June 29, 2011
Sleeping with the Enemy Ramdas Athawalay allies with Shiv SenaRam Puniyani
Electoral politics has its own strange logic. While Gopinath Munde, the leader of BJP was hobnobbing with Congress (June 2011), in recent times the leaders from Shiv Sena, Narayan Rane and Sanjay Nirupam have joined Congress in recent years, Ramdas Athawalay, of Republican Party of India, a party claiming to be the party of Dalits based on the ideology of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has allied with Shiv Sena and are holding joint election rallies. It defies total logic as to how the avowed votaries of Hindu Rashtra (Rane, Nirupam) glibly shift to the Congress, formally a secular party, a party opposed to the goal of Hindu Rashtra. How Gopinath Munde, who has been working for the goal of Hindu Nation, Ram Temple was trying to switch over to Congress. Equally surprising is the fact as to how, Indian National Congress, with the legacy of Gandhi and Nehru can think of taking these politicians, with opposite ideology into its camp?
More surprising than this has been the RPI, Shiv Sena alliance. One recalls that from last few years a slogan was floated in the political circles that Shiv Shakti (Shiv Sena)+Bhim Shakti (Followers of Ambedkar, RPI) is equal to Desh Bhakti (Patriotism). And since then this hobnobbing has been in progress. As such the politics of both these parties is very strange and logically totally opposed to each other’s agenda.
Shiv Sena was propped up by the Mumbai Industrialists, in collusion with the section of Congress leadership to break the hold of Left trade unions in Mumbai in 1970s. From there it went on to launch the tirades against South Indians, (Lungiwallahs), and in a series of ‘hate other’ politics it targeted Gujaratis and later North Indians. During this period it did indulge in street violence and intimidated these regional-linguistic groups. Later it latched on the Rath (Chariot) of Hindu Rashtra and boasted to be a part of Hindutva politics in alliance with BJP. Its leader Bal Thackeray boasted that if his Shiv Sainiks have been in the lead of demolition of Babri Masjid, he will be proud of that fact. Shiv Sena also has been seriously implicated in the post demolition Mumbai violence by Shrikrishna Commission report.
As far as its political agenda is concerned it has been the most vociferous party opposing the issues related to dalits. After the publication of Dr. Ambedkars collected works, the volume on ‘Riddles in Hinduism’, book heavily critical of Lords Ram and Krishna, was opposed by Shiv Sena on the streets, it opposed the move to change the name of Marathwada University to Dr. Ambedkar University and to cap it all; it was the only electoral party which opposed the implementation of Mandal Commission.
On the other are the leaders of dalit movement, the so called inheritors of the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar. Ambedkar all his life talked of annihilation of caste, opposed the notion of Hindu Rashtra and went on to convert to Buddhism on the ground that Hinduism is based on Brahminic theology which upholds caste and gender inequality at deeper level. His core political legacy was to educate, organize and agitate for the democratic rights of dalits. It is in this direction that he formed Independent Labor Party (1936), Scheduled Caste Federation (1942) and laid the outline of the political principles for the Republican Party of India (RPI).
This RPI soon suffered the fate of splits; it was also co-opted by various bigger parties like Congress and BJP. The major agitation launched by Dada Saheb Gaikwad of RPI, did galvanize the dalit movement, but after that the dalit leadership has been groping for the path of its future agitations. The formation of militant Dalit Panthers in the decade of 1960s peaking in 1970 was a brief lasting phenomenon, again leading to splits and weakening of the cause. The equation of politics started changing with Kanshiram who took another path to power. He want on to train the cadres for long time, focused the power in his hands and soon became politically successful, passing the baton on to Mayawati, who through different trajectories succeeded in becoming the Chief Minister of UP. She did ally with SP and BJP on the way, canvassing for Narendra Modi in Gujarat Elections, and justifying the Gujarat carnage as being due to the Godhra incident. Today BSP is the ruling party in UP, it has given a boost to dalit identity but the condition of dalits has far from improved.
Where does the dalit movement go from here? A section of dalits has benefitted form the reservations, education and other accompaniments of affirmative action for dalits. At the same time the reaction to enhancement of dalits position in society has been the rise in the politics of Hindu Rashtra, something which aims at subjugation of dalits and woman. This politics of Hindutva as such resurfaced with the attacks on Dalits and OBCs on the ground of reservation and later on in a clever move has strategized to co-opt Dalits and OBCs and is using them against religious minorities, killing two birds in one stone. Interestingly the political strategies of RSS-BJP-Shiv Sena are too shrewd and ‘clever’. So far their symbolic use of section of leadership of religious minorities and dalits have served the cause of RSS politics very well, barring probably in UP where Mayawati did succeed in coming to power. Still here there is a change in her own language while trying to retain power, from Bahujan (Dalit, OBCs) to Sarvajan (All). This slogan while looking good on surface does hide the changing dynamics of Mayawati in which the old upper caste are trying to regain their upper hand in a hidden way.
The Shiv Sena-RPI alliance is plain opportunism from both the sides. Shiv Sena is totally opposed to the Ambedkars’s values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, while RPI was meant to reflect the aspirations of dalit masses for social equality, political place in the society and a dignified life. At core these have values diametrically opposed to each other. Can they be political allies? For RPI, this path has been chosen on the plea that since Congress has not given adequate political power to the leaders of RPI, and they want a share in the power. They think alliance with Shiv Sena-BJP is the path to dalits political power. Time alone will tell the righteousness of this strategy but one thing is sure, if at all, this alliance will give power to a couple of leaders of RPI but the issues of dalits cannot be addressed by the more dominant political allies, the BJP and Shiv Sena, whose very agenda is against the interests of downtrodden masses.
While Shiv Sena-BJP has shrewdly tried to wean a section of dalits for its electoral advantage, they may also be able to use RPI leadership for their own calculations of electoral power. As far as dalit movement is concerned, the challenges are immense and playing junior partners to the parties totally opposed to the political values of Ambedkar will be counterproductive. The only path for dalits for an empowerment seems to be social agitations and movements around their material issues, issues of security, equality and dignity. This though a painful path is the only option available for the better future of vast sections of those deprived from last many centuries. There can’t be shortcuts for the goal of Equality, in all spheres of social economic and political life of dalits.