Economic challenges and fawning officers in the time of coronavirus

Ever since Narendra Modi rode to power at the Centre, the RSS and the government have reserved the top echelons of the bureaucracy for officers committed to implementing the cultural agenda of the dwijs. With the help of these officers, they have managed to polarize society, writes Om Prakash Kashyap

In his address to the nation on 12 May 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that the national lockdown for containing coronavirus would continue. He announced a Rs 20 lakh crore economic package to help the economy tide over the crisis triggered by the epidemic and the lockdown. He also called for building a “self-reliant” India, saying the entire world knows that the 21st century belongs to India. That was yet another observation far removed from reality, especially when the lockdown has pushed millions of migrant workers into destitution.

The problem with the Modi government is that it is like a cart with the horses harnessed to the back. The reins in the hands of the driver, seated at the front, are illusory and meant only to fool the people. The real reins are in the hands of an invisible power, represented by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its auxiliary organizations. The driver, who happens to be Modi, pretends that he is in control by coining slogans and making himself seem important. But the invisible hands that actually control the horses make sure that the cart moves in the opposite direction. Modi knows that though the people voted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power twice in a row, it is the invisible forces that ensured his crowning as the premier. He knows that he is no more than a mask.

Why do these forces want to push the country backwards? It is an easy guess. The classes that the Sangh represents feel that since Independence they have lost much more than they have gained. The India guided by the Constitution is not the India of their dreams. They are rooting for the Varnashrama system, which they consider the best. It was the system in which the Brahmins were ordained as the owners of all the riches of the Earth and that too, without lifting a finger; the Kshatriyas were the protectors of the Brahmins and equal partners in enjoying the fruits of labour of the others while the Vaishyas were the money-minting machines. Whether it was the rule of the Mughals or the British, the Vaishyas were always busy filling their coffers. The Shudras did not have the right to property and were supposed to slave away day and night on subsistence wages to ensure that the higher varnas could wallow in luxury.

The migrant workers have borne the brunt of the lockdown

All this changed with Independence and the Constitution coming into force. The Brahmins were the biggest losers. They lost their monopoly over knowledge. Educated Shudras and Atishudras began joining government services. For the privileged classes, the Constitution was the villain of the piece. No wonder, once ‘their government’ came to power, they began attacking the Constitution. For the past six years, they have done all they could to undermine the Constitution and to glorify the past. They want the return of that culture that grants them limitless power. But unfortunately for them, in a market economy, it is not possible to hold the people in thrall only in the name of religion and culture, so they have chosen nationalism as their motif.

Islam is being projected as the biggest threat to Indian culture. That is because of two reasons. One, Islam does not have caste discrimination and two, it is monotheistic. These two factors give Islam a distinct edge over Hinduism and the social order it envisages. Of course, there is scope for disagreement here. It can be argued that the Upanishads, which were written long before the birth of Islam, were proponents of monotheism. That is true. But it is also true that before Adi Shankaracharya, no one took the monotheism of the Upanishads seriously.

‘Shankar’s Advaitvad (Monism) was beyond doubt purely Indian but it had striking similarities with the Advaitvad of the contemporary Muslim Sufis. Before Shankar, no one had placed Advaitvad on such a high pedestal. There are some commonalities between Islam’s inflexible monism and Shankar’s monism”[i].

Shankaracharya’s Vedanta philosophy was confined to the mutts. His disciples declared him the incarnation of Lord Shiva. Texts like Shankar Vijay and Shankar Digvijay were written to confer divinity on him and to prove that he was no ordinary mortal. But there was no endeavour to make Advaitvad, which was his unique contribution to Indian philosophy, popular among the masses. His disciples knew well that accepting the doctrine of ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’ (All this is Brahma) would knock off the very basis of birth-based caste discrimination, render idol worship meaningless and spell disaster for lakhs of temples dotting the land. Moreover, it would mean that any serious scholar of Advaita philosophy, even if he is not a Brahmin, could claim the top position in any of the Peethas established by Adi Shankaracharya. This was not acceptable to the Brahmins. They were more interested in protecting their caste interests than in religious philosophy. Whenever they had to choose between their religion and their caste, they always sided with the latter.

The fourth Varna comprises the backward castes and the Untouchables – the Shudras and Ati-Shudras. But even those venerate Ram Rajya and glorify ancient India fight shy of describing the backward castes as Shudras. These castes themselves also prefer their individual identities to this common nomenclature. Why? Is it because the upper castes feel that using the word Shudra would offend the backward castes and the Dalits (Untouchables)? No. They actually fear that 85 per cent of the Hindus and 65 per cent of the country’s total population would come together and become a formidable electoral force. To ensure that the Shudra castes do not forge a united front, they are divided into castes. Books like Hindu Charmakar Jati, Hindu Valmiki Jati and Hindu Khatik Jati show that, today, caste is far more important than Varna. Anyone who wants to find out how their caste originated has no option but to go back to the brahmanical scriptures. The epics and the Puranas, which are no more than well-crafted fables, become the standard texts for anyone trying to discover their roots. These texts thus protect Brahmanism.

The Dalits and the Backwards often assail Manusmiriti as the fountainhead of casteism. However, for the Brahmanvadis, Manusmiriti is no longer relevant or useful as it gives a common identity to hundreds of castes. That is why they don’t react when non-Brahmins attack this book. They know that it has earned considerable notoriety over the past 100-125 years due to the consistent bitter attacks on it. Moreover, it was never popular among the masses. As it is a code, undermining it would only mean questioning the Varna system and not the Hindu religion which promotes, perpetuates and patronizes it. Lastly, the Brahmins fear that too much focus on the Manusmriti may lead to the backward castes uniting under the common banner of Shudras – something that would cause them serious and irreparable damage.

The problem facing the RSS is that over the past few decades, Shudras have had access to education and an intellectual class has emerged among them. Democracy has made the members of this class self-confident and independent thinkers. They draw inspiration from the likes of Jotirao Phule, Dr B.R. Ambekar, Periyar and Swami Achhootanand. They still have few opportunities of expressing themselves through the mainstream media. But they have an impressive presence in the alternative media, popularly called social media. If necessary, they are ready to open a dialogue directly with Shudras and Ati-Shudras and they do not fight shy of pulling up their own leaders who seek votes by playing up their caste. This class views everything the Sangh does with suspicion, especially when the Sangh pretends to be a well-wisher of the Dalits and the Backwards.

I began by talking about the economy. I compared this government with a cart in which the driver is seated at the front while the horses are harnessed to the back, pulling in the opposite direction. But no one can halt the onward march of time – not even the RSS and its auxiliary organizations. Communalism, demonetisation and the corona pandemic have taken a big toll on the nation’s fiscal health. Economic slowdown and unemployment, coupled with the feeling of insecurity among the people and their lack of confidence in the government, have created a situation in which capitalists are unwilling to invest in the country. Things are going from bad to worse and unless the government takes urgent and effective steps to salvage the free-falling economy, the country may plunge into a civil war.

Over the past few years, the Sangh and the BJP government have ensured that top posts in the bureaucracy are occupied by officers who would implement their agenda. With the help of these officers, they have eminently succeeded in polarizing society. They have also craftily managed to almost decimate the opposition. But they have no policy and no policymakers to help the country grow economically. The bureaucracy lacks the guts and the brains needed to tweak the economic policies in keeping with global challenges.

For the Sangh, an officer’s religion and caste are primary qualifications. Other things come next. The bureaucrats handpicked by the saffron combine are quite good at implementing the Hindutva and communal agenda but they are ill equipped for other jobs. According to the data compiled by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Government of India, in August 2019[ii], of the 89 IAS officers posted as secretaries or holding equivalent posts in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Central Secretariat, only one belonged to the Scheduled Castes (SC, Dalit) and three to the Scheduled Tribes (ST). There was no one from a Backward caste (OBC) among them. Among the 275 joint secretaries, 13 were SCs (4.73 per cent), nine were STs (3.27 per cent) and 19 (6.9 per cent) were OBCs (2). Thus savarnas, who form 15-20 per cent of the population, occupied 95.51 per cent of the secretary-level posts and 80.1 per cent of joint-secretary posts. Officers who owe their positions to their caste are bound to promote casteism. They are unlikely to focus on development. They may also think that just as the Vaishyas were entrusted with generating wealth under the Varnashrama system, economic activities should be the sole preserve of capitalists and businessmen. That is probably why disinvestment is one of the top priorities of the government.

The officers are well aware that their caste, more than their intelligence, competence or experience, have put them in the positions they hold. They thus owe their positions more to the Varnashrama system than the prevailing laws of the land. That should normally persuade them to work hard for the success of the government that has favoured them. But their casteist mindset makes them play safe. They avoid taking independent decisions. They can only make frivolous suggestions like renaming the Planning Commission as the NITI Aayog. If this government really wants to do well for the rest of its term, it should ensure social diversity at the top of the bureaucracy. That will force those who have made these positions their own to shed their lethargy and inertia while those from the reserved categories will work hard to prove themselves. Once the general-category officers realize that their continuation in office will solely depend on their performance, they will stop playing safe and make decisions.

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)

[i] Sunderlal, Bharat Mein Angrezi Raj, First Edition, Onkar Press, Allahabad, 1938, p 98
[ii] https://theprint.in/india/governance/of-89-secretaries-in-modi-govt-there-are-just-3-sts-1-dalit-and-no-obcs/271543/

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