On Monday, when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said that he wanted a panel to re-examine caste-based reservations, he set off a perfect storm in the Sangh Parivar. His views were (correctly) interpreted as the RSS’ opposition to reservations — our version of affirmative action — for tribals, scheduled castes, and other- and extremely-backward castes. His timing was way off. Polls in Bihar begin next month and the BJP, RSS’ political party, is trying to form its first government there. But Bihar politics swings on tiny movements of caste sensibilities. Since its genesis in 1925, the RSS’ leadership and ideology have been defined by upper castes. Five of its six sarsanghchalaks, or supreme leaders — including incumbent Bhagwat — have been Brahmins.
However, by the 1970s, when Balasaheb Deoras became the third leader of the RSS, and nudged the organisation towards active political participation, the idea of building a pan-Hindu, pan-Hindi electorate crashed against the harsh realities of caste and its divisions and absurdities. The RSS might want to scrap reservations for backwards and draw them to its bosom. The latter are likely to be repelled at the idea of constitutionally-guaranteed rights being snatched away. Hence, the BJP’s panic over Bhagwat’s statement and the RSS’ own attempt at damage control.
Reservations alas, cannot be removed until the immense socioeconomic gaps between upper castes and Dalits and tribals are bridged and all have equal opportunities as citizens of India. Social acceptability has to grow and communities will need to shed long-held prejudices. Globalisation, signifying the free movement of capital and people across borders and within India, can play a huge role here. Unfortunately, the G-word is also something the RSS deeply disapproves of.