Forward Thinking, March 2013

Kanshi Ram, to whom this special issue of FORWARD Press is dedicated, took up the Phule-Ambedkar compass and map and began to negotiate the treacherous swamps of India’s power politics. He was the Bahujan leader who constantly lived and worked on the tightrope between principle and compromise

My wife and I recently saw Stephen Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln, which leads the pack of Hollywood movies for Oscar nominations (12). By the time you read this we will know (if you care at all) how many Oscars it actually won. Regardless, it has my vote. I came away thinking India needs biopics like that, based on slices from the lives of Bahujan greats like Phule and Ambedkar.

In the film, Lincoln reminds us that statecraft requires an attention to both principle and compromise. Principle without compromise is lame; compromise without principle is blind. There is a reference in one scene that two politicians can share the same compass – in that case, the ultimate abolition of slavery – but it is only the one who uses a map as well that will get there. Reflecting on this, I realized that, in the modern period, Phule provided the Bahujans a compass – pointing ultimately to the overthrow of brahmanical slavery. Ambedkar used that compass and began mapping the Dalitbahujan oppressive realities and charting escape routes.

Kanshi Ram, to whom this special issue of FORWARD Press is dedicated, took up the Phule-Ambedkar compass and map and began to negotiate the treacherous swamps of India’s power politics. He was the Bahujan leader who constantly lived and worked on the tightrope between principle and compromise. How successfully he managed that is for you, dear reader, to evaluate. To help you do that, FP offers two perspectives: The first by Professor Vivek Kumar, who is returning to our pages after a long break. His is an academically appreciative assessment of ‘Manyawar’ Kanshi Ram as the Great Mobilizer and Organizer. Our regular contributor Vishal Mangalwadi, who worked closely with Kanshi Ram in the early days, returns from a short break to raise the question on whether ‘Sahab’ was a “failed messiah”.
To round off this FP ‘Kanshi Ram Special Issue’ we have a photo-feature of a team of Bahujan activists, following in Kanshi Ram’s bicycle path, pedalling 2500km to reach Kanshi Ram Sahab’s birthplace, Ropar in Punjab, by his anniversary on 15 March. Our regular contributor Kanwal Bharati reviews a book which has compiled a selection of Kanshi Ram’s editorials. From Vivek Kumar’s article we learn the major role Kanshi Ram played in launching and multiplying several Bahujan periodicals.
One of the main reasons, Mangalwadi suggests that Kanshi Ram ultimately “failed” is that “He could not offer a realistic solution for India’s deep social problems, because he did not care to think about serious philosophical and spiritual issues raised by our social reality”. I am
especially pleased that our regular JAN VIKALP columnist Prem Kumar Mani has not shied away from asking the deeper philosophical and spiritual questions raised by the pervasive corruption in Indian society – ours and theirs. This analysis is worthy of the path blazed by Phule and Ambedkar intellectually, morally and, dare I say, spiritually.
Until Bahujans – leaders and followers – embrace the Phule-Ambedkar compass and map we do not have a chance of reaching that Promised Land the Constitution points to, where all Indians enjoy liberty, equality and fraternity. Just seizing political power, whether in the largest state or at the Centre is worthless unless we keep both Phule’s compass and Ambedkar’s map. Only then shall we attain to “that day” that Phule dreamed of and prayed for.

Published in the March 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine

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