Building counter cultural narrative is the lone alternative to Brahmanical hegemonic polity

mahatma phule

The election verdict 2019 has send shock waves among the Ambedkarite-Bahujan activists all over the country particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where people expected huge gains for parties like Samajwadi Party ( SP),  Bahujan Samaj Party ( BSP) and RashtriyaJanta Dal ( RJD). In Bihar RJD faced complete rout while in Uttar Pradesh Samajwadi Party could get 5 and BSP 10 seats. In Uttar Pradesh’s Jat heartland, the Mahagathbandhan partner RashtriyaLok Dal lost all the three seats which they contested. According to reports, SP-BSP’s combined vote share also fell to 37.22% from 42.2%. Samajwadi Party faced more drubbing and its share fell drastically from 22.35% to 17.96%. Among the five candidate who won are Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and three Muslim candidates. BSP’s 10 candidate who won are One Brahmin, One Bhumihar, one Kurmi, One Yadav, One Gujjar, two Jatavs and three Muslims.

While we all have concerns about EVMs and that issue must be fought both legally and with Election Commission but the dismal performance can not be attributed to EVMs alone. It is important to understand whether the core constituencies of BSP-SP and RLD really enjoyed confidence of each other in the villages and towns. I had expressed my doubts from the very beginning because meeting of two or three leaders or parties on the eve of elections and form an alliance may ignite the cheerleaders sitting on social media (these days every political party has its own kind of cheerleaders who are unable to think beyond their ownself and provide propaganda information and not analysis of the situation at the ground) but would not be able to bring the communities together unless the work is not done. I had always wanted that the SP-BSP alliance grow at community level and important for that was the strength of ideas of Phule-Ambedkar-Periyar-Birsa because in the absence of doing so we will only be helping those who use the contradictions of the communities for their own purposes. Bihar’s case is different than Uttar Pradesh as RashtriyaJanta Dal mostly talk about the legacy of Jai Prakash and LaluYadav but rarely has anything been done to win over the Dalits or Mahadalits socially. RJD leadership rarely talked about this legacy. On the other hand, Samajwadi Party, though continue to harp on Lohia, also started speaking about DrAmbedkar but that was mostly done to assuage the feelings of BSP workers. Jai Bhim became a slogan with Jai Lohia but it would not have served any purposes in the villages. The Jats in Western Uttar Pradesh as well as Haryana, Rajasthan, still continue to be fascinated through the Hindutva ideology. More than that, it is hard to believe them voting along with Dalits who had always been at the receiving end for long. We all know the dirty realities of Western Uttar Pradesh fourty years back, when Dalits would not be allowed to vote and most of the time their vote was already polled. Those were the years of ballot voting when goons of the powerful communities would loot the booth and capture the officials, stamp them in favor of their leaders. Democracy was always a power game of the dominant castes with those in minority being taken for granted.

The declaration of Gathbandhan was welcomed by the people at large but at the same point of time, it seems the supporters of both the parties were over confident that Jatavs, Yadavs and Muslims would automatically come to vote to them. The joint campaign by MsMayawati and MrAkhileshYadav was definitely a good effort but the mobilization at the booth level was not visible. The leadership of both the parties should have campaigned extensively apart from developing a collegium of other political leaders to campaign. Congress played spoilsport in many places in the state as it fielded candidate on every seat. According to reports, in eight seats of the state, Congress candidate got more votes than the margin of defeat but it is also a factor that at many places candidates of dubious credentials were given tickets. This gave rise to rumours that tickets have been sold to outsiders while party cadres have been ignored. Though Muslims voted strategically and mostly in favor of Gathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh as well as in Bihar, various non Jatav-non chamar-non Yadavcommunities shifted their base towards ‘Lotus”. There was a well planted campaign by the BJP and its cadre that NarendraModi, Amit Shah and even Vijay Rupani are OBCs. Most of the voters from Communities like Pasis, Dhobis, Khatiks and Valmikis went to BJP apart from the OBCs like Nishads, Mallahs, Kushwaha, and Kurmis in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It is also reported that even Yadav vote got split and many of them too shifted to BJP. The Savarna consolidation from North to South of India, from East to west is a new reality of India under the BJP. One cannot ignore other factors of selections of candidate which actually ignored the vital interests of both the Dalits and OBCs. I am still unable to understand as why Dalitscan’t be given ticket from unreserved seats. Also, why no attempt was made to reach to otherBahujan communities by both the parties leaving the space completely open to BJP. It is rather shocking that both BSP-SP focused on getting the upper caste candidate who only came to their party for their votes and were not useful. Why should SP-BSP or other Bahujan parties give ticket to the Savarnas when there is a clear consolidation towards the BJP. Even if they wish to give it, they should encourage those Savarnas who have come out of their caste minds and working towards strengthening the Dalit Bahujanmovment. One of the winners from BSP ticket is a Bhumihar, absconding as he is wanted in a rape case. Without being in his constituency, he won by more than one lakh 25 thousand votes. That shows the power of caste as privilege and how Savarna castes use it rising on the back of the votes of Dalits and backwards. BJP did it ‘institutionally’ while AtulRai did it individually. Similarly, ShayamaCharan Gupta, the beedi magnet was given Samajwadi Party ticket from Chitrakoot-Banda, who switched from BJP to the party on the eve of election, because he was denied ticket from BJP. Many of these people don’t have any commitment to the issue of social justice and they only come to these parties just to get seats and win the votes of Dalits. I don’t think likes of Gupta have any sympathy with the issue of social justice and caste discrimination. The region is dominated by the Koltribals( in Uttar Pradesh Kol are categorized under the Scheduled Castes) but they rarely get representation even for an assembly constituency. Was there not a need to approach the communities like Kol, Tharu, Pasi, Valimiki, Rajbhars who remain highly unrepresented in the political system.

Uttar Pradesh’s results have given heart-break to many but there is a silver lining and rebuilding of the parties as well as develop counter culture. How many of our political parties adhering to the principles of social justice focused on listening to their intellectual, activists and cultural groups. Rahul Gandhi did not succeed but what he did in the Congress was remarkable. Engaging with diverse sections of activists, writers, intellectuals helped though Congress too could not support or build any cultural initiative which could counter the Hindutva propaganda which spread through word of mouth and cultural practices and engagement in the popular festivals like Diwali, Dusshera, Holi, Navratris. We have handed over these festivals to such forces as if Bahujans have nothing to do with them. Fact of the matter is all Indian festivals related to Bahujans and Brahmins have only interpreted them according to their suitability. It is time, these festivals are rediscovered and celebrated to get engage with the communities. People change slowly but festivals are their occasion to socialize and celebrate.

Ray of Hope

The results from Maharashtra which wiped out Congress NCP Alliance must be seen in the light of their refusal to acknowledge the Dalit movement in the state. It is a well known fact that Dalits in Maharashtra might not have got political power but they are culturally empowered after Baba SahebAmbedkar’s movement. The Ambedkarite legacy in Maharashtra is so rich to be ignored by the political parties but Congress NCP ignored it. NCP is an upper caste party which rarely bothered about the Dalit sentiments but Congress which was perceived to be respecting their leadership ignored speaking to VanchitBahujanAghadi. That absence of alliance killed them. Today, PrakashAmbedkar might have lost both the seats he contested but his VanchitBahujanAghadi has got nearly 14% share which many in the Congress felt were reasons of their defeat. Fact of the matter is that NCP in Maharashtra is a highly upper caste party and VanchitBahujanAghadi was not keen on any alliance with it. Congress under pressure from NCP did not opt for the alliance with VBA resulting in their defeat. Congress has made these kinds of decision under the impression that people who are opposed to BJP and SanghParivar will ultimately vote to them and not to regional or local parties but that point has been proved wrong in recent elections.

One question comes to our mind as why in Maharashtra which saw huge protests particularly of farmers the people voted to BJP. Fact is farmers too have castes and their prejudices against Dalits and Muslims. Most of the movement which were carried out actually never bothered about this contradiction or concern of the Dalits. That is why, RajuShetti, of SwabhimaniShetkariSangthan, one of the most powerful farmers leader in Maharashtra who were seen mobilizing people in Delhi, lost to his BJP opponent by over 97000 votes though he got over 4.87 lakh votes. But he accuse VBA’s Muslim candidate partially for his defeat because he got about over 120000 votes. It is interesting that now RajuShetti and his party are blaming PrakashAmbedkar and VanchitBahujanAghadi for their loss without every caring for the alliance between them. He is the leader of the cane farmers and blame ‘caste politics’ for his defeat. Now, one must ask them as where are the Dalits in their priority list. The fact is the entire farmers movement in India today, which had ‘political motivation’ and yet non political remained dominated by the powerful groups. The issue became powerful because you hide the dirty fact of non-implementation of land reforms measures which affect millions of Dalits, adivasis as well as backward communities. Shetti also suggest that while farmers might have voted for him, their children voted for Modi as they got attracted to his Balakot narrative.

PrakashAmbedkar himself lost but at least at 12 constituencies his party candidate got over one lakh votes. The alliance party AIMIM’s candidate MrImtiazJaleel, a former journalist won the prestigious Aurangabad seat. Important to note that Jaleel is the first Muslim to get elected from Maharashtra in the last fifteen years which clearly indicate the nature of polarization that has happened in Mahashtra which has a 11.5% population in the state. Isnt it a matter of great concern that 11.5% of population remained unrepresented in the state but this was the fault of the parties involved as they took Muslims for granted. VBA focused in brilliant candidate and reports suggest that it targeted educated elite, social activists, honest individuals as candidates which was able to get them 14%. The total vote percentage of Congress was 16 while of NCP was about 18%. So, VBA now has a claim to stake equal number of seats in the VidhanSabha elections. I think it is time for them and Congress to stich a better alliance otherwise they would lose miserably in Maharashtra but all the groups have to be ‘reasonable’ and any attempt to

DMK brings hope in Tamilnadu

While the alliance in UP was failed by Congress to some extent, in Maharashtra the ‘alliance’ damaged Congress but in Tamilnadu, D M K leader M K Stalin build up a strong alliance of all the secular parties and build up a powerful narrative which was able to defeat BJP and its allies completely. The alliance not only helped DMK but also helped revive the fortunes of not only Congress Party but also of the VCK i.e. ViduthalaiChiruthaigalKatchi which means Liberation Panthers Party led by TholThirumavalan who won from Chidambaram while another leader of VCK Mr D Ravikumar won from  Villuppuram by a margin of over 1,28,000 votes. D Ravikumar is a well-knownAmbedkarite author and earlier elected as an MLA who was used to critique Periyar through Ambedkarite eye has now realized that it was not correct and the result is that VCK in alliance with DMK got two seats. Both Thirumawalan as well as D Ravikumar will be asset to current LokSabha and hope they will raise the issues of the Dalits with great courage of conviction. While the Communists parties got virtually blank everywhere but Tamilnadu too provided them some hope.

In Tamilnadu there was parties like PuthiaTamilgam in the Southern Part headed by maverick K Krishnaswamy who belong to Devendra Kula Vellalars community is today campaigning to keep, Pallar, Moopar, Kaaladi communities, all part of the Devendra Kula Vellalars as broad group, outside the Scheduled Caste group as they feel they are wrongly kept in this category giving them so much of mental agony and social inferiority complexes. Krishnaswamy actually played in the hands of the BJP and this demand of asking to withdraw for the scheduled castes status of Devendra Kula vellalars is nothing but attempt to divide the Dalits in the state after having failed to organize them. This is also casteist in nature as it create an impression that ‘Devendrakulavellalars’ are ‘superior’ and have ‘hurt’ their social prestige because of being clubbed with the ‘scheduled castes’. In this election Krishnaswamy and his party had no chance and perhaps his bargaining chances also finished.

The other party which is known for the highly anti Dalit rhetoric in Tamilnadu is PMK or what we called Patti MakkalKatchi whose president AmbumaniRamadoss lost from his bastion of Dharmapuri to Mr S Senthil Kumar defeated him. PMK is known to be a Vanniyar party which comes under the OBC category. The party was virulently opposed to the Dalits and in fact numerous conflicts Vanniyar Dalit emerged in this region because of the indirect or direct support by the party. Most of these conflicts were related to intercaste marriages between Vanniyars and Dalits. One of the demands of the party has been to remove the SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.  The Party joined the Alliance of NDA and the result is clear that the Dalits in Tamilnadu would not welcome any alliance of PMK.

The Future belong to alliances 

If we see Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamilnadu the biggest factor has been the alliances between the Dalits and OBCs. So Tamilnadu and Bihar, the party were led by the backward communities and in Uttar Pradesh it was an equal partnership while in Mahashtra, it was alliance between Dalits and Muslims. If we see the preparation, DMK in Tamilnadu was very active from the beginning and it weaved an alliance based on the local conditions everywhere. There were strong areas of many political parties. DMK went overboard to bring VCK into the alliance so that the Dalit votes in particular regions don’t go to others. That apart, DMK has been active in public protests particularly in areas like Thoothukudi where 13 persons were killed in police firing on protest against Sterlite Plant. DMK also has a strong cultural history and legacy of ThanthiPeriyar and therefore in each part of Tammilnadu, the stamp of ‘self-respect movement’ is visible. It was not that they made the alliance suddenly but they have been active on the ground. The alliance with CPI and CPM was not really based on their national presence but actions in the local areas and the result is that both the parties performed very well. In Maharashtra, Dalits are culturally organized and PrakashAmbedkar’sVanchitBahujanAghadi with AIMIM  ofAdadduddinOwaisi worked very well. Congress-NCP alliance ignored them for their peril. Fact is that both Prakash and Owaisi have been working hard, speaking on people’s issues and travelling to the state for a long time. Maharashtra has a strong cultural legacy of Ambedkarism. Unlike that in Uttar Pradesh, the SP BSP alliance came on the eve of elections and did not work on the ground much. The cadres were enthused but somewhere not much satisfied with ticket distribution. The attempt to bring ‘savarna’ leaders has not gone well with the BSP-SP caders as most of those from Savarna castes had no track record of working for the rights of the Dalit Bahujan or a respect for Dr Baba SahebAmbedkar’s thought. Fact is that caste calculation works when the other parties were not aware of it and now in all humility, I can say, BJP has been the biggest learner of the caste calculations and used it for the best of its service. It was able to use the contradictions among communities and pitching one against other through their narratives. There was booth management too. In Uttar Pradesh there were three alliance partners SP-BSP and RLD who have their own caste base. If we see in all practical terms, the trust gaps of these communities at the local level exits. Jats would not go with the scheduled castes to vote.  ChoudharyCharan Singh, Devi Lal and all other groups had once called for AJGAR or MAJGAR which was Muslim AhirJaatGujjar and Rajput to counter Congress.  Most of these communities except for Muslims, have gone in the fold of BJP. Yadavs and Chamars too could not come in terms of social alliance which ultimately benefitted BJP whose used their fears. AkhileshYadav has been open to changes but his cadres and leaders also need to socialize in the thoughts of AmbedkarPhule and Periyar. Uttar Pradesh’s Dalits are politicized but not all and hence it was the duty of the BSP caders to take them along which they fail. Often the reference was that ‘they’ don’t come along, they don’t feel for Baba Saheb and hence left out. This has resulted in the SanghParivar poaching Pasis, Dhobis, Valmikis and Khatiks as most of them were isolated and sidelined by the BSP for long. Samajwadi Party also need to build up a strong cultural movement and increase its outreach among the Dalits, most backward communities, non yadav communities. The party can also think of attracting those savarnas who have a track record of being with socialist movement and never compromised with the RSS. I am sure, there are many but they need to be accommodated and respected. You can not give your party ticket to those who come the previous night and want to jump on the bandwagon of the massive social base of the party. The ticket distribution was the worst. If the Dalits, Muslims and Bahujans don’t get the ticket in the SP-BSP then where will they get ? The party must honor those who worked for it tirelessly. Calculations don’t work all the time. The thing that you might have experimented or got succeeded in 1990 may not be the same after 30 years hence the option is to work constantly, build cultural alternative, use folk festivals and religious events but don’t confine ourself or caders to ‘critique’ Brahmanism but a better alternative to it. In the absence of our vision, we cant move ahead. Both SP-BSP have failed to develop their ‘vision’ document as the parties never bothered to speak to activists, intellectuals, authors, common people just because they feel, wont get them votes. I think, both the parties need to come out with a vision document for Uttar Pradesh in terms of not only infrastructure development but in health, education, rural development, housing, land reforms, agriculture, Women, Dalits, OBCs and minorities. Both the parties took Muslims for granted and did not utter a word about their issues. Rather than raising their issues of economic-social backwardness, the parties took the Muslim votes for granted. BSP felt that the Dalit votes would come automatically which has not happened. It is fact that party had not attempted to bring the youths to the party. Its responses to RohithVemula issue or that of Chandra Shekhar Azad was disturbing. For Samajwadi Party, it rarely bothered about it. Why cantAkhileshYadav speak on these issues and provide the young leaders platform of SamajwadiParty ?

In Bihar, RJD has an ideological crisis. It too felt Muslim-Yadav combine will work but there was no ground work. Fact is that RJD felt that it was coming to power and hence it spoke more for the TV audiences than to bring people to the polling booths. The MahaDalits and MBCs were completely left out. Ofcourse, the upper castes were solidly behind Nitish Kumar and all factors combined to defeat the RJD and its allies massively. Unlike Uttar Pradesh, Bihar does not have a strong Ambedkarite movement and hence Dalits in Bihar remain on the periphery of the Samajwadi movements which is mostly dominated by the dominant castes and not even the OBCs. The result is it is easier to use the caste contradictions in Bihar than in Uttar Pradesh. RJD too like Samajwadi Party has an aversion to people’s literature particularly related to Bahujan movement since Laloo’s days. The problem with these netas is they feel they can get votes and ‘intellectuals’ are useless as they cant get the votes. Now, this is cynical and absolutely suicidal. If the Dalit movement has succeeded in India, it is not because of the parties but the vast consciousness and absolutely phenomenal radical writings and critique of the brahmanical system. The success of Dravidian movement in Tamilnadu is because Periyar created institutions and cultural forums similarly what we witness in Maharashtra where so many Ambedkarite, Phulewadi groups dominate the cultural spaces which has challenged the brahmanical narratives and provided the humanist alternatives of Ambedkar, Phule, Periyar. But one factor remain that no Dalit Bahujan alliance will succeed unless there is relationship build among the communities of respecting the Dalits and considering them as equal partners.

It is time for the parties adhering to philosophy of social justice and social change to build up the cultural teams, participate in people’s movement, develop their vision in consultation with people and strengthen institutions to build inner party democracy and equip political class to analyse things with Bahujan Dravidian perspectives. There is a huge lesson to be learnt from the success of SanghParivar particularly its outreach and planned work. Revamp your parties, bring fresh energetic faces, strengthen ideological base of your leaders, build think tanks, and listen to people including intellectuals and activists. Most importantly, build social alliances which will never be possible just on the election eve but with a continuous effort of socialization of thoughts of Baba SahebAmbedkar, Phule and Periyar through cultural awakening. State elections are coming and these parties can gain if they build alliances properly and start the ground work from today itself. For a stronger India we need variety of political parties of different streams hence survival and success of Congress, Samajwadi Party, BahujanSamaj Party, RashtriyaJanta Dal, DMK, different communists Parties and other is essential so all those who wish death to certain political parties are only playing at the hands of those who want to weaken the idea of India as envisaged in our constitution. We will need to develop working together and in alliances and that remain the only future for India to progress and take every one along with it.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]


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Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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