Caste-based social hierarchy has for long been exploited by political parties to expand their base and win elections. Instead of serving the caste groups in whose name these parties rose to power, leaders built personal fiefdoms and failed to ensure a level playing field. Social groups were empowered and disempowered based on electoral calculations. This has been one of the primary reasons for caste biases, caste-based discrimination and caste-enforced inequality continuing in the society.
The way ahead to rid the country of caste in its narrow form is a politics that ensures growth opportunities for all sections of society by empowering all. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has thus made “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas” the foundational principle of its governance model. This model draws its inspiration primarily from Indian greats — Swami Vivekanand, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Rammanohar Lohia and Deendayal Upadhyaya. All of them spoke about making caste irrelevant in their respective ways.
When Ambedkar spoke about reservation, he said untouchability, not caste, should be the basis for it. By cleaning toilets himself, Gandhi tried to fight the idea that ranks people based on their occupation. He tried to wage war against this differential treatment at a spiritual level. Lohia, on the other hand, spoke about ensuring political representation for the disadvantaged sections. Upadhyaya put forth an economic and social model that made policies for the last person in the social order. In their own ways, all of them tried to decouple surname, occupation and social status from individuals by pushing for social mobility.
The BJP government is building a just and egalitarian society in line with what these great individuals envisaged for the country. The BJP has always believed in the oneness of India and equality of all Bharatiyas. The ultimate objective of all policy interventions is to achieve a social order where caste is irrelevant. With that aim in mind, the BJP government has worked to take forward the “jaati todo abhiyan” of Swami Vivekananda and the teachings of Deendayal Upadhyaya, who spoke of “antyodaya”, the rise of the last man.
The last man is not the same all the time, in all situations and geographical locations. He can be a socially discriminated person or he can also be a person not able to move forward in life because of corruption, or lack of education, or lower economic power. The struggle for social justice is to fight for all.
The BJP, under PM Modi, is working relentlessly to ensure that a person’s education, efforts and efficiency alone are determining factors in what the individual achieves. The state exists as an agent to ensure that quality education is provided to all, that they have a level playing field to make efforts, and that their efficiency is assessed and rewarded fairly and equitably. The BJP government’s governance model is focused on ensuring social inclusion and social mobility of the most disadvantaged sections. Using caste as a means to power and tool for politics creates an unhealthy societal imbalance.
In India, caste is traditionally linked to occupation. This order demanded that only people from a certain group should do a certain type of work. It was thus assumed that a certain person does and should do only a certain type of work. So, a person’s surname often tends to reflect his occupation. This created social hierarchies as certain kinds of work were considered superior to others. The only way to break out of this system is to ensure social mobility. No profession should be linked to caste and all professions should make use of technology, which is a democratising and equalising force. Technology should be deployed in physical labour in the same way it is used in work requiring mental or intellectual labour. The Modi government is, therefore, democratising technology with the aim of building a more democratic and egalitarian society. Education, as we know, is the most potent enabler of social mobility. The Modi government is, therefore, working relentlessly to ensure that access to quality education is widespread and within reach of all across the country.
The government is also ensuring a life of dignity for all by providing food, health, employment opportunities and roads in remote villages. These efforts counter extreme casteism by providing an atmosphere of growth and development as opposed to token measures such as appointing chief ministers from a particular caste in a state.
The BJP government is conscious of issues of social justice and is working for social inclusiveness. The steps taken towards social mobility and inclusiveness will ensure that occupations, including the conduct of religious rituals, are not linked to any caste. The government is delivering on its commitment to take the benefits of every government programme to every community. That is the best and, perhaps, the only way to ensure that caste ceases to matter — electorally and socially.
This column first appeared in the print edition on October 19, 2021 under the title ‘How to make caste irrelevant’. Yadav is Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change; and Labour & Employment. His book, The Rise of the BJP, will be published in December