In our time all what the ‘emblem’ of Dalit politics strives is to simply hold on to power. Thereby, losing its ‘real’ political edge in the world of Indian politics - of the clientele- patronage system, which in turn has resulted in directing the whole movement towards a path which can be anything but the path towards a larger societal change where one wishes to see the absolute dismantling of the caste hierarchies.Moggallan Bharti, student of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, writes.
Two incidents which happened recently need some attention in order to have a fresh look on the ongoing Dalit politics. At a time when we are witnessing the increased political visibility of dalits paralled by increasing pauperization of many sections of the same due to the neo- liberal policies adopted by the government, it becomes all the more important to raise some questions so as to ascertain where does Dalit movement rest today when we see atrocity after atrocity being meted out to Dalits day in and day out in the present sociopolitical milieu? Where does that Political Dalit stand today, who has traveled an arduous journey of protest, and contestations against the same sociopolitical order since the days of Phule and Ambedkar and may be even before that, when all one can see predominantly today is the political nonsense being put up in the name of ‘vibrant’ Dalit movement.
Let us examine a few incidents in the limelight lately. First incidence is a barbaric act of violence, which fortunately didn’t go unnoticed unlike many other such tragedies, has taken place where a physically challenged Dalit girl and her father were burnt alive in Mirchpur village in Haryana’s Hisar district. Such a cowardly act of violence along with the killings done in the name of “family honour” by the Khap panchayats has become the order of the day in this deeply caste entrenched society of Haryana. This heinous atrocity was perpetrated upon this poor dalit family on 21st April this year, just a week after Ambedkar’s 119th birth centenary “celebrated” by the Indian political class. There was an instant agitated protest against this incident on the part of some civil society groups along with sections of Left and progressive people. And well that is it. We may or may not come to know about some enquiry being made in to this brutal act, to find out the obvious of course, and whether justice has been eventually meted out to the deceased family.
Another incident which is more of an inherent farce being played in the name of Dalit movement, definitely invites serious condemnation if not a direct protest, is the support provided by the Bahujan Samaj Party on 27th April to United Progressive Alliance government in the Lok Sabha on the crucial “cut motion” moved by all the opposition parties against the government’s inability and abject insensitivity in curbing the rising prices of essential commodities, petroleum products and fertilizers. This cut motion came in the wake of rising protest and strikes done at a pan-India level which made no dent on the government’s attitude in controlling the prices and the runaway inflation for almost more than a year now.
Why the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Mayawati, supported the government on this issue of cut motion moved by the united opposition in the parliament is not something which is going to be probed here but Mayawati’s claim on the part of BSP, being the party of Dalits and then indulging in a completely anti-Dalit activity, needs to be scrutinized and questioned rigorously.
BSP, which is negotiating its space and having an ugly fight with the Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, back in UP, has shamelessly failed in galvanizing a popular movement against the government at the center which has no sense whatsoever of the rising cost of living of the millions in the country. Furthermore, it also did not occur to the ‘charismatic’ leadership of Ms Mayawati to bring any gesture of condemnation on the Mirchpur Dalit atrocity, let alone the protest on the streets. BSP, it seems has taken its core support base among Dalits way too far for granted and its handling of those issues which are the very core of Dalit politics speaks volumes about its lack of any programmatic understanding of Dalit emancipation. Thus, jeopardizing and misguiding the whole political movement of social change. Dalit movement today, unlike during the leadership of Baba Saheb, has failed to arrive upon a concrete political programme for dalits. Added to this, the movement also lacks any understanding on the status of economic impoverishment of dalits.
The movement which imparted the assertiveness and the consciousness of self respect among the sections of Dalits is at a crossroad today. And, as of now, one wishes or not, BSP represents the face of political Dalit in India today. I for one firmly believe that this movement has been lost in its own labyrinth caused by the opportunistic leadership at the political level and their complete lack of understanding in terms of bringing a social change which has been and shall remain one of the sole objectives of the movement. However, in our time all what this ‘emblem’ of Dalit politics strives today is to simply hold on to power. Thereby, losing its ‘real’ political edge in the world of real politics of clientele- patronage system, which in turn has resulted in directing the whole movement towards a path which can be anything but the path towards a larger societal change where one wishes to see the absolute dismantling of the caste hierarchies.
Hypothetically speaking one can see the whole movement broadly divided in to two streams today: firstly, those people whose political imagination doesn’t get fired beyond the protective regimes of state craft and who treat themselves with a self congratulatory pleasure in advocating everything and anything which forms a bourgeois conception of life. And secondly those set of fanatics who will believe and follow everything in the name of Ambedkar, pronounced by ‘Dalit Deities’. For whom Baba Saheb is nothing but another Godly figure, which can be molded into whichever way these deities deem fit, which needless to say, remains miles apart from Ambedkar’s own thoughts and beliefs.
Thus, what we notice is that there is no concrete understanding for furthering the cause of Dalit politics; rather it is a disjuncture between what we are witnessing as the politics of Dalit today and its empowering philosophy of larger socio- economic change grounded in the works of Ambedkar. When such is the situation, one should not wonder, seeing regressive political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party sermonizing Dalits in the name of Ambedkar and indoctrinating their minds to actualize its own divisive politics. Also, this should not come as a surprise to anyone when an extremely communal person like Narendra Modi writes a book on ‘Social Assimilation’, while all these years the minimum Dalits have asked and strived for is social change.
The Dalit movement requires strong political rootedness of Ambedkar’s vision of an egalitarian society under the framework of state socialism. I seriously doubt whether some of the proclaimed gatekeepers of today’s Dalit politics even know the meaning of socialism. In a nutshell, the movement today is increasingly succumbing to the logical eventuality of Identity politics (by which I do not, even by implication, mean to undercut the democratic vibrancy and the political importance of identity politics) and has been sometimes reduced to individualistic and manipulative politics of power as is been evident from the functioning of BSP.
To conclude, the movement today in order to further enrich itself has to factor in that the real agenda of Dalit emancipation does not lie in creating a new class of Dalit millionaires out of patronage or expanding the creamy layer(as opposed to the enterprising dalit individuals). This is simply incompatible with Ambedkar’s perspective of empowering ordinary dalits through land reforms, expansion of rights and entitlements and real power sharing – as the part of a larger programme for far reaching social reform. That perspective has never been more relevant than now.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org