By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Today, we remember Kanshiramji, the founder of Bahujan Samaj Party and a person who was responsible for seachange in the political perspective of the Dalits all over the country. At the time when Bahujan movement was on the periphery and the issues it raised never went beyond identity and that too of those who were articulative and politically powerful particularly hailing from urban areas and working in the organised government sector. Bahujan or Ambedkar for them remain their own identity issue and therefore the issues of the most marginalised could never reach them as most of the time they were busy presenting themsleves and acquiring the space. So, Dalit Bahujan identity became tool for acquiring space in power structure of political parties by the powerful individuals. Community identity was used to promote individual’s political interests.
It is not that Ambedkarite movement did not exists before Kanshiram. It was there and the work done by intellectuals like Bhagwan Das, L.R.Balley, V.T.Rajshekar, K.Jamnadas, and many other remained with Buddhists and Ambedkarite segments of the politically enlightened classes. While Baba Saheb Ambedkar fought for the water rights and his historic struggle for the land rights of Dalits in the villages was ignored by Ambedkarites. The problem of the broader Ambedkarite movement was that it changed one generation of people who passionately followed Baba Saheb Ambedkar and his Navayana. Their life changed but they could not go beyond their own communities and regions. The most marginalised remain outside the realm of these thoughts. Hence in Maharastra, Ambedkar became symbol of Mahar pride while in Uttar Pradesh it were Jatavs and Chamars who took Ambedkar to the nook and corners of the state.
However, Kanshiram’s advent in the politics changed a lot of things. First, I admired his ‘Ekla chalo’ politics. People were not important but the movement was. He was the first person, I would say, who a common person, actually felt one among them. He was like them. Amedkarites had made people feel as if Baba Saheb Ambedkar was always wearing ‘three pieces’ all the time and I have seen many Ambedkarite who would address public meeting in the rural hinterland in that way. Kanshiram changed that. First time, rural communities felt that this man is truly representing them. He was humorous many time and would speak bluntly about the issues. He was not goody goody as politics happened. He wanted activists to come up and take up the issues. Dalit politics was not ‘reserve’ for ‘retired’ civil servants. It was meant for those who work harder with the people. Many of his ‘advisers’ had thought of getting ‘plum positions’ and ‘rajya sabha’ seats when the party would come to power but Kanshiram felt the other way rounds. The experiment that he did in UP those days was to fill a sense of ownership of the party among the most marginalised communities. He extended the out reach of Bahujan Samaj Party beyond Chamars and Jatavs. The party created some of the most outstanding leaders from these castes who never got any representation anywhere, not even in the Panchayats. Communities like Nishads, Gadariyas, Rajbhars, Pasis, Kumhars, Chauhans etc were among those who got benefit and many leaders emerged from these segments and most of them came from the grassroots, who were carrying the flag of Ambedkarism in their respective areas.
Alas, today, these things are not there. The slogan has changed. People are feeling helpless.There is a gap. Kanshiram never lived like a Maharaja as that was not his trait. He could not have shed his common man’s identity when any grassroots worker could approach him. All that is changed. There is a crisis. The importance of Kanshiram is not just with BSP for whom he is USP but for all those in Dalit Bahujan movement. While the ideology of this movement is essentially of Dr Ambedkar, Kanshiram’s pragmatic approach could serve as ideal path.
It would be better we reach the most marginalised Dalits and Bahujans. It is important to make them feel that we care for them. It is important to take Ambedkar to those who are ‘others’ and not convert him to a caste hero and never succumb to the temptation of getting ‘acknowledged’ by others. And remember we can not take Ambedkar to them just by preaching but raising their issues and participating in struggles. A Bahujan movement without launching a struggle of basic issues of the common people will not succeed as a majority of our population lives in villages who have been deprived the basic amenities of life. They suffer in humiliation and caste violence continue to hurt Dalit interest.
In Uttar Pradesh situation is difficult and many people feel that Dalit OBCs can never unite due to the individual egos of their leaders but the facts are different. Dalit and OBCs have common interests and for that we need to combine most marginalised OBCs and poor among the power elite to ally with the Dalits. It is a reality that at the moment the violence against Dalits is coming from all powerful agrarian communities and we have to realise it that unless there is a complete land reform, it would not be possible to bring egalitarianism in the society. Declass the OBC movement too and bring the poor among them to the Dalit movement and so with Psmanda Muslims. Mere caste identities will never bring these different segments of society and hence a fight against feudal agrarian system is essential for undoing the historic wrong.
Kansiram created a movement and did not go anywhere else to get ‘acknowledgment’. It is time, we follow his understanding to build up the movement. Important is that people’s movement need young voices and women’s representation. It is equally important to bring diverse sections of people as Kanshiramji did initially by picking up committed people into the movement. We can not feel orphaned if our leaders dont work. We have to make them feel that they are being monitored and we must chart our own path. It is important we understand that people have been left to fetch themselves and in the Parliamentary democracy the politics is just manipulations of identities which has always worked against Dalit interests. It is time we understand it. The challenges before us are much bigger when the religious rightwing ares dominating the political discourse, it is time to build up alliances with all the like minded people particularly those who are in the people’s struggle. The brahmanical threat to Dalit Bahujan movement is the biggest challenge today and it could be met with stiff resistance of ideological perceptions of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar and pragmatic ways of strengthening people’s movement through participation and listening to them like Kanshiramji started in the early phase of BAMSCEF and DS-4.
Understand Kanshiram’s mantra that key to power come from the poor and they are vast and we need to change our perceptions and strengthen their struggle and leadership. We can not ask people to sacrifice their lives for ‘leaders’. Those time have gone. Give space as you want elsewhere and provide a healing touch to people where community leaders have not yet reached. Please dont teach them, just reach them and listen to them. if you dont reach them, the brahmanical elite is ready to barge in and provide that space and that would be the saddest day that a well built movement which has a dimension to provide hope and aspiration to millions of people all over the country