Crisis Of Ambedkarites And Future Challenges
By Anand Teltumbde
22 April, 2011
Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at Ambedkar Habba, Spoorthi Dham, in Bangalore on 14 April 2011
At the outset let me thank the organizers for doing me this honour by inviting me to deliver the third Ambedkar memorial lecture on this auspicious day and on a theme which besides being foremost in the minds of people who are saddened to see the state of the Ambedkarite dalit movement is of vital importance to the revolutionary future of this country too. I have been variously speaking on the issues connected with this theme in discrete manner, interestingly much of it in the format of Ambedkar memorial lectures all over the country over the last two decades, but never before have I faced a challenge of speaking comprehensively and exclusively on the crises faced by the Ambedkarites. The challenge becomes acuter as it alludes to the crisis of Ambedkarism itself, which by its very mention rouses sentiments of people. I am pretty sure of it, through experience. Essentially the challenge for me is to be objective and still not be critical, direct and still not be accusative, precise and still not be hurting. I will try my best to meet this challenge. But should I appear failing, it may kindly be attributed to my overriding anxiety to see the movement of Dalits, whom I have been calling organic proletariat of this land, come on track the soonest.
I intend to break the topic into four logical parts. In the first, I would take stock of various types of Ambedkarites in vogue to underscore the point that this identity is reduced to its antithetical essence and has only contributed to confounding the existing confusion among masses. The second part would try to enumerate various crises faced by the Ambedkarites. I will try to list out possible causes of these crises in the third part. In the fourth and final part, we can discuss the challenges faced by Ambedkarites in a way to overcome the identified causes.
Let us then begin with who the Ambedkarites are.
Who are the Ambedkarites?
Ambedkarites and Ambedkarism have become a part of the popular dalit discourse and like many other popular terms do not have precise meaning. Even their usage in academics is mostly imprecise. Few people tried defining them with questionable success but even their output has been largely inconsequential to their popular usage. The usual retort from their users, when challenged, is that even other such terms, such as Gandhite and Lohiaite also do not have definition. Why then should one insist upon the definition of Ambedkarites? The innocuous sounding arguments embed volumes of behavioral data on the Ambedkarite Dalits. Dalits who could be expected to be suspicious of what exists in the larger society, hegemonized by the Hindu religion and culture; strangely appear to emulate everything of it, albeit with a claim of difference. If one asked why the Ambedkarites have to sing lengthy gathas in Pali, observe meaningless religious rituals and continue with the old customs, the retort comes that Hindus also do it. Indeed, if one looked at their behavior critically, one would find that their entire cultural life is patterned on what the Hindus did. While consciously they criticize Hindus, unconsciously they keep following them in each and everything. Even the current pseudo intellectual trends like dalit capitalism, dalit bourgeoisie, etc. can also be seen as mere aping the models in larger society. The shortest rejoinder one could offer to the protagonist of such behaviours is that you cannot simply afford to emulate your adversaries; you pave the way for your certain defeat once you accept playing the game of the enemy on his terms. I am using this term ‘enemy’ in spatial sense and not in a communitarian sense. This, I hope, should settle any possible argument connected with the matter.
Lets us take stock of all Ambedkarites in vogue in various fields.
Soon after getting disillusioned with the caste Hindus in the Mahad struggles in 1927, Babasaheb Ambedkar gave up his efforts towards bringing about social reforms in the Hindu society and had turned towards newly emerging opportunities in politics. He had formed two political parties, viz., the Independent Labour Party in 1936 and later in response to the increasing communal stances in politics, the Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) in 1942. At the fag end of his life, he conceived a different political formation to bring together all the non-communist progressive forces under a single banner styled as the Republican Party of India (RPI). Unfortunately he did not live longer to see it formed. In deference to his wishes, his followers dissolved the SCF and formed the RPI, which however failed to capture the idea of Babasaheb Ambedkar and became merely a new label to the old SCF. RPI, at the time of its foundation had wisely decided to have collective leadership through a presidium, because it realized there was no leader who could command confidence of all as did Ambedkar. But even this experiment could not last long and the RPI split. BC Kamble, one of the members of the presidium and an advocate by profession in Mumbai contended that Ambedkarism was only constitutionalism and only educated people like him could understand it. He denigrated the then senior leader Dadasaheb Gaikwad, calling him dhotarya (one who wore dhoti, the village attire) and accused him of enamoring the communists. RPI went on splitting thereafter, on the issue of what Ambedkarism was. Some young leaders early on saw no future for themselves in the RPI and went on to join the Congress purely for greener pastures, but not giving up their label ‘Ambedkarite’. Later, when the RPI under the leadership of Dadasaheb Gaikwad carried out a nationwide land satyahraha, the Congress was alarmed by the prowess of this radical expression of Dalits and consciously launched its cooptation strategy to contain it. One of the first to succumb to it was none other than Dadasaheb Gaikwad himself, who despite being conscious of this could not thwart it. He was made a Rajya Sabha member. The execution of this cooptation strategy was accomplished by the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Yashvantrao Chavhan.
By the late 1960s, when the entire world was in turmoil with various peoples’ movements, the Dalit youth in Mumbai, while reacting to the increasing incidence of caste atrocities, formed the Dalit Panthers, emulating the Black Panthers in the US. They tried to transcend caste and embrace all the socially oppressed and economically exploited people into ‘Dalits’ and spoke a militant language of transforming society. The sheer paradigm change it represented threatened the establishment and stunned the world. Before it could do anything significant, it split. One Raja Dhale raised an issue of Ambedkarism, accusing others of leaning towards Marxism, which he contended, Babasaheb Ambedkar opposed. His Ambedkarism was Buddhism. Dalit Panthers splintered and practically disappeared but sprouted soon in the form of the Bharatiya Dalit Panthers, with the likes of the late Arun Kamble and Ramdas Athwale leading it. Around the early 1980s, when the nostalgia of dalit masses for Babasaheb Ambedkar had reached its high point, Prakash Ambedkar, his grandson, appeared on the scene. He received good reception from Dalits on the basis of which he waged some good struggles based on economic issues concerning Dalits and other poor. Sharad Pawar, alarmed by the reemergence of the radical looking dalit movement, followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Yashavantrao Chavhan, who had successfully placated Gaikwad earlier, and picked up Ramdas Athwale to neutralize Prakash Ambedkar. He would thereafter play many games, the unity game being the infamous of all, through his stooge, Athawale, and completely decimate the dalit movement in Maharashtra.
The political movement of Dalits in Maharashtra today is reduced to numerous factions of RPI, Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, some factions of Dalit Panthers, and innumerable billboard organizations, which become active on the eve of elections to claim their share of political rent from the ruling classes. Needless to state, all of them swear by Ambedkarism and call themselves Ambedkarites. Their splintering from each other alludes to differences, not necessarily ideological, nonetheless they are inconsequential to this identity. One faction could ally with Congress, other with BJP, and still other with someone else, but they would all be Ambedkarites. The story is more or less same even for other states. The idea of Dalit Panthers inspired youth in many states to form their own Panthers. Gujarat, the neighboring state, saw a vibrant Panthers movement but it also was steamed out. In Karnataka, Dalit Sangharsh Samiti lived longer, carrying out many inspiring campaigns but could not survive the forces of internal fission and outside enticement. By far in the political arena, the only exception has been the Bahujan Samaj Party created by the late Kanshiram.
Kanshiram began it with Bamcef in Maharashtra, around the same time as the birth of the Dalit Panthers, mobilizing government employees belonging to Dalits, Adivasis, BC/OBCs and other religious minorities. For this forlorn lot, socially distanced from their own community but not accepted by others, Bamcef operated like a club, very apolitical and unthreatening. It maintained activity pace with periodical meetings, seminar and conferences at various levels and charged fees like any other club. It was ‘giving back to the society’, much lesser than five percent that the Ambedkar’s dictum demanded, in return for the job they got with community identity. Kanshiram, graduated to non-parliamentary politics by creating DS4, the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti and soon thereafter to formation of a political party for parliamentary politics. As Kanshiram averred, he had learnt how not to do politics from the RPI, he kept a unitary control of the BSP in his and his close confidant, Mayawati’s hands. There were no leaders of consequence in BSP to be wooed for larger gains by the ruling class parties. If anybody left the party for whatever reason, he would be soon reduced to a non-entity. The inherent danger of split was thus thwarted in this totalitarian design of the party structure itself. BSP, with a unique advantage of Dalit demography and history of erstwhile RPI-struggle clicked in Uttar Pradesh and emerged as a veritable political force. Although, it never projected itself overtly as the Ambedkarite party, its backbone was constituted by Dalits who saw it as one. Imperatively BSP had to maintain its dalit core by installing scores of Ambedkar statues, naming roads, colonies and institutions; creating Ambedkar parks and memorials, etc., for boosting the ego of Dalits.
Thus, the political arena is fraught with numerous factions, each one claiming following of some Dalit segment to the ruling class parties to extract political rent. BSP has styled itself differently, becoming the ruling class party itself. There are many Dalits who jumped off the RPI bandwagon and joined the ruling class parties obviously for their own enrichment, but they continue to be Ambedkarites. Many of them still swear by Ambedkarism with their convoluted arguments. As one Marathi dalit poet perceptively challenged these self seeking leaders, “vagalun bhimachya nava, tumhi pudhari hovun dawa” (exclude the name of Ambedkar, and show us how you become a leader), they know that without demonstrating allegiance to Ambedkar they cannot exist. Dalits belonging to a majority caste within the scheduled caste caste-cluster, irrespective of their party affiliation, excepting perhaps the communist parties, claim the identity of Ambedkarite, as though by natural rights.
Although political outfits have greater visibility because of their relative resource richness, there are numerous organizations afield that call themselves Ambedkarite. As described, the offshoots of the original Bamcef exist in factions and they carry on with the same worn out model but without undiminished zeal. They have in fact grown, if one goes by the geographical expanse of their conferences. For the last few years, at least one faction of them has been holding conferences abroad. They persist with the ideology of Kanshiram encapsulated in the formula ‘85 versus 15 percent’ and dream that one day they will vanquish the Brahmanical forces. The entire thrust is to reclaim the past cultural glory of the bahujans, which they accused Brahmans of having taken away by overpowering them with deceit. Many of the Bamcef factions have adopted a racist identity -Mulniwasi (the original inhabitant) for themselves. Ambedkar had rejected the racist theory behind varna or caste differentiation. However, that does not affect their claim to be Ambedkarite. These factions do not operate yet in mainstream political arena but have political ambition of overturning the tables on Brahmans. Their current phase, which has continued from at least early 1970s, is supposed to be the awakening phase. Once the Mulniwasis awaken to the fact that they have to regain their lost kingdom, they would come on to roads to wage the concluding battle and fell the fortress of Brahmins.
There are many Buddhist organizations, initially confined to Maharashtra but slowly spreading across the country, which are supposedly working for realizing Ambedkar’s dream of making India a Buddhist country, which also claim ‘Ambedkarite’ as their rightful identity. On the eve of his conversion to Buddhism, Ambedkar had formed Bharatiya Bouddha Mahasabha (BBM) (Buddhist Society of India) to manage the integrity of the neo-Buddhist community, which would come into being after his conversion and carry on the conversion work further. After his demise, his son Yashavantrao alias Bhaiyasaheb Ambedkar had become the president of this organization, which is headed currently by his widow, Meeratai Ambedkar, who had become its president after the death of her husband. BBM also suffered multiple splits and it is virtually difficult to know how many of them exist. Almost every town and city has multiple BBMs but without any connection with the central one. Besides, there are other Buddhist organizations with different labels. All of them however are Ambedkarites.
There is another organization, which was formed by Babasaheb Ambedkar—Samata Sainik Dal (SSD). During the Mahad satyagraha, people had organized a voluntary corps, Samaj Samata Dal to look after the security of the Mahad conference, which was transformed later into the SSD. The SSD was a formidable force to keep away mischievous elements from the dalit movement. After 1956, since one section of opinion literally upheld Ambedkar’s dictum that there was no need for Dalits to have agitational methods and they should focus on constitutional methods, SSD suffered erosion in importance and had almost disappeared. It was revived by many people many times and it exists as the poor version of its original self. There exist multiple SSDs, all claiming legacy of the old SSD. All of them of course are Ambedkarites.
Then there are numerous community organizations, (youth organizations, Mahila mandals, etc.) spread across the slums, hamlets and villages with varied names, which have set up Buddha viharas, erected statues, at places opened up libraries and boarding houses for students. To the extent most of them are tenuously connected with some or the other leader, they are also afflicted with factionalism. All of them however are Ambedkarites.
Thanks to reservations, Dalits constitute sizable proportion of the employment in the public domain (government-central, state, local self; PSUs, financial institutions and banks). While for some time these employees had been a part of the mainstream trade unions and officers’ associations, they progressively experienced that their issues did not fit in the latter and rather at times conflicted with their core interests. Therefore they began forming their own associations. Since there could not be caste based trade unions or associations, they took the form of ‘welfare associations’ in each organization. Some of them joined together and created larger entities over expanded domain, industry, state or country. Ostensibly they are meant to take care of the interests of their own members in service matters. However, they tend to extend themselves to community in the spirit of the Ambedkarite dictum of ‘paying back to the society’. They are typically found in the increasing congregations of Ambedkarite Dalits at many places such as Chaitya Bhoomi in Mumbai, Diksha Bhoomi in Nagpur, Koregaon Park near Pune, Mhow near Indore, Kranti Sthal at Mahad, etc. and on many dates associated with Babasaheb Ambedkar. They do ‘social service’ in distributing food packets to people, open an eye check up camp and distribute free spectacles to the needy, open free clinics to check up and distribute commonplace medicines. All these Associations, needless to say claim to be Ambedkarites.
With the role model of Babasaheb Ambedkar and his mantra ‘educate, agitate and organize’, there has been a good deal of progress among Dalits in education, although it still lags behind that of others. In higher education, there is a very high incidence of Dalits in Humanities courses. It still hovers around 70 percent and majority of them take up teaching profession and become ‘academic’. This class has been active in contributing to the knowledge in the spheres of sociology and politics leveraging their subjective experiences. While much of it may be ignored as stereotype, catering to academic rituals and requirements, a few of them did interrogate the mainstream in significant terms. Undoubtedly, they bore huge potential compared to what they could actually accomplish. Lately, perhaps to create a framework for their contribution, a strategic move is evident in launching Ambedkar Chairs, Ambedkar Centers, or outfits with some such names in every university and colleges. These outfits are poorly provided and are invariably manned by Dalits. They offer regular courses in Ambedkar thought and other social issues and carry out research in those topics and have thus sped up their reproduction. As such the academic energy of the entire higher educated Dalits is sought to be bound within the newly created framework. There has been sudden spurt in so called research activities and consequently Ph D in the issues related to Babasaheb Ambedkar, with inevitable fall in quality. However, they do promote variety and feed into already existing tendency among Dalits to splinter. There is an urgent need to examine the wisdom behind such a move apart from fomenting identitarian outlook of Dalits in academics. With infinite quibbling on issues among these academics, one thing however remains constant, which is their identity as Ambedkarite.
Literary and cultural organizations
With the spread of education, Dalits began expressing themselves and created their own literature, ‘Dalit Literature’. It shook up the literary establishment monopolized by the upper castes until then and in course secured it recognition and certain amount of respectability. It is not that there is any organized movement of these litterateurs which coordinates their output or lends direction to their efforts. This is perhaps accomplished through what are known as sahitya sammelans (literary conferences). These sammelans have really proliferated in the states like Maharashtra, the birth place of dalit literature. Insofar as the literature is a mirror of the society, the dalit literature could not escape marks of degeneration of the dalit movement, which usually manifested into excessive subjectivism of the individual litterateurs. It is a kind of reflection of this sad state that they are found to squander their energy in the sterile debate whether their literature should be called dalit, or Ambedkarite, or Phule-Ambedkarite or Buddhist or something else. Besides literature, there are groups which work for cultural awakening of Dalits through the medium of songs, music, street plays and dramas, also without much coordination amongst them. Not having anything objective to relate with, they all revolve around identity and ‘Ambedkarite’ lends them solace.
Although the overall enrolment of Dalits in higher education has been far less than the national average of 12 percent, in the vicinity of just 8 percent, much of it being in humanities courses as said before, over the years there has been a sizable number of Dalits in professions, such as engineering, technology, medicine, etc. who have also formed their professional associations. They too operate as clubs but quite like employees’ associations, they also extend to do community service, of curse with the Ambedkarite identity.
A sizable number of Dalits are settled/working abroad in many parts of the world and constitute dalit diaspora. They too slowly organized themselves around the Ambedkarite identity and have been working on various causes, such as preparing opinion abroad so as to exert pressure on the Indian government to take care of the dalit interests. Some of these organizations did contribute in this direction in significant measure but over the years they also got afflicted by the same splintering disease as in India. They are invariably active in celebrating the birth anniversaries of Babasaheb Ambedkar and act as social network, wearing Ammbedkarite identity.
There are numerous e-mail groups, blogs and social networks like facebook, twitter, and so on with which Dalit youths have formed their virtual networks which are also reflect deep concern for the community issues. They are inherently amorphous groups, which assume form through their devotion to Babasaheb Ambedkar. They are all declaredly Ambedkarites.
From the mid-1980s, NGOs have acquired special space in the global governance structure. Since the state was mandated by the Washington Consensus, which directed this global capitalist campaign, to withdraw itself from economic activities, to discard its welfarist garbs, and to package services it traditionally provided for marketization, NGOs were conceived to alleviate the pain caused by these developments in various segments of populations. Dalits have been obviously a prominent social group which was to be most adversely affected and many NGOs were needed to work among them. As a result there has been huge proliferation of NGOs, so much so that they have eclipsed the entire dalit movement giving rise to a phrase “NGOization of the dalit movement”. NGOs work on specific issues with a professional outlook and are usually manned by the youngsters appearing to do social work, they appeal to masses more than the dalit leaders who are given to empty rhetoric. NGOs effectively disorient Dalits from seeing their woes as systemic and offer them piecemeal solutions. Most such NGOs also swear by Ambedkarism and identify themselves as Ambedkarite.
Activists and Intellectuals
Besides the above, there are many individuals who may not be affiliated with any of the above organizations but imagine themselves to be ‘active’ in social matters. By virtue of their intellectual standing, they enjoy some amount of recognition and are generally seen in the seminars, conferences, conventions and conclaves. They are invariably individualistic but claim to be Ambedkarite.
Besides the above identifiable groups, the common folks of Dalits also claim the identity of Ambedkarite.
The objective look at this bewildering picture certainly tells us a few things: that despite wearing the same identity of Ambedkarite, there is no coherence even within any groups not to speak of across groups; that many of them could constitute opposite ends of an ideological spectrum, that very few among them may be aware of Ambedkar’s work beyond superficial levels; that they are ostensibly concerned with their narrow and short term interests and do not even have an idea of what ails the community. It certainly tells us, perhaps contrary to commonplace perception, that Ambedkarite identity is not as much rooted in any philosophy or ideology of Babasaheb Ambedkar as it is with his caste identity. The practical definition of ‘Ambedkarite’ is a person who is born in the caste which has hegemony over the social space of Dalits in a province/state. For example, All Mahars in Maharashtra, all Malas in Andhra, Holayas in Karnataka, Pariahs in Tamilnadu, Chamars/Jatavs in UP, Vankars in Gujarat and so on are automatically Ambedkarites, irrespective of what they do. Very few Dalits belonging to other castes than these would admit that they are Ambedkarite. Sadly and shockingly, Ambedkarite thus becomes a euphemism for the caste-name, much narrower than even the term ‘Dalit’
Crises faced by the Ambedkarites
Every Ambedkarite listed above, whether he is conscious of it or not, experience some kind of crisis. These crises can be enumerated as below:
1. Crisis of Identity
Identity should serve the purpose of distinguishing one either as an individual or some aggregate of individuals from their counterparts in larger society. But when all kinds of people, seemingly located in dissimilar camps, claim the same identity, it naturally entails identity crisis. In what way, a politician with the BJP that professes right wing Hindutva ideology or Shiv Sena which follows parochial politics identifying people on the basis of their language, religion, region and even sub castes is to be identified with a landless Dalit struggling to eke out his living in a field of an OBC farmer, or a BSP politician who professes 85 percent versus 15 percent calculus and seeks to combine them (OBC farmer and a dalit farm labourer) together, overlooking material contradictions between them? Obviously, there is little common between a dalit bureaucrat and his dalit maid servant or his people whom he has left behind in village. Ambedkarite identity fails to serve as a viable identity to various interest groups as listed above.
While the Ambedkarite identity is flaunted by Dalits within themselves, many of them tend to hide it at the interface with others. Since Ambedkarite identity is synonymous with low caste untouchable, many upwardly mobile Dalits have changed their caste indicative surnames and adopted upper caste names. They would not have Ambedkar’s picture in drawing room, lest others should identify their caste. Many of them even go further to adopt the language, behavior, culture, and to observe traditions and rituals merely to hide their caste identity. To a large extent these schizophrenic behaviors of the upwardly mobile Dalits also have created disconnect between them and the common dalit masses. This behavior of the upwardly mobile Dalits rather refutes the representational logic that has been the core of the dalit movement. The higher educated Dalit individuals, occupying positions of power or prosperity do not necessarily represent concerns of the dalit community. This was sadly experienced by even Babasaheb Ambedkar in his own life time.
2. Crisis of ideology
It may be argued that Ambedkarite is not a simple identity but an ideological identity. It creates bigger problematic than associated with even the simple identity because it raises a question what the Ambedkarite ideology is. If Ambedkarite ideology is annihilation of castes, there are number of Ambedkarites who proclaim to the contrary and still claim to be Ambedkarites. They even go so far as to deny that Ambedkar never advocated annihilation of castes. They argue that castes can never be annihilated and hence they should be strengthened. The shrewd among them use Marxian dialectical dictum to support their casteist outlook. They would say that by strengthening castes, the caste contradiction would be ripened, leading to a caste war which eventually would resolve or transpose the contradiction in favour of dalits. VT Rajshekhar of the Dalit Voice generally represents this ideological strand. Mulnivasis, who claim racial distinction of Dalits (and perhaps also Adivasis) and some others as original inhabitants of India, want to reverse the Hindu social order to make all others as secondary citizens, also are Ambedkarites, notwithstanding they directly contradict Ambedkar’s dictum that Indian castes do not have racial basis and also his ideology expressed in terms of his aim to create a society based on Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Babasaheb Ambedkar, way back in 1938 had told Dalits that they had two enemies: Brahmanism and capitalism. But a section of upwardly mobile Dalits eulogize dalit capitalism and celebrate coming of the dalit bourgeoisie. Ambedkar warned Dalits that his Brahmanism should not be identified with people belonging to Brahman caste and that Brahmanism could well be found among Dalits. Ambedkarites’ outlook generally failed to make this subtle distinction and have only targeted Brahmans by caste. There cannot be any doubt that Ambedkar wanted social morality in governance so as to take care of the weak. His Buddhism was to provide the requisite moral armament for the society. Dalits scarcely reflect concern for social morality. For instance, there is hardly any difference between the Ambedkarite Dalits and others in the matters of corruption or any other amoral acts. It is an indisputable fact that Babasaheb Ambedkar was a socialist, albeit of a Fabian variety. His States and Minority provides a glimpse of his vision to hardcode socialistic structure of society into the Constitution of India. But surprisingly majority of Dalit intellectuals, calling themselves Ambedkarites lent their support to the social Darwinist policies of globalization just to be on the right side of the government. Ambedkar’s ideology may well be seen in pragmatism, which does not see any inexorable principle in the flow of history but deals with it as things unfold. As against that, the Ambedkarites appear to be living in past, which paradoxically has been cruel to them. The entire Ambedkarite discourse appears past oriented, oblivious of the contemporary forces that impeach upon them. Had it been rooted in present, it would have noted the structural changes befallen the society, warranting discarding of their anti-Brahman rhetoric and identitarian obsession. Indeed, the ideological paradoxes are simply too many to enumerate.
3. Crisis of Leadership
With such a crisscross fragmentation of Dalits and apparent ideological incoherence, the Dalits face an acute leadership crisis. In some degree all these crises are mutually reinforcing. Each social group has numerous factions, with their respective leadership. The model of leadership in the Ambedkarite dalit movement unfortunately is rooted in the cultural paradigm of feudalism, quite like any other, which primarily installs a leader and solidifies around him. It does not have organic growth through the people, who are agitated over an issue come together and create their leadership. This model necessitates maintenance of distance between a leader and his followers, which entails resources, which are not easy to come from within Dalits. Therefore most dalit leaderships seek sponsorship of the resource rich non-Dalit sources. Naturally, such leaders would be obligated to their donors and do their bidding whenever they want. Of course, it is not to say that all the leaders rise through the same process; rather they certainly do not to start with. But at some stage of their development, they do face this dilemma and inevitably succumb to the demand of survival, gradually getting deflected from the very purpose they had begun with. It induces self-seeking tendency among leaders which sets in a vicious cycle of their degeneration. Today this self-seeking tribe of leaders has become the greatest hurdle in any attempt to extricate Dalits from the current morass.
4. Crisis of Politics
Politics has caught up with Dalits in a big way because it is seen as the means to secure state power. The Ambedkar’s dictum that political power holds the key to all problems is therefore popular among most Dalits, particularly the upwardly mobile ones. Political power is simplistically equated with government power and all actions to secure it become legitimate. It is therefore that one finds all kinds of political acrobatics of dalit political leaders are condoned by Dalits. This dictum is skillfully used by the political class to create vast spaces for themselves to operate. Shiv Sena, which at one point publicly denigrated Ambedkarite Dalits and even Ambedkar, distinguishing them from the other Dalits, could be expected to be just an anathema but no more. Prominent Dalits have entered and exited Sena without any dent to their image. There were sterile noises created among the intellectual circles when an alliance was mooted between Ambedkarite and Shiv Sena forces, summed up in an idiotic algebraic equation: ‘Shiv Shakti+Bhim Shakti=Deshbhakti’, but when it is becoming a reality in Maharashtra, there is no clear disapproval of it. On the contrary it is given respectability by making it an issue of discussions in seminars. There is still no clear condemnation of it from Ambedkarite Dalits in Maharashtra.
BSP’s entire politics, in the face of huge contrary data, is resting on the apologia that political power will automatically mean dalit emancipation. Politics by default means parliamentary politics in dalit circles. Other forms of agitational politics have been completely overshadowed by it. Somehow, except for the early phase of Ambedkar’s struggle, his entire career is mapped by statesmanship and parliamentary politics. Although, he was intellectually clear about the limitation of parliamentary politics vis-à-vis the interests of the majority of people, he could not articulate the alternate politics. Rather, he appears endorsing it through the Constitution. His early utterances soon after the adoption of the Constitution that there would be no need for agitational politics and Dalits should focus on constitutional means, also reinforced this notion among people. The experience of the last six decades, of utter non-representation of the concerns of dalit masses in policy formulation exposes the pitfalls of the parliamentary politics. Dalits find no solution in the current paradigm and see no prospects of changing it.
5. Crisis of Morality
In Ambedkar’s schema, morality acquires central place. His insistence on the necessity of religion as the moral source for society is rooted in this logic. Buddhism was not only meant to serve as an escape from the tyranny of Hinduism, but as the catalyst for moral armament of Dalits and larger society. This entire schema is disputed by many non-Ambedkarite but paradoxically the people who vehemently called themselves Ambedkarites have provided loads of proof for the former. Alas, Buddhism failed to bring in any such change in Dalits. It has merely become an additional identity marker for an Ambedkarite. It is no more a doctrine of social morality; Buddhism is used merely as a cultural identity. There is so much activity among a section of Buddhists, who argue that Ambedkarism should be equated to Buddhism, in the sphere of learning Pali, building viharas, singing prayers, observing rituals and lately going for vipasana. There entire emphasis is on the individual deliverance through spiritual sublimation of mind. Their conscience is not hurt to see the misery of their own brethren around. Rather the kind of Buddhism they follow distances themselves from the world. The social becomes irrelevant for them. They could deal with fellow humans as they like and still be Buddhists. Indeed, that is what is precisely happening in the circles of upwardly mobile Dalits who overtly profess Buddhism. They would not have any qualm in indulging in corruption, misusing their position of power, siding with the degenerate elites, and being ruthless with common masses. Because their Buddhist vipasana has elevated them above these mundane matters!
6. Organizational crisis
Dalit organization is characterized by the propensity to split. Dalit, for all practical purpose has been the name of a caste; it has never extended to its quasi class limits, encompassing all the untouchable castes and still the dalit organization has been splintering. Before consolidating Dalits, the dalit political entrepreneurs have ventured to create a larger constituency for themselves by combining with other backward castes as pioneered by Kanshiram. Enthused by his ‘bahujan’ strategy, many politicians followed suit variously without comprehending that the basic factor behind even the BSP’s success in UP has not been the unity of Dalits and others but a large enough population of a politicised single dalit caste. The proof for this is provided by the failure of the BSP itself in replicating its success in UP elsewhere. Notwithstanding the anti-caste posture of the dalit organizations, they are heavily based on caste identity. It is forgotten that caste is fundamentally a hierarchy seeking category, which does not allow unity. The fundamental folly of the dalit movement is that it has not comprehended that caste cannot be the category to articulate any radical struggle. The usual reasons cited for the splintering tendency of the dalit organization are: With spread of education and material prosperity, Dalit, unlike earlier times would not accept subordinate position; there is so much ideological confusion to expect cohesion; there are allurements from the ruling class parties, there is a disconnect between leaders and masses, and so on. These reasons, although partly true are not basic and they rather serve to reinforce the basic tendency of caste to disunite.
7. Crisis of Living
The vast majority of Dalits have been facing crisis of living, particularly since the neoliberal reforms in the country. These policies have largely created crisis in rural area where almost 88 percent of Dalits live. The dwindling public as well as private investment in agriculture has drastically affected agricultural production. The investment deficit in non-farm sector before the recent launch of the NREGA scheme, creating some jobs in rural areas, had serious impact on incomes of rural poor. The impact of these policies could be seen in many a worsening developmental indicator in respect of poor in general, rural poor in particular and Dalits within them. Per capita food availability, which had been increasing steadily over the last six decades has gone down to 1950-levels. It declined from 186.2 Kg/annum in 1991 to 151.9 Kg/annum in 2001, which is reflected even in their lesser consumption. The share of agriculture and allied sector in the national income has been falling from 59 percent to below 17 percent today although the workforce relying on it has in fact increased in absolute numbers. In case of Dalits, the incidence of landless has increased during these years, presumably due to the land grab operations happening all over the country. The public healthcare system, already poor as it was, has further worsened during the globalization period. It reflects badly in the health parameters of poor, dalits hovering on the margins of the state of famine. Education, the most effective instrument of their emancipation has been completely commercialized and most Dalits are structurally cut off from quality education. Reservations, which held hope for Dalits of getting job, and so motivated them to get educated, has disappeared, its growth over the decade (1997 to 2007) has been minus 9.6 percent. Barring less than 10 percent Dalits, who could be seen having come up during the last six decades, for the majority of Dalits this is a veritable multifaceted crisis.
Causes of the Crises
Given the deep divide among the Ambedkarites, these crises may not be easily acknowledged because most of them are faced by the dalit masses who rarely count except for crowding the processions and congregations referred to above. They have been under the spell of educated urban Dalits far too long to see the things differently even when they adversely affected them. As a matter of fact, their concerns which are verily rooted in the land question were never taken up except for the symbolic land struggle that took place in Marathwada in 1953 at the suggestion of none other than Babasaheb Ambedkar and a nationwide satyagraha of 1964 that happened under the leadership of Dadasaheb Gaikwad. The entire dalit movement revolved directly or indirectly around the issue of reservations. As a matter of fact, the upper layer of Dalits is by and large detached from the dalit masses. Its concern for them only stem from their aspirations to further thicken itself through political medium.
As for analyzing the causes, the first response from Dalits would be to externalize them. Dalits are particularly wont to do that self-righteously. They have easy solution for every of their ills: just blame someone, if not Brahman. It is Brahman who deceitfully devised caste system and enslaved them. Dalits were the great people but the Brahman cheats reduced them to subhuman level with their scriptural intrigues. Dalit culture has been far superior, but is undermined by the hegemonizing Brahman culture. It is not to deny the intrigues of Brahmins in enslaving Dalits, but merely repeating this blame externalizing rhetoric tends to blind Dalits to look inwards for some of their weaknesses too, which is more important from the viewpoint of their emancipation. For instance if someone played cheat with them, the complementary truth will be that they were cheated, which could have been possible only because of some weakness in them. This perspective only can help them charting better future for themselves. Externalizing blame might psychologically comfort the victim but actually it does not help him getting over his weakness in material term. While introspecting what has gone wrong, the Ambedkarites would be better off searching their own self for internal deficiencies before locating external forces responsible for them. In most cases, the internal deficiency comes handy for the enemy to make inroads and aggravate it to his advantage. If one considered even the crises in above enumeration, one can be sure about at least one thing that Dalits should squarely own up, which is the confusion about their ideological anchor. Now the source for this confusion needs to be located within, it surely cannot be externalized. Once noted, the external forces will surely exploit it. But it should be conceded that it verily exists within.
Indeed, the proliferation of Ambedkarites can primarily be attributed to the hazy notion about Ambedkarism. There would be no problem anyone claiming to be Ambedkarite, if Ambedkarism had been just an inconsequential creed. But problem with Ambedkarism is that it is the ideological anchor of a potentially revolutionary class. This basic fact would keep the ruling classes on alert about Ambedkarism. They would be on look out for the opportunity to blunt its radical edges. Even if Ambedkarism was precisely contoured, the adversary class could strive to blur it so as to deflect the ideological focus of the masses. But if it is inherently hazy, it makes their task so much easier. The inroads the right reactionary Sangh Pariwar could make among Dalits with their samarasata strategy should serve as a good example. Before we consider the aspect of Ambedkarism, it would be fruitful to understand its evolution to the present form.
As it stands, the recognition of Babasaheb Ambedkar by the establishment has passed through a phase of extreme reluctance to acknowledge his contributions and has reached today to his deification. Initially there were attempts to belittle him as just a leader of his own caste, then one of the leaders of Dalits. This phase ended by early 1970s with the rise of backward castes into powerful regional parties threatening the monopoly of the national parties dominated by the traditional dwija castes. The politics became increasingly competitive and all political parties sought support from the readily available caste blocks and when not available, tried to create them. Dalits, already noted as one such block, were wooed by co-opting their leaders and were weakened as an independent political force. The value of the cooptation strategy lay in the premise that leaders were followed by the people. But as fallout of this strategy, the dalit masses soon got disenchanted with their self-seeking leaders and ceased to follow them. Such a fragmented mass tends to become independent and hence too expensive to manage. The ruling classes needed some means to reconsolidate them. This was achieved by constructing an Ambedkar icon. On the other side, as the disillusion with leaders grew, the masses nostalgically leaned towards Babasaheb Ambedkar, as an iconic figure. These two processes resonated into creation of Ambedkar icons, sourced from the persona of the historical Ambedkar but sans complexity and profundity of the latter, so as to have a mass appeal. It was systematically promoted with flowery tributes; erecting memorials, facilitating congregations, celebrating anniversaries and so on in order to bind masses with the icon. Now it was so much simpler for the ruling classes to play with the sentiments of the entire dalit mass through these icons. Building Ambedkar statues and monuments, naming roads, squares, programs and institutions after him, promoting research, seminars, conferences on his thoughts, etc. picked up great momentum. BSP’s maintenance of its dalit core through these things may also serve an example. Commensurate with these simplified icons, the simplistic quips of Babasaheb Ambedkar served as multiple Ambedkarisms.
The real Ambedkar had only tenuous relation with these icons in use, inasmuch as the latter picked up just a facet or a part of him. Icon served in communicating Ambedkar to masses albeit in distorted form. Ambedkar was complex because he struggled creating his own spaces during the most dynamic and contentious period of the last century. He was dealing with the problem of caste for which he did not have much reference to go by except for the stray attempts by some people. There was no theorization that he could bank upon and had to create his own while struggling with his own learning. Theorization moreover was not his objective; it was mere aid to practical struggle that he waged, for which he had to organize people and lead them through the cobweb of issues. Later, he found himself catapulted to the exalted position of a statesman and at the end taking refuge in Buddha. Even this superficial view of his life can lead one to see him struggling in search of the truth and simultaneously evolving in thought and action. It was therefore that he dismissed consistency as a virtue of an ass. He was mostly a Deweyan pragmatic who confronted things as they unfolded. It is indeed difficult to capture a neat philosophy of Babasaheb Ambedkar because it presents various strands of thoughts dominating in each phase of his life and struggle. His life and mission certainly projects a vision of an ideal society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. But there is no unified system of thought that explains how this state would be achieved, save for an article of faith that sees it everywhere. It is clear that he saw Dalit emancipation as a universal project, an integral part of the emancipation of mankind and not of a particular people, while working it out however from particular to universal. In various phases of his life he emphasized various thoughts in diagnosis of the problem or indicating solution to it. They do not easily cohere. For instance, his initial vision was to attempt reforms of the Hindu society. Since it did not happen, he tried getting special rights for Dalits through political process. At the end, he emphasized social morality by embracing Buddhism. If one recounts his writings, they add to these variants in their emphasis.
It is therefore that some scholars like Upendra Baxi saw many Ambedkars in his persona. Baxi identified as many as seven Ambedkars in his discourse. The first Ambedkar is an authentic Dalit who bore the full brunt of the practices of untouchability. The second Ambedkar is an exemplar of scholarship. The third Ambedkar is an activist journalist. The fourth Ambedkar is a pre-Gandhian activist. The fifth Ambedkar is in a mortal combat with the Mahatma (Gandhi) on the issue of legislative reservations for the Depressed Classes. The sixth Ambedkar is the Constitutionist involved in the discourse on transfer of power and the processes of Constitution-making. The seventh Ambedkar is a renegade Hindu, not just in the sense of the man who set aflame the Manusmriti in Mahad in 1927 but in his symbolic statement on conversion in 1935 and his actual conversion to Buddhism in late 1954. [Upendra Baxi, ‘Emancipation and Justice: Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Legacy and Vision’ in Upendra Baxi and Bhikhu Parekh (eds.), Crisis and Change in Contemporary India, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1995, pp. 124-130.] And this is not the only way; one could have very different approach to see different Ambedkars.
The complexity at the level of practice gets compounded when one deals with the thoughts informing it. One who objectively strives to search a philosophical strand in Ambedkar, finds it extremely difficult because it appears flowing, evolving. Indeed, Ambedkar thought incessantly evolved, in search of the truth. As is well known, through his early socialization, he had belief in moral and spiritual anchoring for being better human beings. His family belonged to Kabirpanth, which was the most progressive creed among its likes, believing in radical equality of humans. When he went to Columbia, he was greatly impressed by the liberal tradition of the West and to find a different world that did not have castes. He imbibed much of liberalism but did not get bound by it. Actually, Ambedkar was influenced by all the major political traditions of his times, viz., liberal, conservative and radical. The unique feature about him is that he had transcended all these traditions. He was greatly influenced by the ideas of John Dewey, the pragmatic American, Fabian and his teacher at Columbia. The Fabian Edwin R. A. Seligman, his Ph D Guide had considerable impact on his thought. He often quoted Edmund Burke, the conservative British thinker, quite approvingly. He studied in London School of Economics (LSE), which was actually founded by the Fabian society and the founders of Fabianism, Sydney and Beatrice Webb among them, still being around as professors in LSE. Ambedkar’s all radical materialist ideas can be seen belonging to the Fabian frame. But at the same time he always believed in the utility of religion as the moral anchor for the constitution of the society and thus reflected idealist strand in his thinking. Thus his thoughts span across the extremes over continuums of thoughts: one, from liberalism to conservatism to radicalism and two, materialism to idealism. They reflect prima facie extreme contradictions, which are not easy to reconcile.
Those who speak easily about Ambedkarism or Ambedkar’s philosophy should understand the complexity underneath in defining them. When Ambedkar spoke “My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity”, he expresses his philosophical vision, not his philosophy. Philosophy as a critical enquiry, different from philosophy as wisdom or philosophy as ideology, needs to be constructed by taking into account many other things he said and wrote, along with the extension of the same statement; “My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha.” It might appear that Buddhism sums up his philosophy, but even then it will have to be really constructed to deal with the contemporary world, a la Buddha and His Dhamma. Without such construction, to speak of Ambedkarism in amorphous manner is to offer it to be misused by the vested interests as it is happening today. Any and everybody can speak of Ambedkarism and become Ambedkarite and do anything he or she likes. This may be reckoned as the source of our ideological confusion informing the centrifugal tendency in the movement.
The fluidity of Ambedkarism makes it so much easier for the ruling classes to exploit it. If we had a well defined Ambedkarism, rooted in struggle and hence internalized by masses, it would not be amenable for easy distortion. Ruling classes will do all in their power to prevent the ruled classes from having a radical philosophy. But they cannot succeed in such attempts if it is well integrated into peoples’ struggle. They may make attempt for its refutation but cannot think of distortion. They may try out all strategies in their armor: cooptation to repression. But if the people are laced with a solid philosophy, they can defeat all such strategies.
Philosophy that grips people is a live force. It may be backed up by academic construction but more than that it is shaped and communicated through the struggles of people for their rights. Any philosophy, howsoever, it might be propounded by its originators, to be the weapon in peoples’ hand needs to be shaped and reshaped through peoples’ struggle. Ambedkarism, when it was not given in the form of a neat thought system, particularly needed to be conceived only through Dalit struggle on their core issues. Ambedkarism could be constructed through the dialectical contention of peoples’ experiences with their practical struggles and Ambedkar’s thoughts. His grand vision (liberty, equality and fraternity) could be the beacon, the inspiration for such a project. Ambedkarites have surrendered the medium of struggle with their excessive obsession and haste for securing political power. It is one thing to acquire political power through peoples’ struggle and quite another to get it by allying with the existing powers. The former is earning and the latter is alms. The former is concrete and the latter is a mirage. For the profile of Dalits, a huge mass of predominantly landless labourers, suffering from every conceivable deprivation, the struggle against the power structure is the only way to secure their rights and build up political power. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s vision was a beacon to inspire such a struggle and to shape up Ambedkarism through the process of practical interpretation of his sayings and writings. Moreover, struggle is the best mode for political education of people, best fortress to protect its ideological resources from pollution; the best gym to steel their resolve. Ambedkarites have missed this grammar and ran after the mirage of political power shunning the struggle. By putting the horse before the cart, they have allowed an army of petty power brokers to rise from among them in the garbs of leaders. Once it happened, these power brokers would use any and everything to remain in power. This is what precisely happened to Ambedkarites. The masses would lament about, crib against, be angry with their leaders but would not know what to do to them. Others would bask in the hopes of benefits that they possibly bring them.
Another malady the Ambedkarite Dalits face may be called statism, a belief that state is the epitome of power, a just and an impartial referee, the benefactor of Dalits. It is not easy to fathom the sources of this orientation. It is easy to imagine the utterly powerless people relying on state as a repository of power; at least because they cannot confront the might of the state in any case. But it still would not mean missing the character of the state and surrendering all the strategies to totally depend on it. The state as per the theory is essentially a coercive instrument in the hands of the ruling classes, the preserver, a guard of the current order. It could do many things but within the framework of the present order. It would not easily do things that defy this order. So, Dalits could only expect certain palliatives from the state at the maximum. However, what they need is the change in the structure, which no state would reconcile with. It warrants change of the state itself, which no state can stomach. Dalits ought to aim at such a change and strategically orient themselves towards it. The tactics are conditioned then by this strategy. But what has happened is that they have whole hog become statist, the props of the state. They do not see value unless the state valorizes it. This staism has precipitated into a political culture of Ambedkarites. The source of this orientation may be located in Babasaheb Ambedkar, who strategically did not want to antagonize the colonial state in his basic fight with the hegemonic forces behind the hindu social order, and rather made use of it wherever possible. He never denigrated the state as an institution, believed that a constitutional state was the necessity and contributed to its building and so on. He ascribed the ills of the state to the vileness of people who manned the state. But one needs to go beyond these superficial observations and understand what kind of state he meant by constitutional state. His conception of the state was such a structure which was unalterably ordained to guarantee social justice and oriented to create a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. That is why he wanted the economic structure of the society should be hardcoded into the constitution itself so that it would not be easily tinkerable by anyone in future. The States and Minorities alludes to what he had in his mind. But what happened was totally contrary. It may be easy to lament over this but we must introspect and see that such a notion was rather not practicable. The fact that he could not even put forth his views before the Constitutient Assembly, despite being in the driver’s seat, provides the proof of it. His later statements about the Constitution would add to this proof.
This has certainly come handy for the opportunist elements to further their self interests by being adjuncts of the ruling people. They used Ambedkar’s representational logic to fool the people by presenting their pursuit of power and pelf would be the power of Ambedkarite masses and the later believed it.
We will leave it at this and go over to see the challenges before us.
Challenges before the Ambedkarites
The foremost challenge before Ambedkarites is to construct Ambedkarism as a guiding philosophy for the struggle of the dalit masses. Ambedkar for this exercise is not to be confined with the historical Ambedkar, he is to be the complete armour for Dalit struggle. The historical Ambedkar is certainly a major source for constructing but to that we may have to add the experience of last six decades of struggle. There is much in Ambedkar that is still profound, that could be used to forge this armour. Much of it has been mishandled by people, soiled, distorted, blunted and corroded. We may have to clean it up, repair it, sharpen it and reconstruct it. One must understand that Ambedkar’s has been a dynamic thinking; any snapshot of it could only be misleading. Ambedkar’s has been a great search because nothing in the traditional repertoire of philosophies he found useful for the problem at hand. One cannot say that his search ended with his life. One will have to fathom the undercurrents behind his search, weigh them out and construct a viable philosophy. It will have to be extrapolated to deal with the contemporary problems. In process of this construction we would precisely come to know the limitations thereof and way to overcome them.
Such a construction should be mediated by the struggles of Dalits. It might appear as a chicken and hen syndrome but if we just orient to our focus to the majority of Dalits, it would appear immediately doable. Do we focus on the issues of their security of living, either in the form of land or secure employment; access to education of the quality as is available in the best of the schools in urban areas; health care facilities, sanitation, and such other problems? Do we concern ourselves with the the high incidence of anemia, nutrition deficiency, stuntedness of Dalit children? If we take up these issues, the way forward may be found. Our philosophy should be basically providing for these struggles. It will be enriched in course of actual struggle; the way the state responds to it, the manner in which various classes reacts to it. This is the only way to save Ambedkar as the weapon in peoples’ hand. Such an exercise is desirable to block the processes of fooling the masses.
There are many other challenges which can be met even in parallel with the above exercise. The challenge is to critically review the dalit movement. We can ask questions such as: What is the implicit goal of the dalit movement? Is it annihilation of castes or to be the ruling caste? If it is to become a ruling caste, is it feasible? Which caste is to be the ruling caste? Because Dalit is not a caste; it is a quasi class, a conglomeration of all the erstwhile untouchable castes. If they were to be the ruling people, how do we construct Dalit? Based on caste as thus far or something else? If it is the annihilation of castes, why do we tend to see everything in caste term? Is it possible to annihilate castes with the organization based on castes? If not caste, then what could be the basis of the organization? Did we have a good enough understanding of castes, the obnoxious contrivance of our dehumanization? What could be the strategy, standing in the present? What tactics? Who are our friends and who are foes? What would be the marker for accomplishment of our goal? If we ask these and such other questions, we would surely come to know what has gone wrong with our movement and what has been right with it. We would come to know that we did not even have a clear goal; that much of our discourse is based on rhetoric and not good understanding; that we did not even understand caste which has been the fulcrum of our struggle; that we did not have strategy; did not know our friends and foes; and in absence of all these we have gone in the opposite directions—strengthening castes instead of annihilating them.
We could also take stock of who we are fighting for and against? If it is for Dalits, then where are they? What are their basic concerns - immediate, medium term and long term? How do we unify these concerns in strategic terms? What has been the theme of our movement? Does it reflect the concerns of Dalits that we have found out? If not, how and wherefrom has it come? How can we correct it? Can we accomplish these concerns on our own? How can we reformulate the struggle? Who could be our allies? And so on. These questions will enable us to see that we have basically got our target wrong. Whereas our Dalits are rural people, illiterate, linked with land, our struggle was entirely premised on the educated, urban Dalits, who certainly do not represent vast dalit masses. How did we miss them? Was there any strategy in emphasizing reservations? Whose? What did we accomplish through it in relation to our goal? What corrections need to be effected in the current scheme? How do we do it?
State has been an important agent in the dalit struggle. In the times of Babasaheb Ambedkar it was a colonial state that he had decided not to antagonize in his contention with the caste Hindus. The assumption was that the state would be an impartial referee. Even then he had instances of frustration with the state during the struggling times. Does the same assumption hold good for the post-1947 state? Dalits believe that the Indian state is based on the Constitution architected by their Babasaheb. They conveniently forget that he had disowned the Constitution many times. Just to remind another thing, he had submitted a memorandum on behalf of the SCF, “States and Minorities”, with a view to indicate necessity of hard-coding economic structure of the society into the Constitution. At those uncongenial times, he did not believe that he would reach the Constituent Assembly (CA). But as it later transpired, he not only had reached there but had become the chairman of its most important committee – the drafting committee. It remains as a historical lesson for the future generations that even through that exalted position; he could not make the Constitution to imbibe the spirit of the States and Minorities. Only once he did mention a part of it for CA’s consideration but mysteriously hastened to add that he would not insist upon it. He knew the way the CA was constituted and that it would be futile to persist with the radical agenda of States and Minorities. It is a veritable challenge for the Dalits to understand these and other associated aspects of the Constitution making to dispel their misconceptions. The state, if they take a hard look at it, is far bigger oppressor of Dalits than the so called Manuwadis in civil society.
One of the dominant lacunae of Ambedkarites that experience throws up is that they are mostly past-oriented. Much of the Ambedkarite discourse is rooted in the past. They seem to emulate Ambedkar who had to fathom the sources of caste and its components. Whatever its motivations may be, they appear relishing questions like who were the Shudras, who were Dalits? How the caste system originated? How the Dalits were Buddhists? How all the Hindu structures were Buddhist viharas? What were the Tirupati or Sabarimala or Vitthal temples? What Gandhi or Nehru did? The issues about the declining state of Dalits, that the incidence of landlessness has been increasing among them, or that the public domain employment has been consistently declining during the last decade marking thereby the end of net reservations, do not interest them. How has capitalism shaped the world; do we understand the changes wrought in by the current paradigm of globalization? Where do we stand in it? Are we insulated from the geo-political dynamics? Do we need to understand and connect with other oppressed people like us elsewhere? Where do we stand in terms of our accomplishment vis-à-vis the Blacks in the US or Africa? Do we not have a role in the fight against the ongoing plunder of peoples’ resources by the global capital? And indeed myriad such questions! The challenge therefore lies in dragging them out from the past to the present and push them to look at the future. Then only would they realize what changes have come in the caste system over the last century since the anti-caste movement began. Then would they realize that they are still whipping the snake mark, whereas the snake has already sneaked past them. Then would they realize that the contemporary reality is that they have to confront and not its past marks. Then would they realize that entire configuration of forces has undergone change while they were stuck in the past.
Once the Ambedkarites come into the present, they would automatically see the challenges before them. They can be likened to a legendary sleeping giant. When he is woken up, he would shake the world. I for one, would believe that Ambedkarites have been in trance, stupefied with wrong ideological doses. Once they woke up to the reality of their self and surrounding, the things would no more be the same for India.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai.
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