The Hardworking Chowkidar and the Harvard Brahmin

PM Narendra Modi's 'main bhi chowkidar' campaign has unwittingly shown that leaders like Subramaniam Swamy are unwilling to give up their Brahmin identity.

In the past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Hardwork is more powerful than Harvard.” Now, when he claims to be a very hardworking chowkidar, a Harvard educated MP from his own party, Subramanian Swamy, says a Brahmin can never be a chowkidar.

Earlier, when Modi was a chaiwala, a Cambridge educated Brahmin, Mani Shankar Aiyar, said, “You must sell chai only.” Why are these Harvard and Cambridge educated Brahmins not giving up their caste? One is an RSS Brahmin and another is a Congress Brahmin. The nation should be thankful to Modi for letting such casteist cats out of the bag.

Ever since Modi added the title (I call it a title because it has raised considerable debate within his Sangh parivar) ‘Chowkidar’ to his name, a section of MPs and ministers of the BJP desisted and opposed it on grounds of caste or class.

However, minister after minister slowly fell in line. Now, India has a chowkidar government. The private sector is glad, hoping if the BJP is reelected, it will privatise the remaining public sector industries. The Indian state will act as a chowkidar to protect private capital from socialists and welfarists, Dalits/OBCs and so on.

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The moment Modi tweeted ‘main bhi chowkidar’, his most loyal follower, BJP president Amit Shah, added the title ‘Chowkidar’ to his twitter handle. He also issued a mandamus to top party leaders to do the same. Many fell in line.

However, not a single top leader of the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) added this title to their Twitter accounts. Mohan Bhagwat and Bhayyaji Joshi did not.

The BJP claims that 25 lakh people from their ranks have become chowkidars, working overtime to overcome the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ attack of Rahul Gandhi. They want to project it as an attack on all the chowkidars of India and also on India itself. The idea is to transform all swayamsevaks into chowkidars.

Subramanian Swamy. Credit: Reuters

The duties of a chowkidar

The duties that a chowkidar performs are one the most dehumanised. S/he is meant to serve the rich by standing at their gates. The PM’s ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign has, at one level, brought into focus those duties. For the first time, their job is being discussed.

Has this focus brought a change in the appointment procedure of chowkidars or reduce the power these masters have over these modern slaves? Did the campaign improve their salary structure? The PM and his government do not seem to care. They just want to counter the Congress’s campaign.

But in this process, the caste-class nature of this post and the attitude of the Brahmins among the Hindutva camp has been revealed by Subramanian Swamy. His statement uncovers the historical narrative of not only of Hinduism, but also the Hindutva understanding that a lower caste occupation like chowkidar is undignified. It is clear how a Brahmin, the priest and the political pundit, treats these jobs.

BJP’s silence on Swamy’s comments

The silence of the RSS/BJP on Swamy’s brazen Brahmin (not Brahminic) statement speaks volumes about the core ideology of Hindutva forces. The Congress at least snubbed Mani Shankar Aiyar, but the RSS seems to think Swamy has done well. He has protected the Varnadharma by telling Modi that because he is an OBC, he can be a chowkidar. But a Brahmin cannot.

Swamy said, “I am not a ‘chowkidar’. I am a Brahmin. So, I cannot become a chowkidar. I will give my opinion. And the chowkidar should work according to that.” Swamy must be appreciated for speaking his Brahmin’s mind candidly. Modi is a chowkidar PM. But his spiritual status can never be equal to a Brahmin’s.

If this is the opinion of a Harvard educated Brahmin, what do sanathan Brahmins think about the Indian masses and their jobs?

Yet another Congress Brahmin, C.P. Joshi of Rajasthan, said ahead the last assembly election, “Only Brahmins are learned enough to speak about Hinduism. 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 added, “It is strange that Uma Bharti, who is of the Lodh samaj is talking about Hindu religion. Sadhviji is of some religion is talking about Hindu religion, Narendra Modiji is of some other religion and he is talking about Hindus.”

Joshi does not even consider Modi a Hindu, perhaps suggesting that only Brahmins are Hindus. I think he is right.

Mani Shankar Aiyar. Credit: PTI

The status of a Brahmin remains constant

In both the BJP and Congress, these forces are still hegemonic. The Shudras/Dalits/Adivasis on whose productive labour the nation runs are, by and large, chowkidars of these forces. In fact, Swamy was hinting at this when he said, “I am a Brahmin and you are chowkidar, I will give my opinion you as a chowkidar should work accordingly.”

Whatever might change in the country, the status of a Brahmin remains constant.

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We are a witness to this phenomenon, in the midst of the struggle to annihilate caste. The Brahmin remains supreme and hegemonic. When Rahul Gandhi called himself a Brahmin, the BJP’s Ananth Kumar Hegde responded, “How did the son of a Muslim father and Christian become a Brahmin?” If we put to aside the merits of Hegde’s statement, it reveals that Brahminism does not believe in conversion.

The BJP/RSS did not denounce the comments of Swamy and Hegde, as they were perhaps speaking the mind of the RSS’s leadership.

Opening up the caste discourse

In a way, Narendra Modi has opened up the caste discourse in Indian politics with his OBC certificate, chaiwala discourse and now chowkidar title. This discourse has revealed that the RSS/BJP, which claimed for a long time to operate above caste, practice it in their everyday life.

The silence of liberal-left leaders and intellectuals on caste protected it through a different design. Now, when right intellectuals are showing that a Brahmin is a Brahmin, this spiritual fascism is sustained and reinforced.

Earlier, a Dalit deputy prime minister like Jagjivan Ram was humiliated. Now an OBC (though with Gujarati Bania roots) known as a very authoritarian prime minister gets snubbed by an ordinary Rajya Sabha member like Subramanian Swamy.

If a Hindutva theocratic state is established, the Shudras/Dalits/Adivasis will get pushed to their Varnadharma status and the three dvija castes will rise to the top. Ambedkar called this Hindu social order Manudharma and it remains intact.

If a Brahmin in any political party does not want to give up his Brahmin-ness, it is the one who owns the chaiwala, chowkidar nomenclatures that impresses the masses. This is also true of communist Brahmin leaders of Bengal, who did not give up caste names like Banerjee, Chatterjee and Mukherjee, but claimed that they do not recognise caste.

Only Indians who are living a pre-globalised life will believe them. The Shudra/OBC/Dalit/Adivasis who were educated in the post-globalised education system understand the importance of dignity of labour. They see through every casteist design. Modi scores a point here.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is politcal theorist, social activist and author.