EVER SINCE I wrote an article on Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in these columns there have been abusive and appreciative letters. We must objectively look at the Shudras/OBCs situation and try to place their development and degradation in historical terms. What kind of consciousness conditioned them to remain a directionless social force without having any concrete philosophical intellectual base of their own? Given the vast numbers in terms of population what space do they have in the modern world? How can we compare their transformative agenda with that of Dalits in India?
As of now, the Shudras/OBCs have only some sort of a development agenda but not a transformative and liberative one. The Mandal Commission report also gave them a sectional developmental agenda but it had no social transformative agenda within itself. The Dalits while being more oppressed than the OBCs historically have a powerful transformative agenda for various reasons. During the Mughal period, more particularly after the 1857 war (that coincided with Mahatma Phule's Satyashodhak movement with a transformative agenda for the Shudras as a whole), a section of the Shudras got an agrarian base. In the process of consolidating their landed property, a section of them emerged economically well off and began to gain a space in regional political power. But the indignity of labour constructed by Brahminism meant that they could not advance in educational and philosophical spheres.
Why did the Shudras/OBC society not produce socio-spiritual and political thinkers who could match Gandhi and Ambedkar? When the Congress formed the first cabinet, it could identify only two leaders from this segment for inclusion — Sardar Patel (upper Shudra) and R.K Shanmugham Shetti (OBC). In India's theoretical and philosophical discourses neither figures anywhereThe thinking among some Shudras even now is that aggressive Hindutva allows them a space wherein they can claim leadership, which they use against minorities. The Shudras/ OBCs cannot be proud of this kind of image. They should claim their place in every sphere by constructing a philosophical image of their productive historical self. Even in the Rig Veda, the Shudras status in Hinduism was only as `feet born'. That status was not changed. It is this `feet born' status that is used by some Dalit intellectuals (not Ambedkar) to characterise the OBCs as Hindus and treat them as enemies too. Hindutva allowed a project of economic development for Shudras within the larger contours of an agrarian economy, but in the spiritual and philosophical realm it did not allow a single Shudra or OBC to emerge as leader. The Hindutva tradition does not venerate any Shudra leader for his great philosophical contribution. Their spiritual and philosophical galaxy comes from the dwija social background — in fact mostly from Brahmin background. Vivekananda who came from the dwija (Kayasta) background asked for spiritual equality for Shudras and for doing so he was never given an integral space within temple-based Hindu thought. Brahminic thought even now sees the Shudras/OBCs only as muscle to be used, not as part of their own spiritual and philosophical tradition.
The contemporary Shudras/OBCs have not developed a philosophical discourse of their own. In fact, they have not come to terms with philosophical discourse that combines both spiritual and temporal thought. Handling of state power within the constitutional framework does not require a philosophical mind. We do not see in any mainstream discourse even a single Shudra/OBC thinker getting referred to by any school of upper caste writers — nationalist, secularist, Hindutva and socialist. Raja Rammohan Roy, Tilak, Gandhi, M.N. Roy, Golwalkar, Lohia, and Namboodiripad are held out as philosophical visionaries. There is no single Shudras/OBC in this list. The only competing thinker is Ambedkar. Even now most of the OBC leaders, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav, have emerged from street struggles but not from a modernist philosophical base of their own. Their anti-English and anti-modernist stands come from Lohia's double-edged propaganda. He himself was an English-speaking, western-educated dwija (Baniya) but he taught others to oppose English education. Many Shudra/OBC forces took him seriously and got stuck in regional chauvinism. Many OBC leaders are now caught between their anti-English line and the anglicised administration of the nation. If there is no support of the Scheduled Caste bureaucracy, these leaders cannot run the administration even in States they are ruling.The lack of English educated elite among the OBCs is their weakest point.
From among the Scheduled Castes because of Ambedkar's modernist agenda and the Christian-Buddhist alternative philosophical and spiritual thinking a social force of alternative thinking is emerging. The OBCs are struck with primitivism. Mahatma Phule had an alternative vision but it did not acquire a pan-Indian following. Periyar organised a powerful movement within Tamil Nadu but he got stuck with atheism and Tamil nationalism, which have no philosophical potential to attract the pan Indian Shudras/OBCs and carry them along on a modernist philosophical project. A social mass the size of the Shudras/OBCs cannot transform into atheism from a primitive mode of idol worship. From the present stage they need to be transformed into a modernist, spiritual, democratic realm. English education and a strong sense of dignity of labour must be infused into OBCs with a philosophical self-image of their own.
By remaining the followers of the brahminical philosophy, they get struck with a crude economic development discourse. Any social mass that does not have a modernist transformative agenda can be easily used for communal carnage. This is true of illiterate Muslim youth and also of Shudra/ OBC youth. That is because their self has not become modernist. A social force that does not acquire a vision of its own place in the modern world will remain `muscle power' force in the hands of fundamentalist/terrorist forces.
When the Christian missionaries took a decision to change their education policy to draw more and more SCs/OBCs into their schools, the parivar organisations started attacks against them. To stop the spread of English education among these sections, the BJP Government is planning to amend the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act to check the flow of funds. But many dwijas have come to a stage of putting their children in English medium schools. That itself guarantees them an elite life even in future. It is true that the OBCs are not a homogenous social force. But that is true of dwijas also. The dwijas remain united because that gives them control over vast sections of Shudras and Dalits. The dwijas by and large got urbanised and westernised in very clever ways. With full knowledge of this situation, Murli Manohar Joshi wants to impose the dead Sanskrit language on Shudras/OBCs. The Shudras/OBCs are likely to fall into this diabolical trap. It is time Shudras/OBCs changed their thinking. Otherwise, their children will suffer in the modern world and, given their numbers, the nation too will pay quite heavily.