Dr. Ambedkar is said to be the father of Dalit politics because he was the first person to fight for the political rights of Dalits. He was the person who during the Round Table Conferences (1930-32), called in connection with the framing of future constitution of India, got the Dalits (Depressed Classes) recognised as a minority distinct from the Hindus and got the right to separate electorate just like Muslims, Sikhs and Anglo Indians. On the announcement of “Communal Representation Award” in 1932, whereby the Depressed Classes also got a right to separate electorate, Mahatma Gandhi declared to resort to fast unto death under the plea that it will break the Hindu society whereas he had no objection to the similar right given to Sikhs and Muslims. At last under great pressure and to save Gandhi’s life Dr. Ambedkar had to sign the Poona Pact whereby he had to sacrifice Dalit’s right to independent politics and agree to joint electorate with reserved seats.
As per decision taken in the Round Table Conference a new law named Government of India Act-1935 was enacted which came into force in 1936. Under this Act the first election was declared to be held in 1937. In order to participate in this election Dr. Ambedkar established Independent Labour Party in August, 1936 which contested election on 17 seats in Bombay Presidency and won 15 seats. After this on 19th July, 1942 he formed another party known as All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF). This party contested election held in 1946 and 1952 but lost them under the adverse impact of Poona Pact. As a result of it Dr. Ambedkar himself lost the election in 1952 and 1954. At last Dr. Ambedkar dissolved AISCF on 14th October, 1956 at Nagpur and announced the formation of Republican Party of India (RPI). He himself drafted the constitution of this party. In reality this party came into existence on 3 October, 1957 after his death on 6th December, 1956. According to these details Dr. Ambedkar established three political parties during his life time. Out of these only RPI has survived but badly fragmented.
In the present context it is to be seen whether through these parties pursued the caste politics or politics based on issues of different classes. It requires an in-depth analysis of agendas of these parties established by Dr. Ambedkar.
Let us first of all see the agenda of Independent Labour Party. Dr. Ambedkar while enunciating the aims and objectives of this party had said,” Having regard to the fact that the present was no time for parties communally organised, he had in agreement with the wishes of the friends broadened the name and the programme of the party so as to permit political co-operation between other classes and the Depressed Classes. The nucleus of the party would still be the 15 members of the Depressed Classes. But the members of the other classes were free to join the party.” The manifesto of the Party included solution to the problems of landless, poor farmers, tenants and labourers, to re-establish old and set up new industries, consolidation of small land holdings, expansion of technical education, state management of industries, to stop
exploitation of tenants by landlords and expulsion there from, laws for the protection of workers, to punish every type of orthodoxy and reaction, expansion of education with donations, to re-plan village housing for cleanliness in order to change their mind set and establish library, hall and cinema house. The Party mainly emphasised on the welfare of workers and farmers. The main effort of the Party was to educate the people in democratic methods, to put correct ideology before them and to organise them through political actions. Thus it is clear that party’s politics was not based on caste lines rather it was based on common issues and Dalits were at the centre of this party. It was opposition party in Congress government of Bombay Presidency. During this period the party got many useful laws enacted. Due to opposition by this Party the Industrial Dispute Bill could not be passed.
Now let us have a look at the aims, objectives and agenda of AISCF established in 1942. By establishing this party Dr. Ambedkar had aimed at creating a balance between Congress and Socialist Parties. The main issues of its manifesto were: All the Indians are entitled to equality, in favour of political, religious and economic equality for all Indians, state responsibility to keep all Indians free from want and fear, to protect liberty, equality and fraternity, freedom from exploitation of man by man, class by class and nation by nation and duty of the state to protect democratic system and under economic programme: nationalization of insurance, compulsory insurance for all government employees and prohibition. Although under the adverse effect of Poona Pact this party could not show much electoral victories but still party agenda and peoples movements like land movements made the Untouchables to organise under one flag which instilled confidence in Dalits. From the programme of the AISCF it is clear that although Dalits were at the centre of the party but instead of caste politics the party pursued broad agenda based politics.
As mentioned earlier keeping in view the changed circumstances and needs of the people Dr. Ambedkar announced the formation of a new political party named “Republican Party of India’ (RPI) on 14th October, 1956 at Nagpur. He himself drafted its constitution. In establishing this party his objective was to have a party whose aims and objectives should be in accordance with the promises made in our constitution and to pursue their fulfilment. He did not want to it to be a party of the Untouchables only because a party formed in the name a caste and class cannot win power as at the most it can become a pressure group only. The main objectives behind the formation of RPI were: (1) The inequalities should be removed from the society so that there is no privileged and deprived section, (2) There should be two party system: one in power and one in opposition. (3) Equality before law and equal protection of law, (4) To establish moral values in society, (5) Equal treatment with minorities, (6) To develop a feeling of humanity which has been lacking in Indian society.
“In the preamble of the constitution of the party the main aims and objectives mentioned are: To realise liberty, equality and fraternity. The party programme was very broad. Dr. Ambedkar’s main idea behind formation of this party was to bring minorities, poor Muslims, poor Christians, poor and low caste Sikhs and poor class untouchables, backward class people, aborigines and all those people who want end of exploitation, justice and progress under one flag and protect their constitutional rights by confronting the capitalists.” (Dalit Politics and Organisations by Bhagwan Das).
RPI was officially established in 1957 after the parinirvaan of Babasaheb. The party contested General Elections of 1957 and 1962. In addition to Maharashtra RPI won many seats in other parts of India. In 1957 it won 12 Lok Sabha and 29 State Assembly seats. In 1962 it won 3 Lok Sabha and 20 State Assembly seats. In 1967 it won 1 Lok Sabha and 22 State Assembly seats. It also launched struggle for land distribution, reservation in services, minimum wages, reservation for neo-Buddhists. Persons from Muslims, Sikhs and Jains also joined the party. Among them Rajinder Singh Sparrow from Punjab, Dr. Abbas Malik from Delhi, Rahat Molayi, Dr. Chhedi Lal Saathi and Nasir Ahmad from Uttar Pradesh,S.H.Ghosh from West Bengal, Rao Bahadur N. Shivraj (Madras) wee prominent persons. The Party launched a nationwide land movement from 6th December, 1964 to February, 1965 and more than 3 lacs of people courted arrests. The Congress government under this pressure had to accept land distribution and all other demands. During this period RPI emerged as a strong party of Dalits, Muslims and Backward Classes but after 1962 the party started disintegrating. Its main reason was that by this time RPI had become a threat to the then ruling Congress Party. The main weakness of this party was that its membership was mostly confined to Maharas in Maharashtra and Chamars in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress leaders started exploiting this weakness to break it. To begin with they enticed Dadasaheb Gayakvad and made him a Member of the Rajya Sabha. On this point the party broke into two groups: Dadsaheb Gayakvad Group and B.D.Khobragade Group. After this the party fragmented into groups after the name of its leader. At present the party is divided into many factions who have become totally ineffective. Although these faction use the name of RPI but they have nothing to do with its agenda. Now and then they enter into alliances with different politic parties and gain a little sometime.
After the downfall of RPI, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came up in northern India which promised to fulful
From the above analysis one thing becomes clear that Dr. Ambedkar never favoured politics of Identity because it strengthens casteism. It indirectly strengthens Hindutva. Dr. Ambedkar had aimed at destroying caste and make Indian society a castless and classless society. Whichever parties were formed by Dr. Ambedkar they were not caste parties because their aims, objectives and agendas were broad. It is true that Dalits were at their centre but their programmes were broad and case neutral. They were for the upliftment of all the poor classes. So long as RPI followed the principle of never making an alliance with orthodox Hindutva parties and stuck to its radical agenda it succeeded in uniting Dalits, Workers and Minorities. So long there was internal democracy in the party and it struggled for people’s issues, it flourished. But as soon as it fell into the trap of politics of individualism and casteism it declined.
Hence, if the present fragmented Dalit politics is to be rescued and revived it has to come out of caste politics and adopt issue based politics. It will have to free itself from the clutches of selfish caste leaders. Dalits should know that caste politics gives sanction to hero worship and dictatorship. In caste politics individuals become primary and issues become secondary. The experience so far has proved that caste politics gives rise to caste confrontation and caste rivalry which is an obstacle in the unity of the castes. That is why many small sub-castes of Dalits have joined hands with BJP in reaction against bigger sub-castes which is a big danger for unity of Dalits. Hence in the face of this danger it is necessary that Dalits should revaluate their political parties and political leaders. They should get rid themselves of these divisive forces and adopt a pro-people, progressive and issue based politics. In fact our country now does not need casteist political parties but a united anti-caste alliance. Otherwise castes will get strengthened which nurtures politics of religion which is the biggest danger for democracy.
SR Darapuri I.P.S.(Retd) and Organiser, Jan Manch