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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 30, July 16, 2011

The Farce of Bhimshakti and Shivshakti

Wednesday 20 July 2011, by Anand Teltumbde

History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

—Karl Marx

The famous quotation of Marx from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, which comes in reference to the rule of Napoleon I and thereafter of his nephew, Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III), actually runs as follows: “Hegel remarks some-where that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” What if it repeated a third time and a fourth time or keeps repeating thereafter? Hegel or Marx did not envisage such a hilarious situation to comment on. In reference to the alliance between the Ambedkarite Dalits and Shiv Sena, if Marx had known these two entities, he would have exclaimed, “the first time as farce and then repeated as bigger and bigger farce”.

Opposite Poles

Indeed, if one is forced to think of an antonym of the Ambedkarite Dalits, one would not get a better answer than the Shiv Sena. If the Ambed-karite Dalit is conceived in an organisational sense to adhere to Ambedkar’s ideology, the Shiv Sena would come as its perfect opposite. Ambedkar was a quintessential democrat; the Shiv Sena is prototypical fascist; Ambedkar was contemptuous of Hitler and Mussolini; the Shiv Sena is known to be the admirer of the Nazi dictator. Ambedkar stood for protection of minorities; the Shiv Sena has consistently ridiculed it as pampering and actively harassed them to the extent of executing some of the worst communal riots. Ambedkar believed in a constitutional regime and gave this country a Constitution; the Shiv Sena often scoffed at it publicly. Ambedkar severely criticised Hinduism for its ideological structural inequities; the Shiv Sena not only extols Hinduism but also publicly advocates its most aggressive version, Hindutva, which Ambedkar had foreseen as a disaster for India. Ambedkar without under-mining the importance of religion advocated secularism; the Shiv Sena openly misused religion to polarise people. Ambedkar ultimately stood for “liberty, equality and fraternity”, saying that it defined his social philosophy; the Shiv Sena’s actions are ostensibly or declaredly premised on differential liberty, inequality and hatred. Looked at from any angle and ideologically, these two organi-sations may stand as the opposite poles.

This opposition was not even camouflaged. The Shiv Sena in its own fascist rhetorical style did not spare even Babasaheb Ambedkar from its ridicule. It has never hidden its hatred for the Ambedkarite Dalits, ostensibly to consolidate all Dalit castes other than the Mahars under its fold. It is only after the realisation that this attitude might backfire by hurting the Mahars in its ranks, it moderated it and presented itself as the admirer of Ambedkar in competition with any other electoral party. Of course, its history is fraught with instances of physical confrontation with the Ambedkarite Dalits. In the Worli riots of 1974, it fought bitter street battles against the Dalit youth who had just organised themselves into Dalit Panthers, brutally martyring Bhagwat Jadhav. It spearheaded the opposition to renaming the Marathwada University after Babasaheb Ambedkar, for which Dalits had launched a massive agitation in the State. Many Dalits were raped and murdered; their properties destroyed by its cadre. It was the Shiv Sena which created the infamous Riddles controversy, actively opposing publication of Dr Ambedkar’s writings on Hinduism. It is only when the Ambedkarite Dalits got united over the issue that the Shiv Sena had backtracked its position and struck a compromise. It has been always opposed to reservations, which are identified with Dalits, and particularly the Ambedkarite Dalits, as its originator and beneficiary. During the Sena-BJP rule in Maharashtra, 11 innocent Dalits were massacred in police firing in Ramabainagar. The government had doggedly protected the Sub-Inspector who was responsible for the murders. The saga of its misdeeds against the Ambedkarite Dalits can really go on.

Not a Tragedy

Given the history of political opportunism of the Dalit leaders, it was no more a tragedy when Namdeo Dhasal, that fiery petrel of the revolu-tionary idiom of yesteryears, joined the Shiv Sena’s bandwagon in the mid-1990s. Nothing much happened to Dhasal, except for occasional denouncements by Dalits; he continued to be the leader of his outfit and the darling of the so- called Leftists of Mumbai and elsewhere. There-after, significant numbers of activists belonging to the Republican Party of India (RPI) had joined the Sena in Pune, Satara and Aurangabad. In fact, though faded in public memory, even before Dhasal’s temerity, the RPI itself had tried the electoral communion with the Sena in the local elections way back in the 1960s. (?) But when in 2003, the Shiv Sena’s Executive President, Uddhav Thackeray, mooted the idea of uniting Bhimshakti and Shivshakti on the eve of the State Assembly elections, it created consternation in the media. It was the late Arun Kamble, who along with Ramdas Athawale had propped up through the ashes of the original idea of Panthers what they called the Bharatiya Dalit Panthers, but was reduced to nobody in Dalit politics by then, had organised the function. At that time Ramdas Athawale had famously stated that the Shiv Sena giving up its Hindutva ideology would be the precondition for such a unity. The idea did not fly off then beyond the posters and hoardings. Eventually, Bhimshakti was monopolised by Chandrakant Handore, and he tied it to the Congress in exchange of a Ministership.

That statement of Athawale was just a ploy to make the NCP-Congress realise the conse-quence of ignoring him. He was frustrated enough for not having been given a ministerial berth at the Centre. In the next election, he was given the seat but was simultaneously seen that he was defeated. It was clear that for the NCP he had outgrown his utility and could well be dispensed with. Athawale was picked up by Sharad Pawar from the streets and put into the ministerial bungalow in the 1990s to neutralise the threatening independence of Prakash Ambedkar. He let Athawale grow while deci-mating whatever remained of the independent Dalit voice in Maharashtra. Having accomplished the latter goal, Athawale or for that matter any Dalit leader could no more bargain; they could stay only at the NCP’s terms. It is at this point the farce began. The other leaders of the RPI had apparently not been part of the deal with the Shiv Sena or perhaps they had assessed better prospects in staying with the NCP-Congress, taking Athwale’s place. Jogendra Kawade had been most vocal castigating the alliance in the name of departure from the Phule-Ambedkarite ideology. He accused Athawle of joining hands with the Hindutva forces, forgetting his own somersaults and communion with the very saffron band not in a very distant past. When the wounds of the Ramabainagar massacre inflicted by the Sena-BJP combine were still oozing, Kawade had joined the saffron brigade and actively canvassed for Kirit Somaiya in the 2009 elections in the same Ramabainagar. Indeed, the nakedness of all Dalit leaders gets exposed in the electoral hamam!

Why did the Shiv Sena, which has never concealed its hatred for the Ambedkarite Dalits, take the U-turn and extend its hand of friendship to Athawale? The answer is not difficult to seek. As the feud between Uddhav and Raj Thackeray simmered, the Shiv Sena needed to supplement its eroding vote-base with the Ambedkarite Dalits, in the particular context of the Congress making Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Chambhar by caste, as the first ever Dalit Chief Minister. The Shiv Sena’s casteist calculation could inform it that the Mahars would construe as their marginalisation under the Congress and may rethink aligning with it.

Over the last few years the need of the Shiv Sena and the disgruntlement of Athwale have only grown to reach a point of precipitation into this kind of unholy alliance. On the eve of the elections to the Mumbai Corporation to be held in 2012, with the growing electoral threat from the MNS, the Shiv Sena badly needs to fortify its position in Mumbai, which, notwithstanding its strength elsewhere, remains its crucial stronghold. It needs to hold on to it at any cost. There is nothing in its strategic option that it could try except for wooing Athawale. On the other hand, Athawale, having tasted the meat of political power, does not have much option in the State politics to try out an alliance with any other combine than the Shiv Sena-BJP, which could well win the next elections with the incumbency factor, given the scam-studded misgovernance of the Congress.

Questionable Consequence

It is a moot question whether this alliance will really cause the desired Dalit swing in its favour. While there are noises being created against this alliance in the name of ideology, the fact remains that ideology has been the fluidest aspect of Dalit politics. Anything could be the ideology if it could be shown to have the approval of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Whether it was the early desertions of the RPI by the likes of the Bhandares and Rupwates or the later co-option pull by the Congress or the samarasata allurements of the Sangh Parivar, Ambedkar was duly invoked by the opportunists to shower his ideological blessings. They would argue that while calling the Congress as the burning house, Ambedkar himself had accepted its support to reach the Constituent Assembly and thereafter get a ministerial berth in the first post-independence all-party government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. The combination of two vague things—Ambedkar’s ideology and the interests of Dalits—has justified any and every act of opportunism of the Dalit leaders. It has long lost its salience in voting for this or that party. The new generation of Dalits, which does not have this ideological appeal and do not carry the past baggage of bitterness with the Shiv Sena, is overridingly concerned over what brings them maximum material benefit. Their attitude therefore would be to put stakes on the winning horse.

No sooner than this alliance is announced, the Congress has almost succeeded in hollowing the State BJP by buying off Gopinath Munde, one of its senior leaders, as they did earlier with Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane towards weakening the emerging threats of the Shiv Sena. They have got Bhalchandra Mungekar into their fold. Although he may not be useful to influence the Dalit masses in favour of the Congress, as a scholar activist he could bring in a wealth of information to strategise its move to manage Dalit votes. One of the obvious strategies would be to get the rest of the RPI leaders on its side and create noises that Athawale alone does not represent Bhimshakti. Such noises are already being made and may be amplified after the July meet of the Dalit leaders called by Kawade. Prakash Ambedkar faces the same catch-22 situation as many times before and will prefer to stay aloof in the prison of conscience of his own making. There is no likelihood of a viable third force getting cobbled up in a short time. Therefore the game would be played between the two alliances, the Congress/NCP and Sena/BJP. Those who stay independent may be accused of weakening the great Congress secularism and benefiting the BJP. Of course, these developments bring an opportunity for the BSP to make a forceful appeal to the Dalit masses. As their votes indicate, their appeal is expectedly rising. However, it is unlikely that they would really get it significantly better than the last time and the least, win any seat. In net terms the distribution of Dalit votes may not vary very significantly from the recent past for most elections except for the local bodies.

Because at the local level the salience of power is perceived sharply, the young generation of Dalits might support the Sena alliance which is well-entrenched in the Mumbai Corporation. In Mumbai and also the surrounding corporations, since the battle is likely to be three-cornered between the BJP-Shiv Sena-RPI, MNS, and the Congress-NCP and probably other RPIs, a slight swing could be very consequential. At the higher level bodies, there may not be much influence of this alliance. Nonetheless much depends upon who creates the right kinds of noises at the time of elections backed by money and organisational power.

The Real Political Power

The major issue is not what happens to the electoral outcome because of this cobbling but what can happen to the Dalits in whose name this farce gets enacted. The answer to the question is pretty clear: whatever the electoral outcome, the fortune of Dalit leaders like Athawale would surely rise but the prospects of the Dalit masses would be depleted. The gain to leaders accrues once the deal is capped. Interestingly, Athawale himself, though in his comic style, referred to these political transactions as business in his speeches several times and got applause in response from his fans! The business anyway shows up in his mounting net worth as any politician’s. As we have known, there is little difference at the level of policies of any political party. Therefore, in material terms there is absolutely no likelihood of the crises faced by the masses being lessened by any electoral outcome. Even in the social sphere there may not be much difference as the characteristics of the forces behind these alliances in villages are the same. If the Shiv Sena-BJP can gun down Dalits in Ramabainagar, the Congress-NCP can give Dalits Khairlanji! Since with such electoral communion of leaders Dalits get embedded in the ruling alliances, paradoxically they lose their voice to question them. Any time such an occasion arises, their leaders would broker the rent for themselves and stay put the masses.

This process could be clearly observed by anyone during the last six decades and particularly the last two of globalisation making it more blatant then before. However, since the Dalits have been intoxicated over a long time to see electoral politics as the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of their political life, this escaped them. The entire system of electoral politics is so devised that it structurally benefits the brokers and inter-mediaries, euphemistically called leaders. These leaders simply keep creating the mirage of political power and make the masses run after them. Political power, conceived exclusively through the electoral process, would verily stay as a mirage for the Dalits, given their numbers and relatively meagre resource base. The pygmies pretending to be Dalit leaders make emotional appeal to the masses invoking Ambedkar and fatten themselves on the tribute flowing from the ruling classes as long as this mirage lasts. The earliest the Dalits discard this mirage, the better would it be for them.

Dalits do need political power. But that power is not going to come through the electoral process which essentially runs on money power. It has been a big trap that has blocked the political possibilities of Dalits. They need to rethink their strength, their Bhimshakti. It lies in their organisational unity and prowess to fight for the real issues of living. Political power is just the byproduct of the process of acquiring political consciousness through united struggles for the real issues. It is time they called a halt to these farcical acrobatics by their political brokers.

Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and civil rights activist with the CPDR, Mumbai.

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