New Delhi: Just a month before the Delhi Assembly elections, Arvind Kejriwal had, in one of his election meetings, said, “I am a baniya, and I know my dhanda.” I do not think Mr Kejriwal made that identity statement without thinking. Mr Kejriwal, it seems to me, had an epiphany after the parliamentary elections, that Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party president, himself a baniya, was making serious efforts to enlist the support of Delhi’s rich, more particularly the baniyas of Delhi and outside. And, it’s my belief, that that single statement of Mr Kejriwal punctured Mr Shah’s efforts and Delhi’s rich people, Greater Kailash & Co. realised that Mr Kejriwal was a more dependable leader with a moral credibility.
The BJP committed another blunder by using the gotra jibe to mock him for his so-called anarchic behaviour during his 49-day chief ministership of Delhi. Mr Kejriwal immediately retorted by saying, “The BJP can fight against me. But how can they call the entire Agarwal gotra disruptive?” The BJP did not understand a simple truth that’s backed by history. Three leaders have emerged from the baniya community in the modern period: Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and Mr Kejriwal. All of them share organised anarchic behaviour, but they also carried with themselves “democratic moralism”.
During nine months of the BJP’s rule, the baniyas have realised that their industry, business, capital will not be safe in an environment where churches are being vandalised, minorities being targeted with ghar wapsi, youth being harassed on Valentine’s Day. They seem to have realised the importance of Mr Kejriwal as a counterweight to Mr Modi, especially as he has displayed democratic aspirations. The stunning and astounding victory of the AAP in Delhi elections makes one think of what B.R. Ambedkar predicted way back in the 1940s, that the poor will preserve democracy as their precious jewel.
The people realised that the Sangh Parivar has been displaying its communal and arrogant politics too brazenly. The Indian masses did not disapprove any leader who admitted his caste background and worked for them even in a small way. Gandhi, in his famous autobiography, in the very first sentence says, “The Gandhis belong to the Bania caste and seem to have been originally grocers”.
Though Lohia did not reveal his caste background anywhere, he was the only upper-caste politician during the freedom struggle, who, later, analysed the Indian caste system and took up caste reforms. Several north Indian politicians, like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and so on are his followers.
Quite interestingly Mr Kejriwal, like Mr Modi, made his caste identity known at a public forum during the course of his election campaign. If he remains committed to the poor till he is in power with some willingness to social reform, then he would emerge as an alternative to Mr Modi because even the same baniya capital that supported Mr Modi will completely abandon him and support Mr Kejriwal at the all-India level in future. The baniyas of India, though a small community, are the single richest community of India.
Their wealth would not be safe in the RSS mode of politics. Though the Indian baniyas have been supporting the RSS-BJP for quite some time, they seem to have realised that even after getting such a huge mandate, the RSS-BJP mentality could not be changed.
This hinders peaceful production in industry and stable marketing in the bazaars. The Modi style of administration cannot control them. Baniyas, as a community, are a significant force in Delhi. In any election, it is not just their votes that matter but their goodwill is also important. If the baniyas send a sympathetic message to the masses, there would be a response because historically the baniya com-munity had ancient production relations with shudras. After the Gupta dynasty established a baniya raj, the baniyas became a very pro-minent community in India.
The brahmins had served them as writers and priests and that was the time when the baniyas were given the third spiritual status, with a right to wear sacred thread and the right to read the Vedas. But even now they have no right to become priests in the Hindu temples. There is a tension there. The Gupta kings gave brahmins vatans, money and gold. Hence the brahmin writers also painted that period as the golden age. Of course, that was the worst period for shudras and chendals.
Before that, the baniyas by and large were agriculturalists and cattle rearers. They also had anti-brahmin tendencies. That was one reason why they joined Jainism and Buddhism in greater numbers. Through Jain Thirthankara culture (not so much Buddhist culture) they became strong advocates of non-violence and vegetarianism. Historically brahmins never were advocates of non-violence. If the brahmin vegetarianism started with the campaign of Adi Shankara, the baniya vegetarianism dates back to the Jainism of the 7th century BC. It was in that tradition that the Gandhian non-violence took its shape.
The baniyas supported Gandhi in his campaigns. Their support to Lohia was limited because he was a “Marxwadi” socialist. Now they have a Kejriwal at hand. If they are willing to dig out a bit of their gupta dhan and take up charity work in Delhi slums, Mr Kejriwal’s credibility will sustain. Otherwise, he too will be seen as a dramatic person.
However, the nation must thank all the Delhiwallas for playing positive roles at a critical juncture in India.
The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad...