As long as there are foreign-educated, dominant-caste ministers who find a Cabinet position via Rajya Sabha, SCs, STs and OBCs will continue to lose out.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a group photograph with ministers during the swearing-in ceremony as part of Union Cabinet expansion, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi today | ANIText Size: A- A+
After the recent Cabinet reshuffle of the Narendra Modi government, there are now 27 Other Backward Class, 12 Dalit, and 8 Adivasi ministers for the first time in our parliamentary democracy history. In all, Cabinet membership of OBCs, SCs and STs has reached 47. I do not know whether this number includes the prime minister himself.
However, the media highlighted the new number of OBC/SC/STs in the Cabinet, covering it over and over again. At the same time, it mourned the resignations of Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar and Harsh Vardhan. For the national media, it was unthinkable that they could be dropped from the Cabinet.null
Now, while talking about OBC/SC/ST members and leaders, their caste becomes an identifiable marker. But the media not once mentioned, as it never does, the caste background of the so-called “meritorious” ministers who were dropped — Ravi Shankar Prasad is a Kayastha, Prakash Javadekar is a Brahmin, and Harsh Vardhan is a Bania with a Goel family name. Both Prasad and Javadekar have never won an election and entered the government only through Rajya Sabha membership.
Generally, the national media includes Shudra communities like Jat, Gujjar, Patel, Maratha, Reddy (G. Kishan Reddy from Telangana is the only Reddy in the Cabinet), Kamma, Kapu, Lingayat, Vokkaliga, Nair and Naikars, Mahisya (from Bengal) and many others in the OBC category. Let us not forget that the Shudra OBCs (both reserved and unreserved), SCs and STs together constitute about 77 per cent of India’s population — 52.2 per cent OBCs (as per the 1980 Mandal Commission report), 16.2 per cent SCs and 8.2 per cent STs (according to 2001 Census). If more than half of the council of ministers’ pool is from such a large population, why does it still become negative news?
In our caste-cultural democracy, after Rajiv Gandhi came to power, those in the Congress and the BJP who are foreign-educated — the Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge walas — but could never win an election, became the ‘face’ of the government through Rajya Sabha. The national media always falsely projected only these people as the ‘real’ representatives of democracy. But the cornerstone of democracy is the elections on the ground. If the members of Rajya Sabha are made ineligible to become ministers at the Centre, the Dwija caste representation in the ministerial list will go down drastically. This is what the Mandal movement sought to do.
The OBCs who were part of the BJP when the V.P.Singh government implemented the Mandal Commission report in 1990, including Modi himself, thought that it was an anti-national agenda. But it created a massive power consciousness among the rural agrarian and artisanal communities, which Modi, with the OBC card, utilised to become the prime minister. But gaining power via Rajya Sabha has continued where the OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis have hardly any scope because it is a route of manipulation.
Manmohan Singh remained in Parliament for more than 20 years, serving as both finance minister and prime minister. So did P. Chidambaram (though he sometimes won elections), Jairam Ramesh, and others with a so-called “intellectual aura.” Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar are also Rajya Sabha heroes, apart from Nirmala Sitharaman and S. Jaishankar who still are holding top ministries — finance and external affairs — in the Modi government. The friends of the English press — Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Shourie from the BJP camp also never won elections. They became famous leaders in top ministers via Rajya Sabha.
Shudra, Dalit and Adivasi leaders have hardly ever had this cushion. One good thing about these 47 OBC/SC/ST leaders is that, largely, they won elections at the ground level. Running the central government via Rajya Sabha with “proxy-intellectualism” is not a democratic method regardless of the BJP or Congress rule.
Bring the new intellectuals
There was a latent subtext in the media coverage — the inclusion of SC/ST/OBC ministers comes at the cost of the ‘merciless dropping’ of Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar. It is seen as an ‘injustice to meritocracy.’https://1322ee43c91da0e0e1d18c4000cc230b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
If democracy means English-speaking intellectualism but denying it to the Shudra, SC and STs in the government schools, where a large population of children from these communities study, then it’s better to just abolish the electoral system itself.
We now live in an age of identities where different groups are asserting their right to be part of democratic governance with a vision and efficiency of their own. “Efficiency” has different meanings for different sections in this regard. Community identities are always laid on the power negotiation table in our governance. The Congress, the BJP, and the Communists have long tried to sweep caste and community identities under the carpet. But it does not work for the future. The Communist parties are dying because they do not recognise caste as an identifiable marker.
The only way to strengthen Indian democracy is by giving representation to those communities that have been relegated to the margins of Delhi’s power corridors all these years.
In a country where casteism is a key social organiser, the notion of secular-liberalism has been misused to control power by the Dwija English-educated elite.
The RSS and the BJP have now realised that the oppressed castes are conscious of the power of their votes. They will turn the other way if their representatives are not seen in the power structure. The Congress, meanwhile, has never attempted a deeper caste analysis because its powers rest within the hands of imported intellectuals.
This is not to suggest that ignorant individuals be brought into governing structures just to be inclusive of caste identities. Ambedkar also strongly opposed mere symbolic “slave-Dalit” representation in governance. The post-Mandal era has produced a number of well-educated Dalit, Adivasi, and OBC leaders and intellectuals who deserve their chance, for the future does not hold stead only for the former ‘greats’ but young voices destined to bring change.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist and social activist. His latest book is The Shudras — Vision for a New Path co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)