The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is sneeringly called the Brahmin-Baniya party, but this isn’t true. It is actually the party of Brahmins. BJP president Nitin Gadkari is Brahmin and so are the party’s leaders in both Lok Sabha (Sushma Swaraj) and Rajya Sabha (Arun Jaitley).
The BJP has always been a party of Brahmins. Founded in 1951 as Jana Sangh, the BJP’s first leader was Brahmin (Syama Prasad Mookerjee), its most important thinker was Brahmin (Deendayal Upadhyaya) and its most successful leader was Brahmin (Vajpayee).
The party’s top leadership is peppered with Brahmins (Murli Manohar Joshi, Ananth Kumar, Seshadri Chari, Kalraj Mishra, Bal Apte).
L.K. Advani is different, and from the same Lohana caste as Jinnah.
The Brahmin gene is coded into the BJP by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose founder (Hedgewar), most important thinker (Golwalkar), current leader (Bhagwat), and previous leader (Sudarshan) were Brahmin, as was the author of Hindutva (Savarkar).
Privileged club: (from top) The BJP top brass and Karnataka MPs after a meeting with President Pratibha Patil in New Delhi in January (Atul Yadav/PTI); party president Nitin Gadkari (centre) (R Senthil Kumar/PTI); and Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg).
Except for one man (Rajendra Singh), every RSS sarsanghchalak since its formation in 1925 has been Brahmin.
The RSS’ Hindi weekly Panchjanya is run by a Brahmin (Baldev Sharma) while English weekly Organiser stars the Brahmin duo of Jay Dubashi and M.V. Kamath. The BJP newspaper Kamal Sandesh is also edited by a Brahmin (Prabhat Jha).
The Bajrang Dal’s warriors are led by a Brahmin (Prakash Sharma). Even Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh’s labourers are led by a Brahmin (Girish Awasthi). The Mazdoor Sangh’s leadership (see www.bms.org.in/representative.htm) is dominated by Brahmins, which is quite remarkable given India’s reality of caste in labour.
The RSS takes its Brahmins seriously and grooms them young. Student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad is run by two Brahmins (Milind Marathe and Vishnudutt Sharma).
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is run by a Baniya (Ashok Singhal). This is because the VHP’s primary issue, cow slaughter, is a Baniya concern. Before Singhal, the VHP was headed by another Baniya (V.H. Dalmia). The organization’s female wing, Durga Vahini, is however run by a Brahmin (Mala Rawal).
Saffron brigade: BJP party workers congregating for a rally in Chennai in January. Most BJP leaders are known to appeal to emotions in their speeches. R Senthil Kumar/PTI
This concentration of Brahmins in central positions is for one reason: The Brahmin is the intellectual keeper of the Hindutva flame.
In India, electoral politics is actually not ideological, and caste is more important than ideology. This is why Brahmins, who are only 6% of the population, don’t dominate the BJP’s state units.
The Brahmin in caricature is wily when seen from the non-Brahmin perspective, and principled and uncompromising when seen from the Brahmin perspective. The Brahmin is also thought to be intellectual. But if intellectual means being open to ideas, he isn’t.
The word “ideologue” that our media uses for BJP leaders is correct. It must be understood in the narrow sense of holding a belief and not letting it go despite evidence. What is that belief? It is that India has one problem: Muslims.
What about the Congress? Is there a caste theme to the party’s leadership? Before the Nehru-Gandhi stranglehold over the party, the annual presidency was held by men from diverse castes, including peasants (Kamaraj and Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy), Brahmins (Shankar Dayal Sharma and Narasimha Rao), Dalits (Jagjivan Ram) and Khatris (P.D. Tandon).
The Congress has always tried to be inclusive. Look at Nehru’s cabinet. It had Brahmins (Nehru, N.V. Gadgil and S.P. Mookerjee), Muslims (Maulana Azad and R.A. Kidwai), peasants (Vallabhbhai and P. Deshmukh), Dalits (Dr Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram), a Christian (John Mathai), a Vaish (R.K.S. Chetty), a Sikh (Baldev Singh) and a woman (Rajkumari Amrit Kaur).
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns
Curiously, Nehru’s defence minister was a warrior (Singh), his agriculture minister was a peasant (Deshmukh), his finance minister was Vaish (Chetty) and his education minister was a scholar (Azad), following Manusmriti.
Does the Congress leadership have a theme today?
I think so. It is the mercantile castes. Let’s look at the most important ministries.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a trading Khatri, home minister P. Chidambaram is a trading Chettiar and telecom minister Kapil Sibal is a trading Khatri. Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni’s maiden name according to the Lok Sabha website is Sen, indicating she is Kayasth. Soni is a Khatri name. Corporate affairs minister and former petroleum minister Murli Deora is a Baniya. Of the other senior leaders, foreign minister S.M. Krishna is a peasant Gowda and defence minister Antony is Syrian Christian.
There is only one Brahmin of seniority in the Congress hierarchy and that is finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
It is unlikely Sonia Gandhi picked these people for their caste, and it’s possible she does not even know what their caste is. However, it is clear she is attracted to a particular sort of person. And we can speculate, looking at our list, what qualities attract her. Sobriety, pragmatism and compromise: the qualities of the Baniya.
The difference in orientation—Brahmin versus Baniya—shows in the priorities of the BJP and Congress.
The three big Congress ministers—Manmohan, Pranab and Chidambaram—are all economists. The three big BJP leaders—Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley—are none economically inclined.
We can read all 986 pages of Advani’s My Country, My Life and not encounter a thought or idea about his country’s illiteracy and poverty. Someone else will worry about them. Advani’s concerns are emotional—how Mother India is being ravaged by Muslims and Christians in Kashmir, Assam, North-East and so on.
The BJP isn’t interested in economics as a subject of politics, because Hindutva is not constructive but sullen. Though both Manu and Kautilya weigh in on it in their texts, economics has not been a Brahmin concern. The Brahmin’s concern has been keeping his identity pure.
The BJP’s electoral issues—Babri Masjid, Pakistan, uniform civil code and Article 370—are about identity. Specifically, about how Muslims must alter their behaviour. BJP social reform means demanding that others change.
The BJP’s ideology is not positive, in that it does not seek to create, but negative: Muslims should not keep that mosque, Muslims should not keep their civil law, Kashmir should not keep special status.
The BJP is the party of anger, and it represents our sentiment against Muslims, which is deep and universal. In that sense, the BJP has and will always have a larger constituency than the fifth it gets as its share of the vote.
The BJP represents Hindu chauvinism, which is quite ugly and which, as India grows muscular through the economy, the world will encounter with shock.
Like all parties in history that keep pointing to a minority as being the majority’s problem, the BJP’s leaders make their argument in reasonable terms.
The BJP’s rhetoric is calibrated and it always operates one notch below violence, though it understands what the consequences are. The BJP does the mischief and then steps back while violence visits Muslims and Christians.
In his autobiography Advani acquits himself of the murder of 3,000 Indians after his Rath Yatra by saying that the riots happened not along the Yatra’s trail, but elsewhere in India. The BJP sleeps comfortably with its actions, and the great Brahmin Kautilya teaches us in Arthashastra’s eighth chapter that citizens are expendable in the larger interest.
The Congress had a problem with Sikhs, but it solved it through compromise: softening and reaching out with an apology first, and then, on taking power, making a most magnificent gesture. But the BJP does not compromise and does not step back even after the violence because it clings to ideology over wisdom.
The Baniya of caricature is a coward, but a survivor. He is unconcerned with absolutes and always alert to self-interest. He is unwilling to damage himself to gain honour. This is wisdom.
All of us contain a Brahmin side and a Baniya side in ourselves. It is culture and, less often, intellect that determines which takes the stronger hold.
The Baniya side is always preferable to the Brahmin one.
Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.
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