In his incomplete work Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India, Dr BR Ambedkar credits Buddha and his teachings for laying the foundation of a revolution more than two millenniums ago. Buddha (died 486 BCE) repudiated the authority of the Vedas, harped on good conduct for salvation, and denounced the caste system as well as the ghastly, expensive ritual of animal sacrifice.
Under the Buddhist revolution, knowledge was not deemed the monopoly of the twice-born. Into the sangha, the monastic order Buddha founded, the Shudras were admitted – they could become bhikku, the Buddhist equivalent of Brahmins. Salvation was not ruled out for women, who had their own order, the bhikkhunisangha.
Not only was the hegemony of Brahmins challenged, they also experienced a loss of status under the Mauryan dynasty (321 BCE-187 BCE). This was because “Ashoka made it [Buddhism] the religion of the state”, Ambedkar writes in Revolution and Counter-Revolution. That delivered the “greatest blow to Brahmanism. The Brahmins lost all state patronage and were neglected to a secondary and subsidiary position”.
Ambedkar writes that the withdrawal of state patronage affected the earnings of Brahmins, as Ashoka banned animal sacrifice, over which only they could preside in return for lavish gifts. “The Brahmins therefore lived as the suppressed and depressed classes for nearly 140 years during which the Mauryan Empire lasted,” he notes.
The only escape for the Brahmins from their ignominy was to usher in a counter-revolution. The man who led the charge against Buddhism was Pushyamitra, commander of the Mauryan army. He assassinated King Brihadratha, usurped the throne and inaugurated the Shunga dynasty. Pushyamitra was a Brahmin. His aim was to “destroy Buddhism as a state religion” and deploy the state power to facilitate Brahmanism’s triumph over Buddhism.
Ambedkar provides evidence to bolster his theory of counter-revolution. For one, Pushyamitra performed the Ashvamedha or horse sacrifice on his accession, as if heralding the restoration of Brahmanism’s preeminent status.
For the other, Ambedkar writes, “Pushyamitra… launched a violent and virulent campaign of persecution against Buddhists and Buddhism.” Ambedkar refers to Pushyamitra’s proclamation that set a price of 100 gold pieces on the head of every Buddhist monk.
Pushyamitra is indeed depicted in Buddhist texts as the community’s principal tormentor. In Political Violence in Ancient India, Upinder Singh writes of a Buddhist legend that says that “on the advice of a wicked Brahmana, Pushyamitra decided to rival Ashoka’s fame by destroying the 84,000 stupas that the latter had built”. Singh notes that archaeologist John Marshall linked the “great damage” that was “wantonly inflicted” on the famous SanchiStupa to Pushyamitra.
Ambedkar also mentions two later rulers, Mihirakula (520 CE) and Shashanka (7th century CE), who killed Buddhists to try to root out Buddhism. “The whole history of India is made to appear as though the only important thing in it is a catalogue of Muslim invasion,” he writes. “If Hindu India was invaded by the Muslim invaders so was Buddhist India invaded by Brahmanic India.”
There are many similarities between the two invasions, but also one crucial difference – Islam did not supplant Hinduism, but Brahmanism drove out Buddhism and occupied its place. Whatever remained of Buddhism in India disappeared because of the iconoclasm of Muslim rulers. Ambedkar then delves into the mechanism through which Brahmanism struck such deep roots that Muslim rulers could not uproot it.
He says it was because of the promulgation of Manu’s code of law or the Manu Smriti. Unlike many contemporary historians who date the Manu Smriti anywhere between 200 BCE and 200 CE, Ambedkar painstakingly cites sources to show it was compiled between 170 BC and 150 BCE. That places the Manu Smriti in Pushyamitra’s reign.
According to Ambedkar, Manu’s code established the right of Brahmins to rule, turned them into a privileged class by a margin, converted the Varna into caste, degraded the status of Shudras and women, introduced the idea of “graded inequality”, and created “conflict and anti-social” feelings among castes. Manu bestowed on Brahmins monopoly over the teaching of the Vedas, apart from re-introducing the ritual of sacrifice.
Undoubtedly, Revolution and Counter-Revolution creates a neat binary of Brahmins and Buddhists without the greyness implicit in any reading of the past. Perhaps Ambedkar’s own experience of the inequality perpetuated by caste permeated into his aborted work. His insights did indeed influence the framing of the Indian Constitution, which signified a revolution of the democratic kind. It abolished untouchability, recognised the equality of all citizens before the law, and provided for positive discrimination or reservation for depressed groups.
On this day of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, a question therefore: is India in 2018 witnessing a counter-revolution of the kind Pushyamitra ushered in so violently in 187 BCE? This question needs to be asked not just because of the spurt in atrocities committed on Dalits and the denial of their rights. It should be raised because the legal basis for establishing equality seems threatened.
For instance, the Supreme Court has decreed that the college, not the department, should be taken as a unit for calculating reserved posts, the number of which is consequently expected to dwindle. Then on March 20, the court infamously diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, by giving the accused a degree of protection from arrest, with an aim to curb misuse of the law. This goaded Dalits to call a Bharat Bandh on April 2. It saw the upper castes mobilise and attack Dalits. In a throwback to the 1990 protest against the VP Singh government’s decision to provide job quotas for Other Backward Classes, the upper castes organised a bandh of their own against reservations on April 10.
It is the SanghParivar that has sustained upper caste hopes on rolling back reservation. For instance, before the 2015 Bihar elections, RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke of reviewing the policy of affirmative action.
Or take the position the NarendraModi government took on K Mahajan versus State of Maharashtra, the case that led to the March 20 Supreme Court order. AmarendraSharan, amicus curiae (adviser to the court) in the case, accused the government of agreeing that “anticipatory bail could be given in case there is no prima facie case being made out under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act”. He also said it was the additional solicitor general who had supplied data on misuse of the Act.
The luminaries of the BharatiyaJanata Party – Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde, for instance – have repeatedly spoken of framing a new Constitution. To achieve such a goal, the BJP needs to win majority in the 2019 LokSabha elections. This mission the government’s position on K Mahajan services – it polarised the upper castes and sections of Shudras against Dalits.
It may seem bewildering that the Sangh, undeniably the principal sponsor of 21st-century Brahmanic thought, should repeatedly win the support of non-upper castes. Ambedkar’s “graded inequality” explains the phenomenon well:
“… Inequality is not half so dangerous as graded inequality. Inequality does not last long. Under pure and simple inequality two things happen. It creates general discontent which forms the seed of revolution. It makes the sufferers combine against a common foe on a common grievance.”
By contrast, graded inequality, of which the caste system is an example, prevents the rise of general discontent that can become the “storm centre of revolution”. Ambedkar explains: “[With] the sufferers… becoming unequal both in terms of the benefit and the burden there is no possibility of a general combination of all classes to overthrow the inequity.”
This possibility is further reduced because the ruler adopts the divide and rule policy, of which the Modi government’s position on K Mahajan is an instance. It will soon sub-categorise the Other Backward Classes into three groups and slice and distribute the 27% reservation unequally among them. The government is also keen on passing the National Commission for Backward Classes Bill, which will vest in Parliament the power to exclude and include a social group from the reservation pool. This may just become the route to squeeze in Jats, Marathas and Kapus into the Other Backward Classes for reservation. The phenomenon of graded inequality will prompt the Shudras to fight among themselves; the beneficiaries will likely swing behind the BJP.
The other method of ushering in counter-revolution is through co-option of radical forces. A resurgent Brahmanism co-opted Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu, blunting whatever edge Buddhism retained after attacks from Pushyamitra, Mihirakula, and Shashanka. Likewise, Prime Minister NarendraModi has concertedly sought to appropriate Ambedkar.
Another favoured method of counter-revolution is to fan communal tension to spawn affinity among castes. In his Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar notes, “A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes, except when there is a Hindu-Moslem riot. On all other occasions each caste endeavours to segregate itself and distinguish itself from other castes.” It is to forge a bond among castes that Sanghfootsoldiers target Muslims in the hope the BJP will benefit from it electorally.
Commentators have often spoken of the “Muslim question”, the “Dalit question” and such like. It is strange that they have never thought of discussing the “upper caste question”. It is to the reactionary elements among the upper castes that commentators should turn to preach, for it is their conduct that imperils the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity enshrined in our Constitution. The very ideas, however rudimentary, that Pushyamitra’s counter-revolution of 187 BCE undermined.
War or peace?
By Dr Akmal Hussain
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi on Sunday, April 7, in a press briefing in Multan, announced that the government had “reliable” information that India was planning another attack on Pakistan. He revealed that during a meeting of the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security, the three service chiefs had indicated that they were ready with plans of multiple strikes against Pakistan across a wide front and were awaiting a “political nod”, which was duly given by PM Modi during the meeting.
After the political boomerang of the failed Balakot strike, simple statistical theory would suggest to the military mind that the larger the number of strikes next time the higher the probability of at least one succeeding. The chances of partial success would increase if the air attack is across a wide front: the defending air force would have to spread itself thin and so the number of intercepting aircraft that could be fielded against any one group of attackers would be reduced.
Such a military adventure by India would not simply be a repeat strike after Balakot. It would be a precipitous escalation, fraught with the risk of full-scale conventional war that could quickly lead to a catastrophic nuclear exchange. When India suffered a setback in the Balakot engagement, they reportedly readied themselves for a missile strike against three Pakistani cities on the night of February 27.
There is no technology in existence that can determine whether or not incoming missiles have a nuclear payload. So Pakistan’s declaration that they would launch triple the number of missiles in retaliation, as soon as Indian missiles left their launch pads, carried the grim possibility of a nuclear war in the Subcontinent. If we had come so close to Armageddon soon after even a single abortive strike, imagine how much greater would be the risk of escalation to the nuclear level during a full-scale conventional war.
At present, and in the foreseeable future, two aspects of the structure of the India-Pakistan relationship create a hair trigger that can quickly and repeatedly bring the two countries to flashpoint. First, a popular freedom movement in Kashmir that, despite their protracted coercion, Indian security forces have been unable to suppress. It has instead produced a pantheon of martyrs and a new generation of militant youths willing to sacrifice themselves for freedom. Under these circumstances the internal dynamics of the Kashmiri movement can generate acts of violent rebellion against Indian troops at any time.
Second, on the other side of the border for many years non-state groups of militant extremists who have off and on received patronage continue to exist. The toxic mix of these two elements creates an environment in which spectacular acts of violence by Kashmiri youth could be blamed on “Pakistan-based terrorists” by India. This could intensify tensions, precipitating another military conflict. The past cannot be taken as a guide to say how it will end, whether in peace or nuclear war.
Given the firepower of modern conventional weaponry, significant loss of territory can occur during the initial onslaught that could escalate to the use of battlefield nuclear weapons. Once nuclear weapons are used on enemy troops, all-out nuclear war would follow. The recent history of India-Pakistan military conflict however has shown that even before a full-scale conventional war, a limited, localised battle can bring the two sides to the nuclear precipice.
For example, during the Kargil conflict in 1999 when the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Washington to ask the then US president Clinton to help end the conflict, he was shown satellite pictures of nuclear weapons being loaded onto F16s as evidence for a shocked PM of how close the two countries were to a nuclear war. Then again during the first two days of the February 2019 conflict involving limited Air Force engagements, nuclear missiles were reportedly readied on the night of February 27 for use by both sides.
So far these confrontations have induced timely intercession by the international community and peoples of the Subcontinent have survived by the skin of their teeth. But what a future confrontation will bring, whether we live or die in a nuclear war is inherently uncertain. Its probability cannot be estimated.
Some take comfort in the fact that seven confrontations in the past did not result in full-scale war as international pressure to defuse tensions worked. However, this 100 percent success in preventing war in the past cannot be used as a basis for saying it will not occur the next time around. This is because in society as much as in the relationship between states the averages of the past do not necessarily hold into the future. This is unlike natural phenomena where averages of the past as expressed in natural laws do hold into the future.
For example, take the law of gravity: if you had dropped an object and it fell to the ground yesterday, there is a high probability that it would fall again if you dropped it tomorrow. But in society, probability estimates which are essentially based on projecting the past into the future are not possible in principle. The pattern of social phenomena and human behaviour observed in the past can in the future be shattered by unique events or a combination of unique events.
As the preceding discussion argues, even a limited conventional conflict following a terrorist incident can quickly escalate to the nuclear threshold. It is vital, therefore, for the two countries supported by the world community to address the explosive structure of a situation that leads to repeated military confrontation.
Millions of citizens in both countries are mired in poverty, illiteracy and disease. Thousands of children are dying at birth every day; of those who survive birth, thousands die before they are five years old. Of the children who live beyond five years, millions are suffering from malnutrition, their bodies stunted, their brains dulled. Millions of children roam the streets and alleys, deprived of quality education, abandoned by society and state and living without hope. Instead of halting this massacre of innocents together, the two states are marching in lockstep to a nuclear catastrophe.
It is time for the leaderships of both India and Pakistan to reflect on the irrationality and inhumanity of using proxy wars or ‘surgical strikes’ as a means of achieving national security. The power of a nation lies not in following the course of mutual annihilation but pursuing the path of peace for the welfare of its citizens. The leaderships of the two countries should dip their cupped hands into their shared civilisational well-springs. Imbibe the sense of compassion and human solidarity to care for our children rather than killing them.
Rubbing salt on the wounds:
By Aleem Faizee
Another assault on the people of Malegaon – this is how a shopkeeper in Malegaon reacted to the news of the BJP fielding Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from Bhopal against Congress’ Digvijaya Singh in this Lok Sabha election.
It’s like rubbing salt on our wounds, another Malegaon resident said.
For the people in Malegaon, the announcement of Pragya Thakur’s candidature has brought back the ghastly memories of 29 September 2008, when the city was rocked by a bomb blast. Thakur is facing trial in the case.
On the night of the blast, it was about 9.40 pm and people were about to finish Salaat-ut-Taraweeh – special night prayers offered during the month of Ramadan – when they heard a loud sound of explosion. At first, they thought it could be a cylinder blast accident. But it soon emerged that it was a bomb blast.
The blast spot was just metres away from the Ladies Fashion Market at Anjuman Chowk where a huge crowd of women and children were busy shopping for Eid al Fitr. There was chaos near Bhikku Chowk – the site of the blast. People carried the bleeding victims, more than a hundred, to hospitals using whatever means they could find.
The blast claimed six lives. One of them was 5-year-old Farheen Shaikh who was out to buy some snacks and was on her way back home to have Ramadan dinner with her grandmother.
Among the injured was Abdullah Jamaluddin Ansari of Shakeel Transport. The 75-year-old man, during initial investigation, had said he had noticed the LML Freedom motorcycle, which was later traced to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and led to her arrest, parked in front of his office since afternoon that day. He had also informed the police chowki, a stone’s throw away from the blast site, but claimed that no action was taken.
Javed Ansari, owner of a photocopier shop, was also injured in the Malegaon blast. It took him over three years to recover and resume work.
But for these blast victims, life has never been the same since that September night.
While Javed Ansari and the family of Farheen Shaikh left the locality after the blast, Shakeel Transport’s Abdullah Ansari died last year. Following the blast, Ansari often looked at the wall clock in his shop, which had stopped working at 9.37 pm – the time of the blast – and waited for justice.
One doesn’t know how he would have reacted to the news of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and contesting the Lok Sabha election.
By fielding Sadhvi Pragya, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants people to believe that she and other accused arrested in various blast cases were ‘framed in fabricated cases’ and that ‘saffron terror’ is a myth.
But while doing so the, BJP has undermined the fact that Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur still remains a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. As per court papers, the first evidence that led to her arrest was the LML Freedom motorcycle that was registered in her name and was used to plant the bomb. There are also some audio tapes and visuals too. Based on these evidences, the Bombay trial court judge had observed that there was enough ground to establish Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s role in the blast.
Ironically, while nominating Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as the party candidate, the BJP did not think about the kind of message this would send to all the world leaders with whom Narendra Modi has often taken up the issue of terrorism.
The people of Malegaon, who had been hearing about the pressure on some officers and public prosecutor Rohini Salian ‘to go soft’ in the case, have almost lost all hope of getting justice. Wife of Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare – the officer who initially investigated the case – had turned down then-Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s monetary compensation after 26/11 attacks.
Therefore, the BJP’s decision to field Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in this election is neither shocking nor surprising for most people in Malegaon. But it is painful, especially for the blast victims and their families.
Majboot Sarkars Overrated?
Prior to the 1990s, coalition governments in Indian politics were considered to be an aberration and not particularly desirable. The lack of coalitions in India was clearly tied to the one-party preponderance of the Congress. So, when the party sensed defeat in the 1989 Lok Sabha election, it tried to remind voters of how shambolic the 1977 Janata government had been.
The VP Singh-led National Front government formed in 1989 was perhaps the strangest political entity that people had witnessed in Indian politics. Propped up by the Left parties on one side, and the right-wing BJP that provided support with its 86 seats on the other – the government proved to be short lived.
The grand old party then supported the Chandrashekhar Singh government for four months, after which it decided to withdraw support and elections in 1991 brought back a Congress-led coalition government in the country. With that, the era of coalition politics was well and truly upon us.
Coalition governments were the new normal in Indian politics and would continue to be so until 2014, when the Narendra Modi-led government became the first in three decades since 1984, to win a clear majority.
In 1996, there was a short-lived Vajpayee-led BJP government for 13 days, followed by the rather soporific one led by HD Deve Gowda that lasted until 1997. After that, IK Gujral led the United Front coalition government that lasted from April 1997 to March 1998.
By then, the political scenario of the country was beginning to look a bit like a game of musical chairs. However, things stabilised with Atal Bihari Vajpayee returning in 1998, hanging on for a year and then getting re-elected in 1999 to finally last a whole term.
After that, with a full decade of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance leading the way, Indian politics developed a version of the two party system, rather, a two coalition system. Numerous political parties have coalesced around BJP and the Congress in the form of the National Democratic Alliance and the United Progressive Alliance, respectively.
Congress governments in coalition have brought about some of the most momentous and far-reaching changes. It was the Narasimha Rao-led government that introduced the economic reforms, which for better or worse, changed the country tremendously.
One simple indicator of the worth of coalitions is the fact that many thought that the UPA-I government was too hobbled by the presence of the Left, as it was a hindrance to the economic reforms associated with Congress governments since 1991.
The withdrawal of Left support, followed by the more emphatic victory that led to UPA-II in 2009, was supposed to bring in a more decisive and unfettered government. Yet, it is the UPA-I government that is remembered for the succession of rights-based legislation it introduced, while UPA II has come to be associated with crony capitalism.
Similarly, the NDA-I government of Vajpayee, with all of its coalition pulls and pressures ensured two things. First, the core and often contentious BJP issues, which are Article 370, Babri Masjid and Uniform Civil Code, were relegated to the back-burner.
Second, the Vajpayee-led BJP government could well and truly be said to have a fringe and a centre, with the fringe remaining where any fringe should belong.
However, the ruling BJP government of the day has once again brought the core contentious issues to the forefront. It has also ensured that the fringe encompasses the party uniformly, leaving no hint of nuance or differentiation.
What this suggests is that weaker coalitions may actually perform better. More importantly, coalitions are able to more naturally weave in the vital regional parties that act as breakwaters in the path of potentially elective despotism.
Are majority governments over-rated?
What have supposedly strong and stable majority governments been able to do? Have they taken decisive measures or brought about ‘big-ticket economic reforms’, untroubled by the petty pulls of coalition partners?
Take the 1984 Rajiv Gandhi government with its mammoth majority of above 400 hundred seats. In less than two years, it started playing communally divisive politics around the Babri Masjid and Shah Bano issues.
The Congress thought it was being cleverly even handed by dealing out both majority and minority communal cards. The drift in the Rajiv Gandhi government could be sensed right in the middle of its term when it lost badly in the Haryana assembly elections of 1987. It lost the hugely symbolic Allahabad by-election in 1988 to V.P. Singh, and the rest we are prone to saying, is history.
The question then is this: Could the supposed strength and stability provided by majority governments be overrated? What has the Modi government achieved on the back of its huge mandate? Has it squandered that majority much like the Rajiv Gandhi led government of 1984-89? Can Modi return to power? This has been a bit of a see-saw question.
When Modi’s government came to power with a huge landslide, or ‘tsunami’ if you will, conventional wisdom was that he was here to stay for at least two terms. The UP assembly elections in 2017 seemed to confirm this. After that, it has been more of a will he/won’t he guessing game. The jury is well and truly out on this one.