Indian cultural, racial, linguistic and religious diversities are indeed unique feature in itself, but in fact, understanding is important that how these identities interplay among themselves and keep in power to undermine others. Ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party BJP’s Hindutva politics is mainly popular in Hindi heartland while in non-Hindi region BJP is either junior partner or irrelevant politically. Demographically dominant Hindi speaking Indian ruling class has serious challenges to deal with such diversities and identities.
Rise & Fall of Castes
The caste system of India has many dimensions. It can be traced by the 1500 BC, when Aryans started Vedic age. In Vedas, the priest caste Brahmans were given highest social ranking followed by Ksatriyas (warrior caste), Vaishyas (common men later business caste) and Sudras (manual labour doing productive castes). Over time, Aryan Ksatriyas sublimed in local Dravidian population, many Sudra castes rose to power claiming themselves Ksatriyas, some Brahmans had to take up agriculture as the occupation in Ganges plain who came to be known Bhumihar Brahmans and rise of Vaishyas and Sudras under Iron Age economy made anti-Vedic religions like Buddhism-Jainism popular. The immigration of Sakas, Parthians, Greeks from central Asia further made Buddhism popular. This happened between 650 BC and 300 AD.
By 350 AD, Bhumihar Brahmins led Gupta Empire made Vedic caste system victorious over foreigner Saka-Greek led Buddhism. By 550 AD, Huna invasion dealt the final blow to the Gupta Empire. New wave of Huna, Khazar (Gurjara) immigration started. But this time Vedic system integrated immigrants as uplifted Ksatriyas by calling them Rajput (son of King) caste. Though this was done by the blessings of West Indian Brahmins (often called Gauda Brahmins), Bhumihar Brahmins and other Brahmins of Ganges plain remained against this upliftment of foreigners as Rajputs. In Ganges plain Bhumihar Brahmins and Rajputs fought for land and power thereafter. Even today, in Ganges plain provinces of UP and Bihar, Brahmins and Rajputs are considered political rivals. Gradually many local tribes often Sudras started to become Rajputs and soon Rajput led caste system flourished from West Bihar to East cost of River Indus and from Kashmir to the north of Vindhya Mountains. When Rajputs were rising, many Brahmins were forced to leave Ganges plain but were welcomed by non-Rajput Kings of Bengal, Odisha, Assam.
Rajputs got successive blows from Afghan-Turk invasions between 1000 AD and 1200 AD. They resisted politically only up to 1500 AD in arid zones of the Thar desert. After Mughal period began, their surrender was complete politically and many Rajputs of Thar changed themselves from warriors to bankers. Rajputs elsewhere remained as vassals of Turks-Mughals-Afghans.
As Europeans started ruling Indian Ocean, more profits were pouring in from a trade, Turk-Mughal rulers were losing pots to Europeans, Baniya (businessmen-banker) caste became powerful. They allied with the Europeans especially British to make profits and end Muslim rule. Rajputs and Bhumiar Brahmins relegated as vassals under Muslim rule began to be recruited by British Army as soldiers or sepoys. This continued until Sepoy Mutiny of 1848.
Birth of Hindi
Excluding Kashmir, North-East, and Punjab, almost all non-Hindi states belong to the coastal region and they surround the interior Hindi heartland. Thus the former states have enjoyed greater trade, urbanization, and prosperity compared to Hindi region since ancient times. So migration from Hindi region to non-Hindi region was there for ages. The migrants used to get absorbed into the culture of the host area with time.
During the British period, a qualitative change took place. UP and Bihar supplied immigrant labour class to the non-Hindi region. A huge West Indian business community mainly of Baniya caste migrated to the non-Hindi region too. Kolkata of Bengal became the base of Rajasthani (Marwari) community and Mumbai of Maratha became the base of Gujarati business community.
Till the 1850s, the area now called Hindi heartland spoke many Indo-European languages that include traditionally rich language like Bhojpouri, Maithili, Gondi, etc. In the Turk-Mughal period, Persian and Urdu were considered official languages of different independent states of that area. The 1848 Sepoy Mutiny shook British rule. The main pillar of British Army, Bhumihar Brahmins revolted against British by allying with Muslim rulers of Oudh, Mughal, etc. The other pillar of British Army was Rajputs who remained loyal to British in the mutiny. After suppressing the mutiny, British rulers tried to politically isolate Bhumihar Brahmins and Muslims from the rest of the mass. With the blessings of British rulers, Hindi Movement began in the 1850s.
Hindi was formed as a separate language distinct from Urdu in 1867 and by 1881, the Central Province (now UP) and Bihar accepted Hindi as an official language. Thus not only Urdu of Muslims was sidelined but many other traditional languages nourished by Bhumihar Brahmins were suppressed too. British also had in mind to counter the rising challenge from Western educated Bengali Hindu middle class since the 1870s. The birth of Hindi as a separate language thus gave British tools to counter challenges from Muslims, Bhumihar Brahmins and Bengali Hindu middle class simultaneously.
Rise of Dalit Movement
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar emerged as a major leader of depressed classes by late 1920’s. He formed All Indian Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942. He also cooperates with colonial government on understanding that he could get more benefits for SCs. The All India S.C. Federation also contested election, but its candidates lost to Congress. Others strands also emerged in different regions in Punjab the Adi Dharm, in U.P.the Adi Hindi and in Bengal the Namashvedsas. In Bihar, Jagjivan Ram who emerged as the most important Congress leader formed Khetmajoor Sabha and Depressed Class League.
In 1984, Kanshi Ram established a full-fledged political party known as the Bahujan Samaj Party. However, it was in 1986 when he declared his transition from a social worker to a politician by stating that he was not going to work for/with any other organization other than the Bahujan Samaj Party. Later he converted to Buddhism. The movement of Kanshiram markedly reflected a different strategy, which coined the ‘Bahujan’ identity encompassing all the SCs, STs, BCs, OBCs and religious minorities than ‘dalit’, which practically represented only the scheduled castes.
The Mandal Commission was established in India in 1979 by the Janata Party government under Prime Minister Morarji Desai with a mandate to identify the socially or educationally backward. It was headed by Indian parliamentarian B.P. Mandal to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine backwardness.
In 1980, the commission’s report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law whereby members of Other Backward Classes (OBC), were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government Jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, by 27% mobilization on caste lines had followed the political empowerment of ordinary citizens by the constitution of free India that allowed common people to politically assert themselves through the right to vote.
By 1980s, in the Ganges plain Rajputs and Brahmins domination were almost gone. Since the 1990s, Dalits and Yadavs allied with other middle ranking castes with considerable vote banks became main political players. They got a reservation in government jobs both in center and state levels. Yadavs and associates called themselves Other Backward Castes (OBC). It can be said that traditionally middle castes with little vote bank remain out of OBC while those with considerable vote bank became part of OBC reservation. Soon OBC politics spread throughout India which depends on the importance of a caste or identity as a vote bank. Religious minorities also got under this OBC reservation soon.
Grievances of General Caste
Reservation given by Indian state garners support for it from non-Hindi lower and middle castes too. Brahmins and other upper castes like to take up corporate or government jobs in India. So they in general favour Indian state and West Indian Baniya led Indian corporate class. It is after rising in reservations in government jobs for lower and middle castes that general castes are showing frustrations with the Indian state. General castes include not only upper castes but also middle castes or identities who do not have any considerable vote bank.
General caste without good jobs due to lack of strong vote bank backing can be considered most important elements who can pose serious challenges to the ruling class. Since reservation politics have become based on vote bank, general castes including upper caste can itself become a new vote bank and hence new identity in the coming days. Already, Modi government is being pressurized to give reservations by Marathi general caste of Maharastra and Brahmin caste in Gujarat-Rajasthan. Hindi heartland has a good number of the young population who can break the stalemate. The rise of upper caste UP Chief Minister, Yogi is the result of these grievances from general caste. It is the demographic superiority of Hindi heartland that can be used most successfully against the existing equilibrium of Indian politics.
Demographic Edge of Hindi Heartland
Non-Hindi coastal areas being more urbanized and industrialized, its people have fewer fertility rates compared to Hindi region. Non-Hindi regions have now fertility rate (1.6-1.8) less than replacement rate (2.1) while that of Hindi region is considerably higher (3-4). On the one hand, the total population of Hindi heartland much higher than each non-Hindi province and on the other hand Hindi population growth is also higher than non-Hindi region. Thus it can be said that geography had created a situation where Hindi region is dominating non-Hindi region demographically.
Indian State is constitutionally a west minister system i.e. both House of Commons (Lok Sabha) and House of Lords (Rajya Sabha) get their members from each province according to the size of its population. Thus non-Hindi provinces being less populated sends fewer law makers compared to non-Hindi provinces taken as a whole. Moreover, Hindi speaking UP is the most populous province of India. Thus demographic superiority of Hindi speakers transforms into political domination as well. An important point is today’s ruling party BJP’s Hindutva politics is mainly popular in Hindi heartland while in non-Hindi region BJP is either junior partner or irrelevant politically. It is demographic domination of Hindi speakers that is helping Hindutva politics to be in power.
Ruling Class of India
The Hindi region being industrialized and urbanized has a sizable influential middle class. Within Hindi region, Delhi is considered to be the base of Haryanvi business. An important point is Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana people (mostly from Baniya caste) are a most influential business community in India. Rajasthan and Haryana are parts of Hindi heartland. Gujarat is a non-Hindi speaking state. Marwari business community has a special interest in Kolkata while Gujarati business community has a special interest in keeping Mumbai under its fold. This chemistry is very important in understanding Indian state because it is this interest that shaped today’s Indian state a lot. The presence of these foreign elements prevents both Bengal and Maratha in forming strong native business class. Thus in absence of strong native business class Bengali and Marathi politics is determined by middle class. This middle class is clearly dependent on jobs provided by foreign business and hence very much dependent on the Indian state. Only South India contains strong native business community. South Indian native business class and salary earning middle class most vocal against over centralisation or Hindi imposition but they have limited capacity for constant struggle. It is Tamils, Telegus and recently Kannadigas of South India who led strong anti-Hindi imposition movement.
The immigrant labour class from UP-Bihar and immigrant business class from Rajasthan-Gujarat-Haryana to the non-Hindi region always provide great impetus for Hindi heartland to keep the idea of India intact. UP-Bihar is a quite-fertile region of Ganges plain and hence has great feudal tradition. Haryana-Rajasthan-Gujarat is arid regions whose people are traditionally adept in business-banking. The capitalist class of Gujarat-Rajasthan-Haryana and the feudal leaders of UP-Bihar together constitute the ruling class of India.
Again, migration of youth from UP-Bihar helps the feudalism of this area to sustain. UP-Bihar has caste politics, strong traditional economic bondage, and very few industries. This could not have sustained if there was no room to migrate. Feudal bondage would have collapsed if there is too much demand for industrialization. But room for migration prevents any pressure on semi-feudalism of UP-Bihar.
How Ruling Class Rule?
It is a demographic strength due to geography and West Minister system that makes Hindi speakers most important determinant of the Indian state. It is this state power that nourishes Gujarat-Rajasthan-Haryana domination in Indian business. It is this Gujarat-Rajasthan-Haryana business domination that makes a non-Hindi urban middle class to tie up with the dominant Indian corporate and the Indian state. Reservation helps lower castes and middle castes of the non-Hindi region to become middle class and join the pro-Indian state elements. It is this tie up that helps Hindi dominated Indian state rule over the non-Hindi region.
Challenges before the Indian Ruling Class?
Helping general castes especially of Hindi region to form a movement against reservation. This will aggravate reserved castes to counter them. In this way, a two pronged challenge can be given to ruling class. Ruling class can neither cancel nor continue with reservation if general caste can be united. This can harm the decision-making capacity of the ruling class.
Helping different traditional languages of the Hindi region, identify the identities that will prosper from the creation of new identities based on traditional languages within Hindi heartland. E.g. If Maithil Brahmins can be united with Muslims in East Bihar, a strong demand for Mithila state and Maithil linguistic identity can be formed.Nourish rural population of the non-Hindi region by stopping industrialization and taking pro agriculture, small medium scale production. This will evict out pro ruling class elements within a non-Hindi middle-class population. West Bengal is doing it successfully since 2011.
Nourish anti-Hindi sentiments in the non-Hindi region and make them understand non-Hindi votes matter nothing under West Minister system. USA federal system where each province sends the same number of law makers is only way out.Use the contradiction between modern trends and feudal structures in Ganges plain. The greatest blow can be dealt into the ruling class if the alliance between West Indian capitalists and Ganges plain feudal can be broken.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.