While a lot of good work has been done in this regard in the past seven decades, the accelerated access to education and services for the hitherto underprivileged Hindus and tribals have in fact created vested interest in the perpetuation and expansion of the caste system for social, economic and political advantage.
The aspiration of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for an India without caste and class distinctions is not only laudable but a constitutional requirement for the government to achieve. In any case this can apply only to adherents of Hinduism as these are unique to that faith. They should take lessons in equality from the other minority faiths such as Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. All of them treat their adherents as a brotherhood of equals before the supreme deity, regardless of the name ascribed to that divinity
To the outside world which coined the term millennia ago, the territory of India has always been a Hindu 'rashtra' (land of Hindus), comprising people of the subcontinent who live east of the Sindhu river. This has been explicitly agreed to by the RSS chief. To be a faith-based Hindu Rashtra, the nation state must inherently be completely secular, respectful and tolerant of all faiths for Hinduism considers humanity and all creation to be part of the divine and all Hindus must respect different paths to reunification with it, call it 'moksha', 'nibbana', 'nirvana' (salvation) or what you will.
The caste system developed on a functional basis to ensure availability of resources needed for a settled, civilised society -- power, knowledge, resources, security and the will to succeed. The exercise of power by the State therefore required the pursuit and application of knowledge of all kinds, administrative and security capability, Resources to run the state - externally and internally - sourced as well as the farmers, husbandsmen, artisans and artificers. The structure was pyramidal in numerical terms. The indigenous people were outside this stratification and were left largely to their own devices and cultures.
Modern times have rendered these classifications obsolete. Power had corrupted the upper strata into denying access to others of knowledge and resources, so that the monopoly of learning could be used to earn a living from the State and the population. However, colonisation from the 18th century changed the economic and social matrix by widening the economic horizon and generating new ideas of inclusivity and aspirations of social change. The elite began to recognise the evils of the Hindu social system and efforts to change it created the Bengal Renaissance and spawned the idea of a united nation and impelled the freedom struggle which succeeded in 1947.
Separate State and faith
Then, because of the untiring efforts of Mahatma Gandhi the disadvantaged sections of Hindu and tribal society became the object of affirmative action for economic, social and political upliftment of the overwhelming part of the Indian population. These were embodied in the fundamental rights as well as the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution.
While a lot of good work has been done in this regard in the past seven decades, the accelerated access to education and services for the hitherto underprivileged Hindus and tribals have in fact created vested interest in the perpetuation and expansion of the caste system for social, economic and political advantage. It is necessary for Indian society to give more importance to economic classification rather than caste and tribal considerations. That would be inclusive of the entire Indian population and have the great benefit and advantage of making religious identity irrelevant for access to state services and resources.
It will be necessary for the government then to give preference to people below the poverty line and economically weaker sections. Merit-cum-means will make more equitable and inclusive criteria than simply accidents of birth. State and faith will be truly separated to operate within their own spheres, making caste loyalties and equations ever less relevant and new power elites are evolved which see no merit in existing religious and social divisions. That is a 'Rashtra' for the Hindus that we may all strive to achieve.
(The author is a retired Indian ambassador. Views are personal)