Written by – Nijam Gara
We observed Dr Ambedkar’s 59th death anniversary on December 6th 2015. Coincidentally, also the 23rd anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition. Pertinently, in the midst of a debate in the parliament about secularism and the broader intolerance debate raging in the country. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is shamelessly trying to confiscate the legacy of Bhim Rao.
What should the mulnivasis (tribals, dalits and likeminded shudras i.e. OBCs and true ‘forward’ thinking caste members) do?
The events that played out on the national stage in the last few weeks shine a bright light in this context. The Bihar election results have shown the path and our inimitable Lalu Prasad Yadav has led by example. The mainstream media will not say this but he alone is responsible for the spectacular polarization of the backward and downtrodden vote against the rightwing, upper caste BJP. He succinctly described his move when he said he is drinking poison for the common good referring to his alliance with Nitish. It is worth noting here that Nitish is no Lalu when it comes to secular credentials. Lalu holds the distinction of being the only politician in India today that has steadfastly opposed hindu rightwing politics at every step of the way, be it in putting the thrishul-wielding Lalkrishna Advani behind bars in 1992 or thunderously denouncing Modi in 2002 or in tabling the first detailed inquiry report on behalf of the Central government on the Godhra train carnage. He has never wavered to support the Congress on the national stage to keep BJP at bay in spite of the constant battering the mainstream media subjected him to of his own Prime Ministerial ambitions. Nitish happily supported the NDA government through the dark days of post-Godhra mayhem in Gujarat. Much like Chandrababu naidu. Still, the need of the hour in 2015 in the Modi era India was such that Lalu had to bury the hatchet and come together with the not-so-perfect Nitish to stop the Modi-Shah juggernaut from rolling. The result was the stunning defeat of the avowed pro-‘development’ BJP. It is also worth mentioning here that ‘development’ is not a pet project of BJP. In fact, their concept of ‘development’ is cosmetic and has no intention of uplifting the downtrodden either socially or economically. In essence, Lalu has proved to the nation that the people of the land (mulnivasis as described above) should make winning alliances with ideologically similar sections if they even dream of keeping the rightwing forces checked.
Congress is no viable alternative to BJP as it has now proved time and again. 2014 was no cakewalk for BJP when it first began. It was the utter callous attitude of Congress and inability, rather a lack of will to fight that handed over the victory to BJP. Congress could not counter the religious polarization of Modi because it was full of the same lumpen elements that the BJP was composed of. In place of the Jaitleys, Shahs, Singhs, Naidus and Swamys of the BJP, you will find Pilots, Sharmas, Reddys and Chowdharys on the Congress side. Its not like the Congress has a solid OBC and Dalit/tribal leadership. Sure there are those that offer lip service but that wasn’t going to be enough to match Modi’s clout. The Congress cadre came from the downtrodden sections in many states but they were never allowed to take on meaningful leadership roles – Andhra Pradesh being a case in point. It is important to realize that the Congress is a ‘B’ team of BJP. That explains why P V Narasimha Rao let 1992 unfold the way it did, why Rajiv Gandhi let VHP perform its theatrics in Ayodhya under his tenure, etc, etc. However, Sonia Gandhi did seem to signal a change of heart in Congress top brass but it is just too late and the cleansing of Congress has to be radical if it really wants to upstage BJP. True that Sonia Gandhi has presided over some phenomenal legislative pieces such as the Land Acquisition act, Right to Information Act, Food Security Act, etc but Congress remains a stooge of the corporate world when it comes to ‘development’ agenda and there hasn’t been a will to bring about social upheaval in the leadership structure of the party. Regional satraps belonging to the same spent forces (such as Reddys in Telangana) still rule the roost at the state level. Look at the woeful state of affairs in Gujarat where it is unable to unseat Modi-powered BJP in spite of the hollowness of Modi’s ‘development’ model that is now self-evident on the national screen.
Even on the intolerance debate, it took the righteousness and selflessness of the intellectual community of India (that has roots in Nehruvian ideas of strong academic institutions and scientific rigor) but not the principal opposition party to bring the issue to the fore. The Congress leaders only pay their ‘respects’ to these issues but are not taking the lead simply because they lack the leadership that has the brains or the desire in their heart to take BJP head on. It only has turncoats that get their contracts approved and keep their businesses flourishing in spite of the BJP rule.
The need of the hour, thus, is a concerted effort on part of the mulnivasis to realize just that – they are the people of the land and that they should unite to fight for their existence. The rightwing will try its best to prevent that and even show that it has their best interests at heart by paying homage to Ambedkar but we shouldn’t forget that these are the same forces that heckled V P Singh during the Mandal agitations, fuel the Patidar fire today and gobble up Akhlaqs for the sin of eating mutton. Do not get fooled by the ‘development’ magic because all the malls and shiny roads will not bring succor to the needy downtrodden. The dalits from the villages will only get displaced to become the slums that feed on the remains of the ‘developed’ cities. The political picture is complex as it appears today based on the contradictions I point out above. But, the choice has to be clear – welfare (both social and economic) should trump ‘development’. If the mulnivasis forget this dictum, they may do so at their own peril. To end on an oft-repeated ambedkar note, Educate, Organize and Agitate. I am weary of the fact that we have failed on the ‘educate’ aspect miserably because BJP has been able to make deep inroads in to dalit and tribal bastions with the help of the Modi mascot and muslim hate-bait.