Caste, Class and the Dalit Question
[Below we reproduce the paper presented by Comrade Shankar at the Central Party School of CPI(ML) held on 28-30 November, 2001 at Bhuvaneshwar]
THE DALIT movement today, as a whole, is basically led by the petty bourgeoisie and is representing their interests in society and politics. Even the so-called Marxists, who claim to have integrated Marxian theory with the concrete conditions in pre-capitalist Indian society, are only trying to ‘appropriate’ class into a caste framework as against Marxists’ attempt at interpreting caste within a Marxist framework. This only leads them to utopian ideas on abolition of caste. In the process of bringing out the significance of the caste question they tend to include caste in the ‘basic structure’ and class in the ‘superstructure,’ and thereby, liquidate the revolutionary essence of Marxist philosophy. The framework does matter as it involves the question of annihilation of caste. Marxists stand for the annihilation of caste through scientific analysis and through abolition of its material basis, the capitalist system, and by mobilizing various sections of people along class lines against the exploitative social system – in dalitbahujan parlance, the brahminical, varnashrama system.
It is true that the communist movement as a whole, in the early phase of its birth, had streaks of economic reductionist approach to Marxism. The emergence of Naxalism and the subsequent formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) are the negation of social-democratic theoretical and political positions and of all streaks of dogmatism or mechanical interpretation of Marxism. Marxist-Leninists have contributed to the creative application of Marxism in concrete Indian conditions. They have come up with a radical theoretical and political framework that can effectively address the complex issues of Indian society such as caste, nationality, gender, etc. They recognized Ambedkar’s radicalism as a radical bourgeois democratic vision in contrast to Gandhi’s conservative bourgeois vision. They hailed the implementation of Mandal recommendations as a progressive measure, despite being critical of the Mandalist political parties. It is mainly under the communist leadership that dalits could snatch even the right to vote in some states. Communists work for the accentuation of class differentiation among various castes. Class is a universal category and looking for a “pure” class category in an underdeveloped capitalism with the dominance of semi-feudal or pre-capitalist production relations is nothing but self-deception. Eliminating caste is one of the major questions of New Democratic Revolution because the process of elimination of caste facilitates class formation, accentuates class polarization and makes class struggle more open, broad and direct, and brings out the class in a purer form. But, this can be accomplished only by mobilizing people along class lines and not the other way round. The communists are exploring ways of greater interaction with radical dalit organizations even as many dalit organizations are getting closer to status-quoist parties like the Congress, centrist parties and the BJP. In this context, it is the task of communists to liberate various downtrodden castes from the shackles of the caste system that is backed by the semi-feudal, underdeveloped capitalist society.
So, it is not the reductionism of Marxism but the reductionist approach to Marxism that categorises class merely as an economic category and Marxist Philosophy as a philosophy of “economic revolution,” devoid of the idea of elimination of caste and other complex issues that are confronted in Indian society. The subsequent sections will deal with this reductionist approach to Marxism in some detail.
THE DECADE of 1990s began with the Mandal agitation. It also witnessed the dramatic rise of the BSP and the dalit movement in some parts of the country, which introduced a new genre of dalit discourse on ‘social justice’ and paved the way for the birth of a new breed of “social” revolutionaries and ideologues. We have also seen the ‘globalisation’ of dalit discourse in its recent attempt to include caste in the agenda of the UN Conference against Racism, Racial Discriminations, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances.
Marx said: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. But the new breed of “social” revolutionaries has come up with the formulation, “The history of the hitherto existing society in India is the history of caste struggles”. This new breed of scholars includes Kancha Ilaiah. Gail Omvedt and Gopal Guru represent other major strands of dalit discourse. These are essentially the major strands of dalit discourse in the recent period.
If the first phase was marked by dalit discourse against Brahminism, the second phase is marked by the dalit-bahujan variety. This variety of discourse particularly refuses to see the socio-economic roots of caste oppression. It considers the varna system and caste-based oppression mainly as a ‘conspiracy’ of the Brahminical forces. The dalit question today cannot be simply viewed as confined to dalits vs. Brahminical upper castes. Rising kulaks from among upwardly mobile intermediate castes, too, indulge in oppression on dalits in order to scuttle the demands of the agricultural workers and poor peasants for wages, land, social dignity and political emancipation.
Many dalitbahujan ideologues share a common perception. They equate the Marxist perception with the vision of Congress-led state capitalism represented by Nehru and with the social democratic streams of the communist movement. They call Marxism ‘caste-blind’. They over-emphasise the caste background of an individual rather than directing fire against Brahminism as an ideology and system. They consider elimination of caste, a superstructural category, to be a precondition to any transformation and fail to see the dialectical relation between caste and class. Rather, they also end up failing to propose any real, practical solution to the caste question except for suggesting some sort of ‘cultural/social revolution’. This is best articulated in their upholding conversion to Buddhism, another religion, as the means of ending exploitation and oppression based on caste hierarchy. They also believe in non-violent means, in other words, class collaborationism, for achieving their desired goal.
The recent dalitbahujan discourse has made a definite departure from Ambedkar and the major/central themes of the dalit movement of his period. Ambedkar denounced the twin enemies of Brahminism and capitalism whereas the recent discourse, particularly that of the BSP, denounces communism and the left in general and even considers ‘Manuvadi’ parties less dangerous than the communist parties, thus revealing its class character. This variety of dalit-bahujan discourse attaches one-sided importance to political power ignoring every other aspect of the dalit question and advances concepts of mobilizing ‘dalit-bahujans’. That, on many occasions, degenerates to the level of mobilizing ‘sarvajan’ and dalitisation of bahujans etc.
Gail Omvedt claims to have adopted a ‘revised’ historical materialist approach to study the issues related to dalits and democratic revolution. Kancha Ilaiah believes in the argument that presenting the facts, in itself, is emancipatory and he shot into prominence as a dalitbahujan ideologue through his book Why I am not a Hindu. Gopal Guru advocates the line of combining both, caste and class, and ends up in an eclectic combination. He has a limited understanding of the category of ‘class’ and finds it somewhat lacking so he suggests supplementing with ‘caste’ – the eclectic combination – but it is also true that he doesn’t share the crude version of reductionism of others who just reduce, and deride Marxism to an ‘economic’ category.
MARX SAYS that the petty-bourgeois utopianism and varieties of utopian socialist systems sprang into existence in the early underdeveloped period of the struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Petty-bourgeois utopianism is the natural product of any pre-capitalist society and the BSP variety is only an Indian variant of petty-bourgeois utopianism. Utopianism, in general, advocates so many concepts for socialism and democracy but never attacks private ownership and the interest accruing from capital. It fails to see the historical mission of the proletariat and believes that governmental reforms and moral training in the society in the spirit of a new religion would lead to the abolition of all contradictions (Communist Manifesto).1 The Indian variant of petty-bourgeois utopinaism manifests in terms of the concepts of class peace, reforms for the resolution of antagonistic contradictions in society, and refusal to attack private ownership and the capitalist system. In fact, it advocates a peaceful parliamentary path to capture political power to attain change of hearts in the exploiters, in their parlance the Manuvadis. They also propose Buddhism, another religion, as a solution and a counter to exploitative Manuvadi, Brahminical Hinduism. These are the main features of various shades of ideas that are encountered in any pre-capitalist or underdeveloped societies. The ideas of various streams of dalit ideologues and dalit organizations and parties regarding annihilation of caste, dalit liberation and dalit democratic revolution, etc., are no different. Kanshi Ram, and various dalit organizations in the country, with rare exceptions, prefer to overlook private property and capital; adopt a negative attitude towards revolution (that it is basically violent); refuse to see the historical mission of the proletariat; believe that governmental reforms, education, and salaried jobs and avenues of petty commodity production to the dalits will lead to abolition of all caste/class contradictions in the society. In that sense, these streams represent the Indian variants of petty-bourgeois utopianism, which subjugates oppressed caste/class interests to the ruling classes, including those belonging to the emerging intermediate castes.
Kancha Ilaiah says, “... this transformation – in Kanshi Ram’s language, social transformation and economic emancipation – has the essential potential of democratic revolution, it is like what happened in France in 1789 during the French Revolution, where liberty, equality and fraternity were notionally made the rights of all individuals. This is materializing in India now”.2 There cannot be any social transformation without economic emancipation and, in fact, it is a precondition. The relation between economic emancipation and social transformation is the point all “social” revolutionaries prefer to overlook: either because of their antipathy to Marxism or their overemphasis on the potential of mobilization based on pure caste category. Kancha Ilaiah also fails to note that the French Revolution essentially entailed a curb on the rights of the proletariat and the liberties enshrined in the American constitution meant the white man’s liberty ‘to larrup his nigger’. So also all such ‘rights inherent to every human being’ contain the seeds of historically posited inequality. To quote Moni Guha, “The passionate call for all such equality today, abstracts from the class struggle and glosses over the inherent inequality between, say, a Kanshi Ram and a Butan Musahar (A hero of the Bhojpur Naxalite movement). By depriving the oppressed of materialist class analysis such ideologies actually subvert the cause of emancipation”.3
Kancha Ilaiah calls for the dalitisation of civil society, a dalitbahujan knowledge system, developing organic intellectuals, establishing dalitbahujan democracy and dalit democratic revolution, etc. But, he is dependent on the very same “Brahminical” state, parliamentary means and conversion to Buddhism to accomplish it. He could only think of jargons like rehumanisation of Brahmins, dalitisation of society, bahujanisation of fewjans etc.
IN ANOTHER article, Kancha Ilaiah asserts that “the casteist enemies of democratic transformation are much more powerful than capitalist class enemies of socialist transformation because the capitalists are shaken up in the class war, whereas in this democratic transformation the brahminical caste enemies are not at all shaken. The strategy of dalit democratic revolution is to disempower them gradually”.4 Dalit Democratic Revolution is the strategy mooted against New Democratic Revolution advocated by communists. The motive forces of this ‘dalit’ revolution are the dalits and OBCs. Their contradiction is not an antagonistic one according to Kancha Ilaiah. This he had said when Mulayam was the Chief Minister. And the reason attributed to this non-antagonistic contradiction was Mulayam’s lack of clear vision of establishing a casteless society, because ‘he emphasizes on Gandhian economy that is nothing but a caste economy’. Thus, Mulayam’s flawed vision is the hurdle in the process of establishing unity between these non-antagonistic castes – dalits and OBCs – according to Kancha Ilaiah. He says, “The scope for OBC-dalit unity lies in their productive relations with nature, their food culture, the democratic man-woman relations that they have preserved all these years, the culture of their female-centred goddesses etc.”5 This is nothing but building castles in the air. There are several classes engaged in productive relations with nature, including kulaks of most of the intermediate castes. His conception is misplaced because he looks only at the productive relations with nature as the scope for the unity instead of production relations that govern the relationship among the classes/castes engaged in production. In fact, it is these relations that are the sources of caste hostility and rivalry, which lead to caste clashes in many places. He refuses to see the inherent contradictions in society, between two different, rival classes in the present social setting.
Thomas Mathew also advocated dalit democratic revolution but from a different premise. His premise was to build a model of revolution “on the grammar of caste society with the dynamics of class struggle” whereas Kancha Ilaiah stresses the ‘dynamics of caste-based election victory’. Mathew has taken the cue from Ambedkar while Ilaiah has taken the cue from Kanshi Ram, the “harbinger of a new paradigm in social science discourse”. Comrade Vinod Mishra has best articulated the counter to such arguments, “The broad united front [proposed in the so-called Dalit Democratic Revolution], if at all it materializes, will inevitably transfer the leadership to the national bourgeoisie and shall only ensure the domination of kulaks of backward castes over the rural poor. The programme of dalit democratic revolution is actually the maximum limit of the most radical of Janata Dal men and our author (Thomas Mathew) has not been able to transcend that limit”.6 In the process of going further, Kancha Ilaiah is also proposing a concession to upper castes saying that, “the present strategy is in the interests of ‘fewjans’ because this strategy aims to achieve the change with less violence”.7 Marx also encountered such utopians who opposed the idea of a violent revolution and who held that the transition to future socialist society could be made only through peaceful advocacy of model phalansteries. They, however, did not abolish private ownership and there were rich as well as poor in his phalansteries.
GAIL OMVEDT is one of the prominent scholars who had often been questioning Marxist positions on caste and class. She started with adopting a methodology of revised historical materialism and has ended up in advocating vulgar Marxist positions in the name of scientific interrogation of the theory. According to her, liberalisation and market are beneficial to dalitbahujans, and they should strive to derive maximum benefit out of it. She has ultimately turned into a staunch proponent of liberalization and market forces in the process of her quest for a ‘revised’ historical materialist approach towards dalit democratic revolution.
She had been repeatedly talking about the relationship between base and superstructure. She says, “Marxism set up, for decades to come, the paradigmatic polarities of class and caste, base and superstructure, economic and social/cultural/ideological. For communist and socialist radicals, this meant taking class/the base/economic as primary…”8 Its disadvantage, according to Gail Omvedt, was that it took the overriding reality of ‘class’ and ‘class struggle’ so strongly as to assert the fundamental irrelevance of every other sociological category. She says that the proponents of Marxism and Socialism treat family, kinship, the state, gender and in India, of course, caste, as not only secondary but practically non-existent factors. She characterises the assertion that behind the apparent reality of caste ultimately lay class and its dialectics, ‘a class content to a caste form,’ as Marxist mechanical materialism.9 The positive side of the dalit movement in the period of Jyotirao Phule and Ambedkar, in contrast to their followers today, was that it had a very strong democratic content and not much of hostility towards the broad left current while asserting the centrality of caste. At least, there was an attempt to discover the roots of exploitation, unlike the new social movements that fight exploitation without the goal of ‘expropriating the exploiters’, so as to eliminate caste. Gail Omvedt, in fact, has only revised the Marxist framework to suit her framework of ‘New Leftism’ adopted by new social movements and accuses communists of remaining wedded to Marxist mechanical materialism. She also equates state capitalism with socialism and acknowledges Nehru’s philosophy as a socialist one.
Unravelling the ‘class content of a caste form’ enriches the scientific, dialectical understanding of the caste question so as to eliminate caste. Or else, one is bound to look for solutions only at the cultural or ideological level and is sure to end up preserving the system in spite of good intentions. The form and content do matter in a scientific analysis. For the naked eye, it appears as if the sun is revolving around the earth. But this is only an appearance. In essence, it is the earth that is revolving around the sun. That is the scientific truth. In this case, the cognizance by mere visual observation (the sun revolving around the earth) is only an absurdity. A scientist has to go deep into an appearance and unravel its content. This applies to social science as well. Even in social science and science, on many occasions, in appearance, form stands opposed to the content. Likewise, in the concrete conditions of India, too, it appears as if caste, rather than class, is a basic category of social structure.
Comrade Vinod Mishra, too, said that in certain historical situations class might express itself in the form of castes, in other situations the two might be interwoven, overlapping and at the same time criss-crossing each other, and in yet another situation castes are disintegrated to crystallize as classes, but he never mixed up both. He unraveled the dialectical relation between caste and class, maintaining class as a distinct category, firmly upholding application of Marxism in Indian conditions. This is one of his major contributions to Marxism in the Indian context. He could achieve it not because of his ‘Althusserian influence’ but by applying Marxism in the concrete conditions of our country.
How to comprehend this phenomenon of caste and class in the backdrop of the relations between base and superstructure? This is one crucial point on which there is a need for greater clarity in many circles. Again, it is more appropriate to return to Comrade Vinod Mishra. He says that the introduction of class-caste duality sabotages the study of appearance of caste struggle to unravel the essence of class dynamics in our society. VM explains the interrelation between class and caste, base and superstructure using the tool of dialectical materialism: “For me, the caste system itself was a product of a certain mode of production and corresponding level of production relations. Class relations here assume the form of castes, which, in their turn, are given a divine sanction by priests. Their permanence, however, is determined primarily not by any divine sanction but by the static social organization of the village community which again is the product of definite level of productive forces. The caste and class here appear in apparent harmony. This harmony of class and caste, this correspondence of base and superstructure, is apparent because the two are distinctly separate categories, rooted respectively in the base and superstructure, in the mode of production and regulation of distribution.
“As the level of productive forces develops and the mode of production undergoes a slow change, the harmony is broken; class and caste, base and superstructure come into conflict, each trying to define the other. And you have a long transitory phase where class assertions become pronounced, and oddly enough, often manifest themselves in the vortex of caste mobility. The so-called permanence of division of means of production among different castes is shaken. The institutional banner of caste is, however, invoked by new modern economic classes to fight it out among themselves, for the share of power – both political and administrative. The instrument is old but the content is radically changed. In this phase, the harmony of the first phase is negated and the classes and castes crisscross and overlap each other. This is also the phase of sharpening of the conflict between class and caste identities. Eventually, the historical movement shall negate this phase, too, and bring back the harmony and correspondence between the base and superstructure, albeit in a higher form, when castes stand annihilated and class relations and class struggles appear in a purer form. This correspondence cannot just be brought about subjectively. As I had already mentioned, caste system was the product of a definite mode of production and corresponding level of production relations. Its annihilation too will be accomplished at a higher level of productive forces and mode of production. I had said that the unfettered development of capitalism, which abolishes the extra-economic form of coercion, makes class the direct arbiter in the mode of distribution, too, and thus has the great potential of annihilating castes”.10
WE ALSO acknowledge the progressive role played by Mandal implementation and the rise of dalit movement. Implementation of Mandal recommendations has led to the growth of a new elite and a middle class from among the intermediate castes. These movements have really checked the onward march of the forces of Hindutva in our society, albeit temporarily. In fact, these movements rose, also partly, as a reaction to the rise of the forces of Hindutva. It has spread on a large scale, particularly after the demolition of Babri Masjid, as a reaction to the threat posed by Brahminical, Hindutva forces to the very secular fabric of the society. But, it cannot lead one to theorise that ‘casteism in politics’ is an agenda for the very transformation of the caste system. But, Rajini Kothari is precisely doing it. He argues, “The point is that the caste does resurface as a result of the democratic process but in its resurfacing it gets transformed”.11
No transformation is automatic. Mere resurfacing of caste by itself cannot bring about the much-needed social transformation. Rather, caste movements should have to look beyond caste to eradicate caste. It is true that the assertion of dalits and backwards just cannot be considered as a ‘reactionary’ one in a semi-feudal society as long as it challenges the very existence of feudal oppression and power. Assertion of weaker sections of society, even if along caste lines, can play a progressive role at a particular juncture of history. It can continue to play the same progressive role only when it moves beyond the confines of caste and grapples with the real issues of the society at large. Or else, there is also a danger of the movement degenerating into a reformist one, just scratching the surface of the oppressive social system. It will defeat the very purpose of the movement.
Talking about political power to the dalits and backwards in itself cannot bring power to the dalits. It should be accompanied by a democratic programme for the transformation of society as a whole. Then, it should have a clear-cut analysis about the state. Trying to establish dalit power by attaining majority in the assembly can at best be a half measure. Because, the administration is brahminical, even according to these “social” revolutionary ideologues. We don’t expect a new democratic programme from the Kanshi Rams and the Kancha Ilaiahs. They should at least have a vision for a programme to eradicate this brahminical mindset in politics and in the state administrative structure.
CASTE STRUCTURE has developed in India in the process of evolving division of labour in the society. Caste and class existed in an undifferentiated form when production and distribution in the society were organized basing on caste structure. Caste and class were of inseparable single category at that stage. The caste structure became much more rigid over a period of time. Later, the priests of the community accorded a divine sanction to it and preserved the caste structure. Vertical hierarchies, ritual ranking, etc., replaced the conception of caste as a division of labour. Autonomous, self-sufficient villages of the early period have begun to be integrated by a system of centralized government. The mobility within the caste structure, either upward or downward, got blocked and even the very slight mobility was possible only through a war of attrition. This is how caste structure remained a rigid structure of vertical hierarchy.
Caste mobility within caste structure gained impetus with the advent of the British and the process of industrialization. The process of industrialization created rifts in the caste structure and propelled caste mobility. Hitherto dominant castes like Brahmins begun to shift towards new industrial settings and one miniscule section turned into industrial owners while the other section emerged as industrial workers. This process enabled a section of the rest of backwards to get elevated on the social ladder. And thus, the caste-class relations assumed complex dimensions, complicating the nature of society. This complex relation of production gets resolved only in an advanced stage of capitalist development. Caste gets abolished as a form of division of labour, as a tool of oppression, and as a means of discrimination, only in an advanced stage of capitalist development.
But, the transitory phase that involves transformation from a feudal society to a full-fledged capitalist one is marked by a pretty long period and a painstaking process of social churning. In a new and higher stage of society, the mode of production and production relations, all old institutions of the previous society would inevitably become incompatible with the new order and are supposed to face a natural death. In this process, they are supposed to whither away. That is the general law of social development. Still, in a semi-feudal, pre-capitalist or underdeveloped society these old institutions, including the caste structure, get a new lease of life in the new situation. This is the resilience that the system has developed over a period of time. This is the peculiarity of the particular transitory phase witnessed in Indian society.
If an old structure, that is supposed to have lost its relevance and turned into an obsolete one in the course of history, continued to exist even in the new stage that can only mean that such old institutions are backed by some of the newly emerging modern classes in society. In our context, the old institutions, including the rigid caste structure, are backed, protected and reinforced by the modern classes such as rural bourgeoisie and kulaks. Hence, the struggle against caste system has to be waged also against such modern classes on the one hand, and for removing the hurdles in the path of capitalist development, on the other. Only revolutionary classes of society can accomplish this task as the bourgeoisie becomes impotent. And then, parliamentary democracy based on universal adult franchise, the higher form of representative democracy, only acts as a bulwark of this reactionary caste system. This parliamentary system further reinforces the caste structure because of the ruling classes interest in winning elections. That is why, any movement for annihilation of caste has to deal a body blow to the forces that reinforces the caste system i.e., the modern exploiting classes in society. The whole thing has to be turned upside down. This is possible only by expropriating the expropriators, only by turning the ruled into rulers. That can be accomplished only by a New Democratic Revolution in Indian conditions.
This revolution will snatch political power from the exploiting, ruling classes and transfer it into the hands of revolutionary classes. Then again, the transformation into a full-fledged capitalist mode of production that enables complete abolition of caste is also accomplished under the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. No amount of reform, no amount of spiritual solace in any religion, no amount of peace and collaborationism, can replace the accomplishment of this process for a revolutionary change. Because, all such attempts can at best play within the framework of the existing system and they do not have the potential of any revolutionary change.
There cannot be any alternative to new democratic revolution. Struggle against caste-based oppression and for the annihilation of caste has to be a part and parcel of a new democratic programme. The proletariat will accomplish this social transformation not merely because of its ideal of abolition of caste but because such an abolition is an integral part of the democratic revolution and a precondition for establishing a socialist society. A socialist society cannot be a reality without annihilation of caste and it is only the new democratic revolution that provides the real, objective basis for such annihilation. All other theories of annihilation of caste perceived by these ‘social’ revolutionaries are nothing but petty-bourgeois utopianism, pure and simple.
KANCHA ILAIAH has emerged as the foremost ideologue of dalitbahujan politics and its theory of class collaborationism and its practice of mortgaging the interests of dalitbahujans under the pretext of securing political power to dalits. He is so overwhelmed by the dramatic rise of the BSP that he goes to the extent of praising Kanshi Ram as a dalit ideologue par excellence who has gone beyond Ambedkar raising dalit movements in the country to newer heights. He declares that Kanshi Ram has emerged as the harbinger of a new paradigm in social science discourse, who has brought out caste as an ideology for mobilization against ‘fewjans’. He acknowledges that Ambedkar had analysed caste, in a much more radical way than his contemporaries. Yet, for him, Ambedkar is not up to the mark, perhaps, because Ambedkar said that caste was an enclosed class. He could still agree with Ambedkar, despite this not being up to his standards, because “Ambedkar was not willing to put caste in the kind of mode outside electoral political struggle – in the mode of class war in the west – to make it a violent struggle”.
Kancha Ilaiah claims that “The post-Mandal period, on the one hand, conscientised the OBCs, on the other, it began to homogenize SC, ST and OBCs, at least politically if not socially, and led to the bahujanisation of this social base’.12 Perhaps, he realised the absurdity of his statement only after making it and hastened to add, “this is not to say that such homogenization has already happened in the all-India context but notionally there is such a mood and the BSP is constantly working to strengthen it”.13 Ilaiah is living in his own dream world. Perhaps, he thought that BSP’s fielding 102 candidates from among OBCs and winning 26 seats, is the consummation of ‘bahujanisation of this social base’. Then, we have another question. By the same token, did the bahujanisation of upper castes take place because 57 upper caste candidates, including 2 brahmins and 4 thakurs, were fielded in the same election by the BSP? Then how does he explain the increased level of caste atrocities on dalits even while Mayavati was the CM, and the subsequent end of a honeymoon with Mulayam? Its hostility with the SP had reached the level of branding it, the party of OBCs, as No. 1 enemy, while Brahminical upper caste Manuvadi parties like the BJP and the Congress were more acceptable to it for retaining the seat of power. Is it wrong if we call this a ‘fewjanisation’ of the ‘bahujans’?
In an interview for the magazine Ghadar (26 November 1997), Kancha Ilaiah has thrown a surprise saying that the BSP had made a blunder by aligning with the BJP. This was a surprise because it was a shift from his previous position on the issue. Then, we find that this has not altered his fundamental position. Rather, he is trying to articulate a theoretical framework to justify it on a much broader plane. He has invented a bahujan left in Uma Bahrti, Kalyan Singh (then the BJP CM of UP) etc., who are supposedly engaged in constant confrontation with the Brahminical right within the BJP. He describes them as dalitbahujan left in contrast to communist leaders, because Kanshi Ram could straightaway establish a rapport with them whereas the same could not be done with the communists. He stretches it to ridiculous proportions that the dalitbahujan left are to carry out the dalibahujan agenda within BJP. He says, “Wherever you (dalibahujan) are, you should capture power, overthrow brahminism lock stock and barrel, irrespective of parties”. What a wonderful tactics to overthrow Brahminism from within!
The contradiction between the OBC and dalit social bases is quite objective and real so that the BSP is unable to overlook this reality in order to retain its own social base. The neo-rich kulaks in the rural areas also belong to the intermediate castes, OBCs, and they are the perpetrators of caste atrocities because these two communities are at loggerheads within the rural economy. This is the backdrop in which the SP and the BSP, the representatives of two different, rival social forces because of their class nature, are at loggerheads. Here, we can also draw a little parallel between Kanshi Ram and the petty-bourgeois utopians of Marx’s contemporaries. One such contemporary of Marx strongly criticized the capitalist system but could not reveal the root cause of capitalist contradictions; he held that the main cause for social inequality was the inadequate enlightenment among workers and not the capitalist mode of production; he maintained that social inequality could be eliminated by education and social reforms. Does it not sound like Kanshi Ram’s idea – education and salaried jobs to dalits would remove social inequality!
LEAVING DEBATES apart, the rise of the BSP in UP has really made a big impact among the dalits in the state. An objective, comprehensive analysis of the BSP might be of help in understanding the dalit resurgence, and the rise in dalit consciousness in the state. This is also an attempt to grapple with the interface between caste and class in UP and the changes in agriculture and the relational position of dalits in it while studying the impact of the BSP and its government on rural relations. There is an argument that rise of the BSP in UP is closely linked to the question of rural agrarian labourers becoming relatively free, if not totally free, from feudal bondage in production relations.
Green revolution has brought about some changes in agriculture like increased sharecropping, introduction of modern agricultural implements, etc. From the labourers’ point of view, agricultural wage labour and sharecropping has begun to lose their position as the most important source of income. In agrarian labour relations, there has been a transformation of wholly unfree labour relations into relations involving various degrees of unfreedom. The tendency towards a substantial decrease in the amount of agricultural labour performed by rural labourers and a corresponding increase in non-agricultural rural employment has been noted in several studies.
In UP, significant overlaps exist between class and caste hierarchies. In broad terms, the old landlord class belonged mainly to the upper castes, their ex-tenants, who now constitute the majority of the landowning peasants are mainly from the intermediary castes, and agricultural labourers are primarily from untouchable and very low ranking castes. The Green Revolution and related changes in agricultural labour relations also led to a rise in the political profile of many untouchable castes.
The BSP gained prominence when it formed a winning coalition (with the SP), based mainly on dalits and middle castes in 1993. In 1995, it formed a minority government, supported by the Congress and the BJP, which lasted for four-and-a-half months. In 1997, it entered into a formal power-sharing arrangement with the BJP and held the office of CM for 6 months. Later the arrangement broke down.
Kanshi Ram founded the Backward and Minority Group Community Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in 1978. Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) was formed in 1981, followed by the formation of the BSP in 1984. In 1989, it polled 9% votes and in 1996 21%. Chamars, a relatively well-off section among dalits, are by far the largest and most politicized untouchable caste in UP who formed the major support base of the BSP. This is also a relatively well-off section among dalits in the state. A small, educated and relatively well-off section of Chamar government officials seem to be at the forefront.
The BSP does not have an economic programme to attain its declared goal and claims to have no ideology but for caste. It also claims to transcend the left-right political divide. It considers left parties more dangerous than any rightwing party. The BSP, on its part, focuses on enabling dalit labourers to take up independent means of earning. Their spelt-out programme is that they would stress on the redistribution of government land and excess land of the landlords to dalits, thereby creating a vast army of self-employed and salaried dalits. Their main focus was on the politicization of dalits on issues related to caste-based oppression and discrimination and using state power to fight upper caste dominance. Their strategy: Power is the key, the master key with which all doors can be opened.
During its rule it has installed 15,000 statues of Ambedkar in 6 months in 1997 as a symbol of their politicization campaign. Dalit victims of caste atrocities were paid Rs.6000 to fight cases in courts. The government also adopted 15,000 villages with predominantly dalit populations for implementing its welfare programmes. But, almost all welfare programmes were rolled back following the BSP losing power. The BSP’s slogan of ‘all government lands are our lands’ also exposed its limits. Redistributive land reform is not part of their policy. It limited itself to enabling dalits to take possession of already allotted lands.
The BSP emerged at a time of ferment among untouchable groups in North India. It has kindled the desire for emancipation among dalits. Green revolution, changes in labour relations, increase in non-agricultural occupations and thus a relative decrease in economic dependency on the landowners, politicization of groups of untouchables and increased class struggle from above created a new situation. The BSP succeeded in expressing and enhancing this movement among low-caste people, mainly because of its anti-upper caste agenda. But it is propagating a petty-bourgeois utopia where the ideal for low-caste people is to become independent petty commodity producers or well-educated civil servants. Its main aim is to carve out a niche for the low castes within the existing structures of society.
The BSP, step by step, is heading towards its ideological bankruptcy. In recent the elections, Mayavati has been reiterating that the BSP is a party of ‘sarvjan’. Its popular slogans like ‘government land is our land’, ‘Tilak, Taraju, Talwar, Hit them with shoes’ have been dropped for all practical purposes. So, the politics of class collaborationism and its opportunistic electoral alliances with Manuvadi parties are not just accidental. Rather, they are part of the larger issue of subjugating labouring classes and castes. This is part of the faulty vision and perception of dalit liberation articulated by the BSP. Ambedkar, in contrast to Kanshi Ram, at least had a vision for the emancipation of dalits, though of a bourgeois democratic variety, if not a comprehensive programme for a thorough democratization of the society. In socio-economic terms Ambedkar was much more radical.
SINCE VAST majority of dalits are agrarian labourers and rural poor, the social organisations of dalits are supposed to be natural allies of the communist movement. Unfortunately, most of these dalit organizations, barring rare exceptions, consider communists to be inimical to them. This is largely because of their ideological framework that considers communists to be ‘green snakes hidden in green grass’ and also because of a whole lot of misconceptions about the Marxist approach on caste. Moreover, their approach towards the resolution of the dalit question, the tactics of entering into opportunistic electoral alliances even with the forces engaged in war of attrition with the dalits, etc., are totally contradictory to that of revolutionary communists. Another major reason is that communists are the natural competitors for parties like the BSP on the question of organizing dalits. By experience, we have seen that the BSP, in spite of its best efforts, is unable to make any inroads into any of the strongholds of CPI(ML) in Bihar. These are the basis of prolonged anti-left tirade of many dalit organizations.
All these cannot be justifications for the mistakes committed by the social democratic stream of the communist movement. Firstly, the communist movement failed to formulate an alternative strategy for the freedom struggle, which must have incorporated radical bourgeois democrats of all hues as an inalienable part of the democratic movement so as to develop a close political alliance with the dalits. Secondly, the questions of social dignity and political emancipation of the dalits were not accorded adequate importance by the social democratic stream. Thirdly, the social democratic tactics of pan-peasant unity in rural areas tended to gloss over the contradictions in favour of rich peasants.
According to the CPI(M), the core of People’s Democratic Front in the countryside consists of agricultural workers and poor peasants, but the front also includes the middle and even the rich peasantry. Confrontational labor action against peasant employers is not seen as the best way forward for the agricultural labourers, presumably because it would undermine building the broad democratic front. In this background, Jens Lerche, a research scholar, has upheld our party’s tactics regarding rural rich, elaborated in our policy resolution on agriculture.14
DALIT MOVEMENT today is at the crossroads. The early center of the movement was Maharashtra since the pre-Independence period. Ambedkar and the Maharashtra movement were the source of inspiration for the dalit movement elsewhere. But, the Dalit Panthers of 1970s could not withstand for more than a decade. The Republican Party of India (RPI) has splintered into so many factions and the main faction led by Athavale is clinging on to the Congress apron strings. The BRP led by Prakash Ambedkar is still enjoying mass respect and influence. Still, there is no movement worth the name.
The dalit movement in Karnataka, symbolized by the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS) was known for its agitational and movemental character. There was a powerful current within the DSS against entry into parliamentary politics. Finally, the other line gained upper hand and the movement has been blown to pieces in the period that followed the immediate aftermath of their entry into electoral politics. Even now the DSS is a household name in every dalit locality in Karnataka. But, it has lost its movemental character and has become localized. There is no organization. No centralized leadership. Yet, people mobilize in good numbers if a call is given under the DSS banner in case of atrocities on dalits or on issues of some major significance. The major splinter factions have become supporters of either Congress or JD. Karnataka is also pregnant with the possibility of a movement by Madigas against Holeyas, demanding compartmental reservation along the lines of Andhra Pradesh.
In Andhra Pradesh, the dalit movement showed some signs of revival in the mid-1990s when the BSP made an attempt to expand its wings to South India. Lakhs of people got mobilized in the inaugural rally. Ex-PWG leaders, prominent dalit leaders etc., joined the BSP in the presence of Kanshi Ram. But the attempt turned out to be a flop. All hopes were belied very soon. Congress effectively consolidated its traditional base among Malas while Madigas under the banner, Madiga Dandora, launched vehement attacks against Malas, accusing them of garnering a lion’s share of the SC reservations. Madigas demanded compartmental reservation. Madigas were the social base of Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP. After prolonged, consistent, militant movements by Madigas, the state government conceded the demand. The contradiction between Malas and Madigas is only a disunity that does not have class content. It does not involve any structural oppression or caste discrimination by Malas but is a symptom of unevenness in dalit society. In fact, unifying forces are stronger than the divisive forces. It is mainly a political game by Chandrabau Naidu to divide dalits and to attract Madigas into the fold of TDP.
THE CASE of Tamil Nadu is quite different when compared to Karnataka and Maharashtra. Here the movement is now in its hightide. Unlike other states, this state had not witnessed the assertion of dalits as a separate category, thanks to the powerful current of Dravidian movement. The political differentiation among dalits was much more prominent. Traditionally, they were divided among the Congress and the AIADMK led by MGR. After the demise of MGR, AIADMK emerged as a party of Thevars alienating a large section of dalits from its fold. A sizable section of kulaks have emerged in the countryside from among Thevars, a powerful intermediate caste. Brahmins and upper castes constitute a very small percentage of the population in the state and have moved towards government services and industrial sector long back. Thevars emerged as a powerful caste only in this period and became the landed gentry. They also had their share in state politics thanks to the Dravidian movement. Tamil Nadu has seen powerful movements of agricultural labourers led by communist parties in well-irrigated Tanjore belt (cental part of TN) in the past. This is the background in which dalits (Pallars) of southern Tamil Nadu started asserting themselves because of upward mobility and education. They rose against the caste atrocities inflicted on them by BC kulaks. The atrocities took a nasty turn when Jayalalitha was the CM. The police administration in southern Tamil Nadu also displayed high level of casteist overtones. This is the background that gave birth to dalit rebellion against the backward caste of Thevars. The caste war in the south had always been bitterly violent and this time it was a long drawn battle. Buses were not plying in villages for months together. It was a chain reaction and its echo could be heard in all southern districts even if one small incident of caste clash took place at some remote corner of some district. The people in southern districts were under permanent tension. This was the period when dalit consciousness and movement started taking shape and was symbolized by Dr.Krishnasamy. He also won the assembly elections close on the heels of an incident at Kodiankulam. And he floated a dalit party called Puthia Thamizhagam (New Tamil Nadu).
Then came the assertion of dalits (Paraiahs) of northern Tamil Nadu. The organization is called ‘Liberation Panthers’ and is led by Thirumavalavan. Here, their rivalry was mainly with a most backward community called Vanniyas led by Dr.Ramadas. Economically speaking, majority of Vanniyas and Paraiahs are more or less at par with each other, despite their inequal positions in the social hierarchy. A section of Vanniars have emerged as the neo-rich in the recent period. The rivalry broke out during their earlier phase of anti-government agitation for compartmental reservation, too, but was not so intense. Now, the clash of economic interests between these two communities and the social hierarchy are the source of rivalry and they manifest in the form of caste struggle. So, the assertion of dalits of northern Tamil Nadu is also a latest phenomenon. To top it all, dalits in Tamil Nadu have asserted as a political force in a very short span unlike their counterparts in Maharashtra or in Andhra or in Karnataka.
Dalit assertion in Tamil Nadu is a direct fallout of the Dravidian movement in the state. Dravidian movement has played a progressive role in many respects. It could strike an effective alliance between BCs and SCs under the umbrella of Dravidian politics. It secured a political space for the downtrodden masses in the state structure. It effectively challenged Brahminism as an ideology. Its progressive role, that resulted in education and upward mobility of the downtrodden also contained seeds rivalry between the dalits and backwards. After securing political power, the dominant backwards started asserting their class interests although this was not their expected goal in the beginning. These dominant backwards evolved as the ruling caste, representing the interests of rising kulaks and the regional big bourgeoisie. In the process of assertion of their class interests they had to face the wrath of the dalits.
Another major point is that dalit organizations in TN, too, consulted Kanshi Ram in the beginning and then they have restricted themselves to organising their own support base. The distinction is that these parties do not advocate unity between dalits and OBCs like Kanshi Ram. They have learnt their lesson through their own experience and because of the ground realities wherein these two castes are at loggerheads in day-to-day life. Rather, their main consideration, for now, is not to be part of an electoral alliance with PMK (party of Vanniyars, the most backwards) as far Thirumavalavan is concerned, and with AIADMK (party of Thevars, the dominant backwards) as far as Krishnaswamy is concerned, irrespective of the presence of ‘Manuvadi Hindutva’ BJP. They are the followers of Kanshi Ram mainly at the level of following unprincipled, opportunistic electoral alliances and they project themselves as the followers of Ambedkar. These parties do not advocate the line of dalit-BC unity because it is the intermediate castes that are at the helm of affairs at all levels displaying the characteristic of neo-Brahminism. For them, these intermediate castes are the bigger enemies which are encountered at grassroots level. Perhaps Dravidian politics is a reason for their disillusionment with the BCs, unlike the BSP in UP. And accentuation of class and political polarization among castes, particularly among backward castes, has also taken place to a considerable extent. A small section of dalits has also emerged as an elite middle class from among them. These are the major reasons, for escalating tensions, besides the domination of backwards in political power.
‘DURBAN CONFERENCE Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances’ has evoked a lot of debate on the dalit question. The dalit discourse has once again occupied the centerstage attracting global attention. The demand was to include the caste question in the agenda of the conference. This discourse took various dimensions in the process, ranging from Emancipatory Discourse, Anthropological Discourse, Sociological Discourse, Human Rights Discourse, Discourse on Positive Discrimination, etc., etc. Andre Beteille argued against the inclusion of caste in the UN agenda saying that caste could never be equated with race and termed all those raising the issue as ‘irresponsible’ and the debates as mere ‘absurdity’. Gail Omvedt defended the demand and attacked Andre Beteille. The advocates of inclusion of the issue in UN agenda argued that ‘discrimination based on work and descent’ falls under the category of ‘racism related intolerances’ and hence it should be included. Some were skeptical about the inclusion in a UN conference while the scores are to be settled on the streets and fields inside the country. The advocates of the demand wanted a debate at the international forum so as to globalise the issue to bring international pressure on the Indian government to enforce the laws and to eradicate caste discriminations.
It was only leaflets and pamphlets and the pages of The Hindu that played the role of propagandist. The Hindu acted as a debating forum. NGOs put all their international networks and networking skills into full play. Finally, the conference included it as an agenda. Mainly, NGOs were the forces that articulated the demand eloquently. They were strongly backed by dalit activists from the grassroots. It is true that raising the issue at an international forum is not a solution to the barbaric caste discrimination inside the country. The nature of the issue itself, in the given settings, had its own limits. Still, we supported the demand because the process of raising the issue at an international forum itself is an exposure of the issue and of the reactionary government led by saffron, Brahminical fascist forces. Moreover, it has also triggered a debate on nation building etc., enabling the activists to look beyond their grassroots and village confines. We also made a differentiation between NGOs and the real grassroots dalit activists.
Caste discrimination in India, thus, attracted international attention and also got an international audience. The Government of India, at first, tried its best to prevent the inclusion of caste in the agenda and later, vociferously dismissed it as an internal matter on which international community did not have a jurisdiction to debate. Finally, the government view prevailed at the UN Conference just like the view of Israel and US prevailed regarding the Palestinian question. Perhaps the caste and Palestine questions were the two issues that received wide coverage and attention. In this melee, the major shift in external affairs policy of Indian government was not taken note of with the due concern. India had withdrawn its traditional support to Palestine in favour of Israel and the US. Perhaps, they withdrew it as both the US and India have come together to fight against Islam and terrorism.
OF COURSE, the Mandal wave has really seen the backwards moving into the centerstage and it marked a watershed in the social alignment. It brought the agenda of social justice to the centerstage of Indian politics and provided the space for the hitherto excluded backwards in the political power structure. We too welcomed Mandal but did not exaggerate its significance. We raised the demand of Dam Bando, Kam do, (Curb price rise, provide jobs) when the whole country was torn asunder between forces of Mandal and Kamandal. The Mandal inspired agenda of reservations has come a full circle. This is the second phase. Already, there was a demand for compartmental reservation for MBC (Vanniayas) within the quota of BC reservation. It was a movement from below. They succeeded. Then we have seen the demand from Madiga Dandora for a compartmental reservation within SCs in Andhra Pradesh. Now, it is the turn of UP. The very same forces that vehemently opposed the implementation of the Mandal report have suddenly become concerned about the MBCs. They had been arguing that Mandal will divide the Hindu society along caste lines and that at no cost Hindu identity/unity should be lost. The very same Hindutva forces are now advocating reservations within reservations so as to attract the MBCs to their fold. Now, the government is looking for the ‘most backwards’ among backwards and ‘most dalits’ among dalits. This is the BJP’s well-calculated move to carve out a base for themselves from among the backwards, particularly among more aggressive castes like Jats, to consolidate its fragile base when the UP elections are round the corner. One can very well predict that this will go on for another round in the caste-ridden society, that too when minorities from within communities have garnered the lion’s share of benefits of reservation. Madigas of Karnataka are waiting in the wings.
REDISTRIBUTION OF land still remains an important measure for improving the living standards of dalits and also to facilitate the process of their emancipation from feudal clutches. Any land reform legislation or land redistribution could be achieved only because of the peasant/dalit movements. Dalits have not yet got their share of land even after 53 years of independence and the total land holdings of the dalit population are very meager and ridiculously disproportionate to their population. A majority of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are landless, without any productive assets and sustainable employment. According to the Census of India, 1991, 64% of SCs and 36% of STs in the category of main workers are agrarian labourers compared to 31% of all other castes. Only 25% of SCs are cultivators compared to 40% of other castes. Majority of the cultivators from among dalits are either small or marginal peasants.
Perhaps, Karnataka has one of the progressive pieces of land reform legislation wherein dalits have the right to reclaim the land alienated from them for any reason and the act also imposes penalty on purchasers, at least theoretically. Bihar legislation provides scope for the restoration of land alienated from dalits beyond 12 years but within 30 years. The UP legislation gives legal protection only to STs against land transfers. Tamil Nadu has given legal protection against land alienation from dalits. It is another story that even a big mass movement in Tamil Nadu to restore Panchami lands allotted to SCs that was not under their possession could not succeed.
Legislations and legal safeguards only remain on paper and the implementation part is left to the strength of the mass movement. These legislations also have a lot of loopholes. Though provisions have been made to prevent land transfers from scheduled groups to non scheduled groups, in many states (for example, Orissa, MP, Rajasthan and Kerala) such transfers can be made with the prior permission of the competent authority (collector, sub-divisional officer, among others) which ultimately left the implementation of these measures to the discretion of bureaucrats and also made them powerful.15 It is a known fact that the local administration almost all over the country is vulnerable to all kinds of political manipulation and corruption and only the local power groups effectively call the shots. In states like Bihar where there are no proper land records and where the law of the land does not exist, all these legislations, in reality, are only a farce.
In most of the states, the total number of operational holdings among dalit population is far less compared to that among other castes. Tamil Nadu has a dalit population of 19% and they possess only 7% of the total operated area. It is an increase of around 2% in the period from 1980-81 to 1990-91. Likewise, Karnataka dalits who are 16% of total population in the state hold only 8% of operated area. UP, AP and Gujarat report a very slow process of improvement despite their poor land holding position. In Andhra, dalits, who constitute 16% of total population, hold only 7.5% of the total operated area and it is an increase of a meagre 0.5%. In UP, 21% dalits operate only 10.5% the total operated area and it is an increase of 1.3% compared to 1980-81. This too was possible only because of the rise of a strong dalit movement in the state. Bihar and UP are the major states of Hindi heartland where upper castes are numerous and have a strong dominance in every sphere of life. Any measure for the upliftment of the downtrodden in the states is powerfully challenged by the upper caste landed gentry. The allotment of land to weaker communities in these states very often leads to bloody confrontation with powerful feudal forces. In Bihar 14.5% of dalits operate only 5.2% of the area. It is an increase of 0.7% compared to 1980-81. In spite of the fact that Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa have a scheduled groups population of 30, 30 and 40 per cent respectively they operate an area of 8, 11.7 and 8.6 per cent respectively. So, only in those sates that witnessed strong peasant/dalit movements, the dalits could secure some land, at least marginally. The population and land holding are not proportionate. Rather, the rise of strong movements is directly proportional to the consequent atrocities on dalits.
According to Agricultural Census Report, 1991, nearly half (49.06%) of the SC and one third (32.69%) of ST main workers are agrarian labourers. Agricultural labourer population from among dalits has increased from 34.48% in 1961 to 49.06% in 1991. In fact, sharp increase has occurred during the period of green revolution and has maintained since then. Likewise, dalit cultivators’ share has fallen down from 37.76% to 25.44% in 1991. Whereas, the trend is not that sharp as far as the general category is concerned.
MARXISM IS a unified theory of all categories and not an exclusive theory of class as an economic category. Our movement in Bihar has emerged as a forward post of the movement of agrarian labourers and other rural poor challenging the very foundations of the feudal system. The movement has upheld the Marxist viewpoint that expanding the frontiers of class struggle can be the only point of departure for Marxists, while they undertake class struggles against caste oppression and for the social equality of dalits. In Bihar, dalit movements for social dignity and equality have become part of the class struggle of the rural poor. This has emerged in bold relief in sharp contrast to the ideas of dalit democratic revolution et al. This model has proved that broad dalit masses can definitely be mobilised under the red banner for wages, land, social dignity and political emancipation. Hence, the goal to be achieved is the proletarianisation of dalits and not dalitisation of the proletariat.
THE BHOPAL Declaration adopted by the conference on the theme, “Charting A New Course for Dalits for the 21st Century” on 12-13 January 2002, is basically a petty-bourgeois agenda for dalits in the era of globalisation and liberalization. Digvijay Singh brought together 200-odd dalit intellectuals and activists of various shades from all across the country. The main focus of the declaration lies on three points although it was a 21-point charter of demands. This declaration talks about ‘affirmative action’ and ‘diversity policy’ along the lines of policies adopted towards African-Americans in the USA. This demand can also be considered as a call to ‘democratize capital’, in Chandrabhan Prasad’s parlance. It is looking for employment and wealth creating opportunities for dalits in private sector. For that purpose, they want reservation to be extended to the private sector too, particularly to industries that receive government patronage in the form of land, tax concession or subsidies. They also want the private industry and corporate houses to bring diversity in the workforce. And another main focus point was the much talked about ‘land reforms’. Ambedkar said, “A democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy”. So, they argue that they are attempting to evolve a programme to accomplish ‘social democracy’. From their point of view, social democracy means ‘equitable share in the appropriation and use of rural and urban common property resources’ and equitable share in the nation’s wealth for dalits. This, according to them, is one major aspect of ‘social democracy’. In order to achieve social democracy, they insist on so-called ‘democratization of capital’. So, the declaration seeks diversity in the workforce not only in public institutions but also in private industry and corporate houses. It demands that every government and private organization must implement “supplier diversity” from socially disadvantaged businesses and “dealership” diversity in goods and services. For that purpose, they demand the government to ‘make budgetary allocation for SC, STs to enable them to enter the market economy with adequate investment resources and develop their capacities and skills for such market enterprises’. This, according to Mr.Chandrabhan Prasad, is democratization of capital. One can very well welcome the demand, as they aspire for some opening, some place for dalits in the nation’s economy. But, the point is the agenda is based on petty-bourgeois illusions and the feasibility of the demand is open to question. Another major point on land reforms insists on “radical land reform measures” along the lines being implemented by the MP government, which claims to have distributed over one lakh acres of land, mainly grazing land, to 45,000 SC/ST families in recent years and promises to distribute 6 lakh acres more in the coming years. According to their claim, about a sixth of agricultural labourers will be turned into independent cultivators if the scheme becomes successful. But, this demand for land redistribution is not part of any anti-feudal struggle. Rather, the declaration even goes to the extent of expecting the government, if the need be, to purchase cultivable land and distribute it among dalits. It is looking for patronage from the government. And here lies the ‘petty-bourgeois utopianism’.
Perhaps, for the first time, there is an attempt to go beyond the paradigm of ‘social justice through reservations’. It would generate at the most 45 lakh jobs even if the government were to do the fiscally impossible thing of filling up all the existing quotas. Digvijay Singh pointed out in his inaugural speech that reservation was no longer the only effective tool to empower dalits as it would leave out about 18 crore dalits from its ambit even if the system were to be implemented properly. So, the document advocates reservation in a section of private sector and expects the private sector, including corporate houses, to adopt ‘diversity’ in its workforce. This document, on the one hand, has made a departure from the conventional approach of considering reservation, that too in government organizations, to be the major means for the progress of dalits. On the other hand, unlike Kanshi Ram, it is also looking for solution to the dalit question outside the framework of capturing political power.
If the report presented in the conference was against the “upper varnas” and “upper shudras”, its own proposal focuses only on developing a stratum of “upper dalits” in a much more unrealistic way. This can also be termed as an attempt to seek a place in, and at the same time to politically legitimize market economy and to make the system responsive to the lower stratum of people. Perhaps this is the meeting point between dalit petty bourgeois utopianism and bourgeois liberalism. We have already seen the cruelty of ‘liberalization with human face’. May be we are also going to witness the so-called ‘social face to industrialization and capital’ in the coming days. The authors of the declaration are dreaming of the birth of dalit billionaires and dalit entrepreneurs in the coming decades. This declaration, in itself, is a sad commentary of the system that has alienated a major and significant section of people from its ambit. But, they fail to note that the inherent nature of capitalism, especially the Indian variety, is ‘undemocratic’ and it is incapable of developing its own capitalist productive forces in the backdrop of a semi-feudal society like India. In such a semi-feudal situation, the bourgeoisie who are supposed to be radical in an emerging capitalist society turn into a reactionary class by aligning with feudal forces and thereby maintaining status-quo and losing its potential for achieving any real change. If there are billionaires and millionaires among upper castes, why can’t billionaires emerge from among dalits? But, the matter of concern is the utopianism involved and the attempt to get accommodated in the oppressive system that is responsible for the oppression of dalits as a caste and a class as well. This conference was sponsored by the Madhya Pradesh state government led by the Congress. The bourgeoisie is looking for its own agenda for dalits, that too in the context of drastically declining purchasing power of the people leading the economy into a crisis. If Yashwant Sinha is planning to overcome this crisis by focusing on corporatisation of agriculture in the short term, Digvijay Singh is planning to overcome the same by infusing new market forces from among dalits in the long term. But, unfortunately, the document lacks in practical planning and in understanding the law of capitalist development in a semi-feudal society. One can never be opposed to see a dalit billionaire, a dalit industrialist, a dalit entrepreneur or a dalit trader as it can accentuate class polarization within the caste. But, one has to be really concerned about the ‘grand old utopianism’ of the whole scheme and the impracticability of the method of resolution involved. On the whole, the declaration wants to extract something for dalits from the agenda of globalisation and liberalization. It appears that Chandrabhan Prasad has emerged as the foremost ideologue of this line of dalit development. He is a staunch proponent of social democracy and democratization of capital, on the one hand. On the other hand, he is coming up with a whole set of formulations ranging from dalit-artisan shudra (MBC) unity in contrast to Bahujanwad (dalit-OBC unity) advocated by Kanshi Ram to developing a dalit billionaire in the coming decades. He proclaims that dalit-bahujan unity is theoretically most undesirable whereas dalits should look for a social, political alliance with Brahmans (who are the numerical minorities) to overthrow the dominance of OBCs in all spheres. Moreover, he also says that communal fascism is only a bogey created by brahmans belonging to all hues of left-right ideologies (Here, it is worthwhile to note that Prasad prefers to call rightists as liberals) whereas the biggest threat is the ‘social fascism’ that is expected to be unleashed by ‘upper shudras’ when they capture power at all-India level. He also says that the real danger of revival of brahminism lies with ‘upper shudras’ rather than Brahmans themselves. Because, it is only brahmans who would not suffer from the demand of land reforms for dalits. According to him, they are also the worst sufferers of the very same brahminism unleashed by ‘upper shudras’.
He is eagerly waiting for the ‘second coming of the empire’, next only to the British, to play a radical role for the upliftment of dalits, particularly for creating an articulate elite and middle class from among dalits. Central questions of dalit movement, according to Prasad, are: land, democratization of capital, redefining democracy (social democracy), quality education, democratization of knowledge, etc. He argues for securing immediate benefits for dalits instead of dalit liberation, as it is a far-fetched dream in the present circumstances. He says that dalit liberation can be thought of only when there is no dalit agricultural labourer, only when dalits are fairly represented in English medium schools, only when there are several hundreds of dalit billionaires, and only when their housing issues are resolved. He is opposed to Kancha Ilaiah’s formulation saying that Ilaiah is drafting an intellectual trap to ‘shudraise’ the nation’s culture.
If Kancha Ilaiah provided a theoretical framework for the BSP’s bahujanwad, Chandrabhan Prasad is providing a theoretical framework for its opportunistic political alliances, particularly with the BJP. That is the meeting point for Ilaiahs and Prasads. The person who advocates westernization of dalits finds allies in Hindutva, the staunch proponents of revivalism in Indian society and considers communal fascism merely as a mischievous construct. Unfortunately, both of them claim to be interpreting Ambedkar in the present conditions. Prasad says that Kanshi Ram cannot become an Ambedkar as Lenin or Mao cannot become a Marx while Kanshi Ram, being a follower of Ambedkar, can very well become one like Lenin or Mao. It is easier for Mr.Prasad to ‘negotiate with Bill Gates than a Birla’. It is true that it will be much easier for him to relate with a dalit billionaire. Well, one has to wonder as to when Mr.Prasad will find it easier to get in touch with the reality to realize his ‘utopianism in full bloom’ and the practical resolution to the plight of crores of poor, downtrodden dalits? May be, when India becomes an America!
1 Karl Marx and Engels, The Manifesto of The Communist Party, 1977
2 The BSP and Caste as Ideology, 19, March 1994, EPW, pp 669
3 Moni Guha, Proletarian Path (Vol.II, No.1), December, 1995 reproduced in Liberation, April, 1996
4 Caste and Contradictions, 22 October 1994, EPW, pp 2836
5 Interview with Kancha Ilaiah by Anand, May 2000, www.ambedkar.org
6 Antithesis of Caste and Class, Vinod Mishra Selected Works, pp180
7 Caste and Contradictions, 22 October 1994, EPW
8 Gail Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution, pp25
9 9 ibid, pp24
10 Vinod Mishra, More on the Anti-thesis of Caste and Class, VM Selected Works, pp 187
11 Rajni Kothari, Rise of the Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste, EPW, 25 June 1994, pp1590
12 Kancha Ilaiah, Ibid
13 Kancha Ilaiah, Ibid
14 Jens Lerche, Politics of the Poor: Agrarian Labourers and Political Transformation in UP, Rural Labour Relations in India Today, 2000, pp 224
15 B.B.Mohanty, Land Distribution Among SCs and STs, 6 Oct 2001, EPW, pp 3857