Indian politicians have mastered the art of perpetuating and mining the politics of sordid caste consciousness even while simultaneously pretending to reject it.
The latest to succumb to the easy lure of caste politics is ironically widely seen as a post-caste politician, none other than India’s prime minister-in-waiting and Congress party general secretary Rahul Gandhi. Even more ironically, the man whose example Gandhi is so expediently exploiting was until recently defined entirely by his world-class technological accomplishments – Sam Pitroda.
What began as an apparently calculated move in December last year at a rally in Akbarpur area of Ramabai Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, has now become received wisdom in the Congress in the context of state assembly elections. The media has been quick to pick up on the move in calling Pitroda the “OBC face” of the party.
At the Akbarpur rally Gandhi was quoted as saying, “Twenty years ago Rajiv Gandhi thought of bringing mobile phones to India. Do you know who brought them? Sam Pitroda, who is a Vishwakarma, ‘barahi’ (carpenter). He brought mobile phones to your houses.”
Pitroda has tried to make the best of a bad situation by adding nuance to Gandhi’s comments. “The intention has been to convey to the people of Uttar Pradesh and India that if son of a carpenter like me could use education and technology to overcome centuries of social injustices, anyone can. Personally, I have never been either conscious of or defensive about the fact that I come from the margins of society. Technology gave me an identity that is agnostic to such classifications. That said, it would be wrong to read too much into what Rahul has said other than a genuine wish to inspire others,” Pitroda said.
Notwithstanding that explanation, the fact remains that Gandhi resorted to the caste construct so unselfconsciously. What makes it particularly galling is that his comments came across as reflexive. It is possible that his comments were not even remotely motivated by condescension, but they sounded as if he was suggesting that whatever Pitroda might have accomplished in life should be seen from the prism of his arbitrarily defined social origin.
At the heart of everything that Gandhi has been doing in Uttar Pradesh is fuelled by a wish to win the assembly elections, an outcome that he might see as the signature accomplishment of his political career so far. But that does not extenuate his use of this egregious nomenclature. There are those who might reasonably argue that what Gandhi did is entirely in keeping with the realpolitik of India’s peculiarly structured electoral landscape, but that is precisely the problem with it.
If it is Gandhi’s desire to cast himself as a modern politician free from the cynical perpetuation and exploitation of this centuries old nonsense, then he should have known better than to use Pitroda’s so-called caste. It is up to young leaders like Gandhi and many others cutting across party lines to liberate India’s politics from the skullduggeries which the older leaders have so routinely indulged in.
It is disheartening that someone who has distinguished himself globally for over four decades in the world of cutting edge technology has now been dragged down and given a label that India as a civilisation ought to reject. Unless the country’s young leaders once and for all erase such regressive and often bigoted constructs from political discourse, there is little hope that those whom they seek to inspire would ever rise above them.
By Mayank Chhaya (Source: IANS)