RI­VAL ARMIES OF BHIM

India Today - - INSIDE - By Suryakant Wagh­more

Most so­cial move­ments of the marginalis­ed take the elec­toral route after gain­ing some pop­u­lar ac­cep­tance. While this tran­si­tion is made to seize power and get jus­tice, party pol­i­tics also robs so­cial move­ments of their rad­i­cal­ism, as suc­cess in elec­toral pol­i­tics de­mands that com­pet­ing castes, com­mu­ni­ties and ide­olo­gies be ac­com­mo­dated.

The Bhim Army of Chan­drashekhar Azad may be at such a cross­roads, de­cid­ing whether to take the elec­toral leap or con­tinue as so­cial rad­i­cals. Azad has a for­mi­da­ble ‘op­po­nent’ in Mayawati and the BSP. Like Azad now, Mayawati too had raised the hack­les of caste-Hin­dus in the 1980s with her fiery speeches against Manuwad. Azad is crit­i­cal of Mayawati’s Sar­va­jan pol­i­tics and wants the fo­cus back on the Bahu­jan. He is aware, how­ever, of Mayawati’s stature among In­dia’s marginalis­ed, and knows it’s not yet time for the po­lit­i­cal leap. He must, there­fore, pub­licly de­fer to ‘Bua’ (aunt) Mayawati.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts and ad­ver­saries keep writ­ing off Mayawati, but her BSP con­tin­ues to be a na­tional en­tity. Nor is she a stranger to chal­lenges from within the Ambed­karite uni­verse, but she has al­ways tamed com­pe­ti­tion from within, and kept her party a co­her­ent and dom­i­nant force in Ambed­karite pol­i­tics na­tion­ally.

How­ever, to sense a dis­con­nect be­tween Mayawati and the younger gen­er­a­tion of Ambed­karite lead­ers is not a mis­placed idea. In fact, Azad’s re­lease on Septem­ber 14, just a day be­fore Mayawati moved back to Luc­know to start pre­par­ing in earnest for the 2019 elec­tions, could be a strat­egy to con­fuse her cadre and com­mit­ted sup­port­ers. His re­lease could also help the Congress re­gain a toe­hold in west­ern Uttar Pradesh through a Dalit-Mus­lim align­ment—Im­ran Ma­sood, state Congress vice pres­i­dent, has been in con­stant touch with Azad, who also ac­knowl­edged his sup­port on re­lease from jail.

The BSP’s po­lit­i­cal ri­vals—both the BJP and the Congress—see op­por­tu­nity in new lead­ers like Jig­nesh Me­vani and Azad. Some com­men­ta­tors have even built up Me­vani as the next Kan­shi Ram. While Azad con­sol­i­dates his space in Ambed­karite pol­i­tics from be­low, Me­vani is more of an air­dropped leader into this realm, who be­gan his po­lit­i­cal in­nings by cri­tiquing the ‘iden­tity pol­i­tics’ of Ambed­kar,

Kan­shi Ram and Mayawati.

In the De­cem­ber 2017 Gu­jarat assem­bly elec­tions, the Congress may have hoped to neu­tralise the mar­ginal in­flu­ence of the BSP by sup­port­ing Jig­nesh Me­vani, but it found out, to its cost, that an al­liance with the BSP might have served bet­ter. At this point in our na­tional pol­i­tics, when the op­po­si­tion par­ties are strug­gling to find a con­vinc­ing vo­cab­u­lary to take on the BJP’s dom­i­nance, Mayawati is also look­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to shore up her own stand­ing. True to her po­lit­i­cal guru’s strate­gies, she is look­ing for a ma­j­boor sarkar (a weak govern­ment), which would give the marginalis­ed groups greater pur­chase.

The BJP too is woo­ing the marginalis­ed castes. As it tries to rein­vent Hin­duism as an in­clu­sive civil re­li­gion that prom­ises devel­op­ment and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all (ex­cept Mus­lims), the Congress is try­ing to lay its own claim on Hin­duism—and na­tion­al­ism. Rhetoric aside, the BJP’s in­clu­sive Hin­duism has so far mainly trans­lated into in­creased vi­o­lence against Dal­its in BJPruled states. Doubts have also been ex­pressed on the need for pro­tec­tive in­stru­ments such as the Pre­ven­tion of Atroc­i­ties Act.

Mayawati, on the other hand, is wast­ing no time vis­it­ing tem­ples. She is ef­fec­tively lever­ag­ing the BSP’s na­tional pres­ence to bar­gain hard with the Congress in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan, where state elec­tions are due. By ask­ing Dal­its and other marginalis­ed groups to vote for them­selves, the BSP con­tin­ues to up­set the prac­tice among the marginalis­ed of vot­ing up­wards. Mayawati has also en­gi­neered sit­u­a­tions where the higher castes have had to vote down­wards for the BSP.

The BSP’s na­tional pres­ence—and rel­e­vance—is largely owed to the fact that Ambed­karite party pol­i­tics in north In­dia is not frag­mented. While there have been other so­cial move­ments, the BSP has re­mained the most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal voice of Ambed­karites. Suc­cess in demo­cratic pol­i­tics de­mands moder­a­tion and prag­ma­tism. Azad knows, and he doesn’t want to be known as ‘Ra­vana’ any more. But it may still be early days for him to joust po­lit­i­cally with Mayawati. He will need to sus­tain rad­i­cal bahu­jan­wad in the so­cial sphere for awhile.

Suryakant Wagh­more is au­thor of Ci­vil­ity against Caste. He cur­rently teaches So­ci­ol­ogy at IIT Bom­bay

Azad’s Bhim Army is at a cross­roads: whether to take the elec­toral leap or con­tinue as so­cial rad­i­cals

HOME­COM­ING Chan­drashekhar Azad after his re­lease from jail on Septem­ber 14, 2018

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