It is believed that Dalit politics is synonymous with social concerns. The same is said to be true of the politics rooted in Marxist ideology. What is tragic, however, is that Dalit politics, which rode to power on social concerns, abandoned these concerns, leading to its downfall.
The history of Dalit politics is not very old. But it is not in its infancy either and has seen many ups and downs. From Dr Ambedkar to Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, it has weathered many storms. It is also a bitter truth that barring Dr Ambedkar, all the other Dalit leaders have done only politics in the name of Dalits. They have nothing for their people, their objective being to somehow secure a place for themselves in non-Dalit politics.
Dr Ambedkar’s politics was driven by a keen desire to bring about social change. But today’s Dalit leaders have very shrewdly popularized the idea that being in power will resolve all the problems of the Dalits and so the attainment of power should be the goal of Dalit politics. Dalit leaders’ lust for power has shocked Dalit intellectuals who desire to bring about root-and-branch societal change.
The Republican Party of India (RPI), founded by Dr Ambedkar, produced many stalwarts who shook the Congress, the biggest political party of the time. But the Dalits were stunned when these leaders switched their loyalties to the Congress, which became their tomb. We all have seen the dreams of transforming society being given a quiet burial.
Babu Kanshi Ram, who later came to be addressed as Saheb Kanshi Ram and Manyawar Kanshi Ram, was the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But the BSP today manifests an ideological degradation. Social transformation did figure in the agenda of the All India Backward and Minority Community Employees Federation (BAMCEF). But once the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) came into being, the intellectuals who joined Babu Kanshi Ram seeking to address social concerns were shown the door. The BAMCEF aimed at bringing Dalit and Backward Classes employees on a common platform. However, this organization was primarily Dalit and that was also true of the BSP, which came into existence subsequently. The slogans coined by the DS4 amply indicated that social concerns, which were the driving force of Dr Ambedkar, were being abandoned.
Once, when Kanshi Ram visited my city, he was asked whether he would embrace Buddhism. He replied that he would do so only when he has lakhs of followers. That day never came. The party did form its government in Uttar Pradesh but its effort to address social concerns was limited to building Ambedkar Parks and erecting Ambedkar’s statues. The compulsions of power politics led to social issues being put on the back burner. They were dumped in a corner, uncared for and unwanted.
After Kanshi Ram, came the era of Mayawati. Social concerns were still ignored. The Dalits never got what they were promised. Political give-and-take left the government with little time to think about the problems of the Dalits. The Dalits, who had great hopes from these leaders, were dejected and disappointed and again looked to the Congress party for help.
Needless to say, leaders sow their crops in the field of power. The ordinary folk, keen to free society of all evils, are in solidarity with them. And then, suddenly, these folk find that their leaders have performed the vanishing act.
I would like to end with a quote by Dr Ambedkar: “Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny and a reformer who defies society is a more courageous man than a politician who defies Government.”
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)