Politics Behind why Mohan Bhagwat Backed Reservation
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has, probably, for the first time in his career as a pracharak (propagator) of the Hindutva outfit, advocated for the reservation for the Dalits and Other Backward Classes in government jobs.
“They [members of non-elite castes] were treated as animals for 2,000 years. People must be prepared to suffer for 200 years more for the benefit of those who have suffered for so long,” Bhagwat recently said. He also said, “It might not be glaringly visible today [but] they are still subjected to discrimination in society. It’s not only a question of economic and political rights. It’s a question of social equality.”
Bhagwat has, so far, been known for his anti-reservation rhetoric. He talked about “revising the reservation policy” before the 2015 Assembly election in Bihar. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief, Lalu Prasad Yadav protested Bhagwat’s stand in his campaign rallies and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had performed stupendously in the 2014 General Election, badly lost in the Assembly election held in Bihar in 2015.
Amit Shah, Union Home Minister and confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a BJP general secretary had then tried to control the damage by disassociating from Bhagwat’s stand and asserting that the Modi government would continue with reservations. Modi, too, flaunted his backward caste identity at his campaigns. But the BJP was reduced to 53 seats against RJD-Janata Dal (United)-Congress combine’s 178 seat tally.
Even after 2015, Bhagwat has talked about “revision of reservation policy in the new context” till his U-turn recently.
Why has the RSS chief strongly endorsed reservations for the Scheduled Castes and OBCs so strongly? Has the Chitpavani Brahmin from Maharashtra, whose caste-men have invariably headed the RSS ever since its inception in 1925, undergone the change of heart? Has the BJP—the RSS’s political arm—asked Bhagwat to climb down from his anti-reservation stand?
Replying to these queries, Lalu Prasad Yadav told this writer, “The Sangh Parivar is frightened at the formation of INDIA, (the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance), which has united 28 parties under its umbrella to defeat the BJP. They are petrified more because the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar has carried out a caste survey and is pressuring the Modi government to carry out caste census at the national level. All the INDIA alliance parties are for increasing the job quota for the poor beyond 50%.”
The RJD boss is, quite apparently, right. For it is not only Bhagwat but the Modi government, too, has prevaricated on the issue of late. The RSS-BJP’s supportive organisations challenged the caste-based survey in the Patna High Court. When the High Court dismissed their petition, they moved the Supreme Court, which, too, approved the caste-based survey in the state despite the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta arguing that the “Bihar had no constitutional authority to carry out caste-survey that was akin to caste census”
However, after the apex court dismissed the petitions challenging the caste survey in Bihar and allowed the state government to go ahead with it, the Union government submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court annulling its own objections to Bihar’s caste survey.
“The caste survey has already been completed in the state. We will publish the survey report soon. The report will equip the government with scientific data to formulate the schemes for the poor,” the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said.
Mandal vs Kamandal
The caste survey will allow the government of Bihar to design and frame policies suited to help the weaker and left-behind sections of society. It is like reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, designed for the State to aid those historically deprived and denied; or the OBC reservation, which are meant to make up for social and economic backwardness due to historical reasons.
However, even when the OBC reservations were debated and cleared in 1990, the Sangh Parivar was up in arms against the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government. This was when Singh, as prime minister, implemented the Mandal Commission report, giving a 27% quota to the OBCs in government jobs.
Even though the BJP supported the VP Singh-led National Front government, its supreme leader and then president, LK Advani, embarked on the ‘Ram Rathyatra’ in what came to be known as the “Mandal versus Kamandal”—Mandal representing the forces of social justice and Kamandal, the political and social interests of the Brahmins and other caste Hindus.
As expected and widely feared, Advani’s rath yatra fuelled communal clashes on its trail. Lalu, Bihar chief minister at the time, got Advani arrested when the latter entered the state. The BJP fared badly in the 1993 and 1995 Assembly elections held, respectively, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The groups that made up socially and educationally backward communities, and the Dalits, overwhelmingly supported Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu, who championed social justice and came down heavily on the anti-reservation forces in their states.
Over the years, the BJP has realised that it was politically perilous for it to depend only on the support of the Brahmins and Banias, its traditional support base. It has decided to expand its hold among the OBCs and Dalits, particularly in the Hindi heartland, which includes Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand were created later).
What also worked in favour of the BJP in the post-Mandal 1990s and in subsequent decades were the multiple splits in the Janata Dal and its splinter groups joining the BJP. These breakaway groups from the Janata Dal carried their share of OBCs and Dalits with them and helped the BJP strengthen its sway among them.
Moreover, the BJP has promoted its own set of OBC and Dalit leaders and the RSS has increased its activities among the backward classes, Scheduled Castes and non-Christian and non-Muslim tribal communities in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh (which came into existence in 2000).
Threat to Modi:
The INDIA alliance, which has got as many as 28 parties in its fold has posed the first major threat to the Narendra Modi government since its inception in 2014. While Modi has become an epitome of false promises, especially with respect to providing employment to 1.5 crore youths every year, doubling farmers’ income, building concrete houses for all by 2022 and reigning in the rise in the prices of petroleum products, the INDIA alliance represents the forces of social justice, particularly in the Hindi heartland, where its base is the strongest.
Besides attacking Modi for his “failed promises and repeated lies,” the INDIA alliance constituents are talking about inclusive India, social justice, secularism and respect for diversity which constitute the core of the Indian Constitution.
Now, the RSS, which fundamentally adheres to the Brahmanical order envisaging the superiority of the Brahmins and the inferiority of the Shudras in the traditional Hindu hierarchy, is under pressure to save the Modi government in 2024 election. Bhagwat knows that the BJP’s defeat would weaken the RSS’s hold over the instruments of governance and in the process debilitate the entire Sangh Parivar.
Given the circumstances in which he has pitched for the reservation, Bhagwat appears to have made a “calculated attempt” to save the Modi government under threat from the INDIA alliance.
The author is a senior journalist, media educator, and researcher in folklore. The views are personal.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.