On the 30th anniversary of reservations for backward classes, the well-known social scientist, writer and activist, Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd says Mandal has not fulfilled what it set out to do. He says that without English education there is no way the backward classes, whom he identifies as the historically Shudra communities, can progress. According to Ilaiah, reservation is a crutch but English-medium education could have been their leg. The next 25 years can be dedicated to this. Excerpts from an interview.
Thirty years after the Mandal Commission report was accepted, where are the Other Backward Classes? Are they empowered socially and educationally?
Now first of all, ever since the BJP has come to power, regional parties are being destroyed in the North. Regional parties were basically Sudra-run parties. They had fought the Congress and Brahmanism from the days of Indira Gandhi. They had slowly emerged from [former prime minister] Chaudhary Charan Singh’s time to create regional leaders like Mulayam [Singh Yadav], Lalu [Prasad Yadav], Devi Lal and so on. But the BJP came and finished them. The RSS-BJP are still using the OBC, which includes the historical category of Sudra, as muscle power against Muslims, but did not allow a single one of them to become the head of the RSS.
For how long will they remain muscle power? In other words, are they still a salient force politically?
When, in 1989, the “other backward classes” or OBC category was created, which included the historical Sudra communities, for the purpose of reservation, some advanced agrarian communities—such as the Jats, Gujjars, Patels, Marathas, Kammas, Reddys and Nairs—were excluded. Although in Tamil Nadu all groups except the “untouchables”, the Brahmins and Chettiars, were included in the Sudra classification and therefore the OBC category, and Karnataka included the Lingayats, and so on. So yes, the Mandal phase is a demarcating period exactly 30 years before now. But the actual implementation of the commission’s recommendation started in 1995. Therefore, the OBC category has been operative in the central services for 25, not 30, years.
What has it done?
It has done, in my assessment, two things. One, it has given an idea of education to the historical agrarian Sudras and artisanal communities such as potters, carpenters, goldsmiths, land tillers and even to some rich farming communities like the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh. The OBCs did not take their 27% share in education, but reservation sowed the seeds of education in their families.
Some were already educated, but Sudra youth were not educated in foreign universities during the eighties, not even those who were in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata. Meanwhile, the Brahmin, Baniya, Kayashta families were already hugely invested in foreign education for their children, apart from being in central universities, IITs and IIMs, etc. The upper castes were sympathetic to SC/ST reservation, because they accepted that there was untouchability and some concession [was needed] on that account, but they argued against reservation for OBCs. This is because of how OBCs—in other words, all Sudra castes—had been defined. They were seen as “dominant castes” by the foreign social science education. Native sociologists and historians also said that these dominant castes are “provincial rulers” who control the rural economy. Therefore, they conceptualised the idea of creamy layer to scuttle reservation for OBCs.
Why do you have an issue with the creamy layer?
The creamy layer excluded the educated OBCs whose parents were already in the middle class. They could have secured jobs in the reservation pool. Any job requires qualification—engineering, medicine, a Master’s degree in social science or natural sciences—and it requires a certain level of English language skills, which the Sudra communities were lacking then. They are even now absolutely indifferent to learning English.
Even feudal landlords did not send their children to private Christian English medium schools but preferred their children to get some village-level intermediate education in Hindi or Telugu or Marathi medium. They thought they have land, so their children did not need jobs. But this disabled their children from competing in the urban industrial or educational sectors. As a result, in thirty years, they have not taken the 27% reserved jobs in any sector. Nor could they force the private sector to implement a quantum of reservation.
Why do you think this happened?
Because these caste groups are not organised as much as America’s Blacks are.
Or even the Dalits in India?
Yes, Dalits are more organised than OBCs. You see, the urban Brahmins who rejected reservation used the Sudras against Dalits and Muslims in villages. That is, the RSS-BJP used them in villages. So, after 70 years of Independence, the Sudras remain the least educated and unrepresented in central government services. In state governments where they were in power the reservation rule was followed, so some state structures are still under their control. But the top Sudra community who were kept out of reservation are the ones who side with the Brahmin and the Baniya, and the result is that everybody remained backward.
See it another way: the [non-reserved] “upper castes” category we have made in India includes the Jats, Patels, Brahmins, Baniyas and so on. But culturally, these social groups are not similar, right? Do Brahmins and Jats get along with each other? Not at all. So, the lack of English education, the lack of effective bureaucratic forces and top-class academicians among the Sudras led to the situation where there was never even a debate on reservation and creamy layer. When there is no debate, you cannot get your share, can you?
But now India has 10% reservation for the economically weaker sections or EWS, so will the dominant agrarian landlord classes which were excluded from the OBC category get to compete for reserved jobs?
No. All historically agrarian people who were enslaved from the time the Rigveda was written must come together to establish a Sudra identity for themselves—and demand reservation.
But this is not possible given that the Sudra identity had been fracturing politically and socially.
The Dalits are divided into many castes, but they still have an identity called Dalit, which has worldwide recognition. Also, now, there has been a big change. In the past say, the Jats, they would think they can get a Kshatriya status. But now they know they cannot. Neither did the OBCs get the janeu nor did they became Kshatriya proper. The RSS refused to grant them either of these. Therefore, my point is that they must first establish with pride the ancient identity of Sudras. Two, they should send their children only to English-medium schools to be able to compete with elite castes. Wherever they are in power, they should immediately shift government school education to English medium. Andhra Pradesh has done this already, because that alone can produce intellectuals who can compete with the Brahmin, Baniya, Kayastha or Khatri students. This will enable more people from the OBC category to come up in the next 25 years. See, the Dalits are doing the intellectual work for themselves. For instance, they consider themselves Buddhist, religion wise, and they are also Christian, but the sudras are worshipping not god but the Brahmins.
Why do you say that?
Because the Sudra listens to whatever the Brahmin says. See—god does not require a go-between, interpreter or guide. For example, in North India, every marriage is solemnised by a Brahmin priest who recites mantras which nobody understands. Is he asking the gods for a long life for the bride and bridegroom or a divorce tomorrow? Is he telling the god please don’t develop their brain? Or is he saying that they should become intellectuals? How do you know? Still, whenever he says “samarpayami” [I am offering], you give everything, including lakhs of rupees. Why not have a non-Brahmin priest?
There were several communities with no tradition of calling a Brahmin to solemnise weddings, but that is changing now. Non-Brahmins are more inclined to call a priest...
Yes, that is because the RSS has driven this agenda into every family now. The OBCs don’t understand the RSS, which is a political spiritual network of Hinduism. They made Sudras vegetarian. Earlier, Dayanand Saraswati [did this] in one state, Gandhi in another state, but now it is the RSS which is the real force [driving such changes]. Because they realised if these people remain meat-arian, their physical strength will become overpowering. So they converted them into vegetarian, but without giving them any religious rights.
I asked a Yadav from Uttar Pradesh why the Krishna Temple has been handed over to a Brahmin priest and not led by a Yadav priest. The man said, ‘We don’t know Sanskrit.’ Arey, do you think Krishna is a god who knows only Sanskrit? The Brahmin has destroyed their brain, their power of reasoning, to become their god. My point is that they will have to produce their own priests. If you say you are Hindu, fine, remain Hindu, but become a priest, an English-educated priest. That is what Brahmin priests are doing everywhere, people like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, they are English-educated and control the entire middle class. The Sudras become their bhakts and send women to go and sit around them where they often get exploited and trapped by some baba.
But we have sadhvis—Ritambhara, Uma Bharti, Prachi—who are OBCs.
But what is their power? Can they run Tirupati temple? Can they run even Vaishno Devi temple? These are like, you know, small goddesses in village temples. This is why Mohan Bhagwat [RSS chief] can remove them from anywhere. Now Uma Bharti was showing some independence, she was removed—that was it.
Just like Sita was removed from Jai Siya Ram?
Yeah, that’s what... Now, Sudra population according to my most conservative estimation in or my recent book, [Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism], is 55%. The second major issue is that out of the total capital production in India, hardware, software, export, 46% is in the hands of Banias, 42% is in the hands of Brahmins, 3.8% with Sudras, including Jat, Gujjar, Patel, Reddy, Kamma, 3.2% is in the hands of the Dalits and the remaining in the hands of Muslims and other minorities. So 55% of the population has control over only 3. 8% of the capital resources. There are Maratha and Kamma industrialists, but none has an Ambani, Adani, or a Vedanta-style company. So, Sudras are buyers, but they never ask for a share in production. To demand a share they need to be highly English-educated, right? They should be foreign educated, but as of now they are not.
When you talk about a shared identity, then is it going to include the Dalits also?
No, but we will have a close community-class alliance with them, stop atrocities against them and share resources based on percentages. But Dalits and OBCs are not one and the same. The day Sudras realise that they should not treat Dalits as untouchable, untouchability will disappear. Brahmins cannot continue the practice [alone] because we have a majority in the villages. Take Sardar Patel, who is identified with nationalism, Gandhi and Hinduism. He never turned the Sudras into a [united] force but Ambedkarites, Dalits did.
Many Sudras would get angry if you call them Sudras, because they claim to have become what you have called neo-Kshatriya.
I was the one who said they are neo-Kshatriyas, but once you have allowed the RSS-BJP, that is the Brahmin-Bania, to come to power, you are not allowed the neo-Kshatriya status. Since 1999, in other words with the beginning of the 21st century, you have been pushed back into the classical Sudra status because you have cut the branch of a tree on which you were sitting by allowing the RSS-BJP into power. Particularly now, with their very clever deployment of a Baniya as an OBC, nobody gets that neo-Kshatriya status. [Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs to the Modh Ghanchi caste, which was added to the OBC list before he became chief minister in 2001. But this caste is not most backward as Modi had once claimed.]
Are you saying that the OBCs are being divided and ruled?
The OBC has been divided and taken into the Brahminical fold by the RSS and BJP, and their votes, their muscle power, keeps the Muslims and Dalits oppressed while we get ruled by the Brahmins and Banias from Delhi. See how many Sudras are there in the embassies abroad, in the foreign services. See among the top IAS officials who are running the secretariats. Even the OBC Prime Minister’s Office today does not have a senior Sudra IAS officer. One or two are there in a few areas to help out in the foreign affairs, but only one or two. So the point is that without taking over universities, the IITs, JNU, HCU, DU, you cannot rule in Delhi. Because how else do you get into IAS, IFS? How do you manage diplomacy? My take is that reservation is a crutch because we were crippled, as we did not opt for English-medium education, which should have been our leg.
After thirty years can you see a time when OBC reservation is no longer needed?
As Martin Luther King said, people tell us [Prof Ilaiah identifies as a Sudra] to wait for our time, that our time is coming, but unless we act now that time will never come. So unless their children are in English medium starting from nursery school, that time will never come. It has not come since 1,500 BC when they wrote the Rigveda. Even now when the RSS-BJP are saying that all of us are Hindu, the interpreter of the Rigveda is not a Sudra.
Once at a conference in Delhi where I was representing the Sudras, (because I said I would not represent OBCs) I said, name one Sudra intellectual. There were 12 judges, and all started looking at each other. I said what happened? Am I the only one? You can name ten Dalit intellectuals, 100 women intellectuals and thousands of others, but no Sudra intellectual. Why? There have been figures, like Periyar, but he wrote and spoke only Tamil. [Periyar also wrote in English, but as Prof Ilaiah points out, Sudras were not familiar with English, particularly in his time]. That reservation cannot save us has been proved over the last thirty years because in spite of reservation, there are no Sudra intellectuals among us.
But the OBCs migrate to the BJP once they join the elites.
They should understand that when a Sudra cannot become the head of a temple, or head of the RSS or Vice Chancellor of JNU or DU or IIT director, then even if they go to the RSS-BJP, all that they will end up doing is to attack Muslims and, thereafter, sit in jail. But all the Brahmins go to universities, IITs, IIMs.
I went to a private university in Haryana, where there was no Jat representation among the teachers. I said, look, this university is constructed on Jat land. If all these communities are still in agrarian fields, tilling or smoking their hookahs, that means there is no change. Any movement, big or small, starts with intellectuals. Without them there can never be a movement. So, in the 30th year of reservation, they should realise that we must start from scratch, go back to the drawing board. This creamy layer is a false business, land ownership has no meaning today, clerical employment cannot produce IAS or IFS officers or IIT graduates. We should start English medium schools in those states where the OBCs are in power and evolve an agenda for them.
When elite OBCs shift to RSS-BJP, does it not appear that reservations for them were a mistake? It has fractured the country along caste and religion, and created new problems? Should India find another way?
The country is divided in many ways, on the linguistic front and on caste... One national language was not allowed to emerge. See the difference between China and India. China has a national language, and an overlay of another national language, which is English. China is running a global TV network and a global newspaper, but we are not in a position to do so.
Second, the RSS was doing the job of dividing us, whether they were in power or outside. They sent OBC teams to demolish the Babri Masjid. Village temples are in the hands of Brahmin priests who tell Sudra youth not to allow Dalits in. The Sudra youth go and beat up Dalits and then go to jail. The RSS is doing the job of dividing people far worse than the British. We should understand the historical networking of Brahminism and align ourselves with Dalit and agrarian labour.
Why are Mandal forces weakening?
From where does unity come? If Sardar Patel as a Sudra leader had left us a lot of literary sources, like Ambedkar did, [things may have been different]. But he did not write anything, not even his autobiography. He is called “Iron man”. That means he has no soft power, he is not a pandit like Nehru or mahatma like Gandhi. If the entire Sudra is educated in English medium like Blacks in America, from LKG to college, then these forces cannot divide them. Because people must become aware of their rights individually as well, otherwise they will be like sheep, and any kumbh mela can take them into the river, right?
How are OBCs in the South different?
Satya Nadella is an OBC. Do you have an equally educated person like him from the North? Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy is an OBC. Telangana chief minister KCR [K Chandrashekar Rao] is an OBC. You know, KCR recently finished the BJP agenda in one stroke. The BJP was campaigning to boycott chicken, mutton, when the Covid-19 epidemic started. KCR held a press conference and said this is absolute nonsense, eat a lot of chicken and mutton and fish and only then you will survive. On the next day, the meat shops were full. BJP’s agenda was finished. No chief minister in the North can say openly what KCR said. That means their brainwashing is [complete]. The OBCs in the North have not had English education.
In fact, they are proud of it. They want all others to speak Hindi...
What is it that Mao [Zedong] had said—let a hundred schools of thought contend. Now in North India, to produce intellectuals, they should join hands with the South Indian Sudras. If there are Sudra intellectuals, use their power, meet them, see how they survive inside [the system] with Brahmin power around them. They need a backup from outside to bring the community forward and the intellectuals among them have to do that work...