India is an old civilisation but a relatively new state. However, a degree of confusion prevails between the significance of the former in relation to the reality of the latter. There is great pride among Indians about the long history of their civilisation, but it misleadingly leads them to conclude it also makes India a durable and hard state. However, India does not possess the attributes and resilience of a well-established state, with long historical antecedents. On the contrary, its civil society is fissured along numerous axes and its governmental and institutional elites poorly entrenched. Also, societies like India are haunted by the vulnerability of economic weakness and the associated poverty of its citizens. Besides, the elites of secure well-established states gain self-validation within while those of weak and insecure countries like India seek them abroad. It is palpably evident that Indians of all political stripes are shamelessly eager to gain foreign approval and vindication.
The deep state of institutions and bureaucratic and intelligence elites, connected to well entrenched socio-economic agencies in civil society, is fragile in India and unduly beholden to an insecure political elite. Nations like Britain that took several centuries preceding and during Tudor times, to establish deeply rooted societal institutions and political cultures are a stark contrast. Others state systems, like the United States of America, were beneficiaries of being inheritors of pre-existing European state political cultures and experience. The Russian state system developed quickly from the eighteenth century, imitating its western European neighbours. The issue of a stable and robust state is a critical factor in international relations. And strong states take advantage of the weakness of others to achieve their political and economic goals.
In the contemporary world, West Asia is undergoing catastrophe because colonisation and domination by foreign powers largely expunged their historical experience of statehood. The Ottoman and European incursion transformed Arab and North African political elites into effete clients that subsequently failed to recover their historical culture of independent political statehood. One inevitable aspect of such failure is the inability to address societal divisions and fissures that successful states strive to mitigate, if not resolve. In the case of these countries, a religious schism has reared its ugly head, abetted by imperial powers, which have laid waste to them as a result.
India’s greatest source of political vulnerability lies in its now grimly multifarious caste identities. The contemporary manifestation of Indian caste fissures is principally a product of political instigation and manipulation that has its origins in the catalytic boost administered to caste status by the nineteenth century and later British as well as subsequent censuses. It has grown into a political monstrosity, anchored in privileged access to resources like education, employment and subsidies. Such caste identity politics have only the most vanishing pedigree in any supposed historical or religious past of India. But caste consciousness has combined with evangelical incursion that takes advantage of local divisions to create supplementary identities and external loyalties induced by religious conversion.
These societal cleavages are the most profound basis for India’s uncertain national identity and national integration. It also creates opportunities for foreign manipulation to undermine the autonomy of Indian society and its governance. And foreign powers, with their long-term vision and huge intellectual assets to research and reflect, are attentive to the significance of this Indian Achilles' heel and do not propose to allow it to fade away.
One of the possible dangers of the recent legislation on caste in the United Kingdom is the encouragement it instigates for legal action in foreign courts, especially because the compensation will be substantial for alleged discrimination and some Ravidasis have already threatened that against Jat Sikh organisations. It is inconceivable that the latter will take it lying down and Jat Sikh organisations will be tempted to settle scores in India if it proves impossible to respond persuasively abroad.
However, developments in contemporary India over recent decades, due to urbanisation diminishing traditional identities and associated parochialisms, is threatening to mitigate the impact of Indian caste politics and the opportunities it provides for foreign intervention. It is apposite to note that parties motivated by caste politics attract the power-hungry, with the ability to cynically manipulate identity politics. They are therefore also especially vulnerable to any succour, including acquiescence to temptations offered by foreign powers that wish to use them. A major caste-based political party in Uttar Pradesh gave safe passage to the Jihadi terrorists who committed the 2005 bombing atrocities in Delhi.
But urban India, with the distinctive dynamics of modernity and national consciousness, is creating a constituency more concerned with good governance and prioritises the integrity of the nation. These citizens are less exercised by the immediate pecuniary benefits of belonging to an organised caste grouping that extracts temporary benefits. The educated and urban regard education and professional success as a more durable and inter-generational aspiration. It is this voting population that has drifted toward the alleged politics of Hindu nationalism, poised to re-define individual national identity and with it reinforce the integrity of Indian nationhood.
A massive boost was administered to this phenomenon by Narendra Modi’s brand of politics and the results of the 2014 general elections in Uttar Pradesh alone, a potential harbinger for the eventual future of India. It is this apparent unfolding change in Indian society that has attracted the interest of key foreign governments, their intelligence agencies and myriad think tanks, which perceive the emergence a new India that will become more assertive, autonomous and resistant to manipulation. The apparent tolerance abroad of Narendra Modi is conditional and could easily change as it did with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was serenaded by the same Western leaders that subsequently exulted on camera at his brutal killing. Murder and assassinations of leaders carried out elsewhere, like that of Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Salvador Allende of Chile and attempted against Fidel Castro repeatedly, are less feasible in the Indian context but cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, two Indian Prime Ministers have been murdered, one in the circumstances the prompt speculation of the very foreign hand the late assassinated Indira Gandhi once blamed for interfering in India.
This is the reason for the outwardly puzzling attempt in the UK to determinedly intervene in the phenomenon of caste discrimination. The evidence for it in the UK is scant, to say the least, with only two extremely feeble instances officially cited, both against the Sikh community, but used to demonise Hinduism and, by implication, India itself. By creating a furore over caste and legislating to encourage legal action on it, because it will be both tempting and easy to incite, an attempt is being made to create a new potent and poisonous feedback channel on caste between the wider world and India. This is the Western imperial response, led by the erstwhile colonial power, to breathe life into Indian caste consciousness that urbanisation and Modi’s attempt to consolidate national identity threatens to assuage.
There is a probable calculation that regular court hearings of dastardly caste discrimination cases abroad, guaranteed to be fabricated, will end up galvanising caste politics in India.
The levels of compensation in foreign courts are huge and extremely newsworthy and will likely prompt outraged demands for matching comparable reparations for caste discrimination in India. One British Buddhist couple, unprecedentedly accused of engaging in caste discrimination, lost their home and were compelled to pay compensation of over Rs 1.56 crore (£186,000) to the victim. The alleged victim was studiedly nurtured by evangelists and prevented from interacting with third parties while the Employment Tribunal, bodies not reputed for legal sagacity, adjudged the case. In another case, a senior British Christian lawyer offered services pro bono if the Other Backward Caste (OBC) complainant in a dispute over non-payment of wages would agree to allege caste discrimination as well.
The attempt to reinvigorate caste consciousness in India by precipitating court actions in the UK and then elsewhere in the EU, North America and Australasia is quite serious. Such a legal nightmare will be precipitated because impecunious South Asian lawyers will advertise their services pro bono, as they constantly do for other types of legal action, secure in the knowledge that few accused, including employers and voluntary organisations, will dare seek to resolve the issue in court.
The legal costs of contesting the issue in a court of law and losing, since the onus is on the plaintiff to disprove rather than the complainant to demonstrate, would be potentially ruinous. And settling out court the sensible advice of insurers, providing cover for legal action, would proffer. There will also be perplexing and costly necessity to keep records of the caste of anyone with whom interaction occurs to ensure compliance with the law and avoid breaching it inadvertently.
Finally, the 2001 Durban Conference and subsequent attempts to equate caste with racism were motivated, in part, to overcome hindrance to religious conversion by extending caste quota privileges to converts from Hinduism, including Muslims. The church advocates of such a stratagem could not leave out the latter because the rationale for extending quota privileges was based on the argument that economic status should be a criterion.
But the truly slanderous accusation was the contamination of the behaviour of Muslim and Christian converts owing to the corrupt caste consciousness of the wider Hindu society, in which they were obliged to live. The evangelist-inspired Durban campaign was an obvious ploy to ease religious conversion. The secondary aim of the current UK anti-caste legislation, which is likely to spread globally, is also designed to pressure the Government of India into offering reservations to adherents of non-Dharmic faiths.
The recruitment of India’s growing numbers of caste exiles has also become an indispensable US industrial policy strategy to attract the best and brightest from it to maintain its national technological edge. Indian higher castes, subject to virtual ethnic cleansing from India by caste quotas that deny them professional careers, end up in the US. Indian states like Tamil Nadu have managed to export a majority of their most talented by engaging in vicious caste wars, ultimately sponsored by evangelist fronts and their political surrogates. The significance of the phenomenon and its intimate connection with the US IT industry and swathes of associated sectors, including aerospace and defence, is not appreciated by the gullible, who do not understand the far-sighted cynicism of foreign policy-making abroad.
India should be mindful of the revival of unrestrained and no-holds-barred imperial competition for position and primacy that easily countenances the destruction of other societies, the objects of rivalry. And it now occurs to the accompaniment of an extraordinary of an array of brutal weapons of physical destruction and intellectual justification. Imperial powers ruthlessly use international agencies and blatant fabrication to justify their military intervention.
To this end, lies about weapons of mass destruction are deployed to elicit acquiescence of domestic constituencies in imperial ventures. A purchased and morally neuter academia and media join the mournful chorus in favour of humanitarian intervention that has resulted in the near-complete crippling of economies and displacement of populations, without barely an apology. In India’s case caste is the weapon of choice of the former imperial power that was never quite reconciled to losing its jewel in the crown and overlordship of people its leaders despised as banias.
Dr. Gautam Sen is President, World Association of Hindu Academicians and Co-director of the Dharmic Ideas and Policy Foundation. He taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.
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