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The New Outcastes

The Brahminical order is finding new ways of fighting Mandal

The New Outcastes
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
The Last Brahmin Prime Minister?
By Saeed Naqvi
Har-Anand Rs: 250;Pages:235
THE title of the book can be misleading. It is not a biography of P.V. Narasimha Rao or an extended epitaph, but a collection of a celebrity journalist's pronouncements, prophesies and prejudices voiced in his columns over a period of about four years. There is no central theme. However, since casteism has become the main malady of Indian politics, the author returns to the topic again and again and the reviewer too would like to concentrate on it to the exclusion of others.

Since Brahmins have managed to occupy the prime minister's seat for 44 of the 49 years since Independence, the dominance of the 'twice-born' seems to have cast an obsessive spell on the author. Only a reluctant Brahmin-basher, Naqvi notes their steady decline with some genuine anguish and assures them that they are not yet beyond redemption. Indeed, in his view, while India can do without the craft and cunning of the Brahmins, the country needs their civilisational depth.

Was Jawaharlal Nehru's Brahmi-nical ancestry one of the factors in his becoming India's first prime minister? The author is emphatic it was. "Supposing," he argues, "all the qualities of heart and mind that Nehru possessed, his education and intellect, Harrow, Cambridge et al, were improved upon by somebody else but that person happened to be a Vokkaliga, a Reddy, an Ezhava, a Kurmi, would he have been considered for the post of India's Prime Minister? The answer must be a resounding no." Why? The author comes up with an ingenious explanation. Each of these non-Brahmin groups can be found only in a single state or region, while the Brahmin alone is everywhere, linking all parts of the nation from end to end.

Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) once said that Nehru proved to be a durable and popular prime minister because he was handsome and fair-skinned. Perhaps this also explains why Jayalalitha, a Brahmin, was able to mesmerise Tamil Nadu's non-Brahmins for many years. Naqvi does not say that Narasimha Rao became prime minister because he was a Brahmin but asserts that he was surrounded by a Brahmin 'coterie'. Though Brahmin politicians have fared poorly in successive Lok Sabha elections, they have always wielded enormous power in Delhi. Interestingly, even Brahmin-hating state chief ministers have found Brahmins indispensable until the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati booted them out.

The old Brahmin-dominated order has disappeared. In south India and Maharashtra this happened soon after Independence while Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh and other states in the north have lost their primacy more recently. Kashmiri Brahmins have been the worst sufferers—almost all of them have fled their homeland, barely escaping total ethnic 'cleansing' at the hands of Pakistan-backed Muslim fundamentalists. The tragedy of the Brahmins in Kashmir is that they are too small in number to qualify for a vote-bank. What is half a million in a land of 900 million people? However, like their counterparts elsewhere, the Kashmiri Brahmins are a peaceable, even passive, lot. They left their burning houses and shrines with folded hands perhaps never to return to their ancestral land.

Naqvi says that the whole Ram Mandir agitation was a 'ploy' by the Brahminical order to find external enemies. Muslims were the target. Communalism under this plan would result in Hindu consolidation which in turn would stabilise the centuries-old system. The flaw in this argument is that the agitation has been almost entirely in the hands of non-Brahmins while Brahmins and Brahminism have become increasingly irrelevant. In any case, those who have kept silent over the bloody persecution of Hindus in the Kashmir Valley have no moral right to make the unfortunate demolition of the Babri mosque the central argument in their insistent secular crusade. They are guilty of double standards. This applies particularly to India's Muslim leaders and intelligentsia.

The author, however, is not an unqualified supporter of the Mandal lobby's strategy for securing social justice (another expression for debrahminising the polity). He says that its gameplan is to coopt the Muslims and other minorities. Naqvi points out that a conflict between communalism and casteism has dangerous implications. For Muslims and other minorities to find solace and support in casteism is a cure worse than the disease. The backward classes seeking to topple the Brahminical order have no history of social contact with Muslims. In other words, the unprincipled and opportunistic Mandal attempt to drive a wedge between the lower and higher castes with the help of Muslims will boomerang on the Muslims, resulting in more problems for them. This is a realistic diagnosis.

Moreover, the harsh truth is that even if the Brahminical order is completely destroyed, the backwards of India would by no means emerge as a united, composite group. There is not much in common between Laloo and Karunanidhi except their frenzied hatred of the Brahmins. One should also keep in mind the highly positive aspect of the Ram Mandir movement. Irrespective of whether the temple should be built or not, what is being denounced by pseudo-secularists as Hindu communalism is actually bridging the centuries-old gulf between Hinduism's upper and lower castes. A vibrant, united Hinduism will strengthen genuine nationalism and secularism.

Naqvi cautions that Brahmins should not be pushed to the wall since they are still the most influential elite in our divided society. As he puts it: "The crisis of Brahminism is a national crisis, not the crisis of the community to be resolved by the Brahmin samaj alone. The Brahmin is not the 'other'. He is part of me because he provided the crucible in which I shaped my future." Wise and timely words from a fellow pundit.

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