Category Archives: Politics

Kanshiram- Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan: A Review

9780670085095Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan Published by Penguin India 2014

Dalit politics in the late 20th century India owes its rise to the vision and work one man–Kanshiram.

The bedrock for this movement was laid in the mid-20th century by its tallest leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Despite his brilliance and lifelong commitment to the cause of the dalits, Dr Ambedkar had been largely forgotten in the national consciousness till the rise of the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) and then the Bahujan Samaj Party- both creations of one man, Kanshiram.

Born in a Ramdasia Sikh family in Punjab, Kanshiram was named after a local baba who apparently predicted that he would grow up to be a big leader. He grew up more or less unaffected by the stigma that his caste was subjected to in most of the country.

Kanshiram’s eyes opened to the reality of caste oppression when he was employed with a government research laboratory in Pune. Spurred by the extant Dalit movement, primarily led by the Mahars in Maharashtra, he went on to dedicate his life to the cause that he took upon himself. He decided not to marry or have any relations with his family. His encounters with his family back in Punjab were sporadic, and interspersed over many years. For a long time, his parents and siblings did not know his whereabouts.

There is limited first-hand information about Kanshiram–he left behind no autobiography or work except a very short pamphlet titled “The Chamcha Age.” Badri Narayan has collected the facts of Kanshiram’s life from accounts of some of his associates and later, with the BSP’s emergence as a major political force in the late 1980s, from the media. Continue reading

The Agenda of the Gita

Left liberals are likely to denounce the BJP’s support for the Karnataka government’s introduction of Gita classes in schools as an attempt at stifling minority rights and invoke on the separation of the state and the church. The BJP’s agenda, however, goes far beyond just a communal agenda. To decipher that, one has to trace the agenda behind the Gita itself.

The Gita has, in popular belief, symbolized the rejuvenation of Hinduism after a thousand years of Buddhist domination. It was the book that apparently struck the last nail on Buddhist thought by a thirty-something Adi Sankracharya. Sankara advocated the advaita–in other words, a form of subjective idealism. In simple words, what it means is that there is only one entity in the universe, the Brahma. The rest is an illusion. Thus, he reconciled all the contradictions in the world by proclaiming that everything is an illusion, or Maya. A person needs to realize this supposed unity and unless one is able to do so, one remains entangled in the web of illusions, or mayajaal.

The Gita attempted to do the same–reconcile contradictions. It attempted to justify violence in the name of morality. It ordained the caste system, and showed women “their place.” In other words, The Gita is the chariot of Brahmanism and what can be called the ideology of racism ensconced within Brahmanism.

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When Faiz and Mahfouz walked together

Three months ago, I had a strange dream.

I am in Cairo, walking with an Egyptian man (his face wasn’t revealed to me). We are walking along a bridge that connects two buildings. The two of us discuss Faiz, and suddenly, we see a misty figure in a gray suit. I point out to my friend, ‘See, there goes Faiz”. Both of us look at him, wonder-struck. We keep walking.

I mention to my friend that Naguib Mahfouz also wrote poetry. My friend looks up at dark clouds in the sky and recites a couple of lines, implying that these are by Mahfouz:

The skies wear

A widow’s shroud

The dream returned to my memory today as I watched the surcharged demonstrations on the streets of Cairo. Not even in my dreams, though, could I have imagined the Egyptian people would be out on the streets, trying to rip apart the dark shrouds from the country’s skies. It seems Faiz and Mahfouz are really together on the streets today.

A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links

Arundhati Roy reports from her rendezvous with the Maoists:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered.

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Running away from Gandhi

Mahatama Gandhi’s posthumous adulation is in sharp contrast to the treatment that he received during his lifetime and even for many decades after his death. The Rashtriya Swayemsewak Sangh (RSS) criticized him for his perceived closeness to the Muslims, Muslims saw him as one who popularized Hindu symbolism in Indian politics, progressive Muslims opposed his support for the Khilafat movement and the communists opposed his advocacy of class collaboration. Even his closest followers like Pandit Nehru did not share his vision best laid out in Hind Swaraj[pdf].

Indeed, Gandhi’s politics was contradictory and invited criticism from many sides. His ‘non- violence’ has found support internationally- Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King and more recently Obama‘s reiteration of the Mahatma’s message as being pertinent for our times. There seems to be a fatigue on part of his Indian critics, though. A section of Left nationalists like Bipan Chandra 1, Prof. PC Joshi2 and the communist ideologue Mohit Sen have come to admire Gandhi’s political vision, mainstream communists, particularly the CPI(M), ignore him. The RSS and other Hindutva outfits, except for an occasional outburst, too ignore him. Though this is in sharp contrast to earlier times. Golwalkar, for example, had commented thus on Gandhi (without naming him, though)3 :
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Mayawati’s Iconoclasm and the statues

There is much self- righteous indignation in the media and others over the statues being installed by Mayawati all over the state of Uttar Pradesh. According to them, it is ‘clear’ to everyone with some common sense that spending Rs 1000 crores on the statues is a blatant misuse of public money.

What is missing in such ‘common sense’ perceptions is that Mayawati along with Kanshi Ram, like all innovators and path breakers, has been an iconoclast of the highest order. Between the two of them, they have created for the first time in Indian history a successful party representing some of the poorest and socially ostracized masses of the country. Like it or not, it is an unprecedented achievement. This has been done by technique and strategies that have made no sense to many because their politics is of a very different nature.

For instance, a party that claims to represent the socially oppressed, the BSP has never indicated any kind of social reform or advanced any social and economic programme for the Dalits. It’s party organization structure unique- it is neither cadre based nor does it have a hierarchy to accommodate aspiring next rung leaders. It has consciously abstained from agitation politics to focus only on creating a political machinery intent on winning elections.1 Indeed, were it not for its operation within a democratic setup, the single mindedness of its leaders is reminiscent of Lenin’s insistence on capturing state power.
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Breaking News: Firing in Vienna, riots in Jalandhar

While we were still watching television, the future arrived with the idiot box’s own version of twitter, called ‘breaking news’. In this Age, speed is God. Everything, but particularly truth and exactitude, can be sacrificed to propitiate Hurry, the God. Often though, such news turns out to be as much broken as it is breaking.

A case in point is the incident in Vienna, Austria last month where two priests of the Guru Ravi Das sect were fired upon. Within hours riots broke out in the Jalandhar city in Punjab. The media, both print and  electronic variously, and mistakenly, termed it as a clash between two rival Sikh sects, an attack on a Sikh guru or a Sikh priest and Sikh gurudwara without realizing that the Ravi Dasi gurus and gurudwaras are not Sikh institutions. It also showed how much the media is  tied to religious categories and is so little aware not only of a minority religion but also of contemporary ‘low’ caste movements and sects.
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