Co-Written by Badre Alam Khan & Sanjay Kumar
Ever since the Hindu nationalist forces led by PM Modi came to power in 2014, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the range of violence and atrocities against Dalits, religious and gender minorities have increased. And a new trend infamously known as mob-lynching, in which mostly Muslims including Dalits have become victims of this hate crime. As senior journalist and the author of book, Lynch Files, Ziya US Salam said that it has now become a ‘new normal’ in our society. It is important to note that, however, the BJP in its election Manifesto, 2019 has given more attentions to the ‘ nationalism’ and concerns for ‘national security’ rather than addressing the substantive issues and problems faced by marginalized social groups.
It is irony that whenever progressive people including public intellectuals and liberal academics have expressed their concerns and dissatisfaction and became critical to the ruling dispensation mainly with regards to the last five years performances, they are immediately branded as anti-nationals. In response to this, the Congress (by launching like concept of YAY and other right based policies) and Left parties have made substantive promises to address the core problems of Indian toiling masses. At the same time, the soft-Hindutva elements within the Congress party could not be easily bypassed. For instance, the temple visit of Congress president Rahul Gandhi can be taken here as case in point. And newly elected CM of Madhya Pradesh Mr. Kamal Nath slapped ‘National Security Act’ (NSA) against the suspected Cow killers.
Prakash Ambedkar ( grandson of Dr. Ambedkar who has taken firm stand against the communal forces in the case of Bhima Koregaon violence against Dalits which took place on Januray1, 2018.) has formed a Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BMM) party and having alliances with Mr. Asasuddin Owbais’s party- All India Majlish-e Ittehadul- Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Maharashtra. The broad electoral alliance like VBA (Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, an alliances of the marginalized, socially excluded and materially deprived sections of society) has decided to contest in the ongoing 2019 polls. However, this alliance has been criticised by the opposition parties like Congress and NCP on the grounds of dividing ‘Secular votes’ benefiting to the BJP electorally. However, the leaders of VBA argued that it is ironical to say that VBA is the B-team of the BJP and therefore not having any alternative political agenda. The VBA has been considered as potential force and can make an impact in more than 10 Lok sabha seats.
Similarly, the recent SP-BSP and RLD alliances have been formed in UP. It is argued that said alliances seem to be gaining a new churning in Bahujan politics. However, previous experiments have shown that whenever the social justice parities like the SP and BSP have had captured the state power in UP, the intra-subaltern caste tensions and conflicts remain unaddressed. As a result of these tensions, political scientists have said that a majority of Bahujan masses have shifted towards right-wing and voted for the Modi led BJP in 2014. On basis of recent development of Bahujan politics in UP and Maharashtra, we argue that if these parties will holistically follow the idea of ‘social fraternity’ (read here social solidarity) as proposed by Dr. Ambedkar seriously, they have a potential ingredients to stop the ‘Hindutva juggernaut’ in long run. However, it would be too early to forecast that what electoral effects and outcome will bring out by these alliances in 2019 ongoing general elections.
In this respect, it is important to revisit the idea of ‘social democracy’ and ‘associated mode of social life’ based on ‘social fraternity’ put-forward by DR. Ambedkar long back to push the agenda of intra-groups democratizations. It is to be noted that during the Mandal politics, the concept of ‘Bahujan unity’ as the ‘political community’ had been conceptualized by visionary leader of social justice Kanshi Ram (founder of the BSP and the organization like BAMCEF, and Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sanghrash Samiti, DS-4 etc.) which was crucial to address the threat of Hindutva politics during the height of Kamandal politics.. Having said that let us discuss the recent rise of Bahujan politics in two respective states such as Maharashtra and UP.
To note that in the case of Maharashtra and under the leadership of Prakash Ambedkar and Mr. Owaisi both are relentlessly bringing the lower castes, OBCs, Dalits and minorities together to forge larger unity against the Hindutva juggernaut under the banner of VBA. The similar but different attempt has been done by the SP-BSP alliances by uniting others outfits like RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal). It could be argued that both Maharashtra and UP model of Bahujan politics are indeed commendable steps as far as unity of Bahujan politics is concerned. To contain the saffornisation and Sanskritisations (emulating the life styles, food habits and culture of the upper caste by lower castes to get upward social mobility) of Dalits and lower castes launched by the RSS-BJP combine; the BSP supremo Ms. Mayawati have also launched a fresh campaign for uniting Bahujan masses through the Bhaichara Samities(brotherhood committees)among the non-Jatavas Dalits like the Pasis and Valmikis and other sub-castes who have earlier voted to PM Modi in 2014. However, the past experiments had shown that Bahujan politics in UP is replete with several contradictions and became more apparent within subaltern community. For instance, when SP captured state power only Yadavs castes and their family had cornered more benefits in compared to non-Yadavs. In similar way, when BSP under the leadership of Ms. Mayawati assumed power in mid-1990s in UP mostly Jatvas had got more benefits than non-Jatvas as said earlier. To note that these intra-castes tensions have been further politically exploited by the BJP-RSS combined and while doing so, they mobilized the non-Jatavs sub-castes groups mainly who had not enjoyed and got their due share in the tenure of the BSP in UP. For instance, 2014 general elections cloud be seen in this light when the major chunk of non- Yadavas and non-Jatavs have shifted towards right-wing politics and voted to Modi government.
The point here is that these earlier intra-subaltern conflicts must be kept in mind while conceptualizing the alternative Bahujan politics. It could be only possible when the politics of recognitions must be combined with the politics of redistributions amongst the Bahujan community. In this respect, Prakash Ambedkar by having alliances with, the All India Majlish-e Ittehadul- Muslimeen (AIMIM) and other marginalized social groups seem to be combining both material as well as non-material issues successfully under the banner of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). However, political commentators have noted that without uniting the secular and democratic forces like Congress and left parties only the unity of Bahujan politics are not going to contain the Hindutva politics in the years to come. The fragmentations between secular and social justice parties will further divide secular votes and hence, it will benefit communal forces like the BJP. While responding to the soft-Hindutva elements within the so-called secular politics, it has been argued that how alliances will be forged between the Bahujan and the Congress party when president Rahul Gandhi wittingly has been claiming to be upper caste Hindu geneudhari, and visiting temples to prove his Hindu credentials. The Gujarat elections could be taken as case in point. To be precise here, the tension between the Congress and Bahujan politics both in Maharashtra and UP remain in conflict. As said earlier, the BJP may electorally exploit this situations and carve out political space in both UP and Maharashtra.
However, here it is argued that a crucial question should be asked what is the alternative agenda based on concrete social realities to put before subaltern masses? Mere electoral calculations are not sufficient to contain the rise of Hindutva politics, without putting an alternative politics before the masses. In short, an alternative politics based on people’s agenda must be put-forward by the Congress and social justice parties rather than merely taking about electoral unity to grab the political power.
Keeping this current impasse of Bahujan forces with secular politics in mind, we are not going to discuss the Congress and Left party’s programmes and policies, rather our discussions would be concentrated to the social justice parties which are very much active in Maharashtra and UP where new Bahujan politics seem to be rejuvenating as imagined by Kanshi Ram in late 1990s. It is to be remembered that the alliances between the SP-BSP which was formed for the first time in 1993 during the height of communal politics in India and they had checked the BJP from capturing the political power. Keeping the earlier political experiments in mind, we assume that current Bahujan alliances, with the insights drawn from the Ambedkar’s ideas of social justice and notion of fraternity including the political strategy of Kanshi Ram have a ‘political potential’ to contain the rise of Hindutva juggernaut and in doing so, current Bahujan alliances could make new directions in history of Indian politics in the long run.
The New Churning in the Bahujan politics
It is crucial to note that electoral experiments of 1993 is need to remembered because that time the electoral alliances between SP-BSP had successfully countered the ‘Hindutva juggernaut’ during the height of post- Babri masjid communal politics. The slogan like ‘Mele Mulayam Kanshi Ram hawa mei udd gai jai Shri Ram’, had paid reach political dividend to the social justice parties at that time. After three decades , once again the SP-BSP alliance have come together and united other forces like RLD in its fold. As a result, the alliances in the recent by-polls like Phulpur and Gorakhpur and eventually in Kairana Lok Sabha constituencies have jointly defeated the BJP candidates in 2018. On the basis of earlier experiments, one could conclude that if the current SP-BSP alliance overcome the intra-subaltern castes tensions by adopting the concept of ‘social fraternity’and radical agenda of social justice (not adopting the ‘social engineering’ formula as Ms. Myawati has experimented by aligning with the upper caste Brahmins) as conceptualized by Dr. Ambedkar and including Kanshi Ram political experiment of uniting larger the ‘Bahujans’( to note that under the concept of Bahujan, the social groups like Dalits, OBCs and converted minorities who are majority in India will be included except the upper-caste Hindus) have ‘ political potential’ to stop once again the BJP-RSS combined communal politics in the long run.
In 1993, the BSP alone had contested 164 UP assembly seats and won 67, while the SP had contested 256 seats and won 109. After the electoral victory, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav had became the chief minister of UP. The experiment of 1993 could be repeated in ongoing elections, 2019 if vote percent of the SP-BSP and the RLD will combine together, and it will pose potential challenge to the BJP. To note that when the Modi’s wave was at its peak, in 2014, the BJP managed to get 42.30 per cent vote share in UP. However the combined total of the SP ( vote percent 22.2 percent) and the BSP (19.60 percent) vote share in 2014, was 42.30 percent. The fact must be noted that current RLD alliances with SP-BSP will further add electoral benefits.
It is pertinent to note that during the height of Hindutva politics, the BSP leader Kanshi Ram had created cultural and political movement by uniting Bahujan masses during the post-Mandal politics. For politicization of Bahujan masses, Kanshi Ram and other leaders had coined the revolutionary slogans like ‘Jiski Jitni Hisedari uski untni bhagidari’, ‘vote hamara raj tumahara nahi chelega nahi chelega’ and ‘jo zameen sarkari hai wo zameen hamari hai’. While doing so Kanshi Ram had posed huge challenges to the RSS-BJP led idea of ‘cultural nationalism’ in the post-Mandal politics. In short, by uniting Bahujan, Kanshi Ram had created a powerful ‘political community’ to fight against the Brahimical forces led by the RSS-BJP.
Toeing the lines of Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram, Prakash Ambedkar and Obwaisi both under the banner of VBA have united the various marginalized subaltern groups and created potential threat to Hindutva politics. However, both leaders have maintained some distance with the Congress party. Like in the case of UP, political commentators have expressed their opinion that by not having alliances with secular forces like Congress, the Bahujan leaders in Maharashtra will further divide the secular votes and in doing so, they will benefit to the communal forces rather than fighting against it. However, due to the soft-Hundutva elements and upper caste dominations within the congress as said earlier, the Bahujan leaders did not see much difference between the Congress and the BJP
Conclusion: Way forward
The Social justice parties like BSP, RJD, SP and RLD etc. have witnessed the huge crisis in 2014 general election. Like earlier, present time the Narendara Modi led RSS–BJP has repeatedly said that current Mahagathbandhan is Mahamilawat ( alliance of adulterated groups) and do not have vision for inclusive development. In response to this, Bahujan forces attacks on the PM Modi by saying that during his tenure the last five years the caste atrocities, communal attacks, mob-lynching and loss of jobs as result of demonetizations and GST have in-fact created huge unrest among the subaltern classes. Contrary to the now considered as political jumla like Sabka Sathe Sabka Vikas, Bahujan leaders have alleged that only upper-caste led corporate and capitalists have got advantages and became more prosperous.
We think that in spite of its inherent limitations, the new churning in Bahujan politics could be seen as promising steps and have ‘political potential’ to challenge the Hindutva forces in the long run. However, it is too early to forecast as to what extent current Bahujan alliances would make its impact in realm of the electoral outcome in 2019 elections. In our view, the question of alliances with secular and progressive forces must be materialized to avoid the polarizations of secular votes. However, mere electoral calculations are not sufficient to counter the current form of ‘intuitional communalism’. In short, it is not wrong to say that the BJP-RSS combine have thoroughly communalized and captures most of the public institutions like CBI, RBI, and institutes of higher learning etc. which are currently witnessing crisis of credibility. In the given political context, it would be worthwhile if the progressive forces and Bahujan alliances including true secular and democratic forces come together to put-forth the alternative agenda based on ‘egalitarian ideology’ as conceptualized by the Babasaheb Ambedkar and Bahujan icons like Phule and Periyar long ago.
Badre Alam Khan is a research scholar, University of Delhi and Sanjay Kumar is a post-Doctoral fellow at JNU.