Friday, August 07, 2015

Twenty Five Years of Mandal Report

The biggest assault on brahmanical structure since independence

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

We commemorate the 25th year of the acceptance of Mandal Commission report which changed the entire polity of India as the negligence and denial of rights to India’s Bahujan communities was finally admitted by the government and specific measures were being taken to undo the historical injustice done to these communities. It is important to do an impact-analysis of the wider influence that Mandal had on the Indian polity. It might, at the first look, seem that Mandal was just a ‘fight for quota’, but the fact was that it unleashed forces of social justice and political change in India. For the first time in our history, we saw Dalits, Aadivasis and Bahujan communities joining hands in their endeavor to get their rights denied by the racist brahmanical social order. We also saw the unambiguous contempt by the people wishing to uphold status quo - who felt threatened with the rise of the Shudras and other Bahujan communities. It was a direct challenge to Brahmanism and the social order it had created, as the influence of Mandal was much beyond mere quotas in the government services. It extended itself to the socio-political life too. It is important to remember this historical event, its vast influences and how the Brahmanical corporates joined hands to destroy the historical alliance of all the oppressed communities of India.

On August 7th, 1990 that Prime Minister V. P. Singh announced in the Parliament that his government has accepted the Mandal Commission Report in full, which asked the government to provide 27% reservation for the OBC candidates in the central government jobs.  It was a normal announcement by a government whose manifesto had clearly indicated that once in power, the government will accept the report. In that sense, it was just fulfilling an election promise which our political parties normally forget once they come to power. OBCs have been demanding for years that Mandal Commission Report must be accepted and they should be given special treatment as per its recommendations to the government. There is no doubt that India’s Bahujan working masses have been victim of vicious hierarchical system where power was enjoyed by those who used ‘divinity’ and ‘knowledge’ to deprive fellow human beings and segregated them on the basis of their birth in particular communities.

As we know during the formative years of the Janata Dal in middle 1980s, which constituted its leader from the old Janata family including  Lokdal, one of the major demands from the constituent parties was the implementation of Mandal Commission Report, which had been pending for years, after having been submitted to the government of India. But, the successive governments were not keen to implement it, as they knew its wider implications.

For centuries, the backward communities, who many termed as the Shudras, but who were actually ‘arjak’, or working masses, and  who constituted over 55% of our population, were denied their legitimate share in the power structure. Political movement for the rights of the backward communities had begun much before India’s independence. In Madras province, revolutionary Dravidian leader EVR Periyar had raised the issue of reservation for non-Brahmins in the state, while Chhattrapati Sahuji Maharaj took initiative in his Kolhapur state, now in Maharashtra.

Formation of Backward Classes Commission

After Independence, the government formed the Kaka Kalelkar Commission in January 1953, to look into the matters related to the backward communities under article 340 of the constitution which says, ‘“The President may by order appoint a Commission consisting of such persons as he thinks fit to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India and the difficulties under which they labour and to make recommendations as to the steps that should be taken by the Union or any State to remove such difficulties and to improve their condition and as to the grants that should be made for the purpose by the Union or any State the conditions subject to which such grants should be made, and the order appointing such Commission shall define the procedure to be followed by the Commission.’

The Commission submitted its report in March 1955 and categorised around four thousands castes as ‘backward castes’ and over eight hundred of them as ‘most backwards’. The criteria was clear, that the backward communities were at the lowest level of the caste system, lack of education among the vast segments, inadequate or no representation in government services and similar criteria in art, trade and commerce.

Idea of caste census

One of the most important recommendations of Kalelkar Commission was to initiate the caste census from 1961, so that the exact number of people could be identified. This is one of the most threatening aspects of the caste debate  that we all want to speak about it patronizingly, but don’t want to know hard facts. Why are we afraid of castes so much that since 1931 the country abandoned the caste census, even when our society is running on the basis of castes and it is a strong basis of discrimination at all levels, defying the values of our modern Constitution? It is important to understand the power games of ruling castes in denying the Dalit Bahujan their legitimate rights.
Let us understand the issue in perspective, as to what stops the political leadership in taking action on caste census. Perhaps, it is the fear of revelation of the numbers which is so far by all counts around 55%. If we add 17% Dalits, 8% Aadivasis then it comes out to be 80%. If we add religious minorities with it, the number crosses 90% of our total population. In the current phase of capitalist democracy where the poor are being denied rights, an addition of upper caste poor makes it a nearly 97-98%. Facts such as these pose a threat to the extent that it may stop the businesses of many powerful upper caste-upper class elite of this country. A caste census might reveal much dirtier facts than we can imagine, but then there are people who will play with figures, as ‘experts’ in the governments are ever ready to create a divide among the Dalit-Shudra communities further. Caste census will also bring out the socio economic status of the communities and therefore there is a legitimate ‘danger’ of people questioning the deprivation and denial. How come less than 2% Brahmins or miniscule Kayasthas have such a high percentage in higher echelons of our elite civil services and judiciary? Now, this is answered through the merit argument and deeply disparaging remarks about the Bahujans of this country which we have often witnessed when there is a campaign against reservation.  Kalelkar Commission asked for 70% reservation for the OBCs in its report apart from putting all the women as ‘backwards’. The government felt that the Commission’s findings were not objective, and hence dumped the report without making any efforts on its own.

In 1977 the country saw the first non-congress government headed by Morarji Desai, which came on the basis of lots of promises made to the people. Majority of the veteran socialist leaders were part of this government. The Prime Minister announced formation of second Backward Classes Commission headed by veteran leader from Bihar Mr B. P. Mandal on January 1st 1979. It took nearly two years for the Commission to complete the report. The terms and conditions fixed for the Commission were following:

·      To determine the criteria for defining the socially and educationally backward classes
·      To recommend the steps to be taken for their advancement.
·      To examine the desirability or otherwise for making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in their favour.

·      To present a report setting out the facts found by the commission.

The findings of the report were as follows:

·      Government should provide 27% reservation at all levels of its services to backward class candidates who constitute around 52% of country’s population irrespective of their religion. The reservation must be carried forward to next year if seats are found vacant due to some reasons or others and it should also be provided in promotion too. And this should be applicable to all Central government institutions including Public Sector Institutions as well as nationalized banks.
·      OBC students should get 27% reservations in all the educational institutions.
·      Students should also be provided financial assistance for vocational training.

·    Government must implement strictly land reform measures and Land Ceiling Act shouldalso be implemented. It felt that a large number of landless people are actually not just SC-STs  but also most backward communities who are agricultural laborers.
   Many communities like Banzaras, Bansfors, Fishermen, Khatiks face stigma of untouchability and have been wrongly placed in OBC category. Government must include them in Scheduled Caste category.

     Backward classes commission must be set up to deal with the issues and problems of the communities.

The Commission submitted its report to the government of India in 1980. By that time the government at the Centre had changed and Indira Gandhi had taken over as prime minister. Those in power had seen the report and understood the ‘damage’ it could do if truly implemented, hence they silently buried it. There were no discussions in the media as well, despite demands from backward communities and their political leaders. The report was exhaustive and absolutely an enlightenment for researchers interested in the history of backward class movements in India. It not only went to study minute details all over the country, but searched for all kind of data as well, such as socio-political movements, various courts judgments, studies undertaken by prestigious institutions regarding the backward communities. The study also analyses critically why the issue of backward communities could not get priority in the successive regimes in the states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, particularly when states such as Tamilnadu and Karnataka had provided huge reservation to OBCs, even facing the courts and central government head on.

Interestingly, Mandal Commission  Report also acknowledges Periyar’s visit to Kanpur in 1946 to mobilise backward classes who were denied representation regularly, as the leadership as well as the bureaucracy in the state was dominated by Brahmins and Kayasthas who understood the ‘danger’ of non-Brahmin communities posing serious political and social threat to power elite. The Rajputs were already sulking, having lost their feudal domain in the implementation of Zamindari Abolition Act in 1952 and subsequently imposition of Land Ceiling Act. One fact cannot be missed here, that Periyar survived an attack on his life by the right wingers in 1960, when he came to address a gathering in Lucknow. He was termed as anti-Ram to deflect from their agenda; the fact that the upper caste Hindus feared that Periyar might convert Uttar Pradesh into another Tamilnadu – where Brahmins were politically marginalized  completely and it was the Shudras who ran the political show, whether in power or in opposition. Most of the Brahmanical national parties actually were completely wiped out from Tamilnadu.

Were the fears of the upper castes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar unfounded? No, because the Mandal report unleashed the forces of social justice in the mainstream, and became the biggest factor for political mobilization of Dalit-Aadivasis and OBCs in north India. The status quo-defenders had found the danger that Mandal could open the floodgates of opportunities for many, and bring an end to the hegemony of the upper class-upper caste combine. Those who had enjoyed unquestioned power for centuries would not leave their comfortable zones easily, unless compelled to do so.

The Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s announcement to accept the Mandal Report, therefore, shook the foundation of many political leaders as well as other status quo-defenders, who began their next plan of action, but for the general public things were moving as usual. There were small protests in the Delhi University campus, but none paid any heed to them. Inside the Janata family, some of the leaders were unhappy, but most of them were supporters of the move, as for the first time in the history of Indian Parliament, a majority of the members belonged to OBCs, Dalits and Aadivasi segments, and hence they realized that the right moment for Dalit-Bahujan communities has arrived.

It took time for the Brahmanical elite to understand the real impact of the government decision though maverick politicians realized this as a death knell for their politics but the biggest challenge was for the Brahmanical media which systematically launched a sinister campaign against this report and the Dalits and OBCs in general. It also targeted the government selectively by refusing to publish news items favoring the report and regularly reporting the anti-Mandal agitation carried out by the upper caste fringe, terming government’s tough and unrelenting stand as anti-people and insensitive. Editorials were written and news items were editorialized in support of those who were against the Mandal Commission Report. Protests took such a dirty and nasty turn that upper caste India was projected as the voice of India. V P Singh, who, till that date was considered as icon of morality and cleanest among all the politicians, overnight became one of the most hated persons in India. First time in India, we saw, a prime minister and his colleagues were hounded and abused by the media and there was no control over the protests in the streets of Delhi. Other parts of north India were led by the upper castes against the acceptance of Mandal Commission Report and the media jumped into it making it the whole issue of allowing ‘non meritorious’ candidate to join the government services.  The protests turned violent with active assistance of the ruling castes. The media started giving political shape to the entire situation and V P Singh became a person who the young upper caste youth loved to abuse. Never in the history of India saw an iconic prime minister being relegated to crude jokes and dirty abuses. In fact, Arun Shourie, the then editor of Indian Express, started a smear campaign with first page signed editorial, in which he actually supported students for taking the extreme step of committing suicide.  Shourie asked people to support the move till the government is brought back to its knees. It was quite strange to see former socialist icons Chandra Shekhar, Madhu Limaye, Hindutva mascot Lal Krishna Advani and ‘secular Rajiv Gandhi found common cause’ in silently supporting the protests against it. Perhaps the worst phase of the life of Chandrashekhar, who always remained a different and dissident voice, was when he could not stop opposing the ‘political’ move of the government to foil the rally being organized by Devi Lal at the Ram Lila ground in Delhi and at the end formed government with the help of manipulators of the congress party which was buying time for a comeback with upper caste support.

The media, as usual, showed caste Hindus abusing all those who defended the government decision.  Two young leaders, along with the PM, who became the target of the hatred, were Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. The young boys of Delhi University would sweep the streets and beg suggesting that ‘beggars were now choosers’ and that ‘merit’ was being compromised. The newspapers never really reported the grievances and protests being organized by Dalit-Aadivasi-OBC students. 

The fact is that Mandal’s first battle was fought more by the Dalits than the OBC students. Forces of social justice had joined hand forgetting their minor differences and its success could have permanently eliminated the brahmanical hegemony.

Mandal’s phase showed the dirtiest side of racist Indian media which enjoying reporting ‘poor’ people but not ready to give them space. While we appreciate many in the media reporting about Dalits-OBCs and aadivasis but never gave an opportunity to these segments in its newsrooms. Most of the media houses in India are dominated by caste Hindus.  While media continued to vilify the entire Mandal event and sided with casteiest middle classes in urban India who felt that the ‘generals’were being discriminated against. Dalits were targeted, Ambedkar was abused for  no fault of theirs. The issue was not just merely of social justice but participation in power structure. Why the caste forces were so threatened when they equated representation of OBCs with merit ? How  is merit going to be affected with that as all  the students have to qualify the minimum eligibility tests.

One needs to ask simple question as how come less than 2% of brahmins and Kayasthas have dominated our bureaucracy and other government services. Why there is no fair representation of the Dalit-OBC-Aadivasis in our judiciary and media ? How come the brahmanical classes enjoyed unquestioned hegemony in academia ? How many SC-ST-OBC-Muslims are there in our Dalal streets and private sector companies ? If the power elite and mischief makers want us to believe that there is not enough eligible meritorious candidates available from these segments then we would like to challenge them there on the issue. The hate Mandal campaign was from this threat that now OBCs who can give back the caste Hindus in their same language.

The real fear of the caste forces was that of growing alliance and bonhomie between different marginalized castes and hence they began to think to destroy this  unity which was threatening the brahmanical status quo. Soon Advani understood the danger and decided to go on a (w)rath-yatra for building up a ‘majestic’ Ram Temple in India. Kamandal was discovered to counter Mandal. Growing assertion of Dalit OBC-Adivasis could only have been arrested once you create a religious frenzy so that all of them fall under the trap of those caste forces who had subjugated them for centuries. It was therefore shocking to see that a government was voted out in the Lok Sabha to defend the unity and integrity of India. We are witness to those years when VP-Mulayam-Lalu-Sharad-Paswan were abused vehemently by these caste forces terming them rustic and casteist leaders. None of them were appreciated for protecting the Babari Masjid and saving India from worst communal riots in the aftermath of October 31st, 1990 when police had to open fire at the so-called Rambhakts determined to destroy the Babari Masjid at Ayodhya.

VP Singh government lost but as he said in an interview that though he injured his leg in the battle for social justice yet he was able to score the winning goal. Now, Mandal has become a reality and therefore the brahmanical forces had to find ways to dilute its impact. The first major victory of Mandal was the growing powers of leaders like Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Karunanidhi, Mayawati, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and many others. State after state knew the powers of the Bahujan communities. A collaboration  of  Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram actually decimated the Hindutva juggernaut in Uttar Pradesh in the aftermath of Babari demolition and new elections in 1993 in Uttar Pradesh. Mainstream political parties went the same way in Uttar Pradesh as has been happening in Tamilnadu where both ruling as well as opposition parties belonged to Dravidian thoughts.

It is important to understand that Mandal’s battle has not ended as the communal forces are using religion and religiosity to finish Mandal agenda. On the one hand they are talking to corporate and engaged in vicious land grab which is affecting mostly the Aadivasis and farming communities dominated by OBCs and the other side it has privatized most of the government services therefore denying the OBCs their due share in power structure. It is important to know that Brahmanism has joined hand with ugly forces of capitalism to deny the Bahujan masses their legitimate share in power structure. Hence the biggest assault on the rights of Dalit Bahujan came from P.V.Narsimharao whose government opened up India’s door for corrupt and greedy corporate and therefore clandestinely attempting to finish Mandal agenda.

Forces of social justice need to understand that India’s corrupt crony corporate want to grab all the land a and other natural resources of the Bahujan masses of the country and develop a fictitious and superfluous nationalism and anti-minorities tirade so that they forget their own issues and question of representation. Capitalism and withdrawal of state from welfare measures is indirect dilution of the reservation which cannot be accepted at any cost till we have achieved our goals. Social justice will never be completed unless we acknowledge that reservation and participation of India’s Dalits, Bahujans, Muslims, Aadivasis and their women is necessary in our judiciary, media and private sector organisations. We need to protect the interest of our farmers and warn people against hatemongers in the name of religion as it is these forces who are anti reservation and anti-socialjustice.

The most unfortunate thing is that most of experts’ link Mandal  to mere job reservations but the fact is that it talked of land reforms too through effective implementation of land ceiling laws which affect the most marginalized and landless people. Reservations were meant to break brahmanical hegemony but not to create other hegemonies and therefore it is important to heed the advice of Dr L.R.Nayak’s dissenting note on the commission to think about the Most Backward Communities and provide them separate quota with in Mandal framework to save the unity of these communities from fragmenting. Today, forces of social justice are dissipating in different camps and they need to come together in the greater interest of society and a secular India and it will only be possible if the most marginalized communities also get their share in power structure through reservation in government services and through equitable distribution of land and other resources so that India’s villages are democratized and forces of feudalism, Brahmanism and hatred are permanently defeated. Let us remember our history for the betterment of our society and therefore celebrate Mandal victory day on August 7 every year.

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