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Artistic depiction of Mahabali’s final victory over Vamana

It was a symbolically brilliant moment in October last year, when a policeman in Uttar Pradesh hid behind a tree and shouted ‘thain! thain!’ during a live encounter with criminals, after his gun jammed.

The policeman’s attempt to replace real bullets with mimicked sound was considered by many as another laughable case of a poorly prepared Indian police force. In my view though, what the incident captured very succinctly was all of India’s national ethos itself – based as it is from historically on the principle and practice of ‘thain! thain’.

While ruling elites around the world routinely use fraud to keep in power, in India from ancient times, social elites have turned deception into a great art form and made it their main mode of existence. It is not surprising at all today that pretense, subterfuge and trickery have become the basic ingredients of success in almost every walk of life, as a result of which institution after institution of the Indian Republic is collapsing all around us.

An immediate example of the rule of bluff that springs to mind is of course the record of the Narendra Modi government in the last four and half years.

The national economy is in the dumps, public banks face collapse, farmers are drinking pesticide, millions don’t have jobs and let’s admit it – even the holy cows of Uttar Pradesh are unhappy, homeless and complaining. On top of everything India is more socially divided, its politics filled with more hate than ever since the Partition of the country seven decades ago.

And yet, the main response of the regime is to continue to do ‘thain! thain’ i.e. using more and more false claims and red herrings to distract public attention. If the numbers go against your narrative, cook up the data. If the pictures are not pretty Photoshop them. If you had no role in India’s freedom movement, invent history. Spread all these lies on social media.

However, to pin the blame for this entirely on Modi’s shoulders, now drooping despite his 56” chest, would be unfair and inaccurate. The fact remains, his ability to pull off so many scams rests on the efforts of numerous collaborators all around, many in very high positions, who participate in sharing the loot or for reasons of ideology. And we are not talking here about other politicians in his own party alone. The wheels of Modi’s fraud factory are voluntarily and vigorously turned by a pantheon of top civil servants, media persons, religious gurus and even Supreme Court judges.

And they also have the support of a significant section of the Indian middle classes – mostly savarna Hindus or wannabe savarnas, who see in Modi the best protector of their own long-term interests – the goal essentially being to keep alive the Indian caste system – their fountainhead of freebies from ancient times. Mostly very vocal, aggressive and motivated, these folks draw upon the rich experience of how the country’s caste hierarchy was built historically, using similar tactics of conjuring up fantastic tales, creating public spectacles, spreading rumours and outright thievery. (When all these fail, there was of course always recourse to raw violence.)

The epidemic of fudging facts that India has witnessed under the Modi regime – whether involving data, records of historical events, official certificates, court judgments, news and even election results can be seen arising from a deep rooted upper caste Hindu culture of never allowing truth to come in the way of success.

It is not a coincidence at all that Hindu religious mythology is replete with tales of fraud perpetrated by their Aryan deities or avatars on India’s indigenous and Dravidian populations depicted as ‘rakshasas’. The brahmin dwarf Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu, tricking King Mahabali and banishing him to the underground; Dronacharya lopping off the Adivasi Eklavya’s thumb to prevent him from becoming an archer; or Lord Ram hiding behind a tree while killing King Vali with his arrow. All these stories serve the purpose of giving a green light to the savarnas. ‘Go forth and cheat without a troubled conscience’.

As a result, in the savarna worldview there is nothing illegitimate or immoral about constantly stealing resources from or exploiting others, who they consider ‘less than human’. Loot and fraud not only have religious sanction, cunningness is celebrated as great ‘intelligence’, while accumulation of ill-gotten wealth is forgiven once some of it is donated to the nearest temple. All of this, of course, justified by claiming the ends are all very ‘noble’.

Yes, there was a Raja Harishchandra also in Indian mythology, a man of integrity and honesty, but he has hardly been a role model for the savarnas at any point of time in history. The brutal travails Harishchandra underwent at the behest of Vishwamitra, one of Hinduism’s revered sages – from losing his kingdom, his wife, child and everything he possessed – is meant to send out a very clear message – only a complete fool would be honest. It is an option the savarna must never even consider, unless he wants to become a pauper, get thrown out of his community or both.

Another example of how savarna dominated Indian society indulges regularly in the art of ‘thain!thain!’ comes from the exaggeration of the country’s achievements in the past. So, ancient Indians are supposed to have made their own aircraft, used nuclear power, produced test tube babies, invented cloning technology and so on – all this knowledge having vanished mysteriously at the advent of ‘foreign invaders’.

What all this bravado seeks to hide is that savarna Hindu elites in the modern period harbour a deep inferiority complex about losing power to first Muslim rulers and then British colonial power over the last millennia. Hence, their resorting to grand claims about India’s past with zero evidence to back up any of them.

The truth is that they never had either the science, technology, art or management skills to fight anyone with even a wee bit of superior skills. Though they never hesitated to use physical violence against those weaker than them at home, when faced with external aggression by superior forces savarnas have always been exposed as weak and clueless. Instead of an honest appraisal, with some humility, as to why Indian rulers in the past were unable to defend their kingdoms – upper caste Hindu apologists have come up with – more ‘thain!thain!’ to console themselves.

And the reason for mediocrity of India’s elites (which continues to this day) was simply because the venal caste system never allowed those who had genuine talent, knowledge and did all the real labour to ever rise up the social or political ladder. The bulk of honest, sincere, hardworking Indians, throughout the ages and up to our own times, have been kept out of positions of any importance and even worse –often brainwashed into believing in their allegedly ‘inferior’ status.

Given all this background of caste, religion and Indian history, one thing that becomes clear is that defeating Narendra Modi in the 2019 elections will not be enough to root out the primary malaise that afflicts India – continued social, political, economic and cultural domination by savarna Hindus. While the BJP represents the most regressive as well as aggressive section of savarnas their perverse worldview and the entire culture of ‘thain! thain!’ is unfortunately spread across the political spectrum.

How many national political formations are there, which are calling for reducing savarna hegemony on India through redistribution of wealth, resources or political power? How many mainstream parties are willing to put a Dalit or Adivasi at the head of their own organizations to signal seriousness about genuine change of attitudes?

How many parties are going to oppose the Ram Temple project, if the forces behind it go ahead in violation of the Indian Constitution? How many parties will lift the ban on cow slaughter to help poor farmers struggling to feed their families, because of the debt incurred in feeding unproductive livestock?

And indeed, how many national parties opposed the Modi regime granting 10% reservation to ‘poorer’ sections of the Hindu upper castes – thus diluting the entire concept of affirmative action? The list of such questions can go on – and the answer to all of them is the same – none.

Till this answer changes to positive, Indian citizens will continue to sleep and wake up to the same tune of thain, thain! for a long time to come. Until one day, the empty vessel the savarnas are banging on goes bust and finally others can pick up the pieces and recompose India to the strains of a completely new melody.

Satya Sagar is a journalist, public health worker who can be reached at sagarnama@gmail.com

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