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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 36, New Delhi, August 21, 2021

Book Extracts from Yusuf and Zuleika: The Return of the Despot | Murzban Jal

Friday 20 August 2021



Yusuf and Zuleika:

The Return of the Despot

by Murzban Jal

Aakar Books

(8-E, Pocket-IV Mayur Vihar Phase-I Delhi-110 091)


152 pages

Paper Back

ISBN : 9789350025994

The Indian Elites as Caste Overlords

The idea that caste is rooted in pre-capitalist society while seeming to be historically correct would turn out to be phantasmagorical if it is not contextualized in concrete material and social relations. One has to talk of what Anand Teltumbde calls the “persistence of caste”. [1] In this sense caste as an apartheid type system does not exist only in pre-capitalism, but also in capitalism. One cannot forget that capitalism, needs pre-capitalist and sectors in order to re-produce itself. [2] What one says is that Indian capitalism did not and can never annihilate caste, instead capitalism would fashion caste according to its own hideouts image. But it not only reproduces capitalism, it also reproduces liberalism, conservatism, not to forget, the forms of proto-fascistic and fascistic consciousness. The real problem is that it has also been able to fashion the Left parties, intoxicated by Stalinism.

That is why it must be stated that the communist revolution and the anti-caste revolutions would have to be simultaneous revolutions. And here once again the Left in India is preoccupied with the mechanical outlook that then gives way to the “stages theory of history” where a mythical bourgeois revolution is said to precede the communist one. For them just as one had to be an ape in order to become fully human, so too one had to be bourgeois in order that one could become a communist.

Thus what I am saying is that the stages theory which declares a New Democratic Revolution to precede a Communist Revolution is totally alien to India. Instead I am identifying the caste-clan mode of production from whose womb evolves modern capitalism. While the caste-clan system is generally located as a necessary part of pre-capitalist India, it is also to be understood as a necessary part of capitalist India. The fact that caste also serves as the social, political and ideological forms for liberal politics in India has to be mentioned. What needs to be stated is modern India could never annihilate the caste system, but re-order it for the purpose of capital accumulation. The idea that capitalism would by its alleged law of history annihilate caste is totally false. Marx’s statement that “the country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future” [3], cannot be interpreted as pre-capitalist social formations disappearing, just as they are said to have disappeared in advanced capitalist countries. It is with this noting that I turn to the question of the Indian elites as Caste and State Overlords where the idea of the state as sovereign or the state “absolute landlord” [4] is now realized as the feudo-capitalist. What India like great parts of South Asia has witnessed is this form of feudo-capitalism governed by the Caste Overlord.

It is from this historical base whereby the Indian liberal democratic Patron State (the Gandhian-Nehruvian State) emerged. It claimed to be “democratic”. In actuality it has the Caste Overlords controlling this “democracy”. Democracy since independence is under siege. But how is it yet “under siege”? It is under siege because the Caste Overlords have developed and mastered this parasitical bureaucratic system. The Indian state thus is not a democratic state but the state governed by the “semi-barbarian, semi-civilized communities” [5], these caste-communities which manifest themselves as clan systems which create the structures of extreme hierarchy and the ideology of rank worship.

What I have said a number of times which I have highlighted as central to my Why We Are Not Hindus is that the totem of purity and the taboo of pollution rule the ideological guidelines of caste, while economic and cultural stagnation are its two main pillars. One follows Ambedkar in outlining the two principles of graded inequality and division of labourers as central to the mechanism of caste. In the principle of graded inequality various labouring-subaltern castes are unable to recognize their exploiter, but are themselves graded within themselves unequally. And in the principle of division of labourers, there is a marked internal division based on the ideology of caste-hierarchy. While the Left has almost not touched thes understanding of caste, it is the liberals that saw caste as a progressive structure—Gandhi and Nehru were the chief proponents of this worldview. Not only did they recognize this fact, they perfected this. And this is precisely why Ambedkar saw the Congress as the most reactionary party which perfected these principles of graded inequality and division of labourers.

But caste as an apartheid system is also to be understood as racism, albeit of the South Asian variety, where the upper castes are not merely understood as being of higher biological stock and the lower ones considered as inferior, but actually cultivated as inferior. There is an actual everyday cultivation of making caste identities. When I am talking of casteism as a form of South Asian racism, I am also calling this “schizophrenic racism” where ranking in terms of “high” and “low”, “pure” and “impure” forms its ontological basis. The tragic element is that even the lower castes imitate this model and imagine that they belong to a superior stock.

Fascism has perfected this politics of race superiority. What fascism has always wanted was to transform India into an ethno-religious racist state. Savarkar, Godse and Golwalkar based their right-wing politics of Hindutva—or making Indian into a Hindu Nation—on the idea of race and racial superiority. But this does not mean that Gandhi and Nehru were free from this blame. True they were not fascists. They did not want to exterminate Muslims. But for them too this bourgeois European idea of “race” was sketched deep in their ideological cranium.

For Nehru caste was a type of “joint family”. [6] Unlike Ambedkar who in his Castes in India saw caste as an “enclosed class” [7], Nehru understood caste as “an all-inclusive order without any common dogma and allowing the fullest latitude to each group”. [8] The romanticism of caste by the Indian liberals made them completely blind to an oppressive system. For Nehru caste was not seen as an apartheid system but as “trade unions or craft-guilds” governed by a “strong sense of solidarity” [9]. The figures to lead India to freedom from British rule would the figures that refused to see caste as an oppressive organization. While Nehru was proud of his “distinctive Aryan features”, [10] Gandhi was a:

...cross between a Jain-infected Hindu orthodoxy and late Victorian psychomancy, the world of Madame Blavatsky, Theosophy, planchette and the Esoteric Christian Union. The two were not connected as garbled ideas from the former—karma, reincarnation, ascetic self-perfection, fusion of the soul with the divine—found occult form in the latter. Little acquainted with the Hindu canon itself in his early years, Gandhi reshaped it through the medium of Western spiritualisms of the period. His one aim in life, he decided, was to attain moksha: that state of perfection in which the cycle of rebirth comes to an end and the soul accedes to ultimate union with God. ‘I am striving for the Kingdom of Heaven, which is moksha,’ he wrote, ‘in this very existence.’ The path towards it was ‘crucifixion of the flesh’, without which it was impossible to ‘see God face to face’ and become one with him. But if such perfection could be attained, the divine would walk on earth, for ‘there is no point in trying to know the difference between a perfect man and God.’ Then there would be no limit to his command of his countrymen: ‘When I am a perfect being, I have simply to say the word and the nation will listen.’ Crucifixion of the flesh, in this conception, meant far more than the vegetarian prohibitions prescribed by his caste background. Not in food, but sex lay the overriding danger to liberation of the soul. The violence of Gandhi’s revulsion against carnal intercourse of any kind mingled Christian fears of sin with Hindu phobias of pollution. Celibacy was not just a duty for the dedicated few. It was enjoined on all who would truly serve their country. ‘A man who is unchaste loses stamina, becomes emasculated and cowardly. He whose mind is given over to animal passions is not capable of any great effort.’ If a married couple gratified these, it was still ‘an animal indulgence’ that, ‘except for perpetuating the race, is strictly prohibited’. At the height of political mobilization, in 1920, even conjugal union was impermissible: all Indians must forgo sexual relations, as ‘a temporary necessity in the present stage of national evolution’. Complete continence—brahmacharya—was of such transcendent importance that an involuntary ejaculation at the age of 65 was matter for an anguished public communiqué. At 77, testing himself by sleeping nude with his great-niece, he wrote: ‘Even if only one brahmachari of my conception comes into being, the world will be redeemed.’ If his conception were to be universally adopted, the logical result would be ‘not extinction of the human species, but the transference of it to a higher plane’. [11]

If Gandhi had his theosophical fetishes, Nehru too was schooled in the theosophical way. Anne Besant herself performed the ceremony of initiation for the young teenaged Nehru. [12] This was not a passing phase. Consider this:

I dreamt of astral bodies and imagined myself flying vast distances. This dream of flying high up in the air (without any appliance) has indeed been a frequent one throughout my life; and sometimes it has been vivid and realistic and the countryside seemed to lie underneath me in a vast panorama. [13]

Nehru continues, “I do not know how the modern interpreters of dreams, Freud and others, would interpret this dream.” [14] One way to interpret Nehru’s dream is to see how he was literally fleeing from real life. The reality is caste and the Asiatic mode of production. The dream is the fleeing from this reality and along with the theosophists flying in the skies. His disavowal of caste led him to two types of fantasies: one that caste is actually a trade union and second is the flying in the phantasmagorical air.

While studies on caste in India have a long history, the question as to why this terrible system led by the terrible despot is so internalized is never seriously questioned. For Marx, the question of the cultural and psychological part (and thus the ideological superstructure) was central for his analysis. His idea of the economic base determining the superstructure was not to be seen in a mechanical one way street.

We know that Engels in his 1890 letters to Josef Bloc and Conrad Schmidt, his 1893 letter to Frantz Mehring and his 1894 letter to W. Borgius talked of the dialectic of the base and the superstructure and the chided the economists (the economic reductionists) for their lack of dialectics. According to Engels:

. . . these gentlemen all lack dialectics. They always see only here cause, there effect. That this is a hollow abstraction, that such metaphysical opposition exist in the real world only during crisis, while the whole vast process goes on in the form of interaction—though of very unequal forces, the economic being by far the strongest, most primordial, most decisive—that hence everything is relative and nothing absolute—this they never begin to see. As far as they are concerned, Hegel never existed. [15]


 The reflection of economic relations as legal principle is necessarily a topsy-turvy one: it goes on without the person who is acting conscious of it . . . (They do not see that) everything is upside down [16]

So what is this upside down world, this world that is topsy-turvy, this inverted world? One must insist that one cannot read the above stated texts without understanding the logic of inversion and the critique of reification that Marx laid bare in his Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State. In this site we understand that this topsy-turvy world that Marx talks of is reification, a form of transfiguration where the real subject is made the predicate and vice versa. What this implies is that humanity is made a predicate for certain anti-humanist forces, like caste, class, private property and the state.

What one needs to do in the study of Caste Overlordship and the hegemony of the Caste Overlords is to relate this form of reification and dehumanization to the reification of consciousness that Lukács kept central to his History and Class Consciousness. Thus the question: “How is consciousness reified?” is related to the onset of neurosis and psychosis with the coming of capitalism. What late capitalism has done is that it has synthesized neurosis and psychosis as “neurosis-psychosis” and structured it as the fascist unconscious. In India, the liberals would never be able to take on fascism. And this is because of their obsession with Gandhi.

Is Gandhi India’s Oriental Despot? 

Why Gandhi has been celebrated by the elites from the Congress to the BJP and the Established Left has not been squarely understood. In this celebration of Gandhi, Ambedkar’s radical critique of Gandhi is completely forgotten. Now it is well known that Gandhi, famously known as the “Mahatma”, even the “father of the nation” not only justified the caste system saying that “the caste system has saved Hinduism from disintegration”. [17] He also once said that “all killing is not himsa [18] and he “alone can practice ahimsa who knows how to kill” [19]. The Mahatma went on: “You cannot teach ahimsa to a man who cannot kill. You cannot make a dumb man appreciate the beauty and the merit of silence” [20] and the “practice of ahimsa may even necessitate killing and that we as a nation have lost the true power of killing. It is clear”, so the Mahatma went on “that he who has lost the power to kill cannot practice non-killing. Ahimsa is a renunciation of the highest type.” [21]

Not only did Gandhi preach the strange, in fact very violent form of the metaphysics of ahimsa, he was clearly on the side of the propertied class. Consider him telling the landlords: “I shall be no party to dispossessing propertied classes of their private property without just cause... But supposing that there is an attempt unjustly to deprive you of your property, you will find me fighting on your side.” [22] So what do we see? We see that Gandhi was an unquestionable supporter of the zamindars and the entire unjust system of private property. As a supporter of the landlords and capitalists the “Mahatma” could take on any role possible, from being the interlocutor with the British colonial authorities to being the agent of the landlords and capitalists who would bargain with the proletariat:

I am working for the co-operation and co-ordination of capital and labour and of landlords and tenants....You may be sure that I shall throw the whole weight of my influence in preventing class war...No member will talk of expropriation or extinction of private property......That is the fundamental conception of Hinduism, which has years of penance and austerity at the back of the discovery of their truth. That is why whilst we had the saints who have burnt out their bodies and laid down their lives in order to explore the secrets of the soul, we have none as in the West who have laid down their lives in exploring the remotest or highest regions of earth. [23]

So how does Gandhi the alleged man with the “great soul” be revealed as Yusuf III? Was Gandhi just an incompetent irrationalist in the service of Nehru who used him to mobilize the masses, or was he an irrationalist in the service of imperialism? Was he then also a supporter of the Indian variation of apartheid, knowing that the caste system was the social life-force of both the political economy of India as well its cultural, religious and ideological superstructure? Then is he not, as Yusuf III, the horrible Caste Overlord and the Oriental Despot whose crimes would parallel that of the Georgian counterrevolutionary? Was the partition of the Indian subcontinent not a terrible crime and was not Gandhi also not a part of this terrible melodrama? Would not Goethe’s cry be also relevant for Gandhi? Should then we say:

Should this torture then torment us
Since it brings us greater pleasure?
Were not through the rule of Gandhi
ouls devoured without measure?

Then was Gandhi not like Timur and Stalin getting pleasure in tormenting torture? If Gandhi’s alleged tormenting torture of partition was notorious, so was his tormenting torturous views on caste. Note Gandhi’s strictures against Dalits getting knowledge, claiming that a Dalit is a “person without moral education, without sense, and without knowledge.” [24] Gandhi here mimes Manu for whom a Śūdra is one who has “committed evil acts”. [25]

But the most perverted form of the destruction of reason is found here:

I believe that interdining or intermarriage are not necessary for promoting national unity. That dining together creates friendship is contrary to experience. If this was true there would have been no war in Europe... Taking food is as dirty an act as answering the call of nature. The only difference is that after answering call of nature we get peace while after eating food we get discomfort. Just as we perform the act of answering the call of nature in seclusion so also the act of taking food must also be done in seclusion. [26]

Gandhi was not only an apologist for the caste system and the consequent perversion emanating thereon; he was also for the capitalist mode of production. On March 12, 1918 he wrote:

Let us consider what the workers are likely to gain by breaking their oath. These days, any honest person in India can earn twenty to twenty-five rupees a month by intelligent work. The worst that can happen to a worker is that his employees may dismiss him and he may have to look for other work. A thoughtful worker should realize that he will get work anywhere after a few day’s search. [27]


One of my correspondents suggests that we should abolish the caste [system] but adopt the class system of Europe—meaning thereby I suppose that the idea of heredity in caste should be rejected. I am inclined to think that the law of heredity is an eternal law and any attempt to alter the law must lead us, as it has before led, to utter confusion. I can see very great use in considering Brahman to be always a Brahman through his life. If he does not behave himself as a Brahmin, he will naturally cease to command the respect that is due to the real Brahman. [28]

What needs being done here is to recognize that caste is a combination of a reality that is determined by a notorious ideology and political economy, thus it has a material, social and ideological base. And it is here that one brings in caste consciousness as what Marx once called (in a different context) “estranged mind” [29], where this “Indian mind” is realized as “neurosis-psychosis”, a mental disease that was perfected by Gandhi. And it is this neurosis-psychosis that unleashed the “wild aimless, unbounded forces of destruction” [30].

I shall come to this rather strange combination of class, racism (as schizophrenic racism) and neurosis-psychosis that has given rise to both liberalism of Gandhi and Indian fascism. What I am saying is that caste combines both the sites of the economic base and the political and ideological superstructure of the reified-estranged mind. That is why I have brought in Marx’s problematic of alienation, reification and fetishism that deals with this Indian form of capitalism in India where caste and its accompanying schizophrenia is not only preserved, but actively reproduced, albeit in modern, capitalistic forms. In this sense one agrees totally with Ambedkar who said:

No matter what Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. [31]

The Democratization of the Oriental Despots

What modern democracy did in India was that it did not annihilate caste. Instead governed by the Caste Overlords, it made every Indian neurotic-psychotic. Let us look at a recent popular daily the Hindustan Times which reported a bizarre incident that happened in Punjab in the northern part of India in order to understand this strange disorder called “neurosis-psychosis”:

Nearly a week after an upper caste Jat Sikh farmer committed suicide on discovering that his bride’s mother was a Dalit, his younger brother threatened to take the extreme step too if the widow is married to him or any cousin living in their native Khai village of this district. So deep runs the upper-caste supremacy in the Malwa belt of rural Punjab that 22-year-old Manpreet Singh Brar’s younger brother, Kuldeep, 19, threatened to commit suicide if the family tried to solemnize the marriage of his brother’s widow with any of his cousins too. [32]

This seems more from the pages of Freud diaries on the rat man and the cases of Dora and little Hans. I am here bringing in the psychoanalytic concepts of neurosis and psychosis and then I am claiming that in late capitalism, neurosis (as the eternal recurrence of the self-same trauma) and psychosis (as the complete withdrawal from reality) reaches a new stage of “neurosis-psychosis”. In early capitalism neurosis and psychosis were separate phenomena. In late capitalism dictated by finance capitalism, we see a new stage of mental illness called “neurosis-psychosis”. Caste in this age of late capitalism perfects this strange phenomena called “neurosis-psychosis”. Like the neurotic return of the self-same trauma, caste is negated only to return once again. Marx’s celebrated statement that the Indian “self-sufficient communities that constantly reproduce themselves in the same form, and when accidentally destroyed, spring up again on the spot and with the same name” [33] is understood in this neurotic understanding of caste. There is certainly something wrong in the state of India and most certainly something wrong in the state of so-called “golden Indian civilization” if suicide replaces love, human reason and humanity. It is from this report that I shall put forth a scientific understanding of the caste question. In fact this above stated report on the neurotic-psychotic suicide event is not merely a journalist reporting on one isolated event. Instead one places it as what Alain Badiou calls the “Event”, not a messianic “Event”, but an “Event” of tragic proportions. Caste is thus an “Event” where everyday “events” take place. And when the “Event” is not completely erased, tragic “events” are bound to repeat themselves. We not only live through these tragic happenings. We experience them. They are bizarre, tragic and extremely avoidable. And yet we refuse to avoid them. We in fact pretend that caste does not exist. And when we do accept this tragic social structure that weighs like a nightmare on our brains and hearts, we refuse to accept this tragic character of Indian society. We remain both blind and deaf to this tragedy. We refuse to see it. We refuse to hear the cries of the oppressed. What happened in such circumstances is that the emergence of a radical humanism is rendered impossible and in the historical context the emergence of a radical bourgeois was suppressed that would challenge both colonialism and the Asiatic caste-clan system. What happened in such circumstances is that there was a stunting of the development of industrial capitalism. And along with this we found the stunting of the growth of the socialized proletariat. What one locates is the emergence of a very different kind of bourgeoisie in India from that of the emergence of the West European bourgeoisie, which did not have the “spirit of Protestant ethics”, as the guiding doctrine of the bourgeoisie, emerged as a new ideology to meet the needs of a new world of rising capitalism. Here privilege and status were replaced by the celebrated theory of social contract which served as the judicial foundation of society. Science not only replaced religion as the dominant factor in giving shape to social ideas, but also delegitimized religion.

India, on the other hand, legitimatized religion. True, democracy came to India, but it was the democracy of the Caste Despots. This is because every Indian wants to be this despot.

[1Anand Teltumbde, The Persistence of Caste (New Delhi: Navayana Press, 2010)

[2See Rosa Luxemburg, ‘The Accumulation of Capital—An Anti-Critique’, in Rosa Luxemburg and Nicolai Bukharin, Imperialism and the Accumulation of Capital, trans. Rudolf Wichmann (London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972), pp. 61-2, 77.

[3Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (Moscow: Progress Publishers), 1983, p. 19

[4Karl Marx, ‘To Frederick Engels, in London’ Manchester, June 6, 1853, in Marx. Engels. Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 80.

[5Karl Marx, ‘The British Rule in India’, in On Colonialism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 40.

[6Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (London: Meridian Books Ltd., 1946), pp. 206-212.

[7B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Castes in India, their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’’, in The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 253, 257.

[8Jawaharlal Nehru, op. cit., p. 207.


[10Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 13.

[11Perry Anderson, The Indian Ideology (Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective, 2012), p. 19.

[12Jawaharlal Nehru, op. cit., p. 15.



[15Frederick Engels, ‘To Conrad Schmidt in Berlin’, London, October 27, 1890, in Marx. Engels. Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 689.

[16Ibid., p. 687.

[17M.K. Gandhi, ‘The Caste System’ (1920) Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 19(Ahmedabad: The Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1966), p. 83. See also Perry Anderson, The Indian Ideology (Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective, 2012), p. 37, n. 40.

[18M.K. Gandhi, ‘Letter to Hanumantrao’, July 17, 1918, in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 14(Ahmedabad: The Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1965), p. 485.

[19M.K. Gandhi, ‘Speech at Ras’, June 26, 1918 in The Bombay Chronicle, July 2, 1918, in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 14, p. 454

[20M.K. Gandhi, ‘Letter to C.F. Andrews’ 23 June, 1918, in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 14, p. 444.

[21M.K. Gandhi, ‘Letter to Hanumantrao’, July 17, 1918, in ibid., p. 485

[22M.K. Gandhi, ‘Answers to Zamindars’ [25 July 1934], in The Penguin Gandhi Reader, ed. Rudrangshu Mukherjee (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 238.

[23Ibid., pp. 238-240.

[24M.K. Gandhi, The Bhagavad Gita (Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House, 2017), p. 3.

[25Dharmasutra, I, 1, 1, 4-8. Quoted in Maurice Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature, Vol. One, Introduction, Veda, Epics, Purānas and Tantras, trans. V. Srinivasa Sarma (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 1990), p. 60.

[26See B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Gandhism’ in The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 151.

[27M.K. Gandhi, ‘Ahmedabad Mill-hands’ Strike’, Leaflet, No. 12’, in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 14, p. 249.

[28M.K. Gandhi, ‘The Caste System’ (1920), in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 19 (Ahmedabad: The Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India:, 1966), p. 84.

[29Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), p. 129.

[30Karl Marx, ‘The British Rule in India’, in Marx. Engels. On Colonialism, p.41.

[31B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India (Bombay, 1946), p. 354.

[32Avtar Singh, ‘After Jat Sikh Kills Self upon Discovering Wife is Dalit, his Brother Refuses to Marry Her’ in Hindustan Times, June 3, 2017.

[33Karl Marx Capital, Vol. I, pp. 338-9.

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