The 'progressive casteism' of Congress and Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi during his Kailash yatra. (Courtesy: Twitter)

by Advaita Kala

The ‘progressive casteism’ of the Congress party is alarming, to put it mildly.

A few months ago, the party lobbed the ‘janeu dhari’ avatar of Rahul Gandhi on the masses. Now if there is any family in India whose family tree is well known, it is that of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. From great, great grandpa Motilal Nehru to the current generation, the Indian public is well aware of the members of this family that have been in public life for five generations.

Mr Rahul Gandhi himself has a diverse background, a Parsi grandfather, a Kashmiri Pandit grandmother, a Roman Catholic mother. If anything it is a diversity that the Congress party claims to stand for.

So what stopped Mr Gandhi from standing up and being counted for what he truly is, an Indian who has a little bit of almost everyone in his blood. Instead, his party went into overdrive to establish his ‘janeu dhari’ credentials.

I have some brothers who wear or wore the sacred thread, at the time of their thread ceremony, it was a little more than a rite of passage, a cultural thing. When the Gayatri Mantra was whispered into my cousin’s ears, I asked why I couldn’t also listen to it? The adults were indulgent and assured me, of course, I could, anytime I wanted. And I did, learning it as well.

It put the whole scenario in context for me: it was but a family tradition, much like a mundan (tonsuring), and the latter was something as a ten-year-old with my clips and bows, I wanted no part of!

So it is unfathomable to me, why the janeu is being brandished about by a ‘progressive’ party as if it is some virtue, a sign of distinction?

Then comes the claim of the Congress party being of ‘Brahmin’ DNA, whatever that means or is supposed to. Another casteist projection.

Let’s be clear here; it’s not that Brahmins don’t experience reverse discrimination, they most certainly do, and at a time when Brahmin bashing is acceptable and not considered hate speech, the Congress sticking its neck out and not brushing off Brahmins as a bad word, given their numbers in the electorate, is good political strategy.

But why again this projection? There can be a pitch made for inclusiveness and address the sentiment amidst Brahmins that they are being sidelined and their concerns dismissed. There is a great danger in this kind of politics, and it is dishonest to say only one party does caste arithmetic, they all do.

And till there is caste-based reservation, castes will continue to view themselves as distinct groups, this is also the reality of our politics. Politicians, for the most part, cater to these distinctions to fuel discontent or feed appeasement.

And yet, knowing fully well the reality of politics, we must as civil society resist these calls by politicians to divide us, to project virtue in distinction, when there is none. But interestingly, those who call the Bharatiya Janata Party a party of and for upper castes, never mind the OBC Prime Minister or Dalit President, has lost its tongue when it comes to condemning this rhetoric.

When the Congress claims and ‘boasts’ about what vigilantes of caste equality have alleged as a failing of the BJP, why look away when a party that claims to be progressive does so?

This country needs true progressivism, not one subservient to political patronage. Whilst it is not entirely possible to be politically agnostic, there are some principles that supercede partisanship.

The recent verdict to decriminalize homosexuality saw that awareness displayed when ordinary citizens, including non-BJP supporters, commended the government’s stance of not contesting the petitions but leave the decision to the ‘wisdom of the courts’ as a far more helpful and progressive position than any lip service the Congress was offering.

The fact remains, and history will recall it as such, that the draconian Section 377 died under the regime of a government that has been routinely described as ‘regressive’.

Here is the rub: progressive is as progressive does. And whilst political scorekeeping may enforce reticence on the political class when it comes to acknowledging this verdict, what is also undeniable is that two landmark judgements for civil rights – the Triple Talaq verdict and Section 377 came to be during Prime Minister Modi’s tenure, and in both instances the government of the day, had a part to play that can only be described as positive in the context of precedent and the present.

Whilst the Congress sings from an old hymn sheet, the BJP is staking a claim to the progressivism which the narrative has always said was the natural legacy of the grand old party.

Videos and photos from Kailash Mansarovar by Rahul Gandhi are all well and good, but it is time he penned his own chapter and didn’t read from someone else’s book.

Advaita Kala is an author, screenwriter and a columnist.

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