Conversions in Gujarat: Whom Does Modi Represent?

In the wake of his conflict with Gandhi over the caste/Dalit question, B.R.Ambedkar, later to be the chief architect of India’s Constitution making, had determined, as early as 1935—the year the Government of India Act was passed—to leave the Hindu fold.

Upon a deeply considered evaluation of the social content of all major religious faiths, Ambedkar chose the Buddhist faith as the most befitting social/spiritual anchor because of the explicit rejection in the Buddhist Dhamma of all constructions of inequality among humankind. And a full two decades after his first resolve to abandon Hinduism, on October 14, 1956, this agonized doyen of the downtrodden took his vows at Nagpur alongwith some 3,80,000 Dalits, the date of his conversion recalling the conversion of the Maurya King, Ashok, to Buddhism after his revulsion at the massacres at the battle of Kalinga, third century B.C.

It must be tellingly ironical that a full half century after Ambedkar’s conversion the next mass exodus of Dalits from Hinduism should have occurred just a few days ago in the land of Moditva/Hindutva at Junagarh in Gujarat. At this event, some 100,000 took their Buddhist vows, which include the clear enunciation by the convertees that “Ram and Krishna are not (our) gods.”

Pointedly, this mass rejection of Hinduism has not taken place in some Indian state where scant claims are made for “Hindu nationalism,” but in the one state of Gujarat which under Modi has sought over a decade to consolidate Hindutva. Just to recall, not too long ago, Modi defined himself unproblematically as a “Hindu nationalist,” leaving many to wonder whether others might then define themselves as “Muslim or Christian or Sikh nationalists” without causing Hindutva hackles to go up.

The crude fact of course is that Hindutva nationalism remains embedded remorselessly in the injunctions of caste hierarchy. Thus, hype and euphoria to the contrary, the conversions at Junagarh have resonantly brought to common light what many commentators have argued throughout the Modi era—that his Hindutva juggernaut has never had a place in it for the most oppressed among Hindus. Not to speak of the most oppressed among Muslims, Christians, or Tribals who practices various forms of Animism.

The evidence for this is irrefutably on record in Modi’s own words.

In 2007 the Gujarat government brought out a collection of Modi’s speeches delivered to Indian Administrative Service Officials (IAS) from time to time. The book (sic) was instructively titled Karmyog.

And in that book (pages 48-49) here is how Modi speaks to the question of untouchability and manual scavenging by the lowest order of Dalits, called Valmikis:

“I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation…At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.”