Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Systematic betrayal of Nehru’s ideals

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

We remember Jawahar Lal Nehru on his 50th death anniversary yesterday on May 27th, the man who crafted India into a secular socialist democratic republic.  It is tragic that generation which has born years after Nehru is vilifying him for the values that India is known for and is appreciated.  The democracy that all we are ‘celebrating’ today with smooth transfer of power cannot really ignore the contribution of Nehru in nurturing it after putting strong foundation for it.  The institutions are stronger unlike our contemporaries and neighbors in South Asia where people have to fight for ‘democratic’ government as well as their fundamental rights.  Most of them remained in the tight grip dictatorial martial law regimes or monarchies.  Democracy and constitution became the biggest victims of such regimes where constitutions were changed time to time according to suitability of their dictators.

Nehru has been one of the most 'criticized' men today when the propaganda machinery of Sangh Parivar unleashed vicious campaign against him in the past one decade. However, it reached at its level best in the past three years after the UPA regime which could be termed as one of the worst in independent India. Some of the right wing ‘intellectuals’ blame him for being ‘leftist’ and pushing the model of ‘Public’ sector and thus creating a ‘huge’ bureaucracy. The other ‘nationalists’ felt he was ‘Anglican’ in nature who to has no interest in Indian i.e. which according to them is Hindu culture. They had very problem with the word ‘secularism’ which Nehru espoused so much. Many criticized him for pushing dynastic rule in India while huge number of ‘fake’ account holders on web world publishes his photographs of ‘drinking’ and ‘smoking’ with women particularly Edwina Mountbatten.

I have no first hand ‘experience’ of ‘Nehruvian’ age as I was born nearly four years after his death. But it is important to understand Nehru by socio political situation and first-hand experience of many of his contemporaries. He was a thorough democrat and fiercely secular, a word which has subsequently misused by the Congress Party in the post Indira Gandhi regimes where the party started playing ‘liberal Hindu’ card and secularism became ‘symbolism’ of worst kind.  In fact, Nehru is today paying a price for the wide level corruption and lack of ideological clarity in the Congress party after his death. His daughter Indira Gandhi made party more personalized and subsequently her son Sanjay created a much bigger era of ‘personality’ around her compelling the ‘chamchas’ to coin phrases like ‘Indira is India and India is Indira’.  The decline of Congress Part actually started when it promoted cronyism in the leadership and tilted towards Hindutva and a few things in the post 1980s prove that.

Today, we blame Narendra Modi for a presidential style campaign built up around personality cult of an individual but way back in the 1980s, one of the biggest sycophants of the Gandhi family Vasant Sathe had openly campaigned that India must opt the America’s presidential form of government. In fact, Sathe wrote a book ( I was send an electronic copy by Sathe’s relative when I wrote for Proportionate Electorate System for India) suggesting that ‘coalition’ government are not suitable for India and because India was entering into it hence need for more stability so that the government can function without facing the Parliament.

Congress Party developed ‘remarkable’ tolerance towards religious fanaticism and not acting. It created a Bhindarwale in Punjab to counter Akalis and used Hindu card too later when the army made assault a the Golden Temple. In the Jammu Kashmir elections Indira Gandhi played same Hindu card to allure the voters of Jammu. In 1984, the Punjab problems was converted to an issue between Hindus and Sikh and so much so that when Indira Gandhi was assassinated in October 1984, the Congress used her death and came to power with a massive mandate. The BJP was reduced to mere 2 seats in Lok Sabha but the fact of the matter it was a communal mandate based on hatred towards Sikhs.  In 1986 Rajiv Gandhi got Lok Sabha passed a bill to undo the Shahbano judgment by the Supreme Court to placate the Muslim conservatives who demanded the same to undo what they termed as ‘intrusion’ in the Muslim Personal Law. In the 1989 elections, Rajiv campaigned from Ayodhya and promised to bring ‘Ram Rajya’. His close colleague Arun Nehru got the locks of the disputed complex in Ayodhya and created unprecedented communal crisis in the country.

When VP Singh government decided to implemented Mandal Commission recommendations, Rajiv opposed it. When BJP withdrew support from the government, the Congress could not save a government which was actually fulfilling its constitutional obligation in protecting the Babari Masjid. After Rajiv’s unfortunate death, Congress lead by PV Narsimharao completely abdicated the Nehruvian model of economy and followed the path of ‘capitalist’ economy. Thus, affirmative action programme of the government and welfare state concept became biggest victims which Nehru nurtured so laboriously. Narsimha Rao was glorified by the Indian industries despite his corrupt regime. Babari Masjid was demolished under Rao’s regime which he promised to build but that never happened. Rao was too depended on some of the BJP’s stalwarts like Vajpayee who he send as India’s representative on various international  forums defending India’s Human Rights records towards the minorities and Dalits-aadivasis.

Once Congress bid adieu to Nehruvian model through ‘liberal’ Hinduism as well as the abdicating the state’s responsibility on social sector, everything was great about them. The media made Sonia Gandhi as mother Teresa once she handed over the ‘power’ to Man Mohan Singh who together with Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahulwalia ensured that India’s natural resources were not meant for the rural poor but for the big companies.  When the things went beyond their head, Sonia tried to calm down things in the second term for UPA in 2009. Man Mohan too asserted, so was Chidambaram and others. It is the new economic order where corruption is bound to happen with so much of donation for elections and business-governments nexus hand in glove of what we ‘beautifully’ term as ‘Public Private Partnership’ is nothing but democratic stamp on illegal control of the corporate over these national resources.

At the time when corporate are deciding and ‘managing’ our ‘mandate’ this return to Nehruvian model was too late and inadequate. Most of the Congress’s cadres and leaders hail from upper caste middle class background and hence not very committed to the core values of Nehruvian principles such as secularism and social justice.  Those who believe in social justice had no space in Congress party. So mere speaking to ‘secularism’ and ‘social justice’ added with a few ‘welfare’ legislations would not take you anywhere unless there is a committed leadership on that issue. Congress made itself the party of ‘liberal’ ‘elite’ which equally abhors the issue of social justice like the right wing Hindus. So, when the party decided to go back to Nehru’s principles, it was too late and too little was done in that direction. You  can’t  enthuse your cadres unless they take issue of secularism and social justice dear to their heart. The right wing Hindutva groups were already operatives on the internet to defame Nehru through various things which today’s congress party was unable to defend.

The ‘moral’ aspect of these sinister campaigns was that Nehru did not like Indian ‘culture’. I say, if he has the courage to say things wrong then what is wrong. After all Nehru did not say anything which Ambedkar had said long back and yet Sangh Parivar is bowing to him. Nehru was progressive but definitely not such much committed to the idea of social justice as we wished him. Yet, it was he who was keen on getting the Hindu Code Bill passed drafted by Dr Ambedkar though the right wing lobby in the party led by leaders like Rajendra Prashad, Sardar Patel and others ensured that the progressive legislation is thwarted.  Dr Ambedkar resigned in protest against Nehru’s inability to get this important bill passed in Parliament though he himself knew that Nehru remained isolated in his own party on the greater issue of personal laws and their codification. He never liked the highly conservative attitude of Rajendra Prasad at the Rastrapati Bhavan yet he was always respectful towards him and followed all the constitutional propriety with him. Compare it with Rajiv Gandhi who with his mighty mandate forgot to all the constitutional proprieties that President Gyani Jail Singh deserved during his tenure and even thought of dismissing him as Prime Minister but good vision saved India from a chaotic political situation.

For years, the Sangh Parivar and their champions continued with this campaign of calumny of Nehru as a person who did not know ‘Indian’ culture. Nehru’s ‘relations’ with Edwina and some of his photographs smoking with her went viral on social media in all these years.  It is rather unfortunate as Nehru never hid his relationships and ideals but many of the icons of Sangh Parivar and Hindutva actually never lived the ‘ideal’ life they prescribe for the society to follow. In fact many of the top leaders followed exactly the opposite of what they preached to people at large. Unfortunate part was that Congress Party could not defend the honor of its leaders and kept quiet. Government could nothing with sinister campaign at the social media in the name of not allowing ‘freedom of expression’. It was clear who this freedom of expression is as we know how people are being arrested for simple criticism.

Nehru’s secular socialist model is more than important for India. Congress deviated from this path and in the post 2004, it believed in giving the rural poor ‘entitlements’ or subsidized products but never really worked on their real issues. Hence, Dalits and AAdivasis were being displaced from their places without being rehabilitated while government was propagating the ‘right to food’ bill which was nothing but a dole out. You snatch our resources and give us job for rupees one hundred a day and that too without a firm guarantee. The land acquisition act came after lots of pressure from social movements and incidents that happened in Singur and Nandigram. The political economy of Man Mohan Singh faithfully promulgated and implemented by P.Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahulwalia is a clear violation of Nehruvian model. Moreover, continuous surrender to the religious right wing from the days of Indira Gandhi has also weakened Congress’s politics. Despite hugely popular leader, Nehru never suffered from megalomania and continued to interact with people. He was a true secular giant who never compromised with religious fanatics and yet fought with convictions. Congress post Indira Gandhi actually failed to develop on democratic lines and promoted the ‘personality’ cult. No credible state leadership was allowed to be built. The drawing room manipulators ensured that only a full scale sycophant gets the seat and the best example was Uttarakhand where a mass leader who brought the party to electoral victory twice was sidelined and puppets were imposed from Delhi who were highly unpopular and thoroughly corrupt. How could Congress say that it is genuinely committed to probity in public life and secular values when it has leaders like Vijay Bahuguna, Shri Prakash Jayaswal and then Ajai Rai in the list for? How can it claim secular values when it has certain babas fighting from a constituency just because he happened to oppose Modi. Congress forgot that such adjustment would have won several seats to them in the past but now people particularly upper castes were in no mood to vote for it as they felt uncomfortable with it and more attracted to Hindutva. The Dalits, AAdivasis and Muslims have no reason to come to congress automatically unless the party was seen to be doing something genuine for them.  Today, Congress workers do not fight and why should they when the leaders are being promoted in a crony political way. Why should a grassroots worker be ready to shed his blood when the leaders come from drawing rooms who are not ready to sit with them and take pride in the ideology of the party.

Why should the marginalized sections of people join congress unless it genuinely believed in their concern and develop their leadership. Nehru was iconic as he understood India better and its problems. He knew that superstition and orthodoxy would damage India the most and hence attempted everything to discourage them. In personal life he never visited astrologers or any temples. In fact, his daughter Indira Gandhi unfortunately encouraged such ‘spiritual’ gurus who he would have despised.

Nehru’s biggest contribution to India is its commitment to secular democracy. Except for the dismissal of the first ever communist government of Kerala, Nehru did not touch the states. The dismissal of a duly elected government was a blunder that Nehru committed on the advice of his daughter Indira Gandhi. He respected his political opponents and ensured that they are not defeated in the elections. Parliament those times, people recall, was to be seen to be believed. Ram Manohar Lohia was his fierce critique yet both were deeply fond of each other. There were many other stalwarts in Parliament who enriched its debate during the period. His son in law Feroze spoke against the nexus between politicians and businessmen his own party’s finance minister and Nehru listened to it. The Minister Mr T.T.Krishnamachari had to resign.

Nehru’s differences with Patel were well known but they were close associate. Both had similar views on many things particularly on the national affairs. In those days of dual international structure, Nehru opted for a non-aligned India which Indira Gandhi too was committed too but subsequently the government later abandoned. Today, India is changed and so are the policies of our political party. We have left all other neighbors and only interested in pleasing the US, resulting in our own isolation in South East Asia where we could have made good inroads as culturally they were closure to us because of Buddhist values.

Nehru was an intellectual individual also and hence appreciated art and culture. He ignited the flame of change and a new progressive India among many in the Hindi cinema. The poetry and cinema flourished during those years and one can say with convictions that some of our best films and music came from that era which are still very relevant and evergreen. It is not that writers, lyricists, journalists such as Sahir, Faiz, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Mulk Raj Anand and numerous other progressive writers and artists were not just friends of Nehru but virtually adored him.

Walking near the Oxford streets of London, I stopped at a roadside shop to buy woolen for me. Just to know about my nationality, he started the conversation asking me about it. He smiled proudly, when I said that I come from India, linking Nehru and Mustafa Kamal Ataturk’s friendship. I love Nehru, great secularists who build India, he said. Some of my Pakistani friends still fondly call Nehru as Panditji, a term, I always hated but they would continue,’ Vidya, you will only understand Nehru when you face the crisis like situation that exists in our country. Nehru’s biggest contribution to India is a secular plural democracy where you all have got a chance to progress which no other South Asian countries have been able to achieve. Even if your democracy may not be a first class one, you are much better and far ahead of us and you cannot ignore the vital contribution of Nehru, they would say.

I do not know much but definitely Nehru is being abused for the failure of the respective Congress governments who became highly unpopular because of corruption scandals as well as lost trust of countries minorities, Dalits and marginalized for their failure to protect the interests of these segments. A large number of people also despised the Congress Party in the recent elections because it could not take a decisive stand against communalism and it failed to address the issue of communalism with conviction. Nehru’s legacy was buried by Narsimha Rao and Man Mohan Singh regimes who not only advocated uncontrolled free market but also connived with the communal forces to create fear psychosis among the Muslims. Rather than being proactive on secularism, social justice and welfare state, congress reduced people to mere ‘free bees’ which too did not reach people resulting in credibility crisis. All attempts of Sonia and Rahul to ignite the flames of Nehruvian socialism failed as people were not really ready to believe and just remembering Nehru and giving the overdose of government’s adverts during his birth and death anniversaries only angered people who felt that Nehru was being imposed at the cost of public exchequer. That was not the way to strengthen the legacy of Nehru but only defaming him. It is time Congress learns its lesson, build the party on truly secular principles of democracy and develop dynamic leadership at different levels. That would be the fitting tribute to Nehru when the party that he led would stand for the people who marginalized and becoming victim of religious fanaticism. Nehru has become more than relevant today when Indian state has abdicated its welfare state mechanism and ‘secularism’ has turned as much despised word in political and academic circles.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Death of a missionary : K Jamanadas


By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

I have always been fascinated to the writings of Dr K.Jamanadas and came in touch with him through our common writings in ‘Dalit Voice’. The depth of his understanding of Ambedkarism as well as Indian history and brutality of Brahmanical invasion on Buddhism would enlighten any one. It was such a pleasure to speak to him and listen attentively his thoughts. For me such people who are witness to some of the greatest events of our history and who documented a great deal of things which would have gone unnoticed need special salute. They deserve our respect and tribute. There is no doubt in my mind that he remained one of the very few who truly served the Ambedkarite cause and dedicated his life for the same. He was a treasury of enormous information about Baba Saheb Ambedkar as well as Buddhism and his work reflect that but one thing is clear if he had resources and good support, he would have contributed much more. After Bhagwan Das, I am witness to this man of enormous scholarship who actually did not get requisite support and help at the end.

For last several years he has not been keeping in great health and was confined to his bed and computer table for work at home in Chandrapur alone. Though he has been writing regularly, very few knew how he was coping with his ill health. It was the spirit of Ambedkarism that was moving him. It was difficult for him to move around without help and yet his spirit was so high that you can only appreciate and acknowledge that. He was a retired surgeon, a devoted Ambedkarite Buddhist and also associated for several years with Kanshiramji and contested on BSP ticket too.  He was also a member of board of studies in History for two terms of three years each in Nagpur University. He wrote extensively and  authored several books, the prominent being ‘Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine’, ‘Decline and fall of Buddhism’, ‘Maratha revolt against Brahmanism’, ‘Devadasis ancient to modern’ etc. It was a great pleasure when he gave me his book of great research on Materialism in Indian traditions when I went to specifically meet him at his residence in Chandrapur.

He was a young man highly influenced with the mission and vision of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Hailing from Chandrapur, he was witness to historic conversion of Baba Saheb in 1956 at Nagpur. He was a young man preparing for his final years MBBS examinations when he saw the massive conversion of Baba Saheb Ambedkar to Buddhism at the Deeksha Bhumi, Nagpur.  He was also witnessed to his second day's ceremony in Chandrapur. These are moment great historical importance for us. They were a group of youngsters who actually invited Baba Saheb Ambedkar to their convention. His eyes sparkled whenever the narrative of his live conversation with Dr Ambedkar was ever referred. He narrated in detailed the entire environment to me during our conversation to me when I met him at his residence in October 2012,’

The crowd was more than the present “Diksha Bhoomi” could accommodate. The area beyond the road, where today there are big buildings was a vacant plot of land. The Deputy Mayor being an Ambedkarite the whole labor gangs of Corporation along with volunteers of “Samta Sainik Dal” (SSD - Volunteer Force for Equality) were busy in uprooting small shrubs and clearing and cleaning the wasteland into a vast ground for the function. The stage was huge, and protected from all sides. By the side, there was a road built right from the main street to the stage for Babasaheb’s car and protected by bamboo matting from both sides. Excellent arrangement was for sound projection. Stage of shape of Sanchi stupa was erected and covered with white cloth. All the stalls of eatables and free meals were arranged beyond the streets by various organizations.

It was ordained that those who wish to get converted, must come in white apparel, but in the markets white all cloth was exhausted, and then it had to be announced  that, any clean clothes of any color would do. Similarly, it was declared that all those wishing to be converted should enroll themselves in Godbole’s office. The rush was so much that in spite of hundreds of volunteers for record keeping, the arrangement broke down. That was the magnitude of the numbers. A conservative estimate was half a million people, who poured down from all directions with whatever conveyances they could get. Many walked down with meals packed for three days, dried pieces of homemade jaur bread and an onion or two’.

He was the leader of a group of students that met Dr Ambedkar and was also invited at the tea party at Shyam Hotel in the evening. There are hundreds of aspect of Dr Ambedakr’s life which are unknown or may be ignored by many but K.Jamnadasji brought all those facets through his anecdotes. It was interesting to hear from him how Baba Saheb Ambedkar was trying to do. His narratives of the tea party in the evening of Dhammachakra Pravartan Diwas provide deep thought on which Baba Saheb Ambedkar was focusing.

‘I had heard Babasaheb on many occasions before, but that was the first time, I was hearing him talk in fluent Hindi. The speech though brief had many new points, and very scanty reports of this speech are available. He said that we all cared more for politics than social and religious change.  He had achieved everything in his life for himself. There was nothing more to be achieved for himself, “except perhaps the post of Prime Minister”, among cheers, he declared. But he was worried for all of us, as we keep on fighting amongst ourselves. He said, we were not used to work with people of other castes. Though the “Scheduled Castes Federation” (SCF) would be in existence for some more time and though Buddhists, we could still be members of it, as he had already made provisions in Constitution of SCF for “sympathizers”, it was time we change our ways and start learning to work together with other castes. He was already in touch with other leaders like R. M. Lohia, N. G. Gore, Madhu Limaye, P. K. Atre, S. M. Joshi and others and he had prepared the Constitution of new party, which would be launched soon. He gave a lot of stress on mixing with the people of democratic thoughts, belonging to other castes. It is rather unfortunate, that this aspect of his speech is totally neglected by the next generation of leaders, our predecessors. When next year in 1957, Republican Party of India was formed, there was not one single member of other castes’.

Most of the us world over know about the Nagpur conversion ceremony but I was amazed to hear from Dr K.Jamanadas that the Chandrapur mass conversion on October 16th, 1956, was equally big and had huge crowed waiting for Baba Saheb. It is great that he has recorded all these events which give us ideas of how people have so much faith in Dr Ambedkar due to his idealism, conviction and commitment for the cause of the society. The impact of conversion was wider though it remained confined to Mahars in Maharastra yet they discarded Hindu festivities and symbols. Hundreds of women threw away their ‘Mangalsutras’ once they were informed that it is the symbol of slavery of a woman and against the principles of Buddhism.

Dr Jamanadas was a devoted Ambedkarite who lived every day according to principles of Ambedkarism and Buddhism. The women question was very important to him and he felt that Ambedkarites were not doing enough in that direction. He felt that joint family system was destructive and governed by Mitakshara law which is in force in practically whole of India.  According to him, Dr. Ambedkar wanted that the Dayabhag Law should replace it. This is not achieved as yet. Unfortunately, the Ambedkarites are not fighting for the demand of introduction of Dayabhag Law all over the country. They have not yet realized that this one single measure would give a strong blow to the caste system.

He explained the differences between Mitakshara and Dayabhag laws so that Ambedkarite could fight for the latter.

‘While stating that the main difference after Hindu Code would be ‘the abolition of the right by birth and the principle of survivorship and the substitution of the Dayabhag for Mitakshara in the Mitakshara Provinces, Dr. Ambedkar, in his speech on Hindu code, explained the fundamental differences between two systems of inheritance in Mitakshara and Dayabhag Law. According to Mitakshara, the property of a Hindu is not his individual property. It is property, which belongs to what is called a coparcenary, which consists of father, son, grandson and great grandson (the ‘sapinda-s). All these people have a birthright in that property and the property on the death of any member of this coparcenary passes by survivorship to the members who remain behind, and does not pass to the heirs of the deceased.
‘The Bill, while it does away with coparcenary’, Dr. Ambedkar said, ‘maintains the joint family’. He further clarified that, ‘The only distinction will be that the members of the joints family instead of holding their rights as joint tenant will hold them as tenants in common’.
We had several conversations on phone and on email. He would ask me to come to his place and stay over. He used to send me a lot of stuff written by him and complimented many time on my writings. He always admired the way I was involved in with people and writing those experiences from the grassroots. In my zeal to record things, I went to meet him at his residence in Chandrapur on October 28, 2012. Actually, I had long wanted to have a conversation with him and record it but unfortunately my camera ditched me that day and all the videos and photographs that day got deleted inadvertently. It is one of the biggest regret of my life. Anyway, the interaction with him was thought provoking and cleared many of ambiguities in my mind. He was thought provoking and you would just hear him attentively to understand the depth of his knowledge. I send him a questionnaire but due to ill health he could not respond to all the questions and send his thoughts, materials and submissions etc to me to make from them. In fact, a majority of quotes have been taken from his email conversations and material that he made available to me.

He was very clear that Naxal movement was not helping the Dalits and Aadivasis but definitely expressed his unhappiness on the issue of continuous erosion of natural resources. He maintained that, ‘Land of Adivasis should be treated as special category. If they are sitting over metal ore or forest produce, the ore and produce must belong to them. They should get the benefit of that product. But our business community is not willing even to give them 26 percent share in the profit. It must be realized that it is the property of Adivasis and they are entitled for hundred percent profit, why only 26%? If they cannot utilize the ore themselves, government should form their co-operative societies and fund them in initial stages or arrange finance for tapping these resources and bring it to the market and export by financing by state agencies or by long-term bonds at government guarantee.

Unlike many other Ambedkarites, Dr Jamnadas considered land issue as very important for Dalits, Aadivasis and minorities and essential for their identity and dignity. He was against loot of natural resources and building of SEZs.  He said, ‘This is urgent need. Enforce land ceiling and tenancy laws, with due consideration of SC, ST and religious minority rights. Distribute the surplus lands to these people. Stop all grabbing land by mafias, with or without consents of bureaucrats and/or ministers and politicians. Punish the guilty, Recover back the land from mafia, demolish all illegal constructions and cancel all SEZs and prevent all land grabbing by vested interests. Bring in new proper laws for acquiring land from farmers, and pay them according to market rates. Define unambiguously what constitutes ‘public interests’ and keep a strict vigil on implementation’.

He was equally vocal on the issue of electoral reform when I discussed some of these issues with him. He felt that entry of criminal should be banned and felt the best way to do it is to the basis of the filing of a charge sheet against the person.  ‘If a charge sheet is filed one year before and case is still pending, he should not be allowed to contest. A minor offence, or a politically motivated charge, one year should be considered enough time for him to clear it out. He was very apprehensive of forces trying to convert Indian electoral system on American presidential pattern which he mentioned was a brahmanical conspiracy. ‘It is a venomous idea of Hindutva forces to destroy the Constitution and bring in a dictator and fix his term for five years. What they could not do while in power, they want to do it through the means of so-called ‘Civil Society’, which is neither civil nor society, he suggested.

He passed away living a fruitful life of about 88 years yet at a time when India is at crucial stage and Dalits, Aadivasis and minorities live in uncertain time as a right wing Hindutva government is preparing to take charge of the country. The politics of parties like BSP and RPI has faced serious rout in the elections and parties have compromised on their basic principles. He was upset with the things happening in Maharastra and that is why kept away from political parties after making his attempt to contest as BSP candidate. He was doing things singlehandedly when actually he required support. Despite that he remained a very warm hearted Ambedkarite whose main consideration was to spread the message of Baba Saheb Ambedkar and to write history from an Ambedkarite perspective. His contribution to the growth of Ambedkar movement will always be remembered for extraordinary work that he produced through his powerful writings which will be guiding principles for new generation of people, a man who was witness to history and who document each aspect of it so well despite all disabilities that he had to face at his ripe age yet he has become immortal and milestone in the Ambedkar movement for all the work that he has done and deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated.
.Date : May 19, 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Understanding the verdict 2014

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

There are huge lessons for every political party as well as people who aspire for a secular democratic space in this verdict 2014 which has brought glimmer in the face of a huge number of people who believed in a ‘dream’ sold to them but also apprehensions and fear among those who have fought against the process of communalization and corporatization. We cannot blame people if Narendra Modi led BJP has been able to get a thumping majority in Lok Sabha as in democracy you have to respect the verdict of the people. There are a lot of issues which need to be debated. Many talked about electoral reforms and switching over to Proportionate Electorate System (PES) as is in a majority of European countries which clearly give you equivalent number of seats according to your vote percentage and no vote goes waste in it.  But why should we blame BJP for that as the Congress has always got benefitted with division of votes in the past which is now replaced by the BJP. So even when BJP got 33% of votes, it got nearly 55-60% seats in Loksabha while a party like BSP got nearly 4.5% of votes of the electorate and yet drew a blank. It is the problem of the electoral system but unfortunately even the BSP was not ready to listen to those who have been leading a campaign for electoral reform in India. Coincidently, it was BJP which was receptive to the campaign apart from the left parties who supported Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI) of which I had been an active member for several years. In fact, now time has come to discuss these issues seriously and form a consensus among political parties but those who gain from First Past the Post System (FPTP) module do not want to even give a moment to think over it.

Whatever be the excuses as well as our reservation with Narendra Modi, we cannot take away the shine from him at this hour of glory. He single handedly campaigned much more than any of his contemporaries did and travelled across the country from East to West and North to South and used all medium of communications with the people. BJP used all forms of methods of communication to reach the people right from social media like twitter, Facebook and Whatsapps to mass contact programmes and public meetings. The BJP was not depending on one vote catcher but their huge Sangh parivar cadre was diligently working to ensure that their candidates win. We know this election was fought with huge money that influence our media and shaped public opinion. But the fact is didn’t other parties use them and who stop a party like Congress to use media? After 40 years of ruling, it did not have enough ‘resources’ to match BJP? No, the congress’s media strategy was perfectly imperfect. It tried to show that it did not have the money but then where has the money gone? Its Facebook page was only providing us ‘glimpse of Gandhi Nehru dynasty’ and their ‘contribution’ to India. There is no doubt about the contribution but India today does not really want to live in the ‘contribution’ of one family or dynasty. Modi could sale the thought that Gandhi dynasty has destroyed India. He did not say that Gandhi Nehru dynasty did not do anything but directly suggested that it destroyed India and if they are poor it is because of them. And then he went on to suggest the Gujarat model which was accepted by most the people who are mostly migrant voters from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who have been depressed with the situation in these two states. We are witness to the absolutely abysmal social human development index in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which has been thoroughly neglected and ignored by the political leadership who felt that only ‘identity’ fetch the votes. This election has great lessons for them too to come out of their ivory towers and not treat people as their ‘praja’.

Elections are fought and won not on strategies alone but also on developing wider public perceptions. The perception of the common people had built up against congress party particularly after the UPA-2 government that it was the most corrupt government in the last 65 years and its minister highly arrogant, unaccountable and unapproachable. Modi sold the perception that this is the most inefficient leadership and he could communicate very well that this is the ‘maa-bete’ kee sarkaar’ without any responsibility and accountability. There is no doubt that UPA passed some of the most important legislations in the past 10 years and credit must go to Sonia Gandhi for bring these right based legislations but people also realized that none of these acts are functional truly with such kind of governance which has already made procedures to thwart them. Secondly, most of the people also realized that Congress or UPA is not making any of these laws out of love for people but out of compulsion, hence attempt to show that Congress is fighting against corruption looked like a joke.  Nobody in his dream would accept the fact that Congress party and its government at centre particularly UPA-2 sincere in fighting against corruption.

It is not coincident that the biggest beneficiary of anti-Congressism was the Bharatiya Janta Party. It was a non-entity before 1975 and Jai Prakash Narain legitimized it in the Janata Party government. Subsequently, they separated and contested as Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980. They never looked back since then. It is wrong to say that in 1984 they were defeated as Rajiv won with a thumping majority where opposition remained almost defunct. There is no ambiguity in saying that 1984 was a Hindutva mandate given to Rajiv Gandhi on anti-Sikh propaganda and India paid a price for defeating the entire opposition as the government ‘destroyed’ all the institutions. The next formation of the alliance of anti Congress forces under the leadership of Vishwnath Pratap Singh further helped the Hindutva forces in spreading their feet in the Hindi heartland. Their social base got extended with support to Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. It is a fact that the Sangh Parivar is the biggest social engineer than anyone else. The Marxists never believed in social engineering which they felt was ‘tokenism’ and the Congress only gave ‘token’ representation to puppeteers such as Meera Kumar and Sushil Kumar Shinde whose contribution to ‘Dalits’ and ‘Dalit cause’ is ‘well known’.

Congress government at the centre have always been prone to corruption charges as perhaps the party always felt that it was never an issue and at the end of the day people would vote on caste and religion line. Being the largest party of the country gave it a certain advantage over others as the vote division among the parties and low voting trends always helped the party. Congress always used these techniques to gain power and perhaps did not even realize that India has changed a lot. It created a huge class of sycophants whose only accountability was towards 10 Janpath but who got their positions in power due to their approximate to the Gandhi family and not due to any work done among masses. Gandhis were surrounded by such brahmanical elite which claimed to work for ‘liberal’ ‘secular’ India but in fact kept them away from people. On the other side, the government of the day was competing to hand over India’s natural resources to big companies. Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, Finance Minister P.Chidambaram and Planning Commission deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahaluwalia were actually nothing but ‘agent’ of Washington lobby and it would be amusing if Modi can do anything different than them as far as economic policies are concern.

The Indian corporate were always satisfied with the troika in the Congress. It only started dissociating with Congress Party after the later got several bill passed particularly the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill and then government’s inability to protect coal block corrupt businessmen, it started fueling antigovernment sentiments. Till that time, Congress Party and government remain under the illusion that they did not have any ‘opposition’. The Sangh Parivar knew it well that if it has to take up an opportunity, it needs to discredit the whole system and make congress and its allies as synonymous to corruption. BJP and its allies were not in a position to do it hence the entire Parivar pushed its force behind ‘non-political forces’ actively supported by corporate media. A larger than life image of Anna Hazare was created and entire system was sought to be discredited by his team.  Parliamentarians were abused openly and television channels broadcasted everything live. Congress party till that time did not heed to any public opinion and termed them mere foreign funded NGOs. They played politics with it and tried to deviate from the issue.  Initially, Ramdev was also planted and later when the thing went wrong, he too became active campaigner against Congress Party in particular. Leaders like Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibbol, Sushil Kumar Shinde showed little respect for the people. While Congress did not try to put its house in order but tried to use the contradiction in Anna Team. Sangh Parivar on the other side was observing carefully the team Anna and its furious attack on Congress Party. Anti-Corruption campaign became synonymous to anti congress-ism and BJP was waiting for the moment. Unfortunately after the enormous media coverage and bad mouthing, Kejriwal had no other option than formation of a party. They were young activists and suddenly became ‘messiah’ of the nation hence it is difficult for them to understand the basics of politics. They wanted to run political party according to their ‘civil society’ action. The fissures divided the movement as pro BJP lobby openly opposed the formation of a political party and there were people who did not want to fight election but wanted ‘positions’ in power.

The anti-congress sentiments were further fuelled in December 16th 1912, Nirbhaya case. The problem with 10 Janpath was that it never reacted to people’s issues. It felt the best way to kill a movement is to make them tired through delaying tactics. Congress’s this politics of dividing the movements and forcing people for retreat actually boomeranged on them. The Nirbhaya incident created a situation when any government could have gone in a public coup. The unfortunate part is that Rahul Gandhi who always tried to distance him from the government’s acts actually did nothing to douse the flames of anger among the youths. There was no attempt by the senior leadership of the party to join the protest and share the agony of the people. It is not that it was the first time such incident had happened but the large scale resentment against it was actually convergence of many things. The congress was unable to see why small things were becoming bigger for it daily. It was trying to take comfort in forming committees and bringing a legislation rather than trying to fight against the perception that was being built assiduously against the party and the government that it is not just corrupt government but thoroughly criminal. By this time, the Facebook-twittarati also jumped in and became abusive and nasty against the party.

In the last session of 14th Lok Sabha, the government got the statehood to Telangana bill passed. The way it was done, made it clear that UPA-2 brought all the bills only under pressure and when things moved out of its hand. The congress leaders felt that they have undone the damage in Telananga but they were wronged. They were routed in both the places. Ofcourse, they have chances in Talangana in future but in Seema Andhra the things will be very difficult unless they decide to talk to their old members to merge their parties.
The biggest lesson was for the politicians that do not think voter is a fool. People know how you are getting your things done and that is why Congress could not satisfy any one as it wanted to ‘satisfy’ every one. The problem is it had no zeal in doing so and it was more playing ‘politics’ with the sentiments of the people. For years, since 1984, Congress has lost the support of upper castes who have switched to BJP. The Dalits in Uttar Pradesh too have deserted the party. After the demolition of Babari Mosque, Muslims too deserted the party. Nothing was done. The Manmohan Singh government remained one of the most inefficient and insensitive government whose solution to every problem was formation of a ‘committee’. People were frustrated with growing inflation and yet no effort by the government to control it. It had left the middle classes, which was slowly communalized to fetch itself. UPA party’s government was doing everything that Narsimharao did at the cost of Congress Party.

Today the media is deliberately blaming Rahul Gandhi for the debacle who was in a catch 22 situation of not to criticize the government for the sake of its stability and speak absolutely less due the danger of disturbing the existing relationship between the prime minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The fact is that Congress’s debacle are basically because of the economic policies of Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and Montek Singh added with party’s failure to protect the interest of Dalits and minorities. Why should minorities vote to party which has done nothing for them in past 10 years. Rahul Gandhi’s problem was that he did not have the ideas about these policies. He rarely spoke on inflation, corruption and wanted to tell us what his party has ‘given’ to people. This language was more of an old feudal language where ‘raja’ gives to ‘praja’. Rahul must understand that India is a new India and it does not like such language particularly in the age of communication when your speeches will broadcasted and interpreted in different ways. Rahul’s ‘fight’ against ‘corruption’ and ‘dissociation’ with the ‘corrupt’ government looked absolutely artificial. So, during the election he was on an uphill mission. His party felt that they need a Gandhi name, which they do need but that alone is not sufficient. Elections today are to be managed. You need social media, you need media, you need cadres at the grassroots and above all, you also need leaders with integrity. Where do Congress have leaders with integrity? How many OBC leaders do Congress has who can be trusted to bring vote to Party? How many Dalit leaders the party has who can win it vote? Let us not talk of Uttar Pradesh but outside the state? How many Muslim leaders does it have? Yes, it promoted leaders like Salman Khurshid and Sushil Kumar Shinde who are good for nothing. They can’t win their own seats and Khurshid ended up at number five in his constituency of Farukhabad shows how much arrogant and inaccessible he was to the people. Your fight against corruption and criminalization look hollow when you field ShriPrakash Jaiswal, the coal block hero from Kanpur and Ajay Rai from Varanasi.  Congress could have avoided fielding the candidate from Varanasi rather than fielding a criminal.

Rahul Gandhi’s media interaction was not that of a leader who wanted to go for an election. He did not have much to give. He wanted to go in election with the ‘achievements’ of Manmohan Singh who as I wrote earlier would be second ‘Narsimha Rao’ for Congress who were glorified at the cost of the party. Rao finished party and Manmohan though was not engaged anywhere in party circles too finished party through his lethargy, sluggishness, inaccessibility and inactivity apart from his inadequate economic model. No leader of any stature could have brought Congress back unless the party was bold enough to take action against its own erring government but it never did. The bold step could have been also like inability to run a coalition government but then Congress believed running government even if it is looking thoroughly paralysed was important to send the message to people that we only ‘know’ how to run a government. This has failed to attract and therefore the task before Rahul was gigantic in nature and he was not cut for the same.

These elections have not just exposed the hollowness of Congress party, its management and state of its organization but also deflated the hype build around ‘social justice’ groups in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Yes, the big jolt to Mulayam Singh, Mayawati and Lalu Yadav is warning for them to improve or you will be obliterated. The biggest lessons have to be taken by Mayawati who has been always proud of the Dalit vote. Amit Shah and other knew well that Maywati’s dalit loyalty was nothing but Chamar vote and hence they targeted other communities like Pasis, Khatiks, Dhobis, Chauhans, Mushahars, Rajbhars etc. The Hindutva party made right noises with OBCs where they attracted Kurmi votes through Apna Dal. Most of the non yadava OBCs shifted to BJP. Muslims were already looking for alternative and finished voting to different ‘contractors’ of ‘secularism’ such as BSP, Congress, SP and AAP. Mujaffarnagar riots and their mishandling created different convergence point for the Hindutva group. Dalits, OBCs, Jats became Hindus in the name of Muslim polarization. This technique helped them elsewhere too. That is the irony of being a Muslim in India and why they are unable to bring out any seats. It will continue unless Muslim seats too are reserved for them like Dalits and tribals.

Congress party will have to be rebuilt and it needs statesmanship, management and conviction. It mean that Congress will have to provide a huge platform to Dalits, OBCs, Muslims, Aadivasis and develop their leaders independently who could raise the issues. Congress will have to be developed a cadre based ideological party with strong secular leanings. Today, in this hour, Congress did not get support of these segments as they never believed in the party. The Dalit vote that Congess got was in deep compulsion and not due to any positivity. With growing rapes in Haryana and inefficiency of Hooda government how can it expect the vote of Dalits. Congress may not need them in Haryana but definitely it has to act in greater interest of democracy and justice and secondly the track record would have helped it elsewhere. Today, a majority of Congress leaders subscribe Hindutva ideology or soft Hindutva and hence cannot fight for the cause of secularism. When its top ministers were unabashedly pro corporations and had no intention to control inflation, how would anybody believe that it cared for the poor. Congress took the issue of land acquisition seriously only when Mamta Banerjee made it an issue in West Bengal and won the election after the Singur movement.

Mulayam, Lalu and Maywati focused too much on their calculations and arithmetic’s without really preparing for the elections. Even when Mayawati had announced the names of her candidates a year back, the fact is, we did not hear her saner voice on Mujaffarnagar violence. We never heard on violence against Dalits in Haryana and elsewhere. We never say her visiting Dalit villages and meeting the women working at the field who sweat day in and out. It was surprising that while she had criticized Rahul’s visit to Dalit bastes, she did not find time to visit those areas where she was needed and her presence would have been a soothing balm for people. Least said about Mulayam is better. The Uttar Pradesh government failed to instill confidence among Dalits, Muslims as well as common people and hence the anti-incumbency vote which should have gone to Mayawati actually went to BJP resulting heavy outpouring of support for them.  BSP has drifted far away from its Bahujan mission and therefore the non Chamars communities were targeted by the Hindutva groups. The poll results have actually serious challenges for the Dalit Bahujan movement and their capacity to represent the communities as Hindutva forces have already incorporated a lot of them.

That apart, mainstream left too was decimated completely. The situation has arisen when left have to support parties like AAP at various places and were almost begging Jayalalitha for an alliance reflect their condition today. Prakash Kararth declared that Mulayam Singh Yadav would be the prime ministerial candidate without even consulting any other party. A lot has been written about Rahul Gandhi’s ability to lead who was definitely facing anti-incumbency but why Prakash Karath failed to deliver? Why he was unable to take a lead and develop alliances with different left parties and other secular democratic forces. The parties have no idea how to move ahead and now the situation has put them in serious crisis. There is no other alternative then making a new beginning among all these parties and making a rainbow coalition which could rightfully represent the Dalits, Aadivasis, minorities, Kisans, mazdoors and even middle classes as threat to them is real.

The biggest lessons these elections have given us is that if you do not address the perceptional issues fast then you are decimated. All the kshatraps who did take people for granted actually got finished. None would actually shed a tear for Salman Khurshid, A.Raja, Sushil Shinde, Kapil Sibol, Farukh Abdullah and various clans of Karunanidhi and Lalu Yadav.  However, clan of Mulayam survived in Uttar Pradesh and all other got defeated. BSP could not get a single seat.  Most of the leaders in parties including Congress who were sons and daughters got defeated except for a few.  The voters are not going to vote just because you look more ‘secular’ as they need transparency and responsive government.

However, it is essential not to ignore the huge corporate money pumped into these elections. That media played an active role to propagate larger than life image of Narendra Modi. They became PR agencies of Narendra Modi. The media imposed self-censorship in hiding information about Gujarat and promoted issues that discredit other parties particularly Congress party.  It shielded Modi and became its main propaganda machinery in its war against Congress.  All other parties were completely neglected. AAP got more space than others which reflect that what media is looking forward is the parties and group that serve the new economic interests as well as interest of the caste Hindus. The downfall of media is the biggest results of this election.

I had long back visualized that this election was not being fought by political parties but purely corporate media which joined hand with Hindutva zealots to communalise the atmosphere wherever was necessary. Assam saw violence and threatening speeches were made in Uttar Pradesh and Bengal by BJP leaders targeting Muslims without much action from the election commission. Modi himself challenged the Commission on many occasion.  In fact, Bengal, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Telangana are new state to be watched as the influence of Hindutva is growing there.
The elections used to be fought on ideologies and issues but this time they were fought on ‘perceptions’. The upper castes pro liberal middle classes were sold a dream and ofcourse everything that is pro social justice was to be despised and need to be rejected. A majority of young middle class voters actually got attracted to Modi as none others tried to reach them. Modi is a natural choice as all others look casteist, backward and communal to them due to ‘appeasement’ and pro reservation stand.

Whatever be the reason, it is time for all the political parties to sit and chalk out their strategy. They will have to come to join hand together as these elections have shown us mirror of our real strength. These have shown us what we lack and given us opportunity to join hand and fight against any attempt to deny people their right. If the government does better no issues and should be given credit but it cannot take away the rights of the people to fight for their right. Many people say that calamity is the biggest opportunity and I think this is one of the biggest calamities upon secular parties, social movements and left political groups. They need to use this to rebuild the organisations and develop further links with people as their time for action has now begun. The election results are  a warning for all secular progressive democratic forces to come together and work diligently as in the absence of work for the people mere identities and secular talks will not get you people’s vote. It is time to work for people as merely ideologies are not going to get you people’s support, leaders will have to promote young team and talk of their aspirations too. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will only come back to forces of social justice as those who claim the legacy of Ambedkar and Lohia need to look beyond their caste, community and family interest and will have to become more democratized and large hearted. More important, they will have to show that they know to govern and deliver. They need to sale their dream better but not through cycles and laptops but through new infrastructure, land reforms, jobs and opportunities to  young voters who are desperate for the same. It is time for them to leave aside their egos and forge an alliance at national level. This must start from today so that whenever elections are due at any place such alliances can work better. In the meanwhile all parties must evaluate the work of their existing government doing and delivering. How is that BJP led state governments did not face any incumbency but all the Congress led governments and other governments faced it except for Mamta and Jayalalitha? It is time to seriously introspect and act on that.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dilemma of Dalit movement in Nepal

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Nepal’s Dalit movement face and existential crisis as attempt are being made that it does not stand on its own and depend on the various ideological formations in the name of ideology, politics or development. The Hindu Nepal had relegated Dalits to a position prescribed to them under the Manu’s law and remote areas still function on those ‘traditions’ and ‘cultures’ which were strengthened by the monarchy.  However, there is a lot of churning in Nepal after people threw away its Hindu Monarchy and opted for a secular constitution. It decided to give wider political representation to Dalits and other ethnic minorities resulting in a substantial presence (though still much below their population percentage) in the Constituent Assembly. In the first CA (after the peace accord)  there were nearly 50 members from the community in the Assembly of 601 which was about 8.32% representation of a community which is officially 13.5% of Nepal’s total population though independent experts suggest that Dalit population in Nepal is not less than 20%.  This representation of Dalits was due to a serious commitment shown by the Maoists towards the Dalit issue particularly related to land reforms which attracted huge number of people to them.  The percentage of the Dalit representatives elected during the recently held elections of Constituent Assembly have drastically reduced and has shocked political analysts and Dalit Rights activists who felt that this has happened due to faulty electoral system.

Nepal has a mixed Member Electoral system in which 52% elected representative comes through First Past The Post System (FPTP) and rest 48% have to be elected through Proportionate Electorate System ( PES). There is no provision of reservation for the Dalits in the FPTP and hence it is difficult for them to get elected.  Actually in the last CA just 7 members belonging to Dalit community won through FPTP out of 18 candidates put up by different political parties and rest 43 were elected through the proportionate electorate system. In the current election of Parliament just one member got elected through FPTP and rest won through the PES. There was no provision of ensuring the Dalit representation which remains highly insufficient in the Constituent Assembly of Nepal.

At the time when the new constitution is being drafted the fair representation of Dalits and other ethnic minorities is essential so that their interests are protected. Unfortunately, in the absence of independent identity of the Dalit movements in Nepal, political parties seemed to be unaccountable to this approach resulting in substantial reduction in the Dalit representation in Constituent Assembly. In fact many Dalit political leaders have expressed their concern on the issue. The reason for Dalit issues being left to the mercy of the caste Hindu dominated political parties are very clear as no independent Dalit movement has taken shape in Nepal. Thousands of NGOs exists ‘working’ for the Dalits apart from t ‘social movements’ which are actually ‘action’ side of political parties as well as NGOs working on different issues. The mainstream political parties rarely raised the issue.

Dalits do not have reservation in the government services and their percentage is far below in these services. Though, it is true that Nepal’s political parties as well as government is quiet keen on speaking about untouchability and caste discrimination in public and supported the law against it in the United Nations, the fact is that there is strong resistance among the people when the question of representation comes. People accept that ‘they’ should be ‘helped’ but feel very much like the upper caste Hindus in India that ‘jobs’ should not be ‘reserved’ as it would affect ‘merit’. In fact, I was shocked to see the reactions of students at a law college in Kathmandu where I spoke on the issue of social justice, participation and representation of the Dalits. The students were not ready to take the matter that easily and questioned and counter questioned.

In the political turmoil of Nepal, Maoists actually took up the Dalit question a bit more seriously than their other political counterparts. The issue of land reform was very important as the entire edifice of the feudal structure is based on heavy accumulation of land in some hands. Unlike, Indian Communist Parties, Nepal’s CPN gave representation at senior level to many Dalits said Tilak Pariyar, a very respected a senior party member of the Communist Party of Nepal.  Hailing from a Darjee community (tailoring work) which is one of the large Dalit communities in Nepal, Tilak Periyar said that he faced caste discrimination during his growing days but the Maoist movement fought against both the caste discrimination as well as feudal structure of the Nepalese society.  However, my own experience is that both Prachanda and Babu Rai Bhattarai have never used the opportunity to speak against social tyranny of the brahmanical system and continued with term ‘feudalism’. Nepalese leadership cannot blame ‘imperialists’ for the caste system like many ‘brahmanical’ scholars do in India blaming the British rulers to ‘divide’ our society.  Mr Tilak Periyar blamed the leadership of Prachanda for not taking the Dalit issues seriously and ignoring their leadership. His party has broken up with Prachanda and returning to prepare ‘Jan Vidroh’ as they feel that Parliamentary form of democracy is just manipulations and would not allow them to make pro people legislations.

However, despite all setbacks and internal differences, Nepal owes its democracy and rise of Dalit assertion to Maoists. Hundreds of young leaders have emerged and want to make a change. Today, political parties are responding to the issue of Dalits in political structure though in the second phase of the elections for Constituent Assembly, the representation of Dalits has reduced and political parties are maneuvering the entire issue so that no further compensation is granted to Dalits. Many activists have appealed to the government to ensure the Dalits get representation according to their population in the Constituent Assembly so that there issues are properly debated and discussed. In fact, the electoral system that Nepal has today is because of the Maoists forced the political parties to opt for proportionate electorate system though the political parties who are manipulating and subverting the democratic process to deny the ethnic minorities and Dalits a fair share want Nepal to revert back to First Past the Post System which produced more symbolic democracy during the King’s regime with almost no representation from the marginalized sections of society. Nepal will have to guard against this onslaught and sinister design of many such political parties which want to follow the Indian pattern which nothing but manipulation of the corporate and caste forces.

Napal started building up institutions for the benefits of Dalits. It has formed various autonomous bodies like National Human Rights Commission, National Dalit Commission and National Women’s Commission. However the effectiveness and efficacy of these Commissions is still questionable including the power they enjoy.

At the World Conference against Untouchability organized by International Humanist and Ethical Union and other organizations from Nepal including Nepal Dalit Commission, a member of Constituent Assembly boasted in glory how they have been able to get the word ‘Dalit’ into Constitution of Nepal unlike India where the official term is ‘scheduled castes’. While the Nepal’s political leadership felt proud of it, there is an inherent danger as I warned many of them during the conference. Our constitutional forefathers were more visionary in this regard. Baba Saheb Ambedkar actually understood the diversity of the untouchable communities and hence all those castes were scheduled for clarity and representation purposes. Some time in boasting one big identity, we ignore the diversity of castes in it and later some communities dominate the entire spectrum while majority of others suffers silently.

While I do not wish to sound negative but the fact is that in popular discourse on Dalits in Nepal, we do not hear much about Mushahars, Mehtars (manual scavengers), Doms, chamars, Halkhors (Ploughman) etc. In fact, I doubt if there is any survey existing on the conditions of these communities who remained most marginalized and untouchable. The dominant discourse of untouchability is led by Kamis i.e. Vishwkarmas who are Lohars (ironsmith) or Darjee (tailors) or Sunars (gold smith). In fact, Nepal’s Dalit commission should look into the gradation of untouchability and decide about it. I do not know whether Vishwakarmas or Sunars in UP and Bihar were ever untouchables because it is these regions which are bordering Nepal and share almost same caste order and traditions. No doubt, Kamis are around 30% of the total Dalit population followed by Sunars and Darjee. The fact is most the leadership in all sector also emerged from these communities too. If all the communities and particularly the most marginalized one do not get fair representation in political structure and government jobs the Dalit movement for a cohesive identity will not grow resulting in the non-represented communities aligning with the power elite becoming pawn in the political chessboard. Nepal will have to focus on communities which are engaged in degraded traditional practices such as manual scavenging, cremating the dead bodies, Badis which is engaged in prostitution and Mushahars. A majority of these communities are completely landless and non-represented. They suffer from internal untouchability too and are thoroughly isolated.

Mr Sita Ram Mandal, the acting chairman of Nepal Dalit Commission actually conceded to me in an interview that many of the marginalized communities are not represented anywhere in Nepal. Mushahars have a fairly large presence in Nepal but highly under represented. He also pointed out that the Mehtar community exists in Nepal but could not provide me any data about their numbers in the entire country. It is important to note whether Nepal has manual scavenging practices or not. It is great if Nepal does not have manual scavenging but if it has then it is the biggest failure of the social movements in Nepal for their inability to get deep into the practice and how to eliminate it.

There is acceptance of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar in the Dalit movement in Nepal and many claim themselves as Ambedkarite but there are very few among them who want to convert to Buddhism as a change. Most of them want to remain with their caste identities or fight without being religious.  Dr Ambedkar had visited Nepal in 1956 to attend World Buddhist Conference and was very disturbed to see the plight of the untouchables there. He visited many villages and basties in Lalitpur and Deopatan area of Kathmandu and expressed his disappointment. One of the great Dalit leaders Late Mohan Lal Kapali took Dr Ambedkar to various places where living conditions were utterly pathetic. According to Om Prakash Gahatraj, a leading Ambedkarite in Nepal, ‘When Baba Saheb visited Dalit Basti (Area) and saw the worst condition of Dalits, he became angered against the attitude of Nepal Govt. towards Dalits of Nepal. Seeing the anger mood of Baba Sahib, the liaison officer who was associated on behalf of Govt. in the visit reported the anger of Baba Saheb to the Prime Minister of Nepal (Mr. Tanka Prasad Acharya). After the return of Baba Saheb to the Guest House (Sital Nivas), Then Prime Minister Hon. Acharya invited Baba Saheb to his residence to talk about this matter. When Baba Saheb showed his reluctance to go in his residence, Hon Acharya himself came to the Sital Nivas and assured to Baba Saheb to give due attention to the development of Dalits’.

The Dalit movement has not grown independently in Nepal with a clear debrahmanised ideological shape. It will have to ally with other like-minded groups. There is another factor which is religious too. Nepal has remained deeply entrenched to Brahmanical ritualistic beliefs which have become part and parcel of people. There are same regions for defeat of Communist movement as in India because none of them led the social revolt against Brahmanical hierarchy. In the absence of such unambiguous agenda, many times movement falls in the hands of those who may talk of liberation in purely ‘political terms’ but not challenging the social hierarchy and cultural practices which Baba Saheb Ambedkar felt the root cause of oppression of the Dalits.
Maoist leaders like Tilak Periyar accept Ambedkar’s contribution but not ready to accept all his views particularly related to religion. Actually, during my all interaction, I found, this was the most uncomfortable question to all the leaders which they felt that Buddhism has done nothing to emancipate Dalits. The Marxists blamed Ambedkar for failing to understand Marx and taking a religious route ignoring completely the great speech he delivered in Kathmandu in 1956 where he found the point of convergence between Buddha and Marx as well as their differences. Obviously, this issue needs to elaborate separately.

The positive side is that the growth of the leaders particularly women in the Dalit movement. Obviously Nepal is developing two ways. One side, political representation and other side the civil society. The Maoists decry the NGOs as the agent of imperialism but then very much participate in their activities too in the name of social movements. The National Commission for Dalits needs to be strengthened and more resources need to be allocated to such commissions so that they can do independent studies to find out the status of various untouchable communities.

Nepal’s government has been very positive for an international law against caste discrimination unlike the government of India which has always blocked and defamed the organisations. In fact, India never agreed internationally that untouchability exists. This is brazen shamelessness. Whether India or Nepal, they will never shine unless and until all forms of untouchability cease to exists. Dalits in Nepal have no other option than to stand up and seize the opportunity and compel the political forces to accept to their demand and bring strong provisions for protecting their rights and for that they will have to make ideological alliances who stand with their issues through thick and thin leaving aside their ‘political’ manipulations. Most of the people are frustrated with the political class who they feel are compromising to community interest and promoting themselves. Such practices will only go if the movement is strong and compel political forces to act according to community needs and desires. India is shining example of both success stories and failures of the Dalit movement. Nepal can learn from our successes as well as failures.

Such alliances are necessary as political changes in India affect Nepal too and at the moment right wing Hindutva forces too are operative in Nepal. Their agenda is to use the political uncertainity for their purposes and pitch the Dalits against the religious minorities. The VHP chief Ashok Singhal’s statement of converting Nepal to a Hindu country is very much in the minds of people. Therefore, it will be important for the Dalit social movement and political parties to reach beyond mere identity politics and focus on ideological similarities as the circumstances in Nepal are much more favorable towards the Dalits movement and their ideological allies than in India. The political churning and various struggles has created situation whether they will have to come together with likeminded people without losing their identities and ideological positions but with a common minimum programme. 

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Demystifying Varanasi

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Varanasi  is rising on the high voltage publicity after Hindutva’s mascot Narendra Modi decided to contest from this place. The supporters of the party and the caste based Indian middle classes all jumped with joy after hearing this decision. People are thinking as if Varanasi would now be converted into Rome or Athens which are historical and of immense religious value. Thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the world actually visit Varanasi every year to the ‘beauty’ of Kashi.  The city remains one of the dirtiest in the country to say the least. The ghats and the gullies are enough to give you food poisoning like any other religious places of India, full of dirt and filth. The only good thing is ‘’invisible’ is the spirited people and their abundant faith on the ‘power’. Despite dirt and filth, they are ready to jump into the river to wash their sins.

Varanasi is the den of the brahmanical elite in India and that is why it has been glamorized. The caste vampire of Brahmanical India is run through the famous Kashi Hindu Vishwidyalaya simply Banaras Hindu University, where the Dalit students still face discriminations at the hands of Dronacharyas in the university.  Mr Modi, Mr Kejriwal and Mr Ajay Rai will only be able to know that and understand the real feeling of ‘neech jaat’ once they have time to visit those students and meet them.

The Ganga of Varanasi is brahmanical in nature. They have hijacked the whole concept of nature worshipping and converted it into a ritualistic money minting machine which is exclusive. It exploits people further particularly to those who have surrendered here meekly to the discriminatory brahmanical divinity. Varanasi typifies what caste mean. You need to see it, research it and must have intellectual honesty which is rarely available in India.  Just board the boat at the Ghats and ask who are the boatmen and you will find the Nishads and Mallahas doing the service. If you go to the Ghat and see who are the people burning the funeral pyre and you will see the Doms, the most untouchable among untouchable communities. If you roam around the streets of Varanasi, you will find hundreds of people from Mehtar or Valmiki community cleaning night-soil, entering into the manhole and cleaning the streets. Such is the power of caste system that the ghats, the pujaris, the temples are the den of Brahmins and Brahmins alone. They arrogate themselves knowing everything about you past, present and future. The ‘Mahaarati’ at the Ganges look very beautiful at night but reflect the dark reality of the caste system. It is an exclusive domain of the Brahmin Pandas and that too the Brahmin men only. You will not find a single woman leading it.

Brahmanical revivalism in India comes through different forms and the biggest it the cultural manifestations which look too good yet are very dangerous. This cultural revivalism in Varanasi happened despite the fact one of the holiest shrines of Buddhists is located in Sarnath, just five kilometer from the main city. None of our mainstream media and political pundits decided to inform the world that Varanasi is famous not just for the polluted Ganges but because Buddha’s historic shrine is located here. Buddha revolted against brahmanical rituals and dominance of a particular caste.

The caste dominance of the Brahmins was established long back. The idea of a particular community could obtain ‘knowledge’ and ‘guide’ the destiny of the community was challenged not just Buddha but thousands years later in the same land by great saints like Kabir and Ravidas. Both refused to accept the brahmanical wisdom and finality of the religious texts. Kabir also followed the Eklavya traits to get the ‘wisdom’ from Ramananda, who refused to be his teacher since he was not ‘twice born’. This was the ‘greatness’ of brahmanical Varansi that people were discriminated on the basis of their castes and that still persists, education was out of bound for shudras and dalits.

Kabir challenged the supremacy of the Brahmins who had propagandized that anyone who died in Varanasi would go to ‘heaven’. Kabir went to die in Magahar, a place now developed as Sant Kabir Nagar by Ms Mayawati during her tenure. In fact, it is under her tenure that the Buddhists places and all those spaces were developed and revived which challenged the brahmanical supremacy. Unfortunately, Samajwadi party did not have anything to do with such cultural projects which could have challenged brahmanical revivalism. The real threat to brahmanical supremacy came from Buddha and at later stage by Kabir, Nanaka, Ravidas and others. If you die at Magahar, the Brahmins ‘disclosed’, you will go to hell. Why such a thought was developed? Who are the people who want us to believe that dying in a dirty Ganga send you to ‘heaven’ and at Magahar to ‘hell’.  According to many Buddhist scholars, it was because both Kabir and Ravidas were actually saints of Buddhist traditions and revolted against brahmanical hierarchy and superstition that it brought. Moreover, Magahar was also a place attributed as a Buddhist one and biggest aim of the Brahmins that time was to denigrate Buddhism and all those places related to it.

It is deplorable how a superstition is being ‘commercialized’ and defended in the name of ‘culture’. ‘Maa’ ‘Ganga’ I apologise from you’, said Modi. Yes, Modi did not have a big heart to apologize to human beings who were killed in Gujarat in 2002. He has no word of apology for anything wrong that he speak but he apologize to Ganga for his ‘inability’ to ‘wash’ his ‘sins’. Obviously both Kejriwal and Ajai Rai too are the same people who will wash their ‘sins’ strengthening the same brahmanical tradition which was challenged by none other than revolutionary Saint Ravi Das who said ,’ Man Changa to Katauti me Ganga’ which means If your heart is pure, Ganga reside there, you do not need to take a dip to ‘cleanse’ yourself. You need purity of heart and mind Mr Modi. Maybe a few lines of Ravidas and Kabir will give them some knowledge about the importance of these places which are not just brahmanical status quoists but the biggest revolt against them also emerged from here.

That is why it is important to remember Kabir who rejected the advice of the Brahmin to remain in Varanasi to die. He decided to go to Magahar, a place about 150 kilometer away, where he ultimately died. Both Varanasi and Magahar have a huge number of ‘bunkar’ community people, the Ansaris. Unfortunately, with religious rituals dominated among them, Kabir became irrelevant for most of them since he challenged the religious orthodoxy and was equally vociferous against the bad practices among Muslims and caste practices among them. He revolted both against the Mullahas and Brahmins and believed in humanist values of equality and fraternity. That is why a person like Kabir is not wanted to Muslims and Hindus both because he had the courage to speak against their wrong practices. In the Sarva dhrama business of Gandhi, we all have become habitual of ‘great’ religious and ‘cultural’ practices, the ‘Ganga- Jamuni tehjeeb’. Yes, the same Ganga Jamuni Tehjib that unites Hindus and Muslims, actually make them arrogant followers of their caste identities and practice hierarchical system in their societies.

It is so sad that when we are invoking the spirit of Varanasi, it is the spirit of division based on your birth that we are portraying. We are portraying superstition as culture in the name of tradition linking to Varanasi. Shockingly, Indian elite class will go to Hindu Mahant, Babas to talk about unity and equality. Whether they oppose Modi or not, a Shankarcharya will never agree to sit with a Dalit or accept a Dalit or Shudra woman equal to him.  It is not amusing therefore that the legacy of Buddha, Kabir and Nanaka has been fraudulently ignored by the brahmanical media.

Narendra Modi has been emphasizing a lot on being a chaiwallah, a tea seller. Indian media jumped on his rhetoric terming them ‘great’ speeches. Now, he is addressing ‘Ganga ma’ purely to ‘targeted’ audiences to polarize the voters. He is claiming to be a ‘neech’ ‘jaati’ who has been wronged. It is not unusual for Modi to make such speeches which after some days, if we analyse, will find shockingly distasteful. When he was invited to speak at a programme organized by the Balmikis in Gujarat, Modi wanted to show how closely he is associated with Balmikis and he wrote a book and said,’ the manual scavenging work gives a lot of spiritual feeling’. I do not know why he need to come to Varanasi to get that spiritual feeling by dipping in Ganga, better do an ‘spiritual experience’ in Ahmedabad itself.

Finally, let us be clear that no tea seller in India belong to a ‘neech’ ‘jaati’ or lower caste. Most of them are upper backward communities who were never treated as untouchables. I would just like him to show us a single tea shop or a dhaba, run by a Balmiki or Mehtar both in Gujarat and his new constituency of spiritualism named as Varanasi. It is not possible in the model of Varanasi and Gujarat which are being projected to us by the media as well as those devotees of ‘Modi’ as well as ‘secularism’. Question is such great places with purely caste hierarchical system operating wonderfully, even if you get a dhaba being operated by a Dalit, you will not find customers for them. It is not without reason that most of the Dhabas in Varanasi do offer you ‘chai’ in ‘kulhars’ or plastic cups so that the dhaba owners is saved from washing the cups of ‘every one’ including ‘neech-jaat’ people too. Brahmanical Varanasi is growing because of ‘democracy’ of the dominants that  romanticize the religious rituals which were challenged by great revolutionaries like Kabir and Ravidas, whose ideas are the biggest obstacles along with one Rahul Sankrityayan from Azamgarh, for the Hindutva’s unfinished agenda of Hindu Rastra based on caste hierarchy. It is this tradition of revolt against the ‘varnashram dharma’ that we need to provoke and invoke for a strong democratic secular India.