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Poona Pact: The advent of Chamcha Yug in Dalit politics

Kanshi Ram believed that by forcing Ambedkar to sign the Poona Pact on 24 September 1932, Gandhi pushed the Untouchables into the ‘Chamcha Yug’ (the era of stooges). Kanshi Ram’s only book, Chamcha Yug, dwells on the nature and the form of the post-Poona-Pact Dalit politics. Alakh Niranjan throws light on the significance of this book

Kanshi Ram’s Chamcha Yug: The manifesto of Ambedkarite politics 

The day 16 August 1932 holds special significance in the history of modern India. It was on this day that the British government announced the Communal Award for India. The Communal Award was a milestone in India’s Constitutional. It was an approval in principle to universal adult suffrage and communal representation in India. It officially recognized the Untouchables, who were already a distinct social, cultural and religious community, as a separate political grouping. Although Gandhi and the Congress strongly opposed the recognition of Untouchables as a community distinct from the Hindus, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald found the facts and the arguments presented by Dr Ambedkar at the Round Table Conference convincing and forceful enough to announce a separate electorate for the Untouchables. They were also to get the right of double vote.  

Gandhi corresponded with the British government for more than a month, pleading for the withdrawal of the decision, but nothing came of it. So, he began a fast-unto-death at Yerwada Jail in Poona (Pune) on 20 September 1932 to protest against the separate electorate and double-vote system. Tremendous pressure was brought to bear on Dr Ambedkar and ultimately, the Poona Pact was signed between him and representatives of the Hindus. Under the pact, the Depressed Classes (Untouchables) agreed to give up a separate electorate and the right to double vote. Thus, on 24 September 1932, the Dalits were deprived of the rights they had won on 16 August the same year. But their recognition as a community distinct from the Hindus continued. The Dalits were forced to elect candidates nominated by the Hindus instead of the candidates selected by them.  

Kanshi Ram

After Dr Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram was the only politician who changed the course of electoral politics in India. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that he founded managed to form its government in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh within just 11 years of its coming into existence. But this did not come about just because of the goodwill that he inspired. Kanshi Ram’s vision and masterly strategizing, his capacity to argue convincingly and lucidly also contributed to the spectacular success of the BSP. Kanshi Ram was not just a politician. He was also a thinker. Before entering the sociopolitical space through the BSP, he had studied in depth the social, political and economic situation in the country. He studied the works of Jotirao Phule, Periyar Ramsamy Naicker and Dr Ambedkar. He made his thinking actionable by floating social organizations like BAMCEF and DS4. In 1982, before forming the BSP, he wrote a book titled Chamcha Yug (the era of stooges). In the book, he outlined his future politics. Two years later, he formed the BSP.

Kanshi Ram’s book ‘Chamcha Yug’

Chamcha Yug was published on 24 September 1982 to mark 50 years of the Poona Pact. On that day, fifty years earlier, the Dalits were deprived of their right to choose their genuine representatives and instead an arrangement to foist representatives handpicked by the Hindus was unveiled. These representatives had no option but to work as instruments and stooges of the Hindus. Kanshi Ram believed that the Dalits were pushed into the era of the stooges on 24 September 1932. He organized programmes all over the country to mark the 50 years of Chamcha Yug, in which the Poona Pact was flayed and the Dalits and other exploited people were made aware of how the pact had wronged them. 

Kanshi Ram dedicated Chamcha Yug to Phule, Periyar and Dr Ambedkar. The book is divided into four sections and 17 chapters. The first and the second sections are about the struggles of great souls like Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar while the third section presents an analysis of the contemporary social and political situation. The fourth section is devoted to the ways and the means of waging the future struggle. Thus the book is about the past, the present and also the future. 

Divided into four chapters, the first section, “Introduction to Poona Pact”, systematically describes and analyzes the historical events from the beginning of the 20th century up to the day of the signing of the Poona Pact. It traces the changes that came about in the governance of the country with the arrival of the British and describes how Phule ensured the sprouting of natural human aspirations in the hearts of the Untouchables, who had voluntarily condemned themselves to serfdom. Democratization of India got a boost with the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1855. Initially, a large section of Congressmen were in favour of social reforms but the Congress dumped its social reform agenda in 1895 due to the stiff opposition from Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The Untouchables protested this decision of the Congress. In 1917, the Dalits held two huge public meetings in which they demanded representation in proportion to their population in legislatures, and other provisions. In 1920, the Untouchables got the leadership of a capable and farsighted Dr Ambedkar. It was due to the leadership qualities of Dr Ambedkar that the Untouchables were initially given a separate electorate and the right to double votes – both of which were snatched away from them by Gandhi. This section of the book has extensive material on the Poona Pact. The correspondence between Gandhi and the British government, published in the book, helps the reader understand the finer points of the issue. 

Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar: Kanshi Ram’s beacons

The second section, “Ambedkar’s thoughts on Poona Pact”, contains a detailed exposition of Dr Ambedkar’s views on the matter. Ambedkar was not in favour of the Pact but he had to give in to the tremendous pressure mounted on him. He put his signature to the pact with a heavy heart. Then, in the 1937 polls, the vicious propaganda unleashed by the Congress against him as part of a conspiracy saddened him even more. Ambedkar continued to denounce the pact till his last breath. In this section, Kanshi Ram quotes extensively from two books of Dr Ambedkar – What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables and State and the Minorities, which are helpful in understanding the implications of the Poona Pact. 

Kanshiram and his book ‘Chamcha Yug’

The third section of the book, “Chamcha Yug”, is very important. It begins with a quotation by Dr Ambedkar: “The joint electorate is from the point of the Hindus to use a familiar phrase a ‘Rotten Borough’ in which the Hindus get the right to nominate an untouchable to sIt nominally as a representative of the untouchables but really as a tool of the Hindus.” Based on this interpretation of Dr Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram claimed that joint electorates had pushed the former Dalits into Chamcha Yug and that the political leadership of the Dalits was nothing but a tool in the hands of the Hindus. Post Independence, the Hindus created stooges among the OBCs and the Muslims as well. Kanshi Ram has minutely analyzed the reasons for the Hindus’ vice-like grip on political power. 

In the fourth section, “Samadhan” (Solution), an outline for building the future on the basis of the experiences of the past has been laid out. It gives a detailed description of the endeavours of Dr Ambedkar. Kanshi Ram says that three books by Dr Ambedkar can show the path to the building of an egalitarian society: 1) Mr Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables 2) What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables and 3) State and the Minorities. In this section, Kanshi Ram has described the idea behind the formation of the BAMCEF and the principle of paying back to society. Kanshi Ram has given an outline of the short-term and long-term measures for ending the Chamcha Yug. 

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

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The Case for Bahujan Literature

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Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

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The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

Forward Thinking: Editorials, Essays, Etc (2009-16)

About The Author

Alakh Niranjan

Alakh Niranjan is a Dalit commentator who writes regularly for various newspapers and magazines. He is the author of 'Nahi Raha ki Koj mein: Dalit Chintak' (Penguin)

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