Ten years ago you wrote that Modi will be the prime ministerial candidate of BJP. What would be your response as your prediction has come true?
Kancha Ilaiah: Well, at that time I was predicting that based on the Left parties’ indifference to understand the caste question. The caste question is not been seriously taken by the Left parties. And, after Mandal, the BJP and the RSS wings started looking at caste-question seriously because when Babari Masjid was demolished they mobilized a lot of backward classes. Though they oppose Mandal reservation, they wanted the backward classes to be part of the Hindu religion. Around 1994, a non-Brahmin called Rajju Bhaiya became the Sarsanghchalak of the RSS. Then he recruited a large number of backward classes, large number of youth, and he promoted the people like Narendra Modi, Uma Bharati at that time. Earlier, the first backward-class chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was a BJP man: Kalyan Singh. He was the chief minister in 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished.
The Sangh Pariwar was responding to the backward class demands more. But the Left or the Congress was not responding to the OBCs. The Congress was responding to the Dalits and Muslims. There was upper caste all the time on the top. So, when Narendra Modi became the chief minister and this whole atmosphere was created, I was writing a column in The Hindu. I thought that this seems to be cause/course of India, since the Hindu religion is surviving because of the backward classes. It is inevitable for the Hindutva organizations that they will have to project an OBC for the prime-ministership. But there was resistance from within itself. It is not that the Brahmins have given up the principle of varna-dharma. After that article came and of course after my writing Why I am not a Hindu itself, the backward classes even within RSS seemed to use that material for their advantage. The communists did not use or recognize it. The question of labour and caste which I have been consistently raising, which was also part of their theory, they did not care about. So the Communist Party remained tightly under the control of upper castes.
The Congress remained by and large under their control. To some extent there are Dalits and Muslims. It has promoted the Muslims to the positions of president, vice-presidents, ministers and other important portfolios. It also has promoted the Dalits into the positions of president, like K.R. Narayanan who himself was a Congress-man, speaker and home-minister. But they have never given such positions to a large chunk which constitute OBCs. This was used by BJP, though there are a number of people who are opposing this. Modi himself fought through his way to it. The Hindu religious forces know that once backward pull and go away from the Hindu fold, Hinduism will collapse. Right now, it is they are who carrying the burden of people. The backward classes constitute the last in four-fold varna-heirarchy. The Rigveda says that they were born from the feet of Brahma. Because of the dual position of backward classes that they are not untouchables, but they are feet-born in Hinduism, the Hindutva-forces are now realizing the importance of number. There is a new educational element that is getting into them, obviously they begin to ask path. So, by 2002, I could realize its consequences when BJP was seriously supporting Narendra Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat. Normally what happens is in BJP, Vishva Hindu Parishad for example, Togadia and all such people are distributing trishuls to use as weapons in communal riots, mostly to the backward classes. They saw them as muscle men for their ultimate goal. BJP, RSS and Sangh Parivar have a large agenda of establishing akhandha bharat and a historical agenda of attacking Pakistan and Bangladesh. Without OBCs, how do they do it?
Do you see this phenomenon as a materialization of the theory put forward by Dr. Ambedkar or is it sabotaging its possibilities?
No, I read this phenomenon in two ways: first, this is a Mandalization process of the Hindutva forces. They oppose Mandalization through reservations. But they have realized that there is no survival without backwards. Now they have begun to Mandalize themselves. Now will they go from Mandalization to Dalitization? I doubt. Dalitization is a deeper de-casteization process. As I said in Why I am not a Hindu, Dalitazation has to be linked up to labour, production, dignity of labour and so many other things. They will have to respect shoes and leather, and they will have to deconstruct their gods, religion and so on. I am not sure that they will go to that extent. But they have come to the extent of Mandalization. Now will they give up their priestly positions in temples? I don’t think so.
As I wrote elsewhere, Indian Constitution gives the right to become the prime minister to all. But Vedas do not give the right to become priests to anybody except Brahmins. This is the dilemma now Hinduism is facing. But if it wants to be a majoritarian religion, naturally it has to completely take the OBCs into its fold. But how does it overcome the varna-dharma at the higher level in the ritual books like Rigveda. What does it do with idol-worship? There is a very serious link between idol-worship and caste. Each caste has its own idol. That problem is there. And there is a serious link between caste system and marriage and also food culture. Will they overcome that? Let us say, Narendra Modi himself, would he like to convert all backward classes who are now meat-eaters, fish-eaters, beef-eaters and with many multiple food culture, into vegetarian? There is an attempt…they want to convert beef-eaters into vegetarians. But over a period of time, after our beef-festival and other things, they are saying that this food culture is a big problem. They might be liberal in agreeing that whatever people eat or drink, you have to allow. What is true to Gujarat upper caste cannot be true to the rest of the country. With all this, the Brahmins are very uncomfortable with Narendra Modi becoming prime minister. Brahmins within BJP, RSS, and Congress – all of them are uncomfortable.
BJP was silent about reservations in its manifesto and it always has been against reservations. How it would affect the societal responses of the backward castes and classes?
Yes, you are right; BJP is as a party is anti-reservationist. It has shown its colours on the issue during the Mandal movement and so on. Gradually, this might change. If you don’t give the backwards any economic benefits or educational backups, the scene would not be the same as always.
Do you think the minorities should participate in the new governmental system more creatively instead of criticizing it?
What they should in my view is that the Muslims should ask for their share through reservation in everything. Their democratic agitations have to increase. They are not democratically agitating. They must not shy away from the religious propaganda. After all, God is not national and Quran is not national. It is universal. Muslims are against the idolatry. So it is their right to campaign. So also is Christians. Within the system, let them demand. All over the world, when right-wing people are in power, Islam and Christianity has expanded in the world. In the face of resistance only you will expand. I would say that their evangelical work should continue. They should not compromise on that. That is what the Muslim Blacks have done during the Abraham Lincoln period and later also. They did not compromise with their religion.
The Hinduism will have to reform itself. May be they will ask the backward-class persons to become priest of Tirupati temple. Modi could become a prime minister, but he cannot become a priest in any Hindu temple. Only Brahmans can become it. The Hindus will have to adopt massive reforms. Then the Indian society will become more and more democratic. There will be clashes. I am not saying that there will not be clashes.
Do you think the rebel voices of intellectuals who stand against the extreme right wing would be silenced systematically? What is the future of the intellectuals in the coming years?
We will face threats and attacks, quite possible. To get out of this dilemma, the only way is a unity of SC-ST-BC-minorities which would bring a new discourse that backward classes can challenge the Hinduism and takes it place. Today Dalit intellectuals are not criticizing RSS, BJP and so on. Dalit intellectuals are promoting Ambedkarism, Dalitism and Buddhism. Therefore, the Hindutva forces are saying Buddhism is not our enemy. But if they support Islam and Christianity, there is a problem. I support the Islamic and Christian expansion, and Buddhist expansion too—as spiritual democracies. I will have problems, no doubt. All my writings categorically target Hinduism, Brahmanism, its gods, culture and books. No Dalit scholar is writing what I am writing. In future, BJP will accommodate BCs as the fourth layer of their party and their mass. They also will accommodate Buddhists, Dalit scholars as long as they are not fighting Hinduism. Their main enemies will be Muslims and Christians. The people like me who are supporting the right to religion would be silenced. There is this risk factor when you are fighting an historical evil, and that increases when OBCs are in power.
Last time we also saw, BJP trying to rewrite the history of India. Do you think such incidents will happen more vehemently this time?
They will try. Their target last time was the Left intellectuals. So it was a fight between the right Brahmanic forces and the left Brahmanic forces. Even the left Brahmanic forces did not write the history of Dalits, tribes and backwards. They were only talking about secularism, nationalism, this and that. Most of them are educated abroad; so-called anti-colonialism living in colonialist countries. Now, if BJP brings back Jagdish Bhagwati (Columbia University) kind of people, again the same thing will happen: Amartya Sen verses Jagadish Bhagwati kind of combats. See, Dalits, backwards, Muslims and Christians will have to work on different platforms. Spread English education into masses. Our aim is not to go to Oxford, Cambridge, or Harvard. In a way Narendra Modi’s emergence from grassroots is good. He didn’t come from Oxford, Cambridge or such elite foreign institutes. His slogan is also interesting, I like that: ‘Hard work, not Harvard’. Hard work in the field, till the land—a motto that appeals to the masses. We have to make it really a national thing. These foreign-educated intellectuals in the name of secularism preserve Brahmanism in the institutions. There is nothing that BJP can spoil them beyond a point. Instead of Left Brahmins, they will bring Right Brahmins. I am not worried about that. In any case, backward classes, Muslims and Dalits are not much there. So, it is difficult to bring them there also, unless there is a huge social mass English-educated group. The English-educated intellectuals among OBCs are far less than the English-educated Muslims. The Muslims have very sophisticated intellectuals, so do Christians. They can run any institution today in English. But, backward classes cannot, including Narendra Modi. He does not know English.
I am not really worried about higher education. I am worried about the school education. If the English educational expansion takes place then, if not now, in the next twenty or twenty-five years, the new educated people would decide who should be there. I will work towards that more. English education, spiritual democracy, reforms in all religions, anti-idol worship, Dalitization, Mandalization of politics. So, let us see what happens. If there are problems, we will have to face it.
Excerpts of the interview conducted in September 2014 by Mahmood Kooria, a doctoral candidate at the Leiden University Institute for History, the Netherlands.