The art of persistence is to be dead.
– A. N. Whitehead
All the vermillion, saffron and celebrity crowds that can be bought cannot wash away the stench of crime.
The vilest organised criminal act in the history of India since 1947 was committed on December 6, 1992 when the 16th century Babri mosque was demolished by the Sangh parivar, the organisational mafia famiglia led by the RSS and representing upper caste supremacism. Justice Liberhan in his report noted that “… it stands established beyond doubt that the events of the day were neither spontaneous nor unplanned”, and that “As the inner core of the Parivar, the top leadership of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the BJP bear primary responsibility” for this crime against the people of India and the Indian constitution. The date December 6, 1992 marks our wasteful entrance to ruin.
Until we learn to read the auguries of this ruin and the celebration of its incomplete scaffolding, we will have to contend with the hoax of a political theatre – far worse, its obscene re-presentation in television studios – where the Congress and other opposition parties are expected to act like a (presentable) version of the BJP. This demand made of the opposition is aimed at ensuring their very disappearance.
Stages of demolition and the scaffolding
The conditions under which the Babri mosque demolition program was initiated was of increased contestation by the lower caste majority who are more than 90% of the population of India. The looming of an anti-caste insurgency across India coincided with the submission of the completed Mandal commission report on December 31, 1980. Both Indira Gandhi and, later, Rajiv Gandhi kept the report in abeyance. It is the relationship between the anti-caste movement and the explosive sequences of pogroms India witnessed – primarily against Muslims but also Christians and Sikhs – that we need to understand in order to make new choices about saving the Republic and its egalitarian promises.
One of the significant events preceding the demolition of the mosque was the opening of its gates by the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. He had won the national elections through a campaign of religious polarisation and “anti-terrorism” hysteria, decades later to be matched by the BJP. The 1987 riots in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh killed hundreds of Muslims, where the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) participated. According to a PUDR report, the riots which the PAC was supposedly called to deal with “ceased to be riots and became PAC violence against Muslims” where the “PAC indulged in large-scale arson, looting and burning”.
Many of the pre-Babri demolition ‘riots’ were locally preceded by lower caste assertions or caste contestations, among both ‘Hindus’ and Muslims. The riots in October 1988 in Muzaffarnagar, Khatauli, and Aligarh in UP were conditioned by caste and religious contestations within the Congress party. Asghar Ali Engineer and K. S. Durani reported that upper and middle ‘Hindu’ castes – the “urban petty bourgeois class” – who had recently become prosperous sought political positions within the Congress party. While oppressing and exploiting the lower caste people they attempted to create “Hindu” unity to dethrone an upper caste Muslim landlord in the Congress party. Upper caste Muslims were also uncomfortable with the lower caste assertion, resulting in “the Ashraf-Ajlaf dichotomy among Muslims getting blurred”.
Following the demolition of the Babri mosque, where several lumpen dignitaries of today – M. M. Joshi, L. K. Advani, Uma Bharti, and Narendra Modi – were either present or had laid the ground work, pogroms against Muslims – euphemistically called ‘riots’ – spread throughout India, killing an estimated 2,000 people. The lumpen criminals were never punished for the demolition of the very legitimacy of the Indian constitution nor for the mass murder of Muslims that preceded and followed the event. Instead, many were awarded cabinet ranks and other state honours in successive governments, including in the present one. Finally in 2019, the Supreme Court judgment legitimised and completed the processual conversion of the Babri demolition into the installation of a Rama temple as the achieved site and symbol of “Hindu” India.
As “the instruments of darkness” often do, a newspaper truthfully reported the meaning of the Babri demolition movement at the time: “Due to the aura of Ram, the demon of Reservation ran away”. That is, just as the recent celebrations were a scaffolding erected over a major crime, ‘Hindu’ unity is a scaffolding over caste oppression and lower caste assertions. The scaffolding is now a national project: as walls of tin erected around the poor when foreign dignitaries visit; as grand speeches around illegitimate court orders; and, as “mother of democracy” around the ruins of all constitutional institutions including the Election Commission.
The real lines of demarcation in politics
The real contestation and the primary line of demarcation in Indian politics since the 19th century has been between the upper caste architects of Hindu identity and the lower caste majority who sought equal rights and proportional representation under modern constitutional and legal conditions. The Congress, the RSS, and other smaller parties either emerged – or were impelled in their histories – as upper caste responses to the lower caste majority assertions.
These events of contestation, barely discussed, determined regional and national politics—the 1948 anti-Brahmin riots in Maharashtra, the 1970 Bhojpur insurgency in Bihar, the 1968 Kilvenmani massacre in Tamil Nadu, the 1981 and 1985 anti-reservation caste wars in Gujarat which explains why this state is the capital of upper caste supremacism in India.
The scaffolding inaugurated on January 22, 2024 shows that the RSS is aware of the political need for the lower caste majority to be given visibility – even if nominally and pejoratively – in public space.
“While the main temple is dedicated to a Kshatriya King, there is a role for a supporting cast, such as the ancillary temple for Nishad Raj Guha, the king of the boatmen, who befriended Ram during his exile. …This vision of Hinduism doesn’t challenge the Varna system, where the Shudra OBC, Dalits, and Tribals are meant to play a supporting role to ‘upper caste’ heroes. However, it does provide space and recognition to several communities that, until that point, had received little political acknowledgment in independent India.”
Bordia points to the silence in the media – “90% of leadership positions in Indian media occupied by upper caste groups” – about the process of Hinduisation of the lower caste people. “In the lead up to the January 22 event, among the endless rituals and ceremonies being tracked by the mainstream media, the series of events held by caste groups and leaders of the most backward castes have largely been overlooked”. On the one hand, autonomous Dalit-Bahujan political assemblies and organisation are criminalised by nearly all political parties – through the charges of terrorism, national security, ‘urban Naxalism’ – and on the other, the process of the pejoration and absorption of the lower caste majority, often as ‘foot soldiers’, into the ‘the Hindu’ order of oppression is quietly permitted by the media.
Here, we come to the secondary line of demarcation in politics – bourgeois Brahminism and lumpen Brahminism.
On the bourgeois
The two terms bourgeois and lumpen came to prominence through Marxist discourse, although various versions of these terms and analogous social conditions can be found earlier, including the derivation of the Marxist term proletariat – for those without property who survive through wage labour – from the Roman proletarii. Here, we should avoid yet another attempt at analysing caste through class, for as J. Reghu (Reghu Janardhanan) warned:
“Class as an abstract concept had no bearing on Indian society, and it does not have any bearing even now. If you compile a list of the 20 richest men in India will there be a lower caste in it? No. […] The adoption of “class theory” was a way to eradicate the anti-caste movements. This is of course a two-pronged strategy, which combines with the invention of Hinduism.”
Instead, from the complexity and ambiguity of Marx’s texts we should extricate another analytic instrument to read the auguries of the ruin. The Marxist term is lumpen proletariat, which has ambiguous, questionable, and varying meanings in his and Engels’ writings. Indeed, the same can be said of bourgeois. As Wallerstein remarked, “there was both an anomaly and an ambiguity” concerning the meanings and origins of the term bourgeois and it takes various functions in his work despite the “anomaly”.
Bourgeois denotes a group which had come to be relatively autonomous in the feudal society—neither the land owning master nor the landless slave. However, the land in bourgeois possession was insufficient to compete with the aristocratic order. Perhaps, this is indicated by its root in German “Bürger”, which meant town dweller. In the Middle Ages, the bourgeois emerged as an intermediary involved in businesses and later, in capitalist societies, this group came to possess the Marxist sense of being the owners of the means of production. The bourgeois owned the time of the poor through the wage he paid.
The bourgeois came to further possess and determine theoretical and cultural production itself. That is, the bourgeois came to be the group which controlled the production of goods and the re-production of these very systems of production, and held the power to assign meaning to all components, actions, and their interrelationship in society. It is similar to the way in which the terms to discuss Indian politics are determined by bourgeois Brahminism; that is, the lower caste majority are forced to lead their existence under the concepts and terms imposed by bourgeois Brahminism. In other words, total mastery of a world.
For this reason Engels, in a letter to Marx, would oppose “middle class society” as a translation “for bürgerliche Gesellschaft” since “the class of industrial and commercial Capitalists, is, socially and politically, the ruling class”. In Marxist discourse, democracies are properly called bourgeois democracy which in turn is a scaffolding over the reality of bourgeois dictatorship.
In India, the bourgeois is not the product of a historical rupture from an older social organisation, such as feudalism. What is today called bourgeois is homologically continuous with what was called “Arya” 3000 years ago: the same reproductively isolated group retained positions of power as the modes of production changed in history, whether it was feudal, industrial or techno-centric. And that explains the coconut breaking before rocket launches, the temple rituals held in technology firms, and the suicide of Dalits in premier institutions. That is, the “Aryan doctrine” and its superstitions of racialisation looms over the history of the subcontinent.
Lumpen in the Marxist lumpen proletariat comes from “lumpe” as used by Max Stirner to describe ‘the masses’, the people without regular employment or those who trade in the illicit or the barely licit margins of societies—people whose status ranged between the refuse and the interior of societies, exemplified by the rag picker. Lumpen meant someone clothed in rags, as in the oft callously used “riff-raff”.
Philosophy had long held a certain suspicion of the people who were not bound to any particular order of regularity, as can be seen from Plato’s “cheap and paltry people” (φαῦλος) to Hegel’s “rabble” and Marx’s lumpen proletariat. The Platonic concern was the possibility of a despotism arising through the instrumentalisation of the people, as seen later in the cases of Julius Caesar or the Nazis. Marx found something similar—a matter for the betrayal of the good end, of communism—in the lumpen proletariat who were “this scum, offal, refuse of all classes”. In the Communist Manifesto, it signified “danger”, which is made evident in what Marx wrote of Napoleon in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:
“Bonaparte, who precisely because he was a bohemian, a princely lumpen proletarian, had the advantage over a rascally bourgeois in that he could conduct the struggle meanly” and who came to be “chief of the lumpenproletariat”.
Marx failed to think through the political conditions of those who are called lumpenproletariat, to determine the precise concept of the “danger”, and to arrive at the meaning of lumpen. Instead, through an idiom of contempt and fear, lumpen was addressed as “psychosis”, incurable and un-addressable – which constitutes the unconscious of Marx’s texts.
It was Rosa Luxembourg who produced a rigorous theory of lumpen and lumpenproletariat and revealed the power of this group. A few fundamental propositions on lumpen are to be found in her book The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism? (The University of Michigan Press, 1961, pp 73 – 77):
- The lumpen are an essential component “deeply embedded” in bourgeois societies rather than a refuse.
- The lumpen are a function of societies with hierarchical, oppressive, and exploitative self-organisation, for such social orders are defined by “the profoundest of immoralities, namely, the exploitation of man by man”.
- Lumpen is not characterised by ignorance nor by powerlessness; instead, it is a specific power to subvert the resources, norms and the laws of a society to produce profit. In the lumpen zone, “commercial profiteering, fictitious deals, adulteration of foodstuffs, cheating, official embezzlement, theft, burglary and robbery, flow into one another”.
- The bourgeois, from within the core of bourgeois societies, invent functions of profit using the lumpen to subvert and subordinate the norms and the laws; while remaining an entwined new force, the bourgeois is at pains to distinguish itself to retain “respectability” from the lumpen.
The lumpen is a group that cannot be accounted (logos) within the national income accounting and refuses to accommodate itself within the regularities (unpredictability being its very force) and the legitimising principles of the modern state such as equality. It is analogous to what is called mafia in Italy and to the mafia famiglia of the RSS. The lumpen is today the very core of what was once bourgeois societies, as foreseen by Luxembourg.
On bourgeois Brahminism and lumpen Brahminis
Upper caste supremacism (“Hindu majoritarianism” and “Hindu unity” are its scaffolding) has two components – bourgeois Brahminism and lumpen Brahminism. Today, nobody understands by Brahminism the upper caste group Brahmin. Rather, Brahminism is the ritualistic consolidation of the hypophysical social order of upper caste supremacism which had been persisting for millennia, and its theoretical apologetics, including Indian postcolonial theory. Brahminism can be served by any of the upper caste groups who can exchange some of the positions in the social order with one another, except the right to perform ritualisations of purity which is reserved for the caste group Brahmins alone.
Bourgeois Brahminism is characterised by the self-presentation – to its own group members, to those who are lower in the caste order, and to the ‘west’ – of a cultural sophistication that bears semblance to the bourgeois of rich white nations. For the very same reason, bourgeois Brahminism is competent to engage at the political, economic, and cultural level at the international stage.,
Bourgeois Brahminism still requires ‘respect’, regard, and ‘height’ to exist in distinction from the lumpen. Before the arrival of modern law, this was possible because, as Dr. Ambedkar said, the caste society is organised on “an ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt” (Who were the Shudras?, p. 8). The height possessed by bourgeois Brahminism came from esotericism or the inaccessibility of the rituals and the language in which the oppressive social hierarchy was encoded and founded, and legitimised its maintenance through force, which is a theme of the Brahminical epics. The repetition of the means – restriction of sexual relations to prevent miscegenation and the control of division of labour – as the very end ensured its survival, constituting a ceremonial society in the subcontinent.
When colonial law followed by constitutional democracy arrived in what came to be the Indian republic, the respect and height enjoyed by bourgeois Brahminism was displaced by “fear of the system” as a means of control: in order to extract that fear, the lower caste majority needed to be excluded from the system, the judiciary, the universities, media, higher ranking military positions. When the public sphere was controlled totally by bourgeois Brahminism, it enjoyed the exchange of admiration and respect from those belonging to the same group, the ‘argumentative Indians’. Today, outside of the remnants of that public sphere, bourgeois Brahminism is mocked by lower caste activists and intellectuals, while in the new lumpen public sphere serving the lumpen Brahminism, bourgeois Brahminism is considered at best as an afterthought.
If bourgeois Brahminism first emerged in colonial Bengal, lumpen Brahminism developed in what is today the state of Maharashtra, which saw the defeat of a Brahmin kingdom by an army composed of lower caste soldiers in 1818. In Maharashtra, the most influential and sophisticated movements against caste oppression appeared in the 19th century, led by the great Phule. Lumpen Brahminism developed against the mockery of the oppressive caste order, its myths, and its mode of life by lower caste majority intellectuals. Phule’s surgical precision could often be humiliating, a tradition continued by Dr. Ambedkar.
Lumpen Brahminism never sought illusions of respectability, instead it fought to perpetuate the caste order through obedience inspired by terror. Today, it is developing India as a lumpen army under perpetual production – an impossibility – in which bourgeois Brahminism will have a progressively smaller role. The BJP has demonstrated that its political project of upper caste supremacism masked and implemented through the militarisation of ‘Hinduism’ will require the deterioration of constitutional and other institutions. This project, as it reaches closer towards its goals, will destroy what remains of the constitution itself. Its semi-literate leadership, as we have been witnessing, will damage relations with neighbouring countries, and eventually imperil the Indian union.
The Congress, the left parties, and several of the smaller parties represented bourgeois Brahminism in politics. Having ‘presentable faces’ remains the argument of bourgeois Brahminism on the electoral stage even today; the Congress & Co. today offer themselves as the presentable caretaker government of upper caste supremacism. It is these bourgeois Brahminists who allowed the mafia famiglia to flourish and instrumentalised them whenever it was suitable. Otherwise, why were the bans on the RSS ever lifted? Why were their crimes left unpunished in all those years when the Congress and other parties held power?
However, when the Mandal commission centred anti-caste discourses, and agitations by the lower caste majority came to assert their presence in the most unprecedented way, the upper castes understood that the caretaker function performed by the Congress and the various smaller parties would fail to prevent this new insurgency from inverting and annihilating the three millennia old oppressive social order.
Of morals, or what is to be done
There is a method in the madness being put on stage – not only of the mafia famiglia’s “Hindu unity” narrative thundering over the public realm, but also of the so-called liberal-left discourses mocking the crude manners of the new custodians of ‘Hindu Majority’ (BJP is yet to win 50% of votes polled). They both are determined that India and its politics must be conceived and constructed on the axiom of “Hindu majority” and “religious minorities”. They both are resolute that the other majority which began to announce itself as Bahujan – the oppressed lower castes and Dalits – must be excluded from the axioms of what is India, its composition, its politics. They both portray anti-caste thought as a minor discourse, and a caste census as a “divisive agenda” (or “negative agenda” for Ramachandra Guha) and a misdirection from a developmental perspective (reservations being harmful) for Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Several bourgeois Brahminist political commentators either supported the present regime’s rise, or they legitimise the BJP (and the RSS) even today by speaking approvingly of the Vajpayee regime of 1998 – 2004 which had overseen the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, a regime composed of the lumpen criminals behind the Babri demolition movement.
It has always been easier to oppose lumpenism, until it comes to displace the state, as the world found with Nazism. Even today, opposing the mafia famiglia in the terms made permissible by bourgeois Brahminism—that is, by invoking “majoritarianism”, “excessive violence”, “shrillness”, “protection of minorities”, “illiteracy”—is possible from several platforms, although these are shrinking. However, it is the unity of these two Brahminisms in upper caste supremacy that is difficult to address. This is because bourgeois Brahminism is yet to be criticised (evaluated according to criteria foreign to it) nor have we begun its critique (specifying the historic conditions which sustain it).
The survival of the republic, and the well being of all in the Indian Union, requires such criticism and critique. It also calls for a choice to be made by both the lower caste majority and what will remain of bourgeois Brahminism (as it is progressively lumpenised, and as it is progressively criticised) to forge a new struggle for a people without exception, a politics in which there are neither chosen ones nor unseen ones.
As for lumpen Brahminism we should read Rosa Luxembourg again and again:
“As the free action of the sun’s rays is the most effective purifying and healing remedy against infections and disease germs, so the only healing and purifying sun is the revolution itself and its renovating principle, the spiritual life, activity and initiative of the masses which is called into being by it and which takes the form of the broadest political freedom.”
Divya Dwivedi is a philosophers based in the Subcontinent.
Shaj Mohan is a philosophers based in the Subcontinent.
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