Continuing from the first instalment
After Rahul Gandhi launched his Bharat Jodo Yatra, I got a call from the All India Congress Committee (AICC) office in New Delhi, requesting me to join the Yatra. My reply was that I wouldn’t like to take part in the event alone; a couple of my associates would join me and Rahul Gandhi should meet our Other Backward Classes (OBC) delegation and make some concrete announcements. The response from the other end was positive and I began my preparations.
I discussed the matter with my associates and asked them whether we should join the Yatra. Many said that the Congress was a lesser evil and could be a viable alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Others opined that the two parties were two sides of the same coin. Some liked the idea of interacting with Rahul Gandhi as a delegation.
We did not want to become anyone’s followers but establish ourselves as an independent pressure group. We were clear that we represent the OBC Movement and those who seek our support should be ready to accept the minimum agenda of our movement. Only then can we say that we kept our self-respect intact and that we met the other party as equals.
Currently, all the OBC movements in the country have a single-point agenda – caste census. And caste census is not a device to serve the interests of the OBCs alone. It can be a powerful tool to bring about the annihilation of the caste system, which is blocking the development and advancement of the country. All left-wing and progressive forces agree that caste should be annihilated. But the problem is that we do not have caste-wise population figures.
Obviously, all left-wing and progressive elements, as well as the Phule-Ambedkarites, should have joined the Yatra. But the reality was just the opposite. It seems as if annihilation of caste is the sole responsibility of the OBC movement. Instead of shedding this misconception, the Left and other parties are keeping aloof from the agitation demanding a caste census.
During his Yatra, Rahul Gandhi did have a discussion with 10-15 OBC workers. Showering praises on the OBCs, he said, “The OBCs are the axis of the development of this nation. They are the productive class. They are not Shudras born of the feet of Brahma.” Further, he said, “Instead of talking with me about caste census, mount pressure on the present BJP government. And if it doesn’t concede the demand, then bring such a government that will count the OBCs, to power for the next 10 years.”
Be that as it may, we are no longer in a position to be satisfied with mere assurances. It may be mentioned here that during the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress, in its manifesto, did not promise that if voted to power, it would conduct a caste census. So, a mere verbal assurance from Rahul Gandhi won’t do. Meeting a celebrity for the sake of it is meaningless. As I said in the previous instalment of this article, in 1977, the OBCs joined hands with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-Janasangh to fight the Congress. It was due to this joint front that the Kalelkar and Mandal commissions became part of national discourse. Similarly, the OBC leaders joined hands with the ruling parties in 1989-90 and had the recommendations of the Mandal Commission implemented.
Parties like the Congress and the BJP again need the OBC vote bank and while forging alliances, they would have to prioritize caste census. But the current political scenario is quite different. The Shiv Sena has lost a large number of MPs and MLAs to the BJP and they have lent strength to their new party. That has weakened the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena is trying to regain political strength. Political strength, however, comes from social movements. As the OBC Movement is quite strong, the Shiv Sena has accommodated some OBC leaders in its camp on the assurance that they will be fielded as the party’s candidates in the assembly polls. However, the leaders who have joined the Shiv Sena seem to be forgetting that the Sena had nothing to do with the OBC Movement and also that it is this movement that has invested them with some worth, making the Sena woo them. The same is true of the Shiv Sena’s proposed alliance with Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). But here, too, it is not any ideological issue but dispute over sharing of seats that has emerged as the key hurdle. Ideological issues haven’t been the priority for either the OBC Movement or the VBA. The issue of caste census is missing from their mutual discussions.
Such groups should try to learn from the past. Those who understand politics say that Kanshi Ram forging an alliance with the RSS-BJP was a disastrous move. Had Kanshi Ram launched a cultural movement revolving around Sita, Shambook, Eklavya and Karna, today, Mayawati would not have been forced to chant the name of Ram and announce the construction of a temple dedicated to Parshuram.
If Prakash Ambedkar cements an alliance with the Shiv Sena solely on the basis of sharing of seats and keeps social, cultural and economic agenda for the annihilation of caste on the back-burner, the VBA would face the fate of the BSP. Notwithstanding humiliation at the hands of the BJP – a party of the Brahmin Peshwas – the Shiv Sena leaders have still been visiting the Ram Temple and are not ready to let go of Hindutva. To sum up, those doing the politics of the deprived communities should be clear about their objectives.
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)