Forward Thinking

Without Phule’s compass and Ambedkar’s map there is little hope of even a political engagement, let alone an emancipatory cultural revolution from the bottom up

April is a very special month for FORWARD Press. If we could have chosen the moment of its birth, it would have been April 2009, on the eve of the General Election and, more importantly, in the auspicious month that marks the birth anniversaries of Bahujan Bharat’s greatest modern icons, Phule and Ambedkar. However, the powers that be, mainly governmental, ordained otherwise. Regardless, we prefer to celebrate FP’s anniversary in April, around the jayantis of both the first modern Mahatma and Doctor-saheb. This year marks FP’s sixth anniversary.

Phule and Ambedkar on the cover of the April 2015 issue

What I had written in my March 2013 editorial holds even more true today, after the steamroller majority of the Modi-led BJP with its Bahujan NDA allies: “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.”

In our post-poll (July 2014) Cover Story, Prem Kumar Mani had written, “The natural ideology of Bahujans is that of Phule and Ambedkar. … If it [the BJP] rises above the ideology of Savarkar-Hedgewar and associates itself with the Phule-Ambedkarite ideology, that will not only benefit it but also the nation.” A bird on the windowsill tweeted to us that Modi read the whole piece with great interest and only disagreed with this conclusion! Clearly Phule-Ambedkar philosophy is the deal-maker or – breaker; that is as it should be.

With this month’s Cover Story we welcome back one of FP’s original contributors, Braj Ranjan Mani, author of the groundbreaking Debrahmanising History (2005, 2015) and Knowledge and Power: A Discourse for Transformation (2014). In excerpts from an undelivered speech, he writes, “Critical empowerment will elude the Dalitbahujans unless they reconstruct the emancipatory ideology of Phule and Ambedkar. … The cultural revolution that Phule and Ambedkar initiated, remained not only incomplete but was also ignored or distorted in the dominant discourse.”

Guided by the Phule-Ambedkar compass and map and inspired by Birsa Munda, Dalits and Adivasis have been protesting against the current government’s policies, particularly on the much-abused SC and ST sub-plans relating to education, and the amended Land Bill. Our Photo-feature and Brief News focus on both underreported Bahujan protests against the betrayals of Bahujan interests by the Budget and anti-people bill.

By contrast the OBCs seem to be asleep to the judiciary’s chipping away at their reservations rights. While we do not disagree with the core of the judgment, striking down the UPA’s eleventh-hour grant of OBC status to Jats, the apex court’s peripheral but loaded comments are worrying. Their end objective seems to be dismantling caste-based reservations for OBCs. First, there was the arbitrary 50 per cent cap on all reservations (1963, 1992). Then, the SC skimmed the “creamy layer” off the OBCs (1992). More recently, the transgenders were accommodated on the OBC list (2014). Now, the SC judgment reaffirmed that although caste may be a prominent and distinguishing factor for easy determination of backwardness of a social group, such identification based solely on caste has been routinely discouraged by the Supreme Court.

All this seems to add up to the gradually widening edge of the wedge. Which party or parties is/are going to grasp the nettle thrown down by the imperious unrepresentative SC? Will this require a Mandal 3.0 to rectify? Could the next General Election be fought around this issue? Will OBCs and their leaders wake up in time?

Without Phule’s compass and Ambedkar’s map there is little hope of even a political engagement, let alone an emancipatory cultural revolution from the bottom up.

Until next month … Truthfully,               

Ivan Kostka

Published in the April 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine

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