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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 20, New Delhi, May 1, 2021

Without ‘Annihilation of Caste’, Agenda of Social Transformation Will not be Possible | Badre Alam Khan

Saturday 1 May 2021

by Badre Alam Khan*

 “Until 1990, Ambedkar was untouchable to all mainstream political parties’’ -Prof. Kancha Ilaiah

 On the auspicious occasion of the 130th birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar (celebrated as the Ambedkar Jayanti on14th Aprilevery year), most of the parties irrespective of ideological standpoints (such as Left, Right, Centre and Ambedkarites) are busy in paying tribute to him. The last week has been celebrated as the Ambedkar-Phule Jayanti Saftah by progressive and Ambedkaraties while organising several programmes. In this respect, several events like public meetings, webinars, Equality march at JNU and cultural programmes like recitation of poetries and songs etc. are being organised by Dalits in particular and political parties and civil society groups in general, to commemorate the Ambedkar Jayanti.

 The ruling government has announced, 14th April as a public holiday in India. To note that in the larger public sphere, such as on social media, in the mainstream newspapers, from Left to Right and Ambedkarites are busy in writing articles, sharing videos related to Babasaheb to celebrate the said occasion. In other words, every section of the Indian society irrespective of ideological standpoints are expressing their solidarity and underlining the importance of Babasaheb’s ideas and his rich legacy in the larger public domain.

 Besides, a section of Indian Muslims in general and the lower caste Muslims in particular have also expressed their tribute to Dr. Babasaheb. While drawing insights from the traditions of the Dalit-Bahujan intellectuals, activists and scholars of the Pasmanda movement have emphasized that we need to search a figure like Dr. Ambedkar within the Muslim community; so that process of the internal democratic reform could be carried out as well. While so doing, caste and gender-based discriminations among Indian Muslims would be taken seriously that has been so far explicitly ignored by the upper caste Muslims. To be precise here, social anthropologists and scholars like Prof. Imtiaz Ahmad have had underlined in their studies that social stratifications especially caste like features (such as practices of endogamy, caste discriminations, subtle form of untouchability and occupational division of labour) also exists among the Indian Muslims.

 Theoretically speaking, Islam has an egalitarian content, yet the fact cannot be denied that the Indian Muslim community are divided on caste lines (like Ashraf ,Ajlaf and Arzal). In the recent times, a scholar like Prof. Masood Alam Falahi in his work, Hindustan mei Zat Pat aur Muslman, and formerM.P (Rajya Sabha) Ali AnwarAnsari in his book ,Msawat ki Jung (Battle for Equality),both have mentioned that the practices of caste-based discriminations and subtle form of untouchability also exist among the north Indian Muslim community. In other words, caste and gender-based discriminations and untouchability are the larger problems of the Indian society and the Muslim community is not an exception in this regard.

 In what fallows, I will limit my discussion on the said occasion (Ambedkar Jayanti) around the larger questions raised by Dr. Ambedkar in his life time (which is still hunting the Indian hierarchical society) such as the annihilation of caste and dismantling the Varna based Hindu social order along with fighting against the twin enemies like Brahmanism and Capitalism. For Ambedkar,the project of the Annihilation of caste is not possible without dismantling the legitimacy of the Hindu Shastras andestablishing the Constitutional morality (in the place of ‘public morality’ often based on feudal and pre-modern values) based on egalitarian principles such as equality, liberty and fraternity, enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Besides,tofight against the crony capitalism and material inequality, Dr. Babasaheb also had advocated the idea of the democratic State socialism; so that the goal of the social transformation could be realised in our society.

 Historically speaking, the nationalist leaders were largely concerned to achieve freedom from the ‘external colonialism’ (from the Colonial state). After a long drawn anti-colonial struggle launched under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, finally India got political freedom in 1947. However, for the Dalit-Bahujan intellectuals like Phule, Periyar, and Dr. Babasaheb, the complete Swaraj will only be realized when the ‘external colonialism’ (freedom from the Colonial rule) along with the ‘internal colonialism’ (freedom from the Brahmanism) will be achieved. To be precise here, Dr. Ambedkar’s concerns (which he raised in the Constituent Assembly deliberations) was that merely political democracy (by giving universal franchise for all irrespective of caste and class) will not be continued for a long time, unless the ‘depress classes’ (for instance, subaltern masses) will get social and economic justice in the public domain. Unlike the nationalist leaders, Dr. Ambedkar was convinced that social and economic democracy will not be achieved without the ‘annihilation of caste’ and fighting against capitalism. For Ambedkar, the goal of real Swaraj will not be realized, if the menace like untouchability and vicious form of caste and gender-based- discriminations continue to prevail in a society like India.

 Unlike the nationalist leaders, for Ambedkar, Varna and caste system is deeply rooted in psychic of the Hindu society for a long period of time because it draws sanctity from the religious scriptures like Manusmirti. That is why Dr.Ambedkar argued in his powerful text like Annihilation of Caste that without demolishing the Shastras (religious scriptures) which provide sanctity to the Varna and Caste system, the project of the nation-building and the envisioning an egalitarian society is not possible. In short, one could argue that the real tribute to Dr. Ambedkar will remain as a mere tokenism, if current regime (including the secular and left and social justice parties) will confine to only constructing buildings, memorials, and statues in the name of Ambedkar without having the agenda of annihilation of caste and demolishing undemocratic structure of the Hindu social order.

Given the extremely pathetic situations of Dalit- Bahujan masses (for whom Dr. Babasaheb had fought a lifelong battle on several fronts); one can raise hard questions who are responsible (for instance, whether the Indian state, civil society, or masses themselves) for the in-human and extremely pathetic conditions of the subaltern masses? And what went wrong after more than 70 years of India’s democratic journey? And why still most of the mainstream parties (BJP, Congress, Left, and even social justice parties) have had not shown serious commitment and included the agenda of an annihilation of caste in their parties’ manifestos? These are the pertinent questions need to be foregrounded and seriously pondered upon.

 Unlike the nationalist leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, long back while writing a powerful text (Annihilation of Caste, 1936), it was Babasaheb Ambedkar who had been fully convinced that without annihilating of caste system and questioning the sanctity of Shastras ( which provide legitimacy to caste system and Varna order), it is impossible to achieve economic and social democracy in India. These are pertinent questions that need to be foregrounded on the occasion of his 130th birth anniversary.

 Therefore, merely celebrations and garlanding the flowers over the Ambedkars’s statues (as the Indian politicians use to perform every year on said occasion) is not going to overcome the problems and issues confronted by subaltern masses without fighting the twin enemies such as Brahmanism and Capitalism at the same time, as reminded by Ambedkar. In other words, without the annihilation of caste and demolishing the structure of crony capitalism (which are deeply embedded in our political, economic, and social system), it would be difficult to achieve an egalitarian society, as envisioned by Babasaheb in his book like State and minorities, during the formative phase of nation-building. He emphasized that democratic idea of ‘state socialism’ is essential to establish an egalitarian society in India. However, it should be noted that Dr Ambedkar was not in the favour of orthodox Marxian kind of socialism (based on the Base and Superstructure dichotomy) but in the case of India, for him democratic State must have commanding height in the distribution of material and social resources (such as the land, education, health, agricultural resources and employment) so that the socio-economic and educational inequalities could be reduced to a large extent, if not entirely.

 While debating on the question that who should be called a real Ambedkarite? In this respect, a section of Dalit-Bahujan’s intellectuals have emphasized that those who have lived experienced of the untouchability and caste-based discriminations in their everyday social and economic life, can only authentically write and truly represent the radical legacy of Dr. Babasaheb. For Ambedkarites, the mainstream political parties like the BJP, the Congress and even the parliamentary left (such as CPI and CPM) are using Ambedkar’s ideology symbolically to gain political and electoral mileage rather than committed to carrying forward his radical legacy in genuine manner. Further Ambedkarites have underlined that forget for a while the current ruling dispensation like the BJP-RSS combine; even the so-called Left and secular parties (whenever they captured political power) have had not seriously implemented the egalitarian idea of Dr. Ambedkar especially his agenda of annihilation of caste. Hence, like BJP-RSS combine, they (left-liberal and secular dispensations) had not done anything concrete to annihilate the caste system and seriously fought against the Brahmanism and crony capitalismalong with other forms of social inequalities, still prevalent in society like India.

 It is an interesting to note that scholar like Anand Teltumbde (committed civil right activists) has underlined that the so-called even Ambedkarites (especially those who support the idea of the Dalit capitalism) and social justice parties (like, the BSP, the SP and the RJD) have had also not seriously stood with agenda of annihilation of caste and fighting against crony capitalism. It would not be incorrect to say that the social justice parties especially the RJD and the SP whenever they came to power in Bihar and UP respectively, hardly have had implemented the agenda of social justice and egalitarian philosophy of Babasaheb. Rather the fact must be noted that they (Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh) have had directly or indirectly promoted the interest of Yadavs caste and their family members, as reminded by a French scholar like Christophe Jefferlot in his work, India’s Silent Revolution: the rise of the Low Castes in North India, 2004.
 Having said that let me come to discuss claim of the present ruling government to promote the ideas of Ambedkar. The ruling dispensation led by PM Modi time and again has claimed that our government has done more works on Ambedkar (for instance, by erecting statues and constructing memorial buildings in the name of Babasaheb) than the so-called secular and Left parties over the last 60 years of India’s democratic journey. However, it is important to note that Dr. Babasaheb himself reminded us of the dark side of hero-worshiping in politics. As he says, “in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation to eventual dictatorship”.

 Contrary to the claim of the ruling regime, empirical studies recently done by both national and international human rights bodies have underlined in their reports that the present ruling dispensation has squarely failed in all fronts such as social, economic, educational, employment and health parameters. In addition, violence, and discriminations against Dalits, religious minorities, women and the plight of migrant workers continues unabated. For instance, the Hathras’s gruesome Dalit girl’s rape incidence (Uttar Pradesh), Delhi riots, and the plight of migrants (mostly belonging to the lower strata of Indian society) can be cited as cases in point. Besides, the recent report of the Freedom House, 2021 and other organizations have also highlighted the ’partial decline’ of democracy and violations of civil liberties of citizens in India.
 Instead of introspecting the failures of the government and the efficacy of the public institutions to perform constitutional responsibilities vis-a-vis subaltern masses; the BJP’s leaders have been reluctant in accepting the empirical facts presented by the Freedom House report, 2021and othersThey also have blamed the said organizations for unnecessarily interfering in the domestic affairs and undermining India’s internal sovereignty.

 In addition to the above report, most recent episode that happened at the Ashoka University can be highlighted. Just a few days back senior faculty members have been forced to resign from the academic posts simply because, a committed public intellectual like Pratab Bhanu Mehta and others have expressed their concerns especially on the increasing trends of authoritarianism and communalism along with violations of civil liberties and muzzling of dissenting voices of the citizenry. Mehta in his recent writings has also raised his concerns on the decline of the public institutions like the Police, bureaucracy and the apex Court to perform its constitutional responsibilities and its inability to protect the rights of ordinary citizens.

 Besides, authoritarian attitude of the government can also be seen in the case of the ongoing Farmer protests against the three controversial Farm Laws. In this case, the ruling government so far has been reluctant to pay serious attention to address the genuine concerns of the farmers (who are resisting against the corporatisation of farming and agricultural products); still they are sitting on the protests near the Delhi borders for the last several months. Instead of addressing genuine concerns of protesting Farmers, the ruling dispensation is trying to sabotage their movement by painting them anti-nationals (like Khalistani who are promoting separatism). In short, contrary to the ruling government’s claim, various reports, and consequent events that unfolded so far, as cited above have underlined that there is a rise of authoritarianism and communalism, leading to increasing attacks on Dalits, women, farmers, religious minorities, and dissenting voices. Having said that let me come to the appropriation and the saffronisation of Dr. Ambedkasr by the RSS-BJP in the public sphere.

  It is ironical to note that the mouthpiece of the RSS; The Organiser has published a special issue on Ambedkar. While writing the editorial, the RSS ideologue has wrongly interpreted (often without understanding actual context) the egalitarian legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar. The editor has amazingly equated Dr. Babasaheb with the RSS ideologue like Dr. Hedgewar. As the editorial observes, “it is unfortunate that the people who thrive on a foreign, divisive and violent ideology [communists and Islamists emphasis mine] conveniently trying to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar, forgetting the fact that it was Babasaheb who revived the reformist zeal of our ancient civilization in the modern era, along with Dr. Hedgewar’’ (The Organiser, April 17, 2016, p-5). Contrary to the RSS ideologue, Ambedkare argued that the Hinduism is against the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. That is why he said: ‘Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu”.

 While describing the actual character and nature of the Hindutva ideology and brahmanism, a well-known French scholar like Christophe Jafferlot writes, “the Hindu nationalist movement has always had an upper-caste even brahminical character. This characteristic stems from nature of Hindutva ideology which relies on a brahminical organic view of society where castes are seen as the harmonious components of society” (See Jafferlot, “India’s Silent Revolution: the rise of the Low Castes in North India”, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2014, p-453).

To conclude here, keeping these mentioned extremely pathetic situations in mind, one could argue that the current government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seriously compromised with Ambedkar’s ideas of equality, liberty and fraternity along with egalitarian principles, enshrined in the Indian Constitution, as above mentioned arguments and facts have rightly indicated.

 In a given political context, it is crucial to reflect on the real Ambedkar legacy and fight against the hero-worship in politics along with the symbolic appropriation of Babasaheb by the RSS-BJP combine for the sake of capturing votes of Dalits. The ongoing West Bengal assembly elections can be cited as case in point here. The egalitarian political philosophy of Ambedkar would be only realised, when agenda of annihilation of caste and fighting against crony capitalism must be taken seriously in the public domain. In this respect, it is crucial task before the genuine left-Ambedkarites forces to fight against the distorted image of Ambedkar, as constructed by the RSS-BJP combine in the larger public domain.

 It needs to be underlined that Ambedkar was not against the Muslims, Islam and more importantly communists, as myth often created by the ideologues of the Hindu Right, as hinted above. In this respect, Anand Teltumbde in his several writings has exposed and questioned the false myths and propaganda created by the RSS-BJP’s leaders in the public sphere. Contrary to the present ruling government’s agenda of speedy privatisation of public sectors, Dr. Babasaheb wanted the public sectors must be robust enough (in which the Indian State must have commanding height) to provide, education, health, and employment along the distribution of land and Agricultural resources to the subaltern masses. In short, Ambedkar stood for a kind of democratic form of state socialism (suited in the Indian conditions), as mentioned in his book, State and Minorities. More importantly, Dr. Babasaheb had reminded long back that without fighting against Brahmanism and Capitalism at the same time, the agenda of social transformation perhaps could not be achieved, as hinted earlier.

 Therefore, on the said occasion (Ambedkar Jayanti), it is an extremely crucial and important task to reinvent the egalitarian legacy of Dr. Ambedkar in the public domain. The real tribute to Dr. Babasaheb on said occasion could be only possible when we the people of India, across caste and communities will take pledge to carry forward his egalitarian political philosophy in the extremely difficult times, rather than merely worship him.

(The author is a research scholar at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. )

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