Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Politics India

Subaltern Faces to sustain the Sanatan Core: The Murmus, The Kovinds,  and the Kalams

Shivasundar 24 Jun 2022

president

It is now almost certain that the India will get its first Adivasi women President. The choice of Droupadi Murmu, from the land of Dopdis of Mahashvetadevi, by the BJP -RSS for this ceremonial and constitutional, nevertheless a figure-head post, has made the united opposition’s contest not only self-defeating but reduced it to a mere token fight. This is so because BJP’s presidential candidate is now supported by every associate of NDA II alliance and also by its extended family like that of BJD of Orissa and the YSR congress party. This has ensured the BJP candidate pass the half way mark comfortably and hence her victory a forgone conclusion. The united opposition is once again fated to stage a poor show electorally, politically and ideologically.

The candidature of Mr. Yashvant Sinha by the opposition will be used by the ruling regime to showcase its commitment to the downtrodden in contrast. Even though some of its over enthusiastic leaders in states like Karnataka, has been using this to falsely claim that it only because of Mod and the BJP that a Muslim (Abudl Kalam), a Dalit (Ramnath Kovind) and now a Adivasi and a woman are made President unlike the Congress which ruled the country all these years. By doing so they are conveniently erasing the non-BJP history of post independent India, where a K.R. Narayanan (arguably the only president in this century who in some occasion refused to work as the rubber stamp of the government) had occupied the office as the first Dalit president,  Zakir Husain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed as Muslim Presidents and also that  the first women president of India was Pratibha Patil who was a UPA nominee when the BJP had fielded a Rajput man, Shekawat.

However, these facts may not appeal to the WhatsApp generation since the BJP-RSS is successful in cunningly portraying themselves as the only nationalist force in the country, while the Congress and all other non-BJP parties forces in society are essentially opportunist, corrupt and inspired by non-nationalist political ideologies. That the BJP is an antithesis of what it projects for itself does not need underlining. But since the battle is one of perception and the BJP has in place a well-heeled and oiled propaganda machinery, the battle is won before even it has been fought. The announcement is enough. The BJP and the Sangh are systematically using every occasion for the furtherance of this political and ideological propaganda. The upcoming Presidential election is also not an exception of an occasion. The opposition, moreover, lacks the necessary political-ideological and more than anything else, the moral standing to counter it.

Take for example the choice by the BJP of an Adivasi women, or earlier a Dalit man or even Abdul Kalam in 2002 when the BJP had been severely tainted by complicity in the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat. Each time the choice was guided by not only by short term electoral gains but also long term ideological gain. While the choice of Abdul Kalam was to make up its image as secular party in the wake of Gujarat genocide, the choice of Kovind was to expand its political-ideological base among the Dalits and check the forces contending for the same. Now, after a relative electoral-political-ideological consolidation of those constituencies, the BJP has embarked upon expanding and consolidating the elusive Adivasi constituencies spatially and politically before the forthcoming general elections. The choice of otherwise retired politician, Droupadi Murmu has been carefully made to serve these political ideological goals.

The choice of an Adivasi, a Dalit, or a Muslim for the post of head of Constitution by a party ideologically and politically committed to perpetuate the Hindu Brahmanical social order smacks of not only political hypocrisy but also illustrates its manipulative politics couched in the language of inclusion. This sort of inclusion in the long history of Brahminical Hindutva has been a cunning design to cover actual exclusion.   

The realities of electoral politics compels the recognition of the numerical preponderance of the Dalits, the tribals and the women. Seven decades of a reluctant capitalist development also lead to the emergence of a tiny strata of a middle and upper middle class within all the castes and communities. This class and strata became the backbone of the radical social movements demanding substantial equality and dignity in the 1970’s and 80’s. The ignorance and sometimes even refusal of the traditional left-progressive movements to consider the question of dignity and community based assertion of the oppressed castes as another important democratic stream, led to the emergence of identity-based movements in the 1980’s and 90’s, independent of, and even sometimes antagonistic to movements aiming to achieve economic equality. This cleavage between otherwise fraternal streams were best manipulated by the oppressors privileging the identity politics over all other substantial issues. Thus, the crucial economic and social question of re-distribution was relegated to the backseat. What emerged was the politics of recognition.

Even in India, the 1980s and 90s saw the selective inclusion or the issues of recognition of the oppressed identities by the RSS-BJP. Their politics of Identity was strategy to politically disengage and disrobe the community from the questions of substantial equality or the question of equitable distribution of resources. Along with that BJP-RSS ensured the upward political mobility of these tiny strata as a part of a new brahmanical social engineering where the symbolical positioning bereft of substantive power is celebrated as empowerment and the real harmony and questions of substantial equality and alternative order demonised as anti-national and anti-identity.

Take for example the candidature of Droupadi Murmu and her carrer as BJP minister in Orissa and her tenure as governor in the tribal state of Jharkhand. Like Ramanth Kovind, she had never raised any political questions about the RSS-BJP philosophy of Brahminical Hinduism. As a governor she is remembered for her silence when Patalghadi movement was crucially suppressed by the BJP government. She is also remembered for silence as a custodian of the forest and wellbeing of the Adivasis when BJP state government was selling forests to the highest foreign bidder.

However, her refusal to give assent to two bills approved by the Legislative Assembly seeking amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949 (Aug 17, 2017, DowntoEarth).  At the time in an interview she had stated, “The government should have anticipated the mood of the public. I talked to experts and thoroughly studied the bills. I felt the bills should be reconsidered and a rethinking is needed. There were 192 non-political and political meetings over the bills. Even people from outside the state approached me. The amendment bills have now been returned to the state government, along with 192 memorandums which were received opposing the amendments. I have asked the government to re-examine the amendments afresh in the light of these memorandums.”

However, the images of Droupadi Murmu, a proud representative of Indian Adivasis sweping the floors of a Shiva temple are disconcerting. This suggests her acceptance by the RSS-BJP leadership comes from her loyalty to their vision of Hindu Rashtra.

Like Kovind and Kalam before her, will the first Adivasi woman president of the country, instead of representing the vibrancy of Indian democracy, actually represent the elasticity and manipulative skills of the ruling Brahminical Hindutva regime? The tragic and self-deceptive contradiction between the politics of Identity and substantive equality.

*Views expressed are the author’s own. The author is an activist and freelance journalist who was also a columnist for Gauri Lankesh’s publication.


Other pieces by Shivasundar:

Adani’s capital Modi’s power in Sri Lanka

Modi’s eight years: Eight acts of shameful disgrace

How a state suffocated by Saffron got a new breath from Blue

Never Ever Forget

Subaltern Faces to sustain the Sanatan Core: The Murmus, The Kovinds,  and the Kalams

president

It is now almost certain that the India will get its first Adivasi women President. The choice of Droupadi Murmu, from the land of Dopdis of Mahashvetadevi, by the BJP -RSS for this ceremonial and constitutional, nevertheless a figure-head post, has made the united opposition’s contest not only self-defeating but reduced it to a mere token fight. This is so because BJP’s presidential candidate is now supported by every associate of NDA II alliance and also by its extended family like that of BJD of Orissa and the YSR congress party. This has ensured the BJP candidate pass the half way mark comfortably and hence her victory a forgone conclusion. The united opposition is once again fated to stage a poor show electorally, politically and ideologically.

The candidature of Mr. Yashvant Sinha by the opposition will be used by the ruling regime to showcase its commitment to the downtrodden in contrast. Even though some of its over enthusiastic leaders in states like Karnataka, has been using this to falsely claim that it only because of Mod and the BJP that a Muslim (Abudl Kalam), a Dalit (Ramnath Kovind) and now a Adivasi and a woman are made President unlike the Congress which ruled the country all these years. By doing so they are conveniently erasing the non-BJP history of post independent India, where a K.R. Narayanan (arguably the only president in this century who in some occasion refused to work as the rubber stamp of the government) had occupied the office as the first Dalit president,  Zakir Husain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed as Muslim Presidents and also that  the first women president of India was Pratibha Patil who was a UPA nominee when the BJP had fielded a Rajput man, Shekawat.

However, these facts may not appeal to the WhatsApp generation since the BJP-RSS is successful in cunningly portraying themselves as the only nationalist force in the country, while the Congress and all other non-BJP parties forces in society are essentially opportunist, corrupt and inspired by non-nationalist political ideologies. That the BJP is an antithesis of what it projects for itself does not need underlining. But since the battle is one of perception and the BJP has in place a well-heeled and oiled propaganda machinery, the battle is won before even it has been fought. The announcement is enough. The BJP and the Sangh are systematically using every occasion for the furtherance of this political and ideological propaganda. The upcoming Presidential election is also not an exception of an occasion. The opposition, moreover, lacks the necessary political-ideological and more than anything else, the moral standing to counter it.

Take for example the choice by the BJP of an Adivasi women, or earlier a Dalit man or even Abdul Kalam in 2002 when the BJP had been severely tainted by complicity in the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat. Each time the choice was guided by not only by short term electoral gains but also long term ideological gain. While the choice of Abdul Kalam was to make up its image as secular party in the wake of Gujarat genocide, the choice of Kovind was to expand its political-ideological base among the Dalits and check the forces contending for the same. Now, after a relative electoral-political-ideological consolidation of those constituencies, the BJP has embarked upon expanding and consolidating the elusive Adivasi constituencies spatially and politically before the forthcoming general elections. The choice of otherwise retired politician, Droupadi Murmu has been carefully made to serve these political ideological goals.

The choice of an Adivasi, a Dalit, or a Muslim for the post of head of Constitution by a party ideologically and politically committed to perpetuate the Hindu Brahmanical social order smacks of not only political hypocrisy but also illustrates its manipulative politics couched in the language of inclusion. This sort of inclusion in the long history of Brahminical Hindutva has been a cunning design to cover actual exclusion.   

The realities of electoral politics compels the recognition of the numerical preponderance of the Dalits, the tribals and the women. Seven decades of a reluctant capitalist development also lead to the emergence of a tiny strata of a middle and upper middle class within all the castes and communities. This class and strata became the backbone of the radical social movements demanding substantial equality and dignity in the 1970’s and 80’s. The ignorance and sometimes even refusal of the traditional left-progressive movements to consider the question of dignity and community based assertion of the oppressed castes as another important democratic stream, led to the emergence of identity-based movements in the 1980’s and 90’s, independent of, and even sometimes antagonistic to movements aiming to achieve economic equality. This cleavage between otherwise fraternal streams were best manipulated by the oppressors privileging the identity politics over all other substantial issues. Thus, the crucial economic and social question of re-distribution was relegated to the backseat. What emerged was the politics of recognition.

Even in India, the 1980s and 90s saw the selective inclusion or the issues of recognition of the oppressed identities by the RSS-BJP. Their politics of Identity was strategy to politically disengage and disrobe the community from the questions of substantial equality or the question of equitable distribution of resources. Along with that BJP-RSS ensured the upward political mobility of these tiny strata as a part of a new brahmanical social engineering where the symbolical positioning bereft of substantive power is celebrated as empowerment and the real harmony and questions of substantial equality and alternative order demonised as anti-national and anti-identity.

Take for example the candidature of Droupadi Murmu and her carrer as BJP minister in Orissa and her tenure as governor in the tribal state of Jharkhand. Like Ramanth Kovind, she had never raised any political questions about the RSS-BJP philosophy of Brahminical Hinduism. As a governor she is remembered for her silence when Patalghadi movement was crucially suppressed by the BJP government. She is also remembered for silence as a custodian of the forest and wellbeing of the Adivasis when BJP state government was selling forests to the highest foreign bidder.

However, her refusal to give assent to two bills approved by the Legislative Assembly seeking amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949 (Aug 17, 2017, DowntoEarth).  At the time in an interview she had stated, “The government should have anticipated the mood of the public. I talked to experts and thoroughly studied the bills. I felt the bills should be reconsidered and a rethinking is needed. There were 192 non-political and political meetings over the bills. Even people from outside the state approached me. The amendment bills have now been returned to the state government, along with 192 memorandums which were received opposing the amendments. I have asked the government to re-examine the amendments afresh in the light of these memorandums.”

However, the images of Droupadi Murmu, a proud representative of Indian Adivasis sweping the floors of a Shiva temple are disconcerting. This suggests her acceptance by the RSS-BJP leadership comes from her loyalty to their vision of Hindu Rashtra.

Like Kovind and Kalam before her, will the first Adivasi woman president of the country, instead of representing the vibrancy of Indian democracy, actually represent the elasticity and manipulative skills of the ruling Brahminical Hindutva regime? The tragic and self-deceptive contradiction between the politics of Identity and substantive equality.

*Views expressed are the author’s own. The author is an activist and freelance journalist who was also a columnist for Gauri Lankesh’s publication.


Other pieces by Shivasundar:

Adani’s capital Modi’s power in Sri Lanka

Modi’s eight years: Eight acts of shameful disgrace

How a state suffocated by Saffron got a new breath from Blue

Never Ever Forget

Related Articles

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Theme

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Campaigns

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Videos

India

Teesta Setalvad | A powerful voice for India’s human rights movement

For the last thirty years, Teesta Setalvad has been one of India’s most important voices for human rights, freedom and justice for all.

As she comes under attack from a vindictive state as well as fake news peddling troll armies, let us look at some of her recent interventions and accolades.

 

India

Teesta Setalvad | A powerful voice for India’s human rights movement

For the last thirty years, Teesta Setalvad has been one of India’s most important voices for human rights, freedom and justice for all.

As she comes under attack from a vindictive state as well as fake news peddling troll armies, let us look at some of her recent interventions and accolades.

 

IN FACT

Analysis

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Archives