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Posted on 27 June 2011
Ram Puniyani

The curious choices of Dalit seniors

Ram Puniyani on how the RPI’s alliance with the Shiv Sena could harm the dalit cause

Illustration: Tim Tim Rose

Electoral politics follows a strange logic in India. While Gopinath Munde, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was hobnobbing with the Congress, in recent times the leaders from the Shiv Sena, like Narayan Rane and Sanjay Nirupam, have joined the Congress. On the other hand, Ramdas Athawaley of the Republican Party of India (RPI), a party claiming to be the party of Dalits based on the ideology of Dr BR Ambedkar, has allied with the Shiv Sena. It defies logic how the avowed votaries of the Hindu rashtra – Rane and Nirupam – can glibly shift to the Congress, which is formally a secular party and opposed to the concept of the Hindu rashtra. Equally surprising is the fact that the Congress, with the legacy of Gandhi and Nehru, has even accepted politicians who have had the opposite ideology throughout.

More surprising than this fact is the alliance between the RPI and the Shiv Sena. One can recall that a new term has been floating around for some time now that talks about this alliance. ‘Shiv shakti’ is coined from ‘Shiv’ of the Shiv Sena and ‘Shakti’ of Bhim Shakti, ‘Bhim’ being the mythological hero of Dalits. It has been made popular by the slogan “Shiv shakti is equal to desh bhakti(patriotism). And, since then this hobnobbing has been in progress. As such the politics of both these parties is very strange and logically they are totally opposed to each other’s agenda.

The Shiv Sena was propped up by Mumbai industrialists in collusion with a section of the Congress leadership to break the hold of the Left trade unions in Mumbai. From there, it went on to launch tirades against south Indians – calling them lungiwallahs – and in a series of ‘hate other’ political campaigns, it targeted Gujaratis and later north Indians. During this period, it indulged in street violence and intimidated these linguistic groups. Later it latched on the chariot of the Hindu rashtra and boasted of being part of the Hindutva politics in alliance with the BJP. The Shiv Sena also has been seriously implicated in the post-Babri mosque demolition violence in Mumbai by the Srikrishna Commission report.


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As far as its political agenda is concerned it has been the most vociferous party opposing the issues related to Dalits. After the publication of Ambedkar’s collected works, the Shiv Sena protested against the volume Riddles in Hinduism which is heavily critical of gods Ram and Krishna. The party also opposed the move to change the name of Marathwada University to Dr Ambedkar University. It was also the only political party in the country which opposed the implementation of the Mandal Commission. On the other hand, Ambedkar talked of annihilation of caste, opposed the notion of Hindu rashtra and converted to Buddhism opposing Hinduism. He believed in educating, organising and agitating for democratic rights of Dalits. To achieve these goals, he formed the Independent Labor Party in 1936, the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942 and laid the outline of the political principles for the Republican Party of India.

The RPI soon suffered splits. It was also co-opted by bigger parties, like the Congress and the BJP. The major agitation launched by Dada Saheb Gaikwad of the RPI did galvanise Dalits, but after that the Dalit leadership has been groping in the dark. The formation of militant Dalit Panthers in the 1960s, which peaked in 1970, was a brief phenomenon, which again led to splits and weakening of the cause of Dalits.

The Dalit politics started changing with Kanshi Ram and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who took different path to power. He trained cadres for a long time, focussed the power in his hands and soon became politically successful. He later passed the baton to Mayawati, who, through different trajectories, succeeded in becoming the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. She did ally with the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party on the way, campaigned for Narendra Modi in Gujarat and justified the Gujarat carnage partly. Today the BSP is the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh. It has given a boost to the Dalit identity, but the condition of Dalits has not improved.

Where does the Dalit movement go from here? A section of Dalits has benefitted form the reservation policy, education and other accompaniments of affirmative action. At the same time, a reaction to the enhancement of Dalits’ position in society has been the rise in the politics of Hindu rashtra, something which aims at the subjugation of Dalits and women. This is clever politics of Hindutva to attack Dalits and Other Backward Classes on the ground of reservation and later co-opt and use them against religious minorities. The Shiv Sena-RPI alliance is plain opportunism from both sides. The Shiv Sena is totally opposed to the Ambedkar’s values of liberty, equality and fraternity, while the RPI was meant to reflect the aspirations of Dalit masses for social equality, political place in the society and a dignified life. Can they be political allies? For the RPI, this path has been chosen on the plea that the Congress has not given adequate political power to the leaders of the RPI. They now think that alliance with the Shiv Sena and the BJP is the path to political power for Dalits. Time alone will tell the righteousness of this strategy, but one thing is sure that, if at all, this alliance will give power to a couple of leaders of the RPI but the issues of Dalits cannot be addressed by the more dominant political allies, whose very agenda is against the interests of downtrodden masses.

The Shiv Sena-BJP combine has shrewdly tried to wean away a section of Dalits for electoral advantage; they may also be able to use the RPI leadership for electoral gains. But, as far as the Dalit movement is concerned, the challenges are immense and playing junior patterns to the parties totally opposed to the political values of Ambedkar will be counterproductive. The only path for Dalits for an empowerment seems to be social agitations and movements around their material issues, issues of security, equality and dignity. This, though a painful path, is the only option available to Dalits for better future.

Ram Puniyani is a former professor of IIT Mumbai
[email protected]

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Posted on 27 June 2011



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