Analysis: Brahminism, the thread that unites across parties?

In a comedy of errors that played out on the social media in November last year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and his team had to appease a mob that declared that calling for the end of “Brahminical patriarchy” amounted to Hinduphobia. During an interaction in India, Mr. Dorsey was photographed with a placard saying “smash Brahminical patriarchy.”

Brahminism has gone viral again after Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, a revered figure of the U.S. Hindutva outfits, declared himself as an outcast from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mein bhi chowkidar’ campaign. “I cannot become a chowkidar because I am Brahmin. Brahmins can’t be chowkidars. It’s a fact. I will give orders that the chowkidars have to execute. That’s what everyone expects from the appointed chowkidars. So, I cannot be one,” Mr. Swamy said in an interview, conducted in Tamil this week.

The idea of Brahminism, the notion of entitlement and superiority as a birthright, cuts across political parties. Given the brazenly false campaigns on this issue, it needs to be reiterated here that opposing Brahminism does not in any way mean an opposition to the Brahmin community.

Similar to the manner in which anti-Muslim and anti-Christian statements have been normalised in this era of Hindu nationalism, Brahminism also has gained a badge of venerability in public discourse. It is not as if it had disappeared, but the rise of Dalit and OBC politics in the last 30 years had constrained brazen expressions of upper caste dominance to drawing room whispers. They are now legitimate political claims.

In November 2017, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said Rahul Gandhi was a “janeu-dhari Hindu” — one who wears the sacred thread of the Brahmins. Mr. Surjewala was trying to assert the Hindu credentials of Mr. Gandhi by foregrounding his Brahminical heritage. The BJP had launched a misinformation campaign that Mr. Gandhi had listed himself as a non-Hindu visitor at the Somnath Temple in Gujarat. Last year, Mr. Surjewala declared that the Congress had “Brahmin DNA.”

C.P. Joshi, former Union Minister and now Speaker of Rajasthan assembly, questioned the BJP’s right to speak for Hindus and claimed it for himself, and his community, the Brahmins, in the following words: “Does anyone know what is the caste of Uma Bharti? What is the caste of Sadhvi Ritambhara? In this country, if anyone knows about religion, it is the Pandits and the Brahmins,” he said during the election campaign last year. Both are women leaders of the BJP who happen to be from backward castes. After the statement became controversial, Mr. Gandhi asked him to apologise, which Mr. Joshi did.

In the same election in Rajasthan, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur, sought to buttress the credentials of Hinduism’s inclusive nature by suggesting Hanuman was a Dalit. “Hanuman was a tribal, a forest dweller, a Dalit and was deprived…” said Mr. Adityanath. One Suresh Mishra, president of Sarv Brahman Mahasabha, sent a legal notice to Adityanath. His grouse: “Whatever Yogi has said is an insult to Hinduism. Lord Hanuman is all powerful God. He can’t be termed deprived and Dalit.” As we all mourn the loss of a unifying thread for our fractured polity, this thread appears to be quite strong.


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