End of social justice?
By Sagarneel Sinha
The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government has completed eight years in office and amidst this the country has seen changes in society and politics. Modi’s supporters and his critics both agree on this, although their interpretations on the end result of these changes are poles apart.
Since coming to power after winning General Elections 2014 with a clear majority, the dispensation has faced allegations of favouring majoritarianism and weakening democracy. These charges have grown after Modi stormed back to power with a stronger mandate in 2019. Supporters of the dispensation, on the other hand, claim the BJP’s electoral success since 2014, including the twice saffron victories in Assembly elections in the most politically significant Uttar Pradesh, are a clear indication that caste-oriented politics is no longer applicable to the country. Besides, Kamandal (the temple-oriented politics) has swallowed Mandal (caste-oriented politics), and many others view it as the end of social justice politics. Is it so?
There’s no denying that in these past eight years, BJP has strengthened itself and deeply penetrated into rural areas of the Hindi-belt. It has resulted in weakening of caste-based parties, such as Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Dal-United (JDU), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) etc have partially or largely lost their core bases to the BJP. These parties attribute their strength to the Mandal politics of the 1990s, pitted against BJP’s Kamandal politics. Parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party in recent times are trying to look beyond their caste-arithmetic and focussing on economic issues. This is a clear confirmation that they too are accepting that their old caste formula isn’t drawing the support of the masses.
Just because caste-based parties are struggling, it doesn’t mean it’s an end of social justice politics. In the name of social justice politics, these parties practice the bitter truth in that they have failed to benefit all sections of the society. Even those in the backward classes, who aren’t powerful and are divided into small groups didn’t get the benefit of social justice politics practised by these parties. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD claimed to represent the oppressed, but it represented the Yadavs in Bihar.
The same happened with SP of Mulayam Singh Yadav and later Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh. The Dalit-centric BSP under Mayawati came to be actually representing the interests of the Jatav Dalits. Although during elections these parties try to attract other communities, the truth is that the power of these always remains in the hands of those coming from their core community. As a result, the other backward communities wanting a share in power were often left unhappy and angry.
The BJP and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), understood this and took advantage of the weakness of the Mandal parties. The saffron party guided by the Sangh Parivar started engaging with these left-out backward sections. As a result, today in Uttar Pradesh, the non-Jatav Dalits are identified as vote banks of BJP — not Mayawati’s BSP! Even a section of Jatav Dalits too have moved to the saffron camp in UP. The Dalits are accommodated in power centres both at State and Central level. In addition to this, the various welfare schemes of the Modi government are successful on the ground, and the beneficiaries also include the left-out sections of the society.
Importantly, one crucial aspect that often gets ignored is that the Sangh Parivar itself sees casteism as a barrier against its mission of Hindutva, which seeks to unite all Hindus under one umbrella. So, to assume that under the dominance of BJP, the politics of social justice has been weakening doesn’t reflect ground realities. Basically, the politics of social justice has undergone a change in the present era. Now, the baton of the champion of social justice has passed from the earlier caste-based parties to the Hindutva-oriented BJP.
On the other hand, the arguments of caste-based politics almost coming to an end, as pointed out by leaders of BJP, including Modi, on the basis of the electoral outcomes during these eight years also don’t seem to be reflecting the exact ground reality. Whether one likes or dislikes the bitter fact is that caste does matter. It is a ground reality. The arguments of Kamandal eclipsing Mandal, often heard, are overly exaggerated because it’s a given that even BJP devises its election strategy keeping the various caste-equations in mind. Then how come the saffron party’s victory represents the end of caste-oriented politics or more properly Mandal politics?
Obviously, there has been a change. The change is that BJP’s style of doing politics of social justice is mixed with the Hindutva agenda. Its agenda is not to discard the Mandal politics but to align it with Kamandal. Earlier Mandal and Kamandal were poles apart and were two sworn enemies but now under BJP’s rule, the party’s main agenda is to make Kamandal the best friend forever of Mandal.
Coming to the issue of the rise of majoritarianism under these eight years, what the Left-leaning intellectuals ignore or may be simply not interested to know, is that Hindutva itself has many shades. It isn’t a uniform idea. That’s also the reason it is not rejecting Mandal politics, but carefully appropriating it only to align with Kamandal.
Interestingly, many of the Right-leaning activists or more properly those associated with Sangh Parivar too ignore the fact that Left itself has many shades, including extreme ones. It has been seen that most of the time these factions of the Left don’t get along. Similarly, there are extreme factions along with the moderate ones within the Hindutva movement. These extreme factions try to unnecessarily vitiate the society through their vicious ideas. The extreme factions of the Left too do the same. Basically, both extreme sides complement each other.
Like minorities, majorities are also human beings having their own issues — religious, social or economic. The BJP as a ruling party has the responsibility to understand the concerns of the majority too. They also have their own legitimate concerns. Those worries can’t be just brushed aside. It can seriously affect the health of our democracy. Understanding worries of the majority shouldn’t be constructed as a stand against minorities and is not healthy to term this as “rise of majoritarianism”. Importantly, in this country often the word minority is associated with the minority religious communities forgetting that there are other minorities too, ethnic and linguistic.
Obviously, there are some legitimate concerns from some sections of religious minorities too — and those need to be addressed. It is the responsibility of the saffron party, being the ruling party, and also the Sangh Parivar to keep their extreme factions under check. After all, such factions complemented by the extreme ones of the Left only ferment unrest in the society. The claims of rise of majoritarianism under BJP rule, however, are highly exaggerated. —-INFA
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