On July 28, just four days after the BJP nominee and the NDA presidential candidate Draupadi Murmu, a Santhali Adivasi Woman, filed her nomination papers for the Presidential contest, the BJP government notified the Forest (Conservation) Rules-2022. The rules have been framed with the ‘ease of doing business’ in mind by removing the need to comply with The Forest Act even at the stage of final approval. This will enable business interests to take over forest lands belonging to Adivasis by paying a maximum amount of Rs. 16 lakh per hectare as per the notification of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on January 6, 2022. These rules completely do away with the spirit of Forest Act 2006, which provided a legal basis for the rights of Adivasis over ‘Jal-Jungle-Jameen’ (water-forests-land).
Would Draupadi Murmu, who is most certain to become the first Adivasi President of India, ever intervene by using her power to safeguard the interest of Adivasis against the Modi’s state and its cronies?
Unfortunately, the answer is sufficiently obvious. The ‘neutral’ supporters of Murmu’s candidature to the highest constitutional position, often cite her brave decision as the Governor of Jharkhand returning the bills submitted by the then BJP government with the similar intention. But even many among them are reluctant to face this issue straight: Droupadi Murmu being an Adivasi is also a devout vegetarian and a Brahma Kumari, which is otherwise an upper caste spiritual group. She also reiterated her commitment to savarna Hindu orthodoxy by ensuring the national TV channels telecast her sweeping the premises of the Hindu temple even after her nomination to the post of head of secular Constitution. As a committed BJP karyakarta she never hesitated to articulate her views, even while being the Governor, toeing the official line of BJP on issues like the farm laws, Hindi as national language, gomutra and nationalism. She also gave strict orders to cook only vegetarian food in the kitchen of the Governor's Bungalow. Her stoic silence on the worst kind of state repression unleashed on the Patalgadi Movement in Jharkhand during her tenure as Governor speaks volumes about her basic commitment and hence makes this the sole incident of returning the bill as an enigmatic exception.
The well calculated elevation of Murmu, an Adivasi, as the Constitutional Head or the elevation of Kovind, a Dalit, earlier, are all part of the larger ideological strategy of the RSS-BJP to resurrect the Brahminical social order subverting the new challenges posed by the political democracy and heightened consciousness of the subaltern.
The strategy employed is simple. Substantial exclusion by symbolical inclusion.
This is a strategy Hindutva has mastered post-Mandal. The well strategized organisational initiatives of the RSS-BJP to expand their social base among the non-Dominant OBCs and the non- dominant regional Dalit castes has been giving results since 2014. The strategic elevation of non-forward caste political leaders to the positions of power, like Kalyan Singh or Narendra Modi had a symbolic effect in providing the image of inclusiveness to their otherwise exclusionist Brahminical agenda. Though the template was anti-Muslim hatred, the essential politics of Hindu Unity was cleverly woven with neo-Brahminism where the hierarchical caste order and the supremacy of Brahmanism and Manusmriti was perpetuated by the willing partnership and tutelage of upwardly mobile and sanskritised strata Shudras and Dalits.
The recent study conducted by Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers about the 2022 UP elections, provides more substantive data to prove this point. With indisputable statistical data, their study proves that the BJP government under Yogi-Adityanath today has unprecedented dominance of Brahmins and upper caste both in terms of number of elected MLAs and ministers in the positions of actual power in the government. Thus, while the symbolic co-option of the non-dominant Dalits and OBCs was successful in breaking the hold of the so-called Mandal Parties over the OBC and Dalits, it was also successful in breaking the politically challenging categories emerging from the politics of social justice. It was the faultline in the social justice politics that facilitated the dominance of few OBC communities and the castes having numerical majority among the Dalits. This provided the credence to the demeaning narratives of RSS-BJP not only about the actually existing social justice politics, but the very concept of social justice. Thus the inclusion and representation of hitherto neglected and marginalised among the Dalits and the OBCs was used to procure institutional legitimacy to perpetuate the hierarchical social order.
The inadequate democratisation of the Left and the progressive politics has ceded the ground for the hypocrisy of RSS-BJP.
The complete connivance of the office of president during the period of Kovind in each and every violation of constitutional norms by the Modi government and its blatant attack on constitution and the rights of Dalits and other marginalized in the post 2019 period is well recorded and provides one more testimony of how its politics of inclusion is in essence is substantial exclusion.
The limits of symbolism in representation is becoming more pronounced in the highest judiciary during the Modi government. While the Modi government disapproves elevations of judges who do not endorse ruling ideology, it also credits itself for endorsing the elevation of judges to the higher judiciary from communities which were hardly represented. But the only Dalit judge in the SC is made part of the bench that essentially furthers the privilege of the upper caste and class like EWS reservation, removal of Jhuggi settlement and pavement dwellers etc.
The only Muslim judge became part of the bench which sanctified the demolition of Babri Masjid by judicially ordering the construction of a Ram temple by the same vandalisers. This lone Muslim Judge went a step ahead and demanded the Indianisation of jurisprudence deriving from Manu and Kautilya.
Thus the reduction of identity politics to the level of symbolic representation has helped Hindutva politics in two ways.
On the one hand it has created conditions of opportunist mobility for a tiny strata from among the oppressed and marginalised communities. This strata is detached and disconnected from the ethos of the oppressed and is favorably disposed towards the politics of Hindu nationalism. Thus providing a social base for the Hindutva ideology even among the subalterns.
On the other hand the articulation and promotion of identity politics of recognition bereft of the agenda for democratic redistribution, ideologically benefitted the Brahminical Hindutva.
During the Advani period of Hindutva, when it championed the cause of Hindu identity, the alternate politics of equality and social justice failed to make use of the faultlines of caste and class within this mega identity of Hindu. Now, when the politics of social justice and representation is trying to rectify its old mistakes, Modi’s Hindutva has struck again by using the faultline of class within the mega identity of the oppressed. The recent National Executive of BJP, held in Hyderabad has declared its outreach to most oppressed within the Muslims should be read in this context.
Thus, while the identitarian politics of Hindutva was used by the RSS-BJP during the 90’s to subvert and divert the anxieties of the exploited classes and the oppressed communities, amplified by the neoliberal disorder, in the post-2014 period, it is successfully employing the class and other material categories (labharthis) to subvert the identities having potential to challenge the Hindutva politics.
Symbolic representations and accommodation, promoting the social conditions for the evolution of tiny opportunist strata from among the oppressed, and using exploitation and oppression to divide the potential identity groups capable of challenging ideological Hindutva seems to be working well for the RSS-BJP. This helps them in their endeavor to build hegemony of neo-Brahmanical order under the conditions and compulsions of electoral democracy and awaken identities.
The egalitarian challenge to this sinister political ideology can only emerge from the honest introspection of the democratic forces. This necessitates resurrecting themselves with a politics and strategy whose ideals are eternally inclusive and also radical.
(The author is an activist and freelance journalist. Views expressed are the author's own)