A common Hindu identity has always appealed to OBC and Dalit castes
Hindutva liberates the subaltern from their narrow caste identities, and promises mobility and political power.
One of the underlying trends of the 2019 verdict is the consolidation of Subaltern Hindutva.
For far too long, mainstream portrayal of Hindutva, based on Left-wing academic propaganda, has been limited to it being an upper caste phenomenon. Hindutva was presented, at best, as a regressive construct and, at worst, an upper caste conspiracy to perpetuate its dominance. Apart from the deliberate propaganda, the root of the confusion in the post-Savarkar period was also due to the inability of even several Hindutva votaries to realise that Hindutva was a forward looking, modern construct different from social orthodoxy. Hindutva aimed to integrate various Hindu castes and communities into a unified social and political community to create the foundations of a modern nation. But for long, it was dominated by the village-level upper caste orthodoxy.
But, still, Hindutva always had a strong strain inspired by the likes of the Arya Samaj movement, which appealed to the subaltern castes. And, in any case, back in the colonial period, campaigns like gau raksha were run mostly by the shudra castes such as Yadavs to assert their social-cultural identity and create a consolidated caste identity under the Hindu fold.
Contrary to cliched liberal discourse, Hindutva and the promise of a common Hindu identity always appealed to a large Dalit and OBC castes as it promises to liberate them from the narrow identity of a weaker caste, and induct them into a powerful Hindu community. The appeal is especially strong among the non-dominant Dalit and OBC castes, which are numerically smaller and weaker in terms of socio-economic and cultural capital. For them, only the Hindu identity promises social mobility, inclusion and political power. It is far easier for them to appeal to Hindu unity to push back against caste discrimination, and exclusion, than to form an independent outfit like the dominant subaltern castes.
Hindutva is also the only protection for them against aggression by Muslims, which they often encounter. Those who pride themselves on being secular and liberal often abandon Dalits and OBCs whenever they are the victims of violence by Muslims, which is far more pervasive than is generally reported in the media.
But the pivotal moment was the Ram Janambhoomi movement, when almost all the Hindu castes were mobilised. For several subaltern castes, it was the first time they entered mainstream political mobilisation and imagination.
Trapped in the echo-chamber of radicals and firebrand activists, one would think that Ram and Ramayan are reviled among the Dalit and OBC communities. But it misses the simple point that Ram was a main deity in the Bhakti movement in both sagun and nirgun strains, with widespread popularity among the subaltern for its challenge to social exclusion. There are numerous sects of Ram bhakti rooted in these subaltern castes.
The Ayodhya movement was complemented by the conscious effort of the Hindutva organisations to adopt a more local and caste-specific narrative, rather than the old homogenous language derived from the upper-caste cultural milieu. The caste narrative of Dalit and OBC castes, their icons, histories and desire to be ‘visible’ in the historical narrative has finally found mainstream expression within the Hindutva fold. Otherwise, it was always dismissed by the secular history propaganda, which instead glorified the feudal and urban culture of the medieval era under the construct of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb to which the subaltern could hardly relate to.
And, finally, the massive social engineering by the Modi-led BJP to create a “united spectrum of Hindu votes” has consolidated Hindutva among the subaltern castes. For example, the BJP was the only party in Uttar Pradesh to have diversity in ticket distribution to Dalit castes on reserved seats. Modi has also given an extraordinary push to BR Ambedkar, and also to other heroes of the subaltern castes, such as Ayyankali or Raja Suheldev.
The universal provision of the basic services, and the use of Aadhaar and the direct benefit transfer programme, which enabled weaker castes to escape from the tutelage of the political feudals from the dominant castes, has combined material gain with socio-political and cultural visibility.
The subaltern expression of Hindutva will deepen further in the coming years. Let us not miss that in West Bengal, the BJP is the subaltern party now, and Jai Shri Ram is their answer to authoritarianism and Bhadralok smugness.