When Siddharth Varadrajan informed me that his The Wire had run a response to my piece [https://thewire.in/143238/bhim-army-mayawati-bsp/] in the Indian Express, I had not read it as I was traveling in Kerala without proper access to the net. He said he would be willing to publish my response. In reply, I wrote that if it was worth responding to, I might do it. Today I read it and to my dismay found that it did not have an iota of relation to what I wrote and merely pretended to make big points about nothing. Suryakant Waghmore, the author of ‘Civility of Caste’ is least expected to exhibit such incivility but what amazed me is to see such an irrelevant comment passing as response to my article through the editorial gaze of The Wire team. It was good, however that they provided a link to the original article so as to help readers see the irrelevance of the exercise. I began receiving calls from friends telling me that it was utterly out of focus and only smacked of venting some accumulated prejudice against me. I initially thought not to waste my time over this rejoinder which would be inevitably acrimonious but I had to yield to the pressure from these friends who wanted that it should not be allowed to pass unexposed. I wrote my response on 4 June and mailed it to The Wire.
[Despite my persistent follow up, The Wire mailed me its sanitized version after full 18 days, (neutralizing its impact halfway through just with delay), that took away its spirit and rather sought to grant Waghmore an undeserved respectability. It was better that they had not carried it. I did not approve it and preferred to publish it on Coutercurrents.com.]
At the outset, let me clarify that the major title “Bhim Army can transcend BSP and unveil a new emancipation of Dalits” is editorial construction of Indian Express. The real title of the article was ‘Bhim Army is not a product of the BJP, it is a by-product of the BSP” which was retained but as a subtitle. Discerning readers would have certainly noted the major title being unrelated to the content. But even that title does not convey anything like what is assumed by Waghmore in his purported response. My entire article [http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/bhim-army-can-transcend-bsp-unveil-a-new-emancipation-of-dalits/] is focused on to disprove Mayawati’s statement to denigrate Bhim Army as the product of the BJP and to contend that it was rather the by-product of the BSP’s persistent neglect of the real issues of the Dalits who emotionally supported it as their own party. It did not reflect any rhetorical support to the new outfit, least any attempt of hitching free ride with them as assumed by Waghmore.
I suspect, Waghmore jumped on to writing his response without making sure he understood what is written in the article. What does one call such a condition, if not prejudice? This prejudice runs across his review. For instance, he says, “he (I) tells us that Mayawati is bad, Kanshi Ram was good and the Bhim Army has the potential.” This motivated attribution is not to be found in my article. I wrote, it was “his strategic genius” that won the BSP power which would have been used to do something tangible for the Dalits to demonstrate itself as a true Dalit party. If Waghmore takes me as allergic to identity politics, which I am, particularly the politics based on the identity of caste, then how could I say Kanshi Ram who cobbled up his ‘bahujan’ on the basis of caste identities was good. None familiar with my writings ever smelt any such praise for Kanshi Ram or condemnation of Mayawati. Kanshi Ram was surely a strategic genius like, for instance, Gandhi. It meant what they had set out to achieve, they had clearly planned for its realization. Does it mean calling them good? May be as strategists, but not so for what they entailed. Good and bad is not my way of thinking; I assess people on their objective contribution to the issue at hand, good on some at one time and not so good or even bad on some other at other times. I have myself praised Mayawati for her guts, for giving the ruling politicians and their parties in their own coins but never hesitated to show that these very acts were injurious to Dalit interests. How do I help Waghmore if he is prejudiced to see things in a certain way?
Look at this: “Teltumbde writes that Mayawati was never a leader of Dalits. Somehow, for him, this is suddenly not true about Kanshi Ram. One wonders if Kanshi Ram used the rhetoric of caste and Bahujan identity any less.” Where he gets such hallucinations, I fail to understand. Not only in this article but even in any of my other writings, did I ever say such athing. This is a perfect example of firstly assuming things and then displaying one’s intellect in refuting them. Also, I have not said, “Mayawati squandered Kanshi Ram’s legacy” as Waghmore stated. What I said is that Mayawati squandered an opportunity that came her way by Kanshi Ram’s strategy. And I explained how. I have also not said, “caste atrocities against Dalits increased under her due to her ‘sarvajan strategy’”. Also, nowhere have I said as claimed by Waghmore, “that atrocities against Dalits increased in Uttar Pradesh during the BSP’s rule and continued to grow due to the BSP’s abuse of power.” What is said and suggested is ‘neglect’ of her core constituency, taking it for granted, striking political compromises, etc. On the basis of such erroneous understanding he laments, “This is a gross abuse of reason by an activist of his stature.” Stature etc. is inimical to me but what is at hand is the observation that Mayawati did not do anything for the Dalits beyond bolstering their pride in their identity with statutes and monuments of their icons. This is incidentally corroborated by many other activists and political commentators like S R Darapuri and Kanwal Bharti, both from UP and not stained as yet by accusations of being Marxists or Leftists by the likes of Waghmore.
What I said is that Mayawati could have curbed caste atrocities using her power but “Uttar Pradesh continued to distinguish itself by the atrocities on the Dalits” during her tenure. And then I provided hard statistics as given in the NCRB reports. I do not find any ambiguity in it to be misunderstood. Therefore, whether Waghmore’s paraphrasing is just a lack of comprehension or willful and malicious distortion or simple prejudice, or all of them, is really a matter of probing.
I could go on showing almost each of his sentences either deliberately distorting my views, or reflecting lack of understanding of what I wrote or being utterly irrelevant to the content of the article. But with the above clues, the readers themselves could see them easily and hence I would stop this exercise here.
I would rather turn to his stuffier snippets of argument regarding the caste atrocities. When he argues that “the increase in (reported) violence against Dalits is also a signifier of Dalits challenging caste” in the name of commonplace sociological knowledge, it reflects a quarter truth. Lest it cohere with the government logic that the increasing number of atrocities against the Dalits is simply because of the rising awareness among the Dalits of their rights that leads them to register atrocity cases, the balance three-fourth truth also needs to be explored. Do atrocities have nothing to do with rising agrarian distress in the countryside, with the uncertainties unleashed by neoliberal policies, with increasing competition in electoral politics, and dilapidation of the Dalit politics as a result of the leaders being always in the compromise mode vis-à-vis the mainstream ruling parties? What Waghmore calls challenging caste is rather cultural assertion of the Dalits of their identity. Instead of challenging castes, it may rather be accentuating them. That apart, among a plethora of factors (which exist in any social phenomenon), it cannot be taken as the dominant one. As I explained in my book, Persistence of Caste, an atrocity happens when a triangle comprising three factors — the presence of caste consciousness, assurance that there shall be no punishment either by the state or in retaliation to the committer of an atrocity and the salience of a trigger—is complete. The galloping rise in atrocity numbers during Modi’s rule, for instance, is solely attributable to the middle factor, emboldenment of the caste Hindus that nothing would happen to them if they punish the Dalits for their impertinence. Una, Saharanpur may testify to this.
One does not know what Waghmore wants to convey by saying “That caste violence is less reported in Odisha and West Bengal does not mean that caste and caste violence do not exist there”. Does he mean to say that in those states the caste atrocities happen but do not get reported? If so, why do they get reported in other states? In any case, the reference is totally irrelevant to my point. He reaches the climax of his argument pitching incidence of atrocity versus the conviction rate. While conviction rate is attributed to the judicial system which is supposed to be independent of Executive, surely it depends on the role played by investigative agencies that are part of the latter. But there is a gestation period for judicial process. Like projects being conceived and started by the UPA government are fructifying now cannot be attributed to the NDA government (although Modi is dishonestly taking credit for them), the credit for the convictions happened during her tenure could not be claimed by Mayawati. I am not undermining Mayawati’s administrative prowess; I am undermining Waghmore’s understanding, when he attributes failure on my part in understanding rate of conviction. The figure he quotes for the rate of conviction for UP and Maharashtra are utterly irrelevant, firstly for the above reason (of gestation) and secondly, because I have not made any comparative statement. Let me not go into the veracity of his figures or their analysis, as they are irrelevant for my argument.
Arsenal of Deceitfulness
Now let me deal briefly with his other arsenal. It is about pushing Ambedkar and Marx into the discussion. I have not even mentioned their names or referred to Left or Right or the Reform and Revolution or class politics in my article, all the pompous terms that he marshals in his rejoinder. This is purely reflective of the accumulated grudge in his mind and not the content of the subject article. Where did I term what Bhim Army was doing was Marxian politics or deviation from Ambedkarite politics or even from Mayawati’s politics? On the contrary, I have said that “Going by the current reflections the Bhim Army appears verily rooted in the stereotypes of the BSP-type of identity politics.” I think to speak about Ambedkarite or Marxian politics, one need to at least understand English. Why do these “intelligent” people like Waghmore disturb Ambedkar or Marx when they are not at all required, I fail to understand. When I haven’t even remotely touched upon the genres of politics associated with these people, Marx and Ambedkar, (and the worthies of his ilk must know I haven’t even done it elsewhere), it only smacks of his prejudice that typifies me as a Marxist to distance me from the gullible Ambedkarite Dalits with that questionable syllogism about Ambedkar being against Marx. When I myself suspected in no uncertain terms that the Bhim Army still reflects really the same identity politics of the BSP type, where is the need for pompous pontification about Left and Right? If he knows that Bhim Army is “just another angry eruption advancing Ambedkarite politics”, so be it; it does not contradict my point that its anger also is the by-product of the BSP and not stemming from BJP as Mayawati sought to condemn it with. Waghmore seems to know a lot more about them, which I need not dispute, but his knowledge seems either bolstering my point that Bhim Army should not be condemned as a BJP outfit or is utterly irrelevant. What angered me was Mayawati’s insinuation that these youngsters should have been punished by police.
When Waghmore is puzzled by my seeming contradiction that while I disprove Mayawati’s politics, support Bhim Army as the movement of youth and still suspect that they are rooted in “the stereotype of BSP-type identity politics”, I would say it is not so much as an understanding of politics but of simple English. The simple point the article makes is that as the movement of Dalit youth taking on the powerful perpetrators of caste atrocity in Saharanpur should be upheld and not condemned as BJP-sponsored and that they do bear potential to carve out new politics vis-à-vis BSP’s political acrobatics to stay in power. If Waghmore wants to deny them that potential and sees them as mere extension of the BSP itself, I am afraid, besides betraying his ignorance, he contradicts the zeroeth premise and unknowingly bolsters my point notwithstanding the irrelevance of his diatribe against Marx, Left, class politics, revolution, etc., all being deceitfully attributed to me.
Fantasizing the Non-Existent
One of his great points is against the violence (again this word does not occur in my write-up). “He says, “The violence of the Panthers, or at least their rhetoric, resulted in state repression against educated Dalit youth and caste violence of scale against rural Dalits.” Which violence of the Dalit Panthers he refers to? Rhetoric, yes. If using abusive language against the Hindus and Brahmans is the violence, I do not think anyone would beat Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. He thinks “Tilak taraju aur talwar, Inko maro jute char” with which Kanshi Ram and Mayawati caught imagination of the Dalits (Jatav-Chamars) and consolidated them into their constituency was a sloka of non-violence. Historically, such anti-Hindu and anti-Brahman rhetoric has been the staple of the Dalit movement. They would have been perfectly justified if accompanied by commensurate action. But the latter has been either conspicuous by its absence or was only seen in its opposite, opportunistic compromise. What remains rather untried is the commensurate reaction from the Dalits against the violence of the casteist elements. It is not that the violence is an intrinsic virtue but in the context of atrocity, it communicates to the perpetrators that the Dalits would no more taking it lying low. It makes one of the factors constituting the above referred atrocity triangle unavailable. Waghmore claims to know Ambedkarite politics; he should carefully reread Babasaheb Ambedkar’s ‘Mukti Kon Pathe’ wherein he reasons out atrocity on Dalits to be the result of their weakness and explains how they could overcome it.
Waghmore says, “Teltumbde trusts Mayawati more than the police and I am not sure why.” His advice to me is that I should believe Police reports that the BSP is supporting the Bhim Army and not Mayawati, who says it is not. Strange logic from one who claims to comment on politics! Firstly, no political person, particularly in the non-ruling camp takes police version without a pinch of salt. Secondly, there is nothing to divide BSP and Bhim Army when it comes to people. And thirdly, there is no BSP without Mayawati. He himself says that there is a “blurred boundaries between the social and political means in Dalit politics.” Chandrashekhar Azad and his comrades themselves would have been BSP supporters and they may still be as Waghmore claims to know. My point is that insofar as they indicate different trend (starting schools for the Dalits, and challenging the Rajputs with confidence), they bear potential for new politics of Dalits. The very fact that these youngsters had to think of starting schools for Dalit children now after two decades of BSP’s presence in the state as a ruling party/ dominant political player indicates the neglect of Dalit interests by the BSP and supports my observation.
Another lofty point, irrelevant though insofar as my article is concerned, (because it just does not exist there) is that he clubs “anti-caste movements and their identity politics” and claims that I have reservations about them. Waghmore seems to be knowing too much about what I think, which of course I need not grudge! It is well known that I uphold anti-caste politics and for that very reason oppose identity politics because it strengthens castes. Then he observes “Dalit groups tend to break away from the totalising nature of class politics as they undermine caste.” Yes, surely, the people of Waghmore’s ilk are averse to class politics and they have successfully held out Dalit masses from even knowing the class politics. For his information, there are many Daliits already practicing what he thinks is class politics in the country and even in these trying times they are steadfastly living it. One thing I would comment is that class politics challenges the state and demands sacrifices whereas caste politics has all the avenues to profit from the state largesses, which is why Waghmore-like people abhor class politics under the cover of intellectualism. Nobody grudges them their personal choice but why indulge in the matters where they do not have their skin.
When he says, “Failure in party politics may not result in the end of identity politics and the overnight dawn of class consciousness”, therefore, rings true because there are myriad of forces backed by the state upholding identity politics. While identity is spoken in generic terms, caste as an identity warrants special attention. It is a vicious identity, unlike any as it reflects hierarchy and makes divisiveness its prime attribute. Therefore, it invalidate itself as the basis of articulating any radical emancipator movement. Caste splits, and splits like amoeba: Ambedkar’s ‘Dalit’ also could not last despite the upsurge of identity politics and split into subcaste identities. “The strategies of using identity for recognition and redistribution purposes continue to hold the potential for cultural and material transformation” for identiy mongers but can never get close to universal emancipation.
Waghmore then goes on to observe that “Caste no doubt continues to be a central challenge facing the BJP” as the major contradiction in Indian society. He sees that only caste can be “productively mobilised against” the BJP. And curiously he finds that the “present times could well prove to be an opportune moment for Dalit and other marginal groups” for dissenting with reason and speaking truth to power. What an out-of-touch-with-reality kind of convoluted argument this is in the shadow of rising fascism in the country. When the dexterous caste mobilization catapulted BJP to power and reached it within sight of realizing its dream of hindu rashtra, which is not just a rhetoric but 21st century fascism the like of which is not known to history, he is proposing caste as the means of ‘speaking truth to power’. When the fangs of the Hindu right are getting bare in Una, Saharanpur, IIT (M), HU and a plethora of such places in the country, Waghmore finds times to be opportune for Dalits and marginal groups. I find it beyond me to comment on such a preposterous proposition.
In the context of galloping rise in atrocities on Dalits, trampling of every value associated with the Constitution, vulgar inequality in every sphere of life, revivalist Hindutva orthodoxy, and growing fascisation of society, Waghmore thinks of Bhim Army “advancing the tradition of Ambedkarite politics, creatively combining the constitution with social and political mobilisation to consolidate subaltern hegemony. One worries, beyond the objective calamity that stares Dalits in face, this caliber of intellectualism is further ditching them into blind alley where it would be difficult for them to feel even their moorings. Of course Waghmore has to take recourse to contrast his projection with “revolutionary rhetoric” that “undermines the past struggles”.He thinks taking objective stock of the present reality in the context of the learnings from the past, which is a method of strategic course correction, is undermining the past struggles. It is a pitiable attempt to evoke Dalit emotions and incapacitating them to confront present. He accuses me of hitching a ride on the Bhim Army; venting my ire on Mayawati, not knowing where to sit. Waghmore is under strong hallucination to see all of it in the article when there is nothing in reality.
This peddling of identity trash in the wake of rising wave of hindutva fascism is more dangerous than fascism itself.
Anand Teltumbde, Writer, political analyst, columnist, and civil rights activist with CPDR, Maharashtra