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MARGIN SPEAK

Three Dalit Rams Play


Hanuman to BJP
ANAND TELTUMBDE

Ramdas Athavale, Ram


Vilas Paswan and Ram Raj
(notwithstanding his renaming
himself Udit Raj some years ago)
will play Hanuman to Bharatiya
Janata Partys Ram. Isnt it high
time dalits ripped apart their
masks and saw them for what
they really are?

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a


writer and civil rights activist with the
Committee for the Protection of Democratic
Rights, Mumbai.

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he three dalit Rams Ramdas


Athavale, Ram Vilas Paswan, and
Ram Raj (notwithstanding his
renaming himself Udit Raj some years
ago) the self-styled torchbearers of
Babasaheb Ambedkar, shamelessly crawled to grab the impending crumbs of
power by latching their apple-carts to
the Bharatiya Janata Partys (BJP) chariot.
Barring Paswan, who proved himself an
astute player by staying as a union minister
(railways, telecom, information technology, mines, steel, chemicals and fertilisers)
in four successive governments from
1996 to 2009, headed by various prime
ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, H D Deve
Gowda, I K Gujral and Manmohan Singh,
the other two Rams have until recently
been crying hoarse against the BJPs
communal character. Athavales spinelessness has surfaced ever since his outrageous ambition of becoming a minister
at the centre was not fulfilled and
he lost the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
He began to accuse his mentors in
Congress, those who had picked him up
from a dingy room in Siddharth Vihar
and installed him in an air-conditioned
suite at Sahyadri as a cabinet minister
of Maharashtra, of humiliation. But,
Dr Udit Rajs (yes, he has a doctorate
from the prestigious Bible College and
Seminary, Kota, Rajasthan) somersault
from his well-reasoned anti-BJP position
was quite amusing to say the least.
At one level, seeing the lows to which
Indian democracy has stooped, such
opportunist acrobatics of dalit leaders
would not surprise anyone. After all,
everyone has been doing it. Why then
grudge if dalit leaders do the same? After
all, many of them have so far been in
Congress; what if now they go over to BJP?
Indeed, while there may be little difference between the BJP and the Congress,
the reason for the alarm stems from what
April 12, 2014

they have professed so far, and consequently, the public perception about
them. Unlike Congress, BJP is an ideologydriven party. Its ideological core of
Hindutva, shorn of the verbiage surrounding it, is the ideology of fascism, which
can be clearly seen as antithetical to
what Ambedkar stood for. Although
expediency demands their allegiance to
the Indian Constitution, or wooing adivasis, dalits and Muslims, their ideological
attitude is against them. One is therefore
deeply pained by the abominable demeanour of the dalit leaders in betraying
Ambedkar while singing paeans to him.
Ambedkars Legacy
Ambedkar had begun with the idea
of reforms in Hinduism, building upon
his initial diagnosis that castes were
enclosed classes (Castes in India), the
enclosure being provided by the system
of endogamy and exogamy. It implied
that if this system was done away with
through intermarriages, the closure would
crack and castes would become classes.
His initial strategy therefore consisted in
exposing the ills of Hindu society vis--vis
dalits such that progressive elements of
Hindus would come forward to take
up reforms. It was practised at Mahad.
The bitter experience however led him
to conclude that reforms were not
possible in Hindu society as its root
lay in the Hindu dharmashastras. Unless
those dharmashastras were dynamited, he
thought, castes would not be annihilated
(The Annihilation of Caste). Ultimately,
just before his death, he accomplished
what he thought was the method of
annihilation of castes: he embraced
Buddhism. One may easily fault his line
of analysis with hindsight, but the annihilation of castes remains the core of
Ambedkars legacy. Whatever he did in
between was to empower dalits so as to
struggle for eradicating the caste system,
the biggest impediment in realising his
vision of liberty, equality, fraternity.
Since he did not believe, unlike the
Marxists, that history had some logic, laws
governing its motion, he followed what
is called pragmatism under the influence
of his teacher at Columbia, John Dewey.
vol xlIX no 15

EPW

Economic & Political Weekly

MARGIN SPEAK

Pragmatism is an approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the


successes of their practical application. It
eschews a doctrinaire approach and
stresses the practical consequences as
constituting the essential criterion in
determining meaning, truth or value.
Thus it is heavily premised on sincerity
of purpose and the moral grounding of
the practitioner. Ambedkars struggle
exemplifies it. If this premise is compromised, pragmatism can be used for justifying anything in the world. And that
has precisely happened in the postAmbedkar movement. Dalit leaders went
berserk pursuing their self-interests in
the name of Ambedkarism or furthering dalit interests. Indias politics is so
configured that once you get money, you
can create spectacles of mass support.
Once this vicious cycle sets in, there is no
looking back. It is this process that creates the avenues for a 12th-standard
schooled Athavale to amass assets worth
crores of rupees1 and claim the legacy of
Ambedkar, who symbolised extraordinary scholarship and monumental commitment to the cause of downtrodden.
This could be said, more or less, about all
the other Rams and political peddlers of
their ilk in question. All their enterprises
run in the name of Ambedkar and
advancement of dalit interests!
What Are Dalit Interests?
While straying for greener pastures,
Ambedkarites invariably invoke dalit
interests. This tendency existed in Ambedkars times too. He had warned dalit
leaders about joining the Congress saying it was a burning house. When the
Congress spread its co-option net through
Yashwantrao Chavan in Maharashtra,
Ambedkarite leaders began willingly slipping into it with the sole alibi that this
move would better serve dalit interests.
They tricked the masses saying that even
Ambedkar had cooperated with the Congress in joining the Nehru government.
BJP, a political wing of the hydra-headed
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an
organisation professing cultural nationalism based on Hindutva, a weird amalgam
of culture and religion to confuse people,
can only be anathema for Ambedkarites.
It indeed remained so for many decades
Economic & Political Weekly

EPW

April 12, 2014

but not anymore. The RSS threw the


samarasata (social harmony, not equality) net to catch dalit fish and succeeded
in softening the ideological barrier.
Interestingly, the protagonists of dalit
interests embraced these ruling-class (and
upper caste) parties as their home, but
never even considered the left parties,
which with their numerous follies were
still their natural allies. The only reason
was that they could not offer them all
that the ruling-class parties did.
What is this bogey of dalit interests that
the Ambedkarite leaders did these acrobatics for? Dont they know that about
90% of dalits live crisis-ridden lives as
landless labourers, small and marginal
farmers, artisans in villages, and as slumdwelling casual workers and petty peddlers in the informal sector of the urban
economy? Even Ambedkar had realised
this at the fag end of his life and lamented
that he could not do anything for them.
The capitalist intrigues behind calibrated
land reforms and the green revolution,
which spread capitalist relations in the
countryside without providing any safety
net to dalits, passed by these worthies.
They had catastrophic consequences for
the dalit masses in terms of abolishing the
jajmani ethos of interdependence and
exposing them to the crude oppression of
the rich, culturally backward, shudra
farmers that displaced the erstwhile
upper-caste landlords in the countryside, wielding the baton of brahmanism.
In the intervening decades, reservations had created hopes but they soon
dried up. By the time the dalits of the
Indian countryside realised that reservations were almost monopolised by
their urban counterparts, the neo-liberal
ethos descended, ending them altogether. Our Rams were oblivious of
these hard facts and one of them, Udit
Raj, rather launched an all-India organisation for the one-point agenda of reservation, this when they had de facto
vanished. Instead of leading the masses
in seeing the intrigues of the ruling classes
behind reservations, they preferred amplifying the mirage in service of the latter.
Do they not know what those 90% dalits
need? They want land, meaningful
work, free and equitable quality education, healthcare, structures for their

vol xlIX no 15

democratic expression, and the promotion of an anti-caste cultural paradigm.


Hanumans of BJPs Ram
The fact remains that these Rams looked
for crumbs only for themselves by brokering dalit interests. Udit Raj, by far the
most learned of the lot, had been hurling
all kinds of criticisms against the Sangh
parivar and the BJP until yesterday, which
are strewn all over his book, Dalits and
Religious Freedom, for anyone to see. He
exhausted all the tricks of the trade in
appealing to dalits to dislodge Mayawati,
and having failed, now found solace in
the BJP, the biggest enemy of dalits, as he
himself once proclaimed. Now he plays
Hanuman in getting BJP whatever little
moss he has among dalits. The other two
Rams, Paswan and Athavale, unlike
Udit Raj, have decided to join the BJP-led
National Democratic Alliance, leveraging their little bases among dalits for
extracting better deals seven seats for
Paswan, three of which he has given to
his own family, and one seat for Athavale, besides his Rajya Sabha seat.
Athavale, the paper panther of yesteryears, followed in the footsteps of the
late Namdeo Dhasal, in falling into the
lap of Bal Thackeray, the rabid hater of
Ambedkar and Ambedkarite dalits.
These worthies project humiliation of
dalits (not theirs) by their ex-bedfellows as the reason to join BJP. Athavales
humiliation began when he was not
given a ministerial berth. He did not feel
ashamed when he acquiesced in mere
name-extension of Marathwada University, ignoring the sacrifices of dalits to
rename it after Ambedkar, and also in
the summary withdrawal of the cases of
atrocities against the criminals. These
are mere examples; the entire careers of
Paswan and Athavale are fraught with
such betrayals of dalit interests.
They will play for now Hanuman to
BJPs Ram. But isnt it high time dalits
ripped apart their masks and saw them
for what they really are?
Note
1

His self-declared assets of Rs 3.67 crore could


be questionable, but if one digs deeper, they
could go several times over. See http://myneta.
info/rajsab09aff/candidate.php?candidate_id=
494 and DNA, report by Ninad Siddhaye,
3 October 2011.

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