Urmilesh: ‘OBCs in the Hindi belt lack a structured and coherent leadership’

Let alone the OBCs, even the Dalits are devoid of political leadership now. After Kanshi Ram, Dalits have had no political leadership worth its name, says senior journalist Urmilesh

Ghazipur Mein Christopher Caudwell, written by senior journalist and commentator Urmilesh, has been in the news. The book, in which Urmilesh has shared his reminiscences, is notable for its eminently readable comments on contemporary issues, ranging from how Dalitbahujans are treated in the institutions of higher learning to the two-faced literary world. He puts the leftists in the dock and raises pointed questions on the socialists. In an interview with Nawal Kishore Kumar, Hindi Editor, Forward Press, Urmilesh talks about the book and more. Excerpts:

You say in your book that even institutions like the JNU are not free from casteist discrimination and that you too were its victim. At the time, did the political parties and backward caste or Dalit leaders intervene in such situations?  

I remember no such instance. As far as I can remember, they did speak up if any student or group of students from South India faced any injustice or were wronged. Once in a while, some Dalit leaders also intervened. But I cannot recall any intervention on the part of the OBC leaders. When I was a student, the recommendations of the Mandal Commission were yet to be implemented. 

What were the commonalities and the difference between Namvar Singh, Kedarnath Singh and Manager Pandey as teachers? 

They were three different persons and three different personalities. There is no doubt that among them, Namvar Singh was the most knowledgeable. He was an excellent teacher, too. But his beliefs and thinking did not match his actions. He did not practise what he preached. He had studied Marxist philosophy but he was not a Marxist by any means. 

Kedarnath Singh had a poet’s heart. Some of his poems are matchless. But he was not an intellectual or a thinker. I saw him as a person of a poetic bent of mind who could have been working in any department. Dr Manager Pandey, at the time, was “mini Namvar Singh”. He read a lot and was OK as a teacher. He was a good research supervisor. But like Namvar Singh, he, too, did not walk the talk. 

It is not that only Namvar ji or Manager ji had this shortcoming. This is the problem with most of the “progressive intellectuals” of the Hindi belt. They are not even able to “de-class” themselves. Of course, to “de-caste” oneself in Indian society is a formidable challenge.  

You have written that Namvar ji harmed you in more ways than one. Did his attitude change after you became a journalist and in a sense proved your worth? Did you get to meet Namvar Singh ji later? If yes, was his behaviour different?  

Yes, I did meet Namvar ji on many occasions. We also shared the dais at a programme at Nagpur University. That was probably in 1993-94. It was a commemoration event for Rahul Sankrityayan. In his presidential address, Namvar ji profusely praised my speech and described me as his “able disciple”. That speech was broadcast on radio and if I am not wrong, it was also published in Pahal or some other similar magazine. At the time, I was working for the Navbharat Times and a book of mine on Rahul Sankrityayan had just been published or was under publication. One of the chief organizers of that programme, senior journalist Prakash Chandrayan ji, still lives in Nagpur. We met at another programme in Patna in which my book was released. The book was published by the Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad. Besides Namvar ji, Kamala Sankrityayan ji was also present. It was the Parishad’s decision to invite Namvar ji.

Senior journalist Urmilesh

In 2013, Samyantar had published an article of mine centred on Namvar ji – on my reminiscences about him. Even after that, we met twice or thrice but we did not talk much. When Namvar ji passed away, I attended his funeral. I never harboured any ill will or disrespect for him. But I had this one complaint – why the chasm between what he said and he did? Why was he so dishonest intellectually and so compromising in practice? 

You say that Rajendra Yadav ji should be viewed and understood in two different phases – the pre-1980 Rajendra Yadav and the post-1980 Rajendra Yadav. Do you find him any different from other writers of the Nai Kahani movement? 

I have answered this question in detail in one of the chapters of my book.

At one place, you have written that Rajendra Yadav ji was influenced by Western literature. Was he also influenced by the changes taking place in Indian society, especially the growing awareness among the Backwards and the Dalits? In your view, were his writings left-leaning or socialist? Or none?

I have talked about the two forms of Rajendra ji or rather the two phases of his life. Of the two, the second phase attracts me more – Rajendra Yadav as the editor of Hans. He did great work in this phase of his life. His editorials and articles addressed the major issues confronting the people, the country and our society. Every writer is entitled to his ideology. But how far away from or close to his ideology his writings are does not decide his readability. It is his proximity to the people and society that determines how much he is read or not read.   

Urmilesh’s new book ‘Ghazipur Mein Christopher Caudwell’

When you joined journalism, the process of implementation of the Mandal Commission report had just begun. What were the kinds of debates in newsrooms those days? And what was the attitude of the newspapers?   

No, I entered journalism 10 years before even a single recommendation of the Mandal Commission was accepted. I was in journalism when the report was implemented. Like today, at the time, too, there was strong opposition in newspapers to reservations and affirmative action. Let alone newspapers, the entire media, with a few exceptions, was and is anti-reservations. 

How do you view OBC literature? Do you think that like Dalit and Adivasi literatures, OBC literature, too, will create space for itself? 

In literature, writings and journalism, these kinds of categorizations, adjectives are employed to identify specific movements or campaigns. I am a journalist and a writer. I am not a protester or a campaigner. So, I don’t find categorizations or adjectives like OBC literature or OBC writings meaningful or relevant. Dalit literature had a specific context. I can’t see any such context vis-à-vis OBC literature.  

You have been following OBC politicians for a long time. Do you find any difference between the political leaders of the past and those of the present as far as issues related to OBCs are concerned? 

Let alone the OBCs, even the Dalits are devoid of political leadership now. After Kanshi Ram, Dalits have had no political leadership worth its name. The OBCs lack a structured and coherent leadership in the Hindi belt.

It is being said that the upper OBC castes have been the biggest beneficiaries of reservations. What have you to say on this against the backdrop of the problems you faced in getting jobs in universities and your experience in journalism?

This is being done to turn the people’s attention away from the basic principles of social justice, equality and goodwill. The Dalits, OBCs and other deprived groups will have to wage a long struggle for securing justice and their due share.   

(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)

The titles from Forward Press Books are also available on Kindle and these e-books cost less than their print versions. Browse and buy:

The Case for Bahujan Literature

Mahishasur: A people’s hero

Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

Mahishasur: Mithak wa Paramparayen

The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

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

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