Ashis Nandy once made the powerful point that communalism was not about the “facts of religion”. It was about its self-conscious use as a political tool, often by people who did not believe in it. Casteism, is also not about the fact of caste. It is about the use of caste to make three claims. First, that people have compulsory identities which they cannot transcend, ever. Institutions should act as if no one can be more or less than their caste. Second, the point of social policy is not to empower individuals to escape the deprivations of caste, but to trap them in it. Third, that the only possible test of the legitimacy of institutions is if they mirror social reality, not if they transform it into something better. All of the Congress’s actions, from its support of the methodologically dubious caste census to its policies on reservation, suggest that it has become casteist in this sense.
It has also become communal in the sense that Hamid Dalwai so presciently diagnosed decades ago. It perpetuates the idea of minority as a political category, so that it can keep them in its place and use them. And, in the context of the Lokpal bill, it has cynically used them again. The Congress has ruled India for more than 50 years. But if India is more unjust along caste lines, minorities are more marginalised, surely the Congress is to blame. What is it about its paradigm of politics that it can effectively help neither Muslims nor Dalits? The caste parties may have narrow agendas; sections of the BJP may be pathologically incapable of thinking beyond identity. But what is the Congress’s excuse?