Lousy metaphor, Mr Raja Mohan

Caste-related generalisations are in poor taste.

Both at home and abroad, C Raja Mohan is arguably India’s most well-known writers on foreign policy. But his op-ed in the Indian Express today comes as a rude shock.

The real problem lies in the emergence of two world views in India — speaking metaphorically — one of the “bania” and the other of the “brahmin”. The banias are revelling in India’s new prospects on the global stage; the brahmins are frightened at the likelihood of India emerging as a great power.

While the Indian businessmen are conquering markets around the world — whether in the North or in the South — the brahmins are dying to merge into the more familiar background of the talk shop called non-aligned movement.

The brahmins are afraid of strategising for India’s new role in the world. If there is any serious strategy in India it is now visible only in the boardrooms of Infosys, Tatas and the Ambanis.

The banias have rediscovered their centuries-old trans-border trading traditions and are demonstrating the depth and breadth of India’s management capital.

While the banias are focused on outcomes, such as buying up Arcelor, the armies of our nuclear experts are weighed down by the brahminical obsession with the text. [IE, via WDE]

His point—that there are two rival worldviews—could well have been made without resorting to the language of divisiveness. How a national newspaper allowed such an article to appear in print is unfathomable. What is worse is that this not the first time that the ‘Express has done this. Some months ago, Shekhar Gupta, its editor-in-chief, wrote, albeit half-in-jest, that most Indian nuclear hawks seemed to be south Indian brahmins.

Politicians have long seen foreign policy through a religious lens. The Indian Express and its pundits would do well to avoid decking foreign policy in casteist colours. Not only is the generalisation shameful, but like most such generalisations, generally incorrect.

21 thoughts on “Lousy metaphor, Mr Raja Mohan”

  1. Nitin i think he was only trying to make a point that the Indian political establishment is dominated by the Upper castes. Which is quite true even many of the worst, rotten, moth eaten communists who even hate the mention of the ‘H’ word are Brahmins or other Upper castes.

    It might even be true that non-brahmins who are not very exposed to the theoretical works of Hinduism since an early age might take a more realistic view of the world.

    I’am myself an example. i’am more inclined towards Graeco-Roman thought and Renaissance thinking than Hindu thought which i feel is too much theory and little if any of any practical value.

    Perhaps rajmohan should have made a distinction between brahminical and non-brahminical world view rather than say bania and brahmin which makes his article seem casteist.

  2. Apollo,

    Huh ?? Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Yadav are Brahmins ???

    Will you care to present some evidence for what is frankly speaking a disgusting point of view !

    I am surprised that someone will try to make a connection between caste and the foreign policy.

  3. @Gaurav

    It does not matter that a significant numbers of our current establishment are non-brahmins. It is the brahmins of either left or right persuasion who set the agenda.

    also notice how Mulayam and laloo are very practical minded and do not seem to espouse any ideology or thinking of their own when compared to brahmins like Jawahar lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Jayalalitha, PV narasimha rao, Jayanthi natarajan, Vajpayee, advani, Pramod Mahajan, Pranab Mukherjee, jyoti basu, Buddhadeb bhattacharya Prannoy roy, Sagarika ghose, shashi tharoor, Barkha dutt, Rajdeep sardesai etc… and the columnists like Rajmohan himself.

    though i feel Rajmohan went overboard in his article by making casteist references, he seemed to have got something right about the difference in thought processes between brahmins and non-brahmin Hindus.

  4. The content of his article doesn’t seem to be much off course. Yes, the connection to something as divisive as castes is unfortunate, but it doesn’t dilute the validity of what he is saying about the two views about India’s role and presence in the emerging world scenario. If we think of it, the two views he’s written about are not much different from the ‘olive tree‘ and ‘lexus‘ that Tom Friedman had used in his book not too long ago.

    Though, I’d have much preferred if he had used better metaphors than brahmins and baniyas.

    Finally, yes, if you look outside the ‘social revolution’ states of UP and Bihar, the politics (and more so bureaucracy) is highly upper class dominated.

  5. I forgot to mention the esteemed Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar and Vinod Mehta rank commies who hate Hindus and Hinduism to the core yet still upper caste themselves.

  6. Apollo

    You did not understand.

    Can you establish that caste plays any factor in foreign policy ? It is immaterial what is the caste of Indian politicians.If not, you are on a very thin ice.
    For your information Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party supports Iran and opposes US-India agreement.

  7. @gaurav

    that’s because mulayam is thinking in terms of votes and power, very, very practical considerations compared to say the communists who are also ideologically motivated [:)]

    Ok let me take another analogy. the Constitution of the United states is a very Anglo-saxon document. How many true blood Englishmen are left in the US today? Not many i think but still everyone adheres to the document because of what americans euphmesically call their ‘Melting pot’.

    The Brahmins were the one group who were most educated when india gained independence and thus ended up dominating all branches of governance and policy making all these years therefore it is very much possible that their worldview has been quite dominant. this might change as more and more non-brahmins rise up. I think that is what Raja Mohan meant in his article but maybe like a good journo he might have had one peg too many and botched it up with blatant caste references [:)]

  8. I think i should write a full post on it rather than only comment. will post a link here soon by today evening :).

  9. Damn Nitin, you beat me to it 🙁 Just when I was about to diss Raja Mohan, I realized you posted it. Great read, though!

  10. I have to say I didn’t find the column offensive other than the fact that Raja Mohan has always put down the people who disagree with him (like his savaging of Anil Kakodhar).

    Brahmins to me meant the educated elite in India that is part of the establishment – somewhat equivalent to “Boston Brahmins” – that liberal group located around Boston (more like Cambridge) that pretty much set (or at least used to) the agenda for US establishment, foreign policy or otherwise. In fact, that’s probably where Raja Mohan got the idea from.

    Again, banias to me meant those business folks taking on the world of business (Narayana Murthy hardly fits the bania stereotype). I didn’t think it was casteist. May be bania is offensive word in the north?

    I guess taken literally it could be thought of as lousy metaphor.

  11. Accusing the opponent of being “brahminical” has been one age old trick in Indian politics to shut the opponent up. The Indian substitute for the word ‘racist’ or ‘Nazi’ in Western discourse. Its use indicates that the user has run out of logic, as in this case Raja Mohan has. He hides behind the excuse of speaking metaphorically, but it is clear as daylight that metaphors are the last thing on his mind; casteist put-downs are what he is interested in. The most vocal critics of the Indo-US deal are scientsts, many of them brahmins. Could their opposition to the deal have something to do with the fact that they have intimate knowledge of the subject? Or do we attribute it to their being brahmins? You know, it must in their genes to oppose all Indo-US nuke deals .. they can’t help it .. it was all laid in the vedas long ago ….

    Your average Indian Express columnist, Raja Mohan cerainly is: prejudiced, bigoted. Intellectual, he is not.

  12. I meant to say :”it was all laid down in the vedas long ago ..”, not “laid in the vedas” 🙂

  13. apollo, I find it amusing that you relate caste to foreign policy or any so-called ‘ideal’, for that matter?
    Isn’t it obvious to you that your arguments are self-defeating?
    I mean, if Arundhati Roy can evolve a Communist view and Narasimha Rao the opposite view, and both are brahmins, doesnt it occur to you that ‘brahminism’, or whatever it is, doesnt directly influence its members to think in a particular way. What is evident is your bias and intolerance for certain members of this country.

  14. By the way aren’t Narayan Murthy and Mittal Upper Caste too.

    Oops reality just mugged some people.

    WDE, Aptly put.

  15. raj, pls do read Nitin’s post, my first comment and my post in that order. I think u will clearly get what i mean.

  16. Nitin, while the article might not seem in good taste, it does something that few Indian analysts ever care to do: it looks at socio-cultural factors underlying public policy.
    And given the socio-cultural cauldron that is India, would you not agree that we should address this lack of socio-cultural introspection?

  17. Raj Mohan’s article would have been more useful had it attempted to draw a direct comparison betweem two contrasting governance styles – Indian corporate governance and Indian political governance, to explain the agility of India Inc and the foot-dragging nature of Indian economic and foreign policies. ‘Baniaism’ and ‘Brahmanism’ are rather poor metaphors to describe Corporate agility and Political inertia. The rise of Shanghai and Beijing, ignore the unsophistication rampant amongst the Shanghainese and Beijing people, is an example of what an agile political system can do. While the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao follows-up with President’s Hu Jintao’s visit to Africa inking multi-billion dollar deals in oil and energy (right or wrong is a different topic!), India is busy drawing a $9000 crore plan to funds its reservation quota system as opposed to spending that money on the root cause to uplift the academically inclined but financially underprivileged.

    There is a difference between the way our corporate machineries and political machineries are run. But, it has little to do with Banias and Brahmins. If it did, I’d like to see that as a core course in the Indian Business Schools and Schools of Political Sciences.

  18. Sanjay good point. This reminds me of something I read recently by Hayakawa, about loaded words: If the emotion arising out of the words would cloud the message, using those words is not a good idea if the intent is to communicate.

    As you and Nitin point out, socio-cultural introspection can be done without emotion-clouding divisiveness.
    While the demarcation between Brahmin and Bania might seem distasteful and probably furthers some agenda of the writer, the article makes more than a comparison of political inertia and corporate agility. He points to the culture which gives rise to the people who further the political inertia: its cause if you will.
    India of the early millenium, a land of rich global merchants; devolved by the end of the millenium to a country where people were afraid to cross the seas for fear of losing their “caste”.
    This was bound to take its toll, and it did.

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