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The Farce Of Bhimshakti And Shivshakti

By Dr Anand Teltumbde

06 July, 2011

“History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
-Karl Marx

The famous quotation of Marx from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, which comes in reference to the rule of Napoleon I and thereafter of his nephew Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III), actually runs as follows: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” What if it repeated third time and fourth time or keeps repeating thereafter? Hegel or Marx did not envisage such a hilarious situation to comment on. In reference to the alliance between Ambedkarite Dalits and Shivsena, if Marx had known these two entities, he would have exclaimed, “the first time itself as farce and then repeated as bigger and bigger farce.”

Pole Opposites

Indeed, if one is forced to think of an antonym of Ambedkarite Dalits, one would not get better answer than Shivsena. If Ambedkarite Dalit is conceived in organizational sense to adhere to Ambedkar’s ideology, Shivsena would come as its perfect opposite. Ambedkar was a quintessential democrat; Sivsena is prototypical fascist; Ambedkar was contemptuous of Hitler; Shivsena is known to be the admirer of Nazi dictator. Ambedkar stood for protection of minorities; Shivsena has consistently ridiculed it as pampering and actively harassed them to the extent of executing some of the worst communal riots. Ambedkar believed in constitutional regime and gave this country its Constitution; Shivsena often scoffed at it publicly. Ambedkar severally criticized Hinduism for its ideological structural inequities; Shivsena not only extols Hinduism but also publicly admits its most aggressive version, Hindutva, which Ambedkar had foreseen as the sure disaster for India. Ambedkar without undermining the importance of religion advocated secularism; Shivsena openly misused religion to polarize people. Ambedkar ultimately stood for “liberty, equality and fraternity”, saying that it defined his social philosophy; Shivsena’s actions are ostensibly or declaredly premised on differential liberty, inequality and hatred. Look at from any angle and ideologically these two organizations may stand as the opposite poles.

This opposition was not even camouflaged. Shivsena in its own fascist rhetorical style did not spare even Babasaheb Ambedkar from its ridicule. It has never hid its hatred for Ambedkarite Dalits, ostensibly to consolidate all Dalit castes other than Mahars under its fold. It is only after the realization that this attitude might backfire by hurting Mahars in its ranks, it moderated it and presented itself as the admirer of Ambedkar in competition with any other electoral party. Of course, its history is fraught with instances of physical confrontation with Ambedkarite Dalits. In the Worli riots of 1974 it fought bitter street battle against the Dalit youth who had just organized themselves into Dalit Panthers, brutally martyring Bhagwat Jadhav. It spearheaded the opposition to renaming the Marathwada University after Babasaheb Ambedkar, for which Dalits had launched a massive agitation in the state. Many Dalits were raped and murdered; their properties destroyed by its cadre. It was the Shivsena which created the infamous Riddles controversy, actively opposing publication of Dr Ambedkar’s writings on Hinduism. It is only when the Ambedkarite Dalits got united over the issue, the Shivsena had backtracked its position and struck compromise. It has been always opposed to reservations, which are identified with Dalits and particularly Ambedkarite Dalits, as its originator and beneficiary. During the Sena-BJP rule in Maharashtra, 11 innocent Dalits were massacred in police firing in Ramabainagar. The government had doggedly protected the sub inspector, Manohar Kadam, who was responsible for the murders. The saga of its misdeeds against the Ambedkarite Dalits can really go on.

Not a Tragedy

Given the history of political opportunism of Dalit leaders, it was not a tragedy even for the first time. When Namdeo Dhasal, that fiery petrel of revolutionary idiom of yesteryears joined Shivsena’s bandwagon in the mid 1990s, when he had already degenerated into political nothingness, it was nothing short of a farce. Nothing much happened to Dhasal, except for occasional denouncements by Dalits. He continued to be the leader of his outfit and the darling of the so called leftists of Mumbai and elsewhere. Thereafter, significant numbers of activists belonging to the Republican Party of India (RPI) had joined the Sena in Pune, Satara and Aurangabad. In fact, though faded in public memory, even before Dhasal’s temerity, Gavai’s RPI itself had experienced the electoral communion with Sena in the local elections way back in 1973. But when in 2003, Shiv Sena’s Executive President Uddhav Thackeray mooted the idea of uniting Bhimshakti and Shivshakti on the eve of the state assembly elections, it created consternation in media. It was the late Arun Kamble, who along with Ramdas Athawale had propped up through the ashes of the original idea of Panthers, with what they called the Bharatiya Dalit Panthers, but was reduced to nobody in Dalit politics by then, had organized the function. At that time Ramdas Athawale had famously stated that the Shivsena giving up its hindutva ideology would be the precondition for such a unity. The idea did not fly off then beyond the posters and hoardings. Eventually, Bhimshakti was monopolized by Chandrakant Handore, which he tied to the Congress in exchange of a ministership.

That statement of Athawale was just a ploy to make the NCP-Congress realize the consequence of ignoring him. He was frustrated enough for not having been given ministerial berth at the centre. In the next parliamentary election, he was given the seat but was simultaneously seen that he was defeated. It was clear that for the NCP he had outgrown his utility and could well be dispensed with. Athawale, who was picked up by Sharad Pawar from the streets and put into ministerial bungalow in 1990s to counter the threatening independence of Prakash Ambedkar. He let Athawale grow while decimating whatever that remained of the independent Dalit voice in Maharashtra. Having accomplished the latter goal, Athawale or for that matter any Dalit leader could no more bargain; they could stay only as his faithful hangers on. It is at this point the new farce began with Ramdas Athwale knocking at the gates of Matoshree (Bal Thackeray’s fortress) with an alibi to wish him on his birth day. The other leaders of his RPI have apparently not been part of the deal with Shivsena or perhaps they have assessed better prospects in staying with NCP-Congress, aspiring to get Athwale’s place. Perhaps, Thackeray himself did not want them, as he later said publicly. Jogendra Kawade, the big mouth who eats his words as people munch peanuts, and does all kinds of political somersaults, has been most vocal castigating the alliance in the name of departure from the Phule-Ambedkarite ideology. He accused him of joining hands with the Hindutva forces, forgetting his own communion with the very saffron band not in a very distant past. When the wounds of Ramabainagar massacre inflicted by the Sena-BJP combine were still oozing, Kawade had joined the Saffron Brigade and actively canvassed for BJP’s Kirit Somaiya in 2009 elections in the same Ramabainagar. Indeed, the nakedness of all Dalit leaders gets exposed every time in the electoral hamam!

Why did Shivsena, who has never concealed its hatred for the Ambedkarite Dalits has taken the U-turn and extended hand of friendship to Athawale? The answer is not difficult to seek. As the feud between Uddhav and Raj Thackeray simmered, the Shivsena needed to supplement its eroding vote base with Ambedkarite Dalits, in the particular context of the Congress making Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Chambhar by caste, as the first ever Dalit chief minister. Shivsena’s casteist calculation informed it that Mahars could be made to construe their pathetic state as their marginalization under the Congress and be impelled to think aligning with it. Over the last few years the need of Shivsena and the disgruntlement of Athwale have only grown to reach a point of precipitation into this kind of unholy alliance. On the eve of elections to Mumbai Corporation to be held in 2012, with the growing electoral threat from MNS, Shivsena badly needed to fortify its position in Mumbai, which notwithstanding its strength elsewhere remains its crucial stronghold. It needs to hold on to it at any cost. There is nothing in its strategic option that it could try except for wooing Athawale. On the other hand, Athawale, having tested the meat of political power, does not have much option in the state politics to try out alliance with any other combine than the Shivsena-BJP, which could be imagined to win the next elections with incumbency factor, given the scam studded misgovernance of the Congress.

Questionable Consequence

It is the moot question whether this alliance will really cause the desired Dalit swing in its favour. While there are noises being created against this alliance in the name of ideology, the fact remains that ideology has been the fluidest aspect of Dalit politics. Anything could be the ideology if it is shown to have approval of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Whether it was the early desertions of the RPI by the likes of Bhandares and Rupwates or the later co-optation pull by the Congress or the samarasata allurements of the Sangh Parivar, Ambedkar was duly invoked by the opportunists to shower his ideological blessings on their misdoings. They would argue that while calling the Congress as the burning house, Ambedkar himself had accepted its support to reach the Constituent Assembly and thereafter the ministerial berth in the first post-independence all party government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. The combination of two vague things: Ambedkar’s ideology and the interests of Dalits, has justified any and every act of opportunism of Dalit leaders. It has long lost its salience in voting for this or that party. The new generation of Dalits, which does not have this ideological hangover and do not carry past baggage of bitterness with Shivsena is overridingly concerned with what brings them maximum material benefit. Their attitude therefore would be to put stakes on the winning horse.

No sooner than this alliance is announced, the Congress had already tried to weaken the state BJP by buying off Gopinath Munde, one of its senior leaders, as they did earlier with Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane for weakening the emerging threats of the Shivsena. It is a different matter that BJP has managed to thwart the threat for time being. They have got Bhalchandra Mungekar into their fold. Although, he may not be useful to influence Dalit masses in favour of the Congress, as a scholar activist, he could bring in wealth of information to strategize its move to manage Dalit votes. One of the obvious strategies would be to get the rest of the RPI leaders on its side and create noises that Athawale alone does not represent Bhimshakti. Such noises are already being made and may be amplified after the July meet of the Dalit leaders called by Kawade. Prakash Ambedkar, faces the same catch 22 situation as many times before and will prefer to stay aloof in the prison of conscience of his own making. There is no likelihood of viable third force getting cobbled up in a foreseeable future. Therefore the game would be played between the two alliances, the Congress/NCP and Sena/BJP. Those who stay independent may be accused of weakening the great Congress secularism and benefitting BJP. Of course, these developments bring in an opportunity for the BSP to make a forceful appeal to the Dalit masses. As their votes indicate, their appeal is expectedly rising. However, it is unlikely that they would really get it significantly better than the last time and the least, win any seat. In net terms the distribution of Dalit votes may not vary very significantly from the recent past for most elections except for the local bodies.

Because, at the local level, the salience of power is perceived sharply and therefore the young generation of Dalits might support the Sena alliance which is well entrenched in the Mumbai Corporation. In Mumbai and also surrounding corporations, since the battle is likely to be three cornered between the BJP-Shivsena-RPI, MNS and the Congress-NCP and probably other RPIs, the slight swing could be very consequential. At the higher level bodies, there may not be much influence of this alliance. Although, much depends upon who creates right kinds of noise at the time of elections backed by the money and organizational power.

The Real Political Power

The major issue is not what happens to the electoral outcome because of this cobbling but what can happen to the Dalits, in whose name such a farce gets enacted. The answer to the question is pretty clear: Whatever the electoral outcome, the fortune of Dalit leaders like Athawale would surely rise but the prospects of Dalit masses would be depleted. The gain to leaders accrues once the deal is capped. Interestingly, Athawale himself, though in his comic (or farcical?) style, referred to these political transactions as ‘business’ in his speeches several times and got applause in response from his fans! The business anyway shows up in his mounting networth as any politician’s. After all, it is not a mean achievement for a resident of Siddharth Vihar to build a mansion in coveted Kalanagar, Bandra! Anyway, he is a politician and politicians are not supposed to be questioned about their financial wizardry that shames even the smartest share market player. It was little comic therefore that Raj Thackeray had briefly insinuated the stink.

As we have known, there is little difference at the level of policies of any political party. Therefore, in material terms there is absolutely no likelihood of the crises faced by the masses being lessened by any electoral outcome. Even in social sphere there may not be much difference as the characteristics of the forces behind these alliances in villages are the same. If Shivsena-BJP can gun down Dalits in Ramabainagar, Congress-NCP can give Dalits Khairlanji! With such electoral communion of leaders, Dalits get notionally embedded in the ruling alliances. Paradoxically, they lose their voice to question them. Any time such an occasion--an incident of caste atrocity, or caste clash-- arises; their leaders would broker the rent for themselves and stay put the masses.

This process could be clearly observed by anyone during the last six decades and particularly, the last two of globalization making it blatant. However, since the Dalits have been intoxicated over a long time to see electoral politics as ‘be all and end all’ of their political life, it escaped from them. The entire system of electoral politics is so devised that it structurally benefits the brokers and intermediaries, euphemistically called leaders. These leaders simply keep creating mirage of political power and make the masses run after them. Political power conceived exclusively through electoral process would verily stay as an illusion for Dalits, given their numbers and relatively meager resource base. The charlatans pretending to be Dalit leaders make emotional appeal to the masses by invoking Ambedkar and fatten themselves on the tribute flowing from the ruling classes. The earliest the Dalits discard this mirage, the better it would be for them. Dalits do need political power. But that power is not going to come through the electoral process which essentially runs on money power. The elections have been a big trap that has blocked the political possibilities of Dalits. They need to rethink their strength in some other way; their real Bhimshakti. It lies in their organizational unity and prowess to fight for the real issues of living. It lies in broadening their unity transcending their caste barriers. If this happens, even the electoral politics with all its muscle would appear helplessly buckling before them. Political power is just the byproduct of the process of building this unity; unity through waging united mass struggles on the real issues. That will be the only effective way to end these farcical acrobatics by their political brokers.

Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai.


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