BY SYED SHAHABUDDIN, I.F.S. (Retd.)
Member of Parliament & Former Ambassador of India to Algeria and Mauritania
AS the Indian economy surges forward, as technology enhances our capacity to transform our natural resources into usable goods, as the feudal order retreats before the onward march of the capitalist system, the production pattern is increasingly geared to meet the requirements of the westernized elite and to maintain their high standard of consumption. What was once deemed a luxury for Maharaja becomes a need for the modern Nawabs, the Kings and Princes of the Republic. While masses toil, eke out a pitiable existence in utter despair and live a life of degradation and deprivation, the rich few of this poor country match their lifestyle with that of the rich of the richest countries on earth. The economic gap is inevitable widening and social contradictions are mounting.
If our country was homogeneous in composition and the only distinction was class the path to revolutionary change would have been fairly predictable. However, the religious, linguistic and ethnic heterogeneity in the country creates complexities and is cleverly manipulated and exploited by the elite to maintain the status quo and to keep a firm grip on the production and distribution of goods and services.
COMPOSITION AND INTEREST OF THE ELITE
The question is: who are the elite? India has been ruled by a consortium of the higher caste — the twice born, the Brahmin, the Rajput and the Bania. The Brahmin has provided the brain, the Bania, the resources and the Rajput, the muscle. The Brahmin has been the mastermind, providing the strategy and working out the tactics; the Bania has financed the operations and the Rajput has been more or less like a mercenary at the call of the powers that be. The power balance inside the charmed circle may change but the pattern of distribution and consumption has been always in favor of the higher caste; the masses have lived a life of subsistence for ages and anything produced by them beyond their urgent need has been taken away by the priest, the soldier or the trader, one way or the other. The masses have believed themselves lucky to be alive, barely alive.
Now the age of democracy has dawned. This has produced a growing demand for equitable distribution of social resources. The path of social progress is never rectilinear. But behind the kaleidoscopic mobility of the political panorama in our country, one can easily discern that the masses are demanding redistribution. The battle has been joined on a wide front. If the laws favor the rich, the laws sought to be changed; if education has remained the monopoly of the haves, it is sought to be democratized and universalized; if politics matters, the deprived classes seek to send their own representatives to represent them, uncouth and uncultured, though they may be, in the legislatures and in the councils of ministers; if bureaucracy wields real power, demand is growing for reservation in public employment. Judiciary and Commerce are next in line and they shall yield, sooner or later.
Reservation was conceded by the ruling elite in favor of the Harijans as a moral gesture to expatiate for the sins of the centuries. Now it is being claimed by the backward classes on grounds of equal partnership in decision-making. What was once regarded as an act of generosity is now being claimed as a matter of right.
Today all the keys of the kingdom are in a few hands; in the musical chair of politics, the keys may change hands but wealth, position and influence seem to have permanence, which often degenerates into dynastic politics and professions. What matters is the distribution of the social surplus. This sustains the supremacy of the ruling elite; this trains their progeny for succession; this, behinds the slogan of the country, the culture, the religion in danger, keeps the masses enslaved, with their shoulders to the wheel. The Indian people are as it were in a state of hypnosis, susceptible to suggestions. Give the subject a bitter drink and tell him: it is sherbet. He would drink it with a smile and enjoy it! This state of hypnosis has to be broken; democratic power be used to smash the citadels of inequity and privilege.
Under the still waters new storms are brewing; the calm is deceptive; turbulence is visible on the horizon. There is discontent all round; even those who suffer in silence are experiencing an inner stir. The masses are not prepared to live forever under the tutelage of the higher castes. There was a time when the Brahmins were accepted as the natural leader of the Harijan. Now Harijans desire Harijan leadership. The Adivasis want Adivasi spokesman.
To the mounting pressure and diminishing share of the cake, how do the elite respond? One response is growing conflict even among the higher castes, between the Brahmin and the Rajput. The Bania plays his old game. He places a bet on both the warriors, so that whoever wins, the Bania never loses. The significant development is that the Shudra has also entered the stage. A battle is raging between the “forwards” and the “backwards”. The most suppressed elements, the Harijans and the Advises, are still on the sidelines. There are still bystanders. It is not noninvolvement: it is lack of experience, skill and confident.
HINDU COMMUNALISM AS THE DEFENCE STRATEGY OF HINDU ELITE
The second response is stoking the fire Communalism. This defense strategy of the Hindu elite casts the Muslim, the Sikh and the Christian in the adversary role, in the name of Hindu solidarity. Its objective is to defend and preserve the status quo, prolong its hegemony, its stay in power. Hindu communalism, which generates a communal response in the other communities, is therefore, to be understood as a tactical weapon of the statuesque forces. Thus, “Casteism” or regionalism’ is a tool in the hands of the anti-status quo forces while “communalism” has been adopted by the statuesque forces. To that extent Casteism and regionalism are progressive forces in the present phase of the social struggle in India. In any case religion and language and caste are ever permanent realities and cannot be ignored in this epic battle for reordering the social reality. If Hindu communalism is on the offensive, the religious minorities must make a common cause with the Shudra, the Harijan and the Adivasi. They have no other option.
OBSTACLES TO ALLIANCE
But thousands of years of brainwashing cannot be undone easily. The spell cannot be broken overnight. It shall be an uneasy alliance difficult to manage.
Ina battle of this magnitude, the battle lines never clearly drawn. The other side knows that the alliance of the oppressed is formidable; it can win hands down; it can have a majority in every legislature; it can dominate the bureaucracy, the armed force, the police force, the public sector, the distribution network; it can destroy the statuesque, change the system. But the oppressed must learn to respect each other; they must learn not to hurt each other; they must learn not seek dominance within the coalition; they must be content with their own share and not lust after the other’s. Together they can defeat every man oeuvre, every conspiracy. This is essentially a question of perspective and, therefore, a function of leadership. Ina given situation one section may be inspired to turn against another. So each constituent has to learn to be patient and they should learn to pool the political experience and skill to further the common cause of the alliance.
THE GOAL: A JUST SOCIETY
Is there a goal, a model for future India? Yes. There is the model of a JUST SOCIETY, in which every individual, as a person and as a member of a social group, receives his due share; a truly Tolerant Society in which every social group determines the essentials of its identity and is free to retain it to the extent it desires for its survival as a distinct group; a Democratic Society in which every person not only enjoys a right to vote but to a life of dignify; a Welfare Society in which the society takes care of the essential needs of all those who cannot participate in the process of production!
In this Society, no social group shall have a higher share of goods and services; its share cannot but be proportionate to its population.
This distribution cannot be left to “merit”. Otherwise, by dint of better preparation and by virtue of their hold on decision-making, the higher castes shall take ‘all that the society has to offer. Indeed, except for the menial tasks, they can field all the “meritorious” needed to man the machinery. From top to bottom. Hence new ground rules. are called for, hence, the strategy of Reservation to ensure due share for each social group, no more, no less, and preferably with the poor of each group having the first claim; with poverty defined uniformly for all social groups, with no individual or family, even among the poor, receiving the benefit of reserya tion, more than once.
MUSLIM ASPIRATION NO SPECIAL STATUS BUT EQUALITY
Where does the Mushm com+ munity fit in? As’ pointed out earlier the Muslim community has no option. It has to join this battle call it caste conflict or class war on the side of the lower castes, the have-nots, for two reasons the Muslims are being offered by the higher castes as a diversionary target and the Muslims area in fact exploited and persecuted by the same forces which exploit and persecute the lower castes. But the Muslim community also has its elite. Sometimes it sighs for the bygone days and dreams of past glory, though at a critical moment, it can always come to terms with the Hindu elite, behind the back of the masses, if it can get a little more for itself. Therefore, it is a condition precedent for the alliance that the Muslim masses forsake all dreams of dominance; denounce all claims of special dispensation; share the hardships with the Hindu masses, sacrifice themselves in the common cause, and ask for no more than their due share.
If Muslim masses demand justice within the national society, they must also insist on justice first within their own community. Just as they do not wish to be cheated in the name of national solidarity by the Hindu elite, they must guard against being cheated by the Muslim elite in the name of religious solidarity.
The Muslim elite shall see things in a different light. It may see its future with the Hindu elite as it is habitually satisfied with the crumbs thrown at it from time to time; it is happy with its personal problems attended to, it has often been servile, reducing itself to the status of a vote broker for which it is duly rewarded. In the process the Muslim masses get branded as collaborators in the eyes of the anti-statuesque forces, and no wonder they are treated with suspicion.
The Muslim community must realize that the Hindu community objective of social assimilation and cultural hegemony is another dimension of politico economic dominance by the higher castes. Because it shall always be the Brahmins, and to a lesser extent the other higher castes, who shall define Hindu culture and lay down the terms of cultural intercourse.
For the Muslim, there is no doubt the religious imperative. There can be no compromise on religious identity when he joins the revolutionary upsurge of the masses…He must ask for respect for his religious identity apart from equal per capita share in social goods and services.
The question is: Can such an alliance based on shared perception and goals emerge’ in contemporary India? The question is really not whether it CAN but that it MUST. Because, otherwise, there is no hope, either.
Time has come for the Muslim to demand his due share fearlessly. He has long been silent; his silence has been interpreted as lack of interest, as absence of motivation, as the outcome of a closed existence, as fear, as guilt.
The Muslim masses should either take the initiative for forging such an alliance, or pledge support to a political party which stands for partnership in power, for reservation in proportion to population in employment, in education and training, in financial credit, commercial quota and industrial licensing.
To sum up, if the Muslim is to gain a position of dignity, he must be on the side of the emergent forces in the Hindu society. But he must win their confidence and he must make the choice before the struggle reaches a decisive stage, before it is too late.
India is passing rough not only an economic revolution but a cultural revolution. The double revolution is timing the society upside down. Out of the turmoil shall emerge the Just Society in which each social group shall receive its due in every field at every level and justice shall be done to individuals, as to social groups. Can the Muslim masses afford to miss the opportunity?