The Dalit Question

[From the Political-Organisational Report of the Sixth Party Congress.]

The dalit question has emerged as a major question, particularly with the phenomenal rise of BSP. The BSP, after a good beginning in Punjab, registered a steep rise in UP, spread to MP and some other states. At one point of time it appeared set to take Andhra by storm and there it got a sympathetic response from various Naxalite factions. Radicals exempted them from their ban on conducting election propaganda in areas of their influence, a certain ML faction declared their open support to BSP in the elections, some ex-PWG stalwarts even joined BSP and a prominent ideologue even credited Kanshi Ram with correctly applying Marxism-Leninism and Mao’s Thought to Indian conditions! This is how the so-called dalit discourse entered the ML movement and sought to transform the class parameters of the movement.

Our Party firmly opposed these deviations and upheld the Marxist viewpoint that expanding the frontiers of class struggle can be the only point of departure for Marxists while they undertake class struggles against caste oppression and for the social equality of dalits. The Kanshi Rams take up these issues on the premise of negation of class struggle and ultimately end up preaching class peace and becoming part and parcel of the ruling elite. In areas of Bihar where dalit movements for social dignity and equality have become a part of the class struggle of the rural poor, BSP elements were truly exposed. They were found hobnobbing with Ranvir Sena, and subsequently the BSP itself made common cause with the feudal-Brahminical party, the BJP, in Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar we successfully prevented the intrusion of BSP into our areas of struggle, and in Uttar Pradesh we have taken up the challenge of restoring the old left bases of CPI which were swept away by BSP, back to the Left fold.

The BSP’s flirting with the Congress and the BJP and its consistent anti-Left attitude has helped remove illusions in progressive intellectual circles including among dalit intellectual circles. It still, however, enjoys considerable support among dalit peasantry and dalit petty-bourgeois sections in Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati’s stint in power and her symbolic acts like the Ambedkar Village scheme, installing statues of proponents of dalit liberation, renaming districts etc. after Ambedkar and others revered by dalit communities have stood her in good stead. In Punjab, the BSP developed a totally opportunistic alliance with the Akalis, a party of kulaks and reaped a good harvest in parliamentary elections, but in assembly elections when it contested alone it came a cropper.

In UP too the BSP faces problems in keeping its flock of MLAs together. Many of them were drawn to BSP from other parties — and interestingly a good many of them are from upper castes — just by the opportunity to cash in on its dalit vote bank, which Kanshi Ram traded with impunity. This is why the party insisted — even though it had to finally back out — on its demand for having one of its own men as the Speaker with the passing of the reins of chief ministership from Mayawati to Kalyan Singh. In spite of its subsequent withdrawal of support, the BJP has succeded in luring away at least a dozen BSP MLAs. The BSP’s forays into Southern, Western and Eastern India have so far failed to deliver.

The BSP at the grassroots level has developed a desire among the dalit castes for dignity, equality and share in political power. At the top, however, it developed a class of dalit elites who make a vulgar display of wealth and lead a decadent bourgeois life. The ultimate destiny of the BSP, which essentially represents the class interests of the above-mentioned dalit elites and the petty bourgeoisie, is absorption by the BJP or Congress(I). But the heightened consciousness of the broad dalit masses can definitely be mobilised under the red banner for wages, land, social dignity and political emancipation.

The dalit movement is in the process of reorganisation in Maharashtra, where the dalit outburst after the desecration of Ambedkar’s statue didn’t even spare established dalit leaders who had degenerated. A calculated move has been witnessed in recent times to denigrate Ambedkar and project him as having been opposed to Indian freedom. Of late, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party too has started attacking Ambedkar. Meanwhile the BJP is seeking to appropriate Ambedkar for its communal ends. We must oppose these moves. In socio-economic terms, Ambedkar was much more radical than Gandhi, and even Nehru. Politically too, he was more conscious of the complexities of nation-building in India. Rather than trying to project himself as a national leader at the expense of everything else, he made a strong plea for making dalit emancipation an integral part of the freedom movement. And this is a question which India is struggling with even fifty years after independence.

The dalit question in the present context cannot be simply viewed as confined to dalit vs. Brahminical upper castes. Rising kulaks from among upwardly mobile intermediate castes, too, indulge in dalit bashing in order to scuttle the demand of the agricultural workers and poor peasants for wages and land.

In Tamil Nadu, widespread caste clashes in the southern districts between dalits and Thevars (a backward caste) with the state machinery openly siding with the Thevars, is an important reflection of this phenomenon. This phenomenon is also becoming pronounced in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Mulayam’s demand for the scrapping of the central act on preventing atrocities on dalits emanates from the same standpoint.

We tried to organise a Dalit Mahasabha in UP in order to actively intervene in the dalit discourse vis-a-vis BSP. This proved a non-starter and subsequently we decided to abandon this project. The correct policy would be to unite with radical dalit organisations and interact with progressive intellectual circles such as proponents of ‘dalit literature’. In Tamil Nadu we recently organised a convention in Tirunelveli against atrocities on dalits and developed a close rapport with militant dalit organisations. We must however be on guard against infiltration of dalitist ideas in our organisation.