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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 49 New Delhi November 24, 2018

Dr Ambedkar and Politics of Caste

Saturday 24 November 2018

by S.R. Darapuri

Dr Ambedkar is said to be the father of Dalit politics because he was the first person to fight for the political rights of Dalits. He was the person who during the Round Table Conferences (1930-32), called in connection with the framing of future Constitution of India, got the Dalits (Depressed Classes) recognised as a minority distinct from the Hindus and got the right to separate electorate just like Muslims, Sikhs and Anglo-Indians. On the announcement of the “Communal Representation Award” in 1932, whereby the Depressed Classes also got a right to separate electorate, Mahatma Gandhi declared to resort to fast unto death under the plea that it will break the Hindu society whereas he had no objection to the similar right given to Sikhs and Muslims. At last under great pressure and to save Gandhi’s life Dr Ambedkar had to sign the Poona Pact whereby he had to sacrifice the Dalit’s right to independent politics and agree to joint electorate with reserved seats.

As per the decision taken in the Round Table Conference, a new law named ‘Government of India Act—1935’ was enacted and this came into force in 1936. Under this Act the first election was declared to be held in 1937. In order to participate in this election Dr Ambedkar established in August, 1936 the Independent Labour Party which contested elections on 17 seats in the Bombay Presidency and won 15 seats. After this on July 19, 1942 he formed another party known as the All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF). This party contested the elections held in 1946 and 1952 but lost them under the adverse impact of the Poona Pact. As a result of it Dr Ambedkar himself lost the election in 1952 and 1954. At last Dr Ambedkar dissolved the AISCF on October 14, 1956 at Nagpur and announced the formation of the Republican Party of India (RPI). He himself drafted the constitution of this party. In reality this party came into existence on October 3, 1957 after his death on December 6, 1956. According to these details, Dr Ambedkar established three political parties during his life-time. Out of these only the RPI has survived but is badly fragmented.

In the present context it is to be seen whether through these parties caste politics or politics based on different classes was pursued. This requires an in-depth analysis of the agendas of these parties established by Dr Ambedkar.

Let us first of all see the agenda of the Independent Labour Party. Dr Ambedkar, while enunciating the aims and objectives of this party, had said ”having regard to the fact that the present was no time for parties communally organised”, in agreement with the wishes of friends, broadened the name and programme of the party so as to permit political co-operation between other classes and the Depressed Classes. “The nucleus of the party would still be the 15 members of the Depressed Classes. But the members of the other classes were free to join the party.” The manifesto of the party included solution to the problems of landless, poor farmers, tenants and labourers, to re-establish old and set up new industries, consolidation of small land holdings, expansion of technical education, state management of industries, to stop exploitation of tenants by landlords and expulsion there from, laws for the protection of workers, to punish every type of orthodoxy and reaction, expansion of education with donations, to re-plan village housing for cleanliness in order to change their mindset and establish library, hall and cinema house. The party mainly emphasised on the welfare of workers and farmers. The main effort of the party was to educate the people in democratic methods, to put the correct ideology before them and to organise them through political actions. Thus it is clear that the party’s politics was not based on caste lines; rather it was based on common issues and Dalits were at the centre of this party. It was a party in opposition to the Congress Government of Bombay Presidency. During this period the party got many useful laws enacted. Due to opposition by this party the Industrial Disputes Bill could not be passed.

Now let us have a look at the aims, objectives and agenda of the AISCF established in 1942. By establishing this party Dr Ambedkar had aimed at creating a balance between the Congress and Socialist parties. The main issues of its manifesto were: All the Indians are entitled to equality, in favour of political, religious and economic equality for all Indians, state responsibility to keep all Indians free from want and fear, to protect liberty, equality and fraternity, freedom from exploitation of man by man, class by class and nation by nation and duty of the state to protect the democratic system and under an economic programme: nationalisation of insurance, compulsory insurance for all government employees and prohibition. Although under the adverse effect of the Poona Pact this party could not show much electoral victories, but still the party’s agenda and people’s movements like land movements made the Untouchables to organise under one flag which instilled confidence in the Dalits. From the programme of the AISCF it is clear that although the Dalits were at the centre of the party but instead of caste politics the party pursued a broad agenda-based politics.

As mentioned earlier, keeping in view the changed circumstances and needs of the people Dr Ambedkar announced the formation of a new political party, named the “Republican Party of India” (RPI), on October 14, 1956 at Nagpur. He himself drafted its constitution. In estab-lishing this party his objective was to have a party whose aims and objectives should be in accordance with the promises made in our Constitution and to pursue for their fulfilment. He did not want to it to be a party of the Untouchables only because a party formed in the name of caste and class cannot win power as at the most it can become a pressure group only. The main objectives behind the formation of the RPI were: (1) the inequalities should be removed from the society so that there is no privileged and deprived section, (2) there should be a two-party system: one in power and one in opposition, (3) equality before law and equal protection of law, (4) to establish moral values in society, (5) equal treatment with minorities, (6) to develop a feeling of humanity which has been lacking in Indian society.

“In the preamble of the constitution of the party the main aims and objectives mentioned are: To realise liberty, equality and fraternity. The party programme was very broad. Dr Ambedkar’s main idea behind formation of this party was to bring minorities, poor Muslims, poor Christians, poor and low caste Sikhs and poor class untouchables, backward class people, aborigines and all those people who want end of exploitation, justice and progress under one flag and protect their constitutional rights by confronting the capitalists.” (Dalit Politics and Organisations by Bhagwan Das)

The RPI was officially established in 1957 after the parinirvaan of Babasaheb. The party contested the General Elections of 1957 and 1962. In addition to Maharashtra the RPI won many seats in other parts of India. In 1957 it won 12 Lok Sabha and 29 State Assembly seats. In 1962 it won three Lok Sabha and 20 State Assembly seats. In 1967 it won one Lok Sabha and 22 State Assembly seats. It also launched struggle for land distribution, reservation in services, minimum wages, reservation for neo-Buddhists. Persons from Muslims, Sikhs and Jains also joined the party. Among them Rajinder Singh Sparrow from Punjab, Dr Abbas Malik from Delhi, Rahat Molayi, Dr Chhedi Lal Saathi and Nasir Ahmad from Uttar Pradesh, S.H. Ghosh from West Bengal, Rao Bahadur N. Shivraj (Madras) were prominent persons. The party launched a nationwide land movement from December 6, 1964 to February, 1965 and more than three lakh people courted arrest. The Congress Government under this pressure had to accept land distribution and all other demands. During this period the RPI emerged as a strong party of Dalits, Muslims and Backward Classes but after 1962 the party started disintegrating. The main reason was that by this time the RPI had become a threat to the then ruling Congress Party. The main weakness of this party was that its membership was mostly confined to the Mahars in Maharashtra and Chamars in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress leaders started exploiting this weakness to break it. To begin with, they enticed Dadasaheb Gayakvad and made him a Member of the Rajya Sabha. At this point the party broke into two groups: Dadsaheb Gayakvad Group and B.D. Khobragade Group. After this the party fragmented into groups after the name of its leader. At present the party is divided into many factions that have become totally ineffective. Although these factions use the name of the RPI, they have nothing to do with its agenda. Now and then they enter into alliances with different political parties and gain a little sometime.

After the downfall of the RPI, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came up in northern India and promised to fulfil the RPI’s objectives

From the above analysis one thing becomes clear: Dr Ambedkar never favoured politics of identity because it strengthens casteism. It indirectly strengthens Hindutva. Dr Ambedkar had aimed at destroying caste and make the Indian society a castless and classless society. The parties formed by Dr Ambedkar were not caste parties because their aims, objectives and agendas were broad. It is true that Dalits were at their centre but their programmes were broad and case-neutral. They were for the upliftment of all the poor classes. So long as the RPI followed the principle of never making any alliance with orthodox Hindutva parties and stuck to its radical agenda, it succeeded in uniting Dalits, workers and minorities. So long there was internal democracy in the party and it struggled for people’s issues, it flourished. But as soon as it fell into the trap of politics of individualism and casteism, it declined.

Hence, if the present fragmented Dalit politics is to be rescued and revived it has to come out of caste politics and adopt issue-based politics. It will have to free itself from the clutches of selfish caste leaders. Dalits should know that caste politics gives sanction to hero worship and dictatorship. In caste politics individuals become primary and issues become secondary. The experience so far has proved that caste politics gives rise to caste confrontation and caste rivalry which is an obstacle in the unity of the castes. That is why many small sub-castes of Dalits have joined hands with the BJP in reaction against the bigger sub-castes; this is a big danger for the unity of Dalits. Hence in the face of this danger it is necessary that Dalits should revaluate their political parties and political leaders. They should themselves get rid of these divisive forces and adopt pro-people, progressive and issue-based politics. In fact our country now does not need casteist political parties but a united anti-caste alliance. Otherwise castes will get strengthened thus nurturing the politics of religion which is the biggest danger for democracy.

The author is a retired IPS officer and currently the organiser of the Jan Manch, Uttar Pradesh.

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