Dr. Ambedkar had said, “Political power is the key to all problems and Dalits can get their emancipation by uniting and seizing power. Political power should be used for the development of the society.” Therefore, he also called upon the Dalits to win political power. That is why Dr. Ambedkar raised the demand for minority status for Dalits and political rights like other minorities in the Round Table Conferences and also received them in the form of Communal Award. On this, Gandhiji had threatened to fast unto death, saying that it would break Hindu society, while he had no objection to giving this right to other minorities. Finally, under undue pressure, Dr. Ambedkar had to do “Poona Packet” to save Gandhi’s life and sacrifice the right of Dalits to political freedom and accept joint constituencies and reserved seats.
Dr. Ambedkar is considered to be the father of Dalit politics. To participate in the elections in 1937, Dr. Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party in August 1936 and contested 17 seats in Bombay Presidency and won 15 seats out of which 3 seats were general. After this, he formed the All India Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF) on July 19, 1942. Under this party, he contested elections in 1946 and 1952, but he did not get any significant success due to the ill-effects of Poona Packet. As a result, in the elections of 1952 and 1954, Dr. Ambedkar himself lost the election. Finally, on October 14, 1956, in Nagpur, he announced the dissolution of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the formation of a new party named Republican Party of India (RPI). For this he also made the constitution of this party. In fact, this party came into existence on October 3, 1957 after his Parinirvan. According to this description, Babasaheb formed three political parties during his lifetime. Of these, currently the RPI exists in the form of separate factions.
In the present context, it is necessary to see whether the political parties through which Babasaheb did politics were caste politics or politics of issues of different classes. For this it is necessary to analyse the agenda of the parties established by him.
Let us first look at Babasaheb’s Swatantra Mazdoor Party. Dr. Ambedkar, in his statement, while explaining the reasons for the formation of the party and its work, had said- “Keeping in view that today is not the time to organize parties on the basis of sectarianism, I have by agreeing with the wishes of my friends, the name of the party and its program have been made wide so that political cooperation with other sections of the people becomes possible. The main focus of the party will remain only 15 members of the Dalit castes, but people from other classes will also be able to join the party. The party’s manifesto included redressal of the needs and problems of the landless, poor peasants and tenants and laborers, restoration of old industries and establishment of new industries, consolidation of small holdings, expansion of technical education, state control over industries, exploitation and eviction of land tenants by the zamindars, laws for protection of industrial workers etc.
The party mainly laid emphasis on the welfare of farmers and poor labourers. The party’s effort was to educate the people in the ways of democracy, to put the right ideology in front of them and to organize them for political action under law etc. It is clear from this that the politics of this party was not casteist but class and issue based and mainly Dalits were at its centre. This party was the opposition party of the ruling Congress in the Bombay Legislative Assembly. This party had got made many public utility laws during its tenure. Due to the opposition of this party, the Industrial Disputes Bill to ban the strike in factories could not be passed.
Now let’s see the purpose and agenda of All India Scheduled Castes Federation established by Babasaheb in 1942. Some of the main issues in the party’s manifesto were: all Indians deserve equality, religious, economic and political equality. It is the responsibility of the state to keep all Indians free from deprivation and fear, to preserve liberty, equality and fraternity; freedom from oppression and exploitation of man by man, class by class and nation by nation, and protection of parliamentary system of government, nationalization of insurance under economic program and compulsory insurance scheme for all government employees and prohibition. Although this party could not achieve any special success in the elections in front of the powerful Congress due to the Poona Pact, but due to the party’s agenda and mass movement like land movement etc., the untouchables started gathering under a political flag, which increased their confidence. It is clear from the program of the Federation that although Dalits were at the centre of this party, the party used to do politics on issues instead of caste politics and its coverage was wide.
As it has been written above that Babasaheb had announced the establishment of a new political party “Republican Party of India” (RPI) on October 14, 1956, keeping in mind the changing circumstances and the need of the people, and its constitution which he made. His main objective behind forming this party was to create such a party which is according to the promises made in the constitution and its purpose is to fulfil them. He did not want to make it a party of untouchables only because a party formed in the name of one caste or class cannot come into power. It can only become a pressure group. The main objectives behind the establishment of the RPI were: (1) To remove inequalities from the society so that no privileged and deprived sections remain, (2) There should be a two-party system: one in power the other opposition party, (3) Equality before the law and there should be equal law for all, (4) establishment of moral values in the society, (5) equal treatment to minority people, (6) the spirit of humanity which has been lacking in Indian society.
The main goal and objective of the party in the preamble of the party’s constitution was to achieve “Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”. The program of the party was very wide. Babasaheb’s objective behind the establishment of the party was that minority people, poor Muslims, poor Christians, poor and lower caste Sikhs and untouchables of weaker sections, people of backward castes, people of primitive castes, end of exploitation, seeking justice and progress, all such people could be united under one flag and stand against the capitalists and defend the constitution and their rights. (Dalit Politics and Organization – Bhagwan Das)
RPI was duly established in 1957 after Babasaheb’s Parinirvan and the party fought the elections of 1957, 1962 and 1967 with a new agenda. Apart from Maharashtra, the party got good success in other parts of the country as well. In 1957 this party won 12 MPs and 29 MLAs seats. In 1962, the party had 3 MPs all from Uttar Pradesh and 20 MLAs out of which 10 MLAs were from Uttar Pradesh. In 1967, 1 MP who was from Uttar Pradesh and 22 MLAs out of which 8 were from Uttar Pradesh. Initially, the party struggled for the distribution of land, reservation in jobs, minimum wages, reservation for Dalits who converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, etc. People of religions like Muslims, Sikhs and Jains participated in the party.
On 6 December 1964, the RPI organized a nationwide Satyagraha for the land. In these more than 370,000 satyagrahis were arrested by the government and 13 died. As a result, the Congress government was forced to distribute 2,00,000 acres of land to the landless people. In 1972, RPI MP barrister Raja Bhau Khobragade demanded distribution of land to the landless by imposing a ceiling of 20 acres on agricultural land in the Lok Sabha. As a result, Indira Gandhi passed the Land Ceiling Act in Parliament and landless were distributed surplus land.
During this period RPI emerged as a strong party of Dalits, Backwards and Minorities. But after 1962 this party started breaking up. The main reason for this was that this party was a threat to the strongest political party of that time, Congress in Maharashtra. A major weakness of this party was that its membership was limited mostly to Mahars only. Congress leaders took advantage of the weaknesses of the leaders of this party and started sabotaging the party. First of all, it solicited the most powerful leader of the party Dadasaheb Gaikwad and made him a member of the Rajya Sabha. On this the party split into two factions: one faction of Gaikwad with Congress and the other with B.D. Khobragade faction in protest. After this, separate factions were formed in the name of different leaders and at present it has become ineffective due to division into many factions. The leaders of these groups use the name Republican, but they have nothing to do with the basic agenda of this party. They make compromises with different parties for their own benefit and sometimes take personal advantage as well. (Dalit Politics and Organization – Bhagwan Das)
After the fall of RPI, a party emerged in North India by the name of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984 which promised to fulfil Babasaheb’s mission. Initially this party did not get much success. Later in 1993, by contesting elections in Uttar Pradesh in collaboration with the backward castes Samajwadi Party (SP), this party got good seats (67) and a united government was formed. But it soon collapsed due to some personal interests. The leader of this party, Kanshi Ram, in the greed of getting power, grabbed the chief minister’s chair by compromising with the BJP, the fiercest enemy of Dalits, but completely abandoned the mission and principles of Babasaheb. After this, the party formed an alliance with the BJP twice and enjoyed power and is now headed for its downfall. This party disappointed the Dalits by including opportunistic, Brahminical, mafia and capitalist elements in the party. The personal corruption, dictatorship and short-sightedness and opportunism of its leadership has shattered the unity of Dalits, backwards and minorities. Today, a large section of Dalits has broken away from this party and gone with the Hindutva BJP. Barring Chamar/Jatav, a major caste of Dalits, the remaining sub-castes of Dalits have mostly migrated to the BJP. The BJP is using these castes to create a conflict between Dalits and Muslims. Due to this Hindutva is getting stronger and majoritarianism is becoming violent.
One thing is very clear from the above discussion that Dr. Ambedkar was not in favour of caste politics because it strengthens the caste system. This strengthens Hindutva which is a product of caste system. Dr. Ambedkar’s goal was to destroy caste and establish a casteless and classless society in India. The political parties that Dr. Ambedkar formed were not caste parties because their goals and objectives were broad. It is true that Dalits were at their centre but their programs were broad and caste-neutral. They were all for the upliftment of the weaker sections. That is why as long as RPI founded by him worked on his principles and agenda, it was successful in uniting the Dalits, workers and minorities. As long as there was internal democracy and it struggled for public issues, it continued to flourish. It collapsed as soon as it fell in the clutches of individualistic, opportunistic and casteist politics.
Therefore, if the current fragmented Dalit politics is to be revived, then the Dalits will have to move out of caste politics and adopt the politics of wider issues. They have to free themselves from politicians who indulge in caste politics for personal gain. They should know that caste politics promotes hero worship of caste leaders and encourages dictatorship. In caste politics, leaders become dominant and issues secondary. It has been proved from the experience so far that caste politics leads to caste conflict and caste competition which is a hindrance in the unity of castes. As a result of this many small sub-castes of Dalits have joined their enemy Hindutva Party in reaction to big sub-castes, which is a great threat to Dalit unity. Therefore, in the face of this danger, it is necessary that the Depressed Classes re-evaluate their political parties and politicians and reject the disruptive politics of caste and follow the democratic, progressive and issue-based politics as expected by Dr. Ambedkar. In fact, now the country does not need casteist parties, but an anti-caste front with the cooperation of all, otherwise the castes will keep getting stronger, which will continue to nourish the politics of caste and religion, which is the biggest threat to democracy at present.
Keeping this need of Dalit politics in view, we formed the All-India People’s Front in 2013. In the leadership of this party, preference has been given to Dalits, Adivasis, minorities, most backward and women. Its main goal is to give a concrete shape to the concept of Begumpura of Saint Ravidas. This party is in favour of secularism and democracy. Our effort is to create a multi-class party so that intellectuals, social workers and parties of different ideologies can be included in it and counter the present threat of totalitarianism of BJP/RSS being carried out with the help of Hindutva and corporate, and finance capital.
S. R. Darapuri, National Spokesperson, All India Peoples Front