Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his former cabinet colleague Rajendra Pal Gautam have been caught up in a controversy. It is being said that Kejriwal, bowing to pressure mounted by the the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), forced Gautam to resign. Congress leader Udit Raj spoke to FORWARD Press on the entire episode.
Rajendra Pal Gautam took the 22 vows of Ambedkar on 5 October 2022. Later, he was forced to resign. How do you see this development?
Had Gautam been asked to resign or had Kejriwal dropped him, I would have conceded that he stood by the 22 vows of Ambedkar. But he has resigned saying that he is doing so for the sake of his leader’s image. Also, for the past two years he has been claiming that he is running a Jai Bhim Mission. But he could not defend what he was doing. When the media and the BJP people objected to his vows, he cowered down and said he had just attended the programme, where in truth, the programme was hosted by the organization which he claims he runs. Gautam should have stood his ground. He should have boldly said, “Yes, I have taken the vows, and along with thousands of others I have also vowed to quit Hinduism.”
And then, when the BJP accosted him saying he had hurt the Hindus’ sentiments by taking the vows, he readily offered a public apology – admitting indirectly that what the BJP-RSS had alleged was right. If he is an Ambedkarite, as he claims, he should not have apologized. I am saddened that he has apologized. An Ambedkarite should have owned up to taking the vows.
I had organized a similar programme on 4 November 2001. Ten to twelve thousand cops were deployed by the authorities. The borders of Delhi were sealed, and the IB [Intelligence Bureau] tried to stop people in different parts of the country from travelling to Delhi for the programme. The permission for holding the event at the Ramlila Maidan was withdrawn. I had to go underground as my life was under threat. The RSS-BJP workers warned the Daryaganj police, under whose jurisdiction Ramleele Maidan falls, that if the Diksha programme is held there, they will attack the venue. A local SP – I can’t recall his name – told me that there will be violence if the programme is held. I replied that I am ready to give him in writing that if I am killed or if any of our people are injured, we won’t lodge any complaint.
Despite all the troubles, we went ahead with the programme. So, if Rajendra Pal Gautam has taken Dhamma Diksha he should have said so, and stood by what he did. He wants to become a hero by playing the victim. He did nothing for the 22 vows of Ambedkar. Whatever he did, he did merely to protect the image of his leader, Kejriwal.
What have you to say about the ruckus kicked up by members of the BJP?
The BJP loves Ambedkar’s photos, and hates his thinking. This is the approach of everyone, Kejriwal included. At least Kejriwal should declare his motive behind using Ambedkar’s photograph, before putting it up anywhere.
Are you saying that Kejriwal put pressure on Gautam to resign?
Definitely, he must have pressured Gautam. But Gautam should not have yielded. A true Ambedkarite should have said to Kejriwal, “You are the chief of the government. If you want to dismiss me, go ahead and do it. But I will not resign.”
You talked about a Diksha programme you had organized in 2001. What was your chief objective?
I couldn’t achieve my main objective with the programme. Around 10 lakh people took Diksha at the event, but I was not satisfied. I wanted to put an end to caste in politics. But instead, the poison of caste and subcaste seeped deeper and further. They still went on with their old ways – Ramvilas Paswan is a Paswan, Bangaru Laxman is from the caste of sanitation workers – they divided and subdivided people into castes and sub-castes and ruined everything. My main objective was to dismantle caste – to build a casteless society. But what happened was just the opposite. The Bahujan movement divided the Dalits into castes and subcastes. That is why I say that the Bahujan movement only accentuated the caste system among the Dalits. It triggered an unseemly race. If I mobilize the people of my caste, I can become an MP or an MLA. That idea was of dismantling caste but it translated into every caste following leaders of their own castes.
So, you are saying that casteism has increased among the Dalits?
Of course it has. There is horrific casteism among the Dalits. For instance, there are scores of subcastes of the Teli caste. But if they feel they can get some advantage because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they back him. If there is a Chamar leader, the non-Chamar Dalits will not support him. They don’t see the larger picture. They just see caste. If there is a Pasi leader, the Chamars will be interested only in his caste, not in what benefits he can secure for them. They love only their castes. They don’t love progress, humanity and prosperity.
You have talked about a problem afflicting the Dalits. Do you have any action plan to solve it?
Breaking the caste system is very, very difficult. Some organizations assail Brahmanism day in and day out. Let them introspect. Let them ask themselves whether the Savarnas are more casteist or we Dalits are more casteist. Let them first eliminate casteism from their own communities. They don’t want Dalits to cast off their caste identity but the Brahmins, Thakurs and Rajputs should. How is that possible?
Of late, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has turned very vocal on caste. Why, in your view, is he doing this?
I have already answered this. Mohan Bhagwat asks you to forget your caste. Great, we will do that. But first establish roti-beti (inter-dining and inter-marriage) relations with us. Let him launch a movement for it. Only then caste will disappear. Why doesn’t he do that? Bhagwat says that caste belongs to the bygone era. I concede that. But caste will disappear only when the RSS and the BJP give a call to the Hindus to marry into Dalit families and dine with them. But I know they won’t do any such thing. They only want votes. When they say forget caste, they want us to forget it only before the elections.
But why are they saying these things? Do they feel that the BJP may take a hit in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
Yes. The RSS is working incessantly to ensure that the BJP does not suffer in any way. RSS is the mother of the BJP, and a mother will help her child. The RSS will continue to mobilize votes for the BJP by threatening, cajoling and fooling people, whichever is required.
Does the Congress have plans to do something new in this regard?
Bharat Jodo Yatra is one such project. We are talking about employment, inflation and poverty. We are talking about uniting the country, about ending hate. Let everyone join in.
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)