their past mistakes. After all, the Sangh parivar is still a strong votary of Brahmanic Hinduism. Our recent book, The Shudras, has exposed several instances in which the RSS and BJP have tried to revive the past and further Savarna/Dwija hegemony.

On reflecting on the question of Dalit history, the authors of the book and Hosabale himself should have tried to understand the significance of who writes what, similar to who says what. This becomes important as members of the Sangh parivar regularly conduct a selective reading and understanding of Dalit history in particular, and anti-caste revolutionaries in general. They want to appropriate and subvert the mukti ethics of the Phule-Ambedkarite movement.

As part of the propaganda project of selectively reading and understanding ‘subaltern’ or ‘Dalit’ history by the votaries of the Sangh parivar, the book c is no exception. For example, on page 117, while quoting Savitribai Phule’s famous poem ‘Go, Get Education’, the authors omit the last line: “Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.”

On page xv, they mention different names identified with ‘Dalit’ – ‘suppressed classes’ and ‘oppressed Hindus’. In doing so, they failed to mention the nomenclature used by Dr B.R. Ambedkar: “non-caste Hindus”, “protestant Hindus” and “non-conformist Hindus”. The difference between ‘oppressed Hindus’ and ‘non-caste Hindus’ shows the epistemological conflict in history, which the Sangh wants to erase from modern history.

Similarly, on page 143, the authors say, “Annihilation of Caste is also a must-read, because it calls for a struggle for social justice without advocating any violent or punitive measures. This was Ambedkar’s uniqueness. He even urged Dalits to establish a separate religion based on the principles of the Upanishads.”

This claim exposes their dishonest, incomplete and untrue reading of Dr Ambedkar’s emancipatory philosophy. Annihilation of Casteas Ambedkar mentions in the preface to the second edition (1937) is “the speech prepared by me for the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal of Lahore has had an astonishingly warm reception from the Hindu public for whom it was primarily intended.” He further says, “I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realise that they are the sick men of India, and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians.” (Emphasis added)

It will be clear throughout the text to any reader that it is primarily intended for the caste Hindus. On the other hand, their claim that the book urged Dalits to establish a separate religion based on the principles of the Upanishads looks like an intentional one, to undermine the emancipatory potential that the text has.

The full paragraph from Annihilation of Caste is worth citing here. In advising the caste Hindus, Ambedkar writes, “Whether you do that or you do not, you must give a new doctrinal basis to your Religion—a basis that will be in consonance with Liberty, Equality and Fraternity; in short, with Democracy. I am no authority on the subject. But I am told that for such religious principles as will be in consonance with Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, it may not be necessary for you to borrow from foreign sources, and that you could draw for such principles on the Upanishads…” (Emphasis added)

It also becomes very clear in the text that Ambedkar emphasises on discarding the authority of the Shastras, and destroying the religion of the Shastras. He further mentions that he is leaving the Hindu fold and they (caste Hindus) should continue their cause to uproot caste. He says, “I am sorry, I will not be with you. I have decided to changeThis is not the place for giving reasons. But even when I am gone out of your fold, I will watch your movement with active sympathy, and you will have my assistance for what it may be worth.” (Emphasis added)

From the above paragraphs, it becomes clear that Ambedkar was only urging the caste Hindus (not Dalits) in Annihilation of Caste to look for ways of “rescuing Hinduism from the poison of Brahminism”. The authors of Makers of Modern Dalit History, as well as earlier Hindu nationalists, deliberately brought up this subject of the Upanishads by selectively quoting lines from the Annihilation of Caste to make it seem like Ambedkar believed in the Upanishads. According to them, though Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, his principles for a new doctrine of democracy came from the Upanishads, which allows them to further propagate that Buddhism is an integral part of Hinduism.

Unlike the Sangh parivar, Ambedkar’s method of studying caste and Hinduism comes from a deeper historical investigation. To not read his writings in continuity and with the context would be an utter injustice to his relentless struggle and scholarship.

In continuing his deeper investigation on the subject of the Upanishads, in Riddles in Hinduism (Riddle No 8 and 9), Ambedkar investigates the reasons of why the Upanishads earlier were not part of the Vedas, and in fact were contrary to each other, and how later the Upanishads were made subordinate to the Vedas.

Exploring this further, in Philosophy of Hinduism, Ambedkar writes the Upanishads “turned out to be most ineffective and inconsequential piece of speculation with no effect on the moral and social order of the Hindus”. One reason for their ineffectiveness he discusses is through the idea of truth in the dynamic social nature. He writes, “The philosophers of Upanishads did not realise that to know truth was not enough. One must learn to love truth.”

By also mentioning the problem of religion being full of mere metaphysics, Ambedkar endorses that metaphysics doesn’t concern common people and thus it cannot become a working ethic. For this reason, he concludes saying, “It is therefore incontrovertible that notwithstanding the Hindu Code of Ethics, notwithstanding the philosophy of the Upanishads not a little not a jot did abate from the philosophy of Hinduism as propounded by Manu. They were ineffective and powerless to erase the infamy preached by Manu in the name of religion. Notwithstanding their existence one can still say, Hinduism! Thy name is inequality!”

Reading all of Ambedkar’s views on the Upanishads clearly indicates that the authors didn’t investigate the subject closely. Their agenda, it appears, is to selectively read and omit the radical views of anti-caste revolutionaries. In their earlier attempts (Organiser’s issues on Ambedkar in April 2015 and 2016) too, the Sangh parivar made relentless efforts to appropriate Ambedkar’s philosophy. Anti-caste Bahujan intellectuals across the country have taken strong objection to such attempts, saying, “Ambedkar cannot be adopted or appropriated by Hindutva.”

Hosabale should be aware of the fact that Indian history (as usually documented and projected) and anti-caste history (which is ignored and belittled) are indeed two different things, and remain in organic conflict. The present need to “depoliticise the Dalit discourse”, which the authors argue for, is clearly visible throughout the book. And this call is nothing but an attempt to curb the ongoing radical process of debrahmanisation that is systematically forging solidarities across in fighting not just the “aberrations made in the past” (page xiv) but primarily against the inhumane Brahminical social order that is “causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians”, as Ambedkar said in Annihilation of Caste.

This story first appeared on thewire.in