Saturday, April 23, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Crisis Of Ambedkarites And Future Challenges

Crisis Of Ambedkarites And Future Challenges

By Anand Teltumbde

22 April, 2011

Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at Ambedkar Habba, Spoorthi Dham, in
Bangalore on 14 April 2011

At the outset let me thank the organizers for doing me this honour by
inviting me to deliver the third Ambedkar memorial lecture on this
auspicious day and on a theme which besides being foremost in the
minds of people who are saddened to see the state of the Ambedkarite
dalit movement is of vital importance to the revolutionary future of
this country too. I have been variously speaking on the issues
connected with this theme in discrete manner, interestingly much of it
in the format of Ambedkar memorial lectures all over the country over
the last two decades, but never before have I faced a challenge of
speaking comprehensively and exclusively on the crises faced by the
Ambedkarites. The challenge becomes acuter as it alludes to the crisis
of Ambedkarism itself, which by its very mention rouses sentiments of
people. I am pretty sure of it, through experience. Essentially the
challenge for me is to be objective and still not be critical, direct
and still not be accusative, precise and still not be hurting. I will
try my best to meet this challenge. But should I appear failing, it
may kindly be attributed to my overriding anxiety to see the movement
of Dalits, whom I have been calling organic proletariat of this land,
come on track the soonest.

I intend to break the topic into four logical parts. In the first, I
would take stock of various types of Ambedkarites in vogue to
underscore the point that this identity is reduced to its antithetical
essence and has only contributed to confounding the existing confusion
among masses. The second part would try to enumerate various crises
faced by the Ambedkarites. I will try to list out possible causes of
these crises in the third part. In the fourth and final part, we can
discuss the challenges faced by Ambedkarites in a way to overcome the
identified causes.

Let us then begin with who the Ambedkarites are.

Who are the Ambedkarites?

Ambedkarites and Ambedkarism have become a part of the popular dalit
discourse and like many other popular terms do not have precise
meaning. Even their usage in academics is mostly imprecise. Few people
tried defining them with questionable success but even their output
has been largely inconsequential to their popular usage. The usual
retort from their users, when challenged, is that even other such
terms, such as Gandhite and Lohiaite also do not have definition. Why
then should one insist upon the definition of Ambedkarites? The
innocuous sounding arguments embed volumes of behavioral data on the
Ambedkarite Dalits. Dalits who could be expected to be suspicious of
what exists in the larger society, hegemonized by the Hindu religion
and culture; strangely appear to emulate everything of it, albeit with
a claim of difference. If one asked why the Ambedkarites have to sing
lengthy gathas in Pali, observe meaningless religious rituals and
continue with the old customs, the retort comes that Hindus also do
it. Indeed, if one looked at their behavior critically, one would find
that their entire cultural life is patterned on what the Hindus did.
While consciously they criticize Hindus, unconsciously they keep
following them in each and everything. Even the current pseudo
intellectual trends like dalit capitalism, dalit bourgeoisie, etc. can
also be seen as mere aping the models in larger society. The shortest
rejoinder one could offer to the protagonist of such behaviours is
that you cannot simply afford to emulate your adversaries; you pave
the way for your certain defeat once you accept playing the game of
the enemy on his terms. I am using this term 'enemy' in spatial sense
and not in a communitarian sense. This, I hope, should settle any
possible argument connected with the matter.

Lets us take stock of all Ambedkarites in vogue in various fields.


Soon after getting disillusioned with the caste Hindus in the Mahad
struggles in 1927, Babasaheb Ambedkar gave up his efforts towards
bringing about social reforms in the Hindu society and had turned
towards newly emerging opportunities in politics. He had formed two
political parties, viz., the Independent Labour Party in 1936 and
later in response to the increasing communal stances in politics, the
Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) in 1942. At the fag end of his life,
he conceived a different political formation to bring together all the
non-communist progressive forces under a single banner styled as the
Republican Party of India (RPI). Unfortunately he did not live longer
to see it formed. In deference to his wishes, his followers dissolved
the SCF and formed the RPI, which however failed to capture the idea
of Babasaheb Ambedkar and became merely a new label to the old SCF.
RPI, at the time of its foundation had wisely decided to have
collective leadership through a presidium, because it realized there
was no leader who could command confidence of all as did Ambedkar. But
even this experiment could not last long and the RPI split. BC Kamble,
one of the members of the presidium and an advocate by profession in
Mumbai contended that Ambedkarism was only constitutionalism and only
educated people like him could understand it. He denigrated the then
senior leader Dadasaheb Gaikwad, calling him dhotarya (one who wore
dhoti, the village attire) and accused him of enamoring the
communists. RPI went on splitting thereafter, on the issue of what
Ambedkarism was. Some young leaders early on saw no future for
themselves in the RPI and went on to join the Congress purely for
greener pastures, but not giving up their label 'Ambedkarite'. Later,
when the RPI under the leadership of Dadasaheb Gaikwad carried out a
nationwide land satyahraha, the Congress was alarmed by the prowess of
this radical expression of Dalits and consciously launched its
cooptation strategy to contain it. One of the first to succumb to it
was none other than Dadasaheb Gaikwad himself, who despite being
conscious of this could not thwart it. He was made a Rajya Sabha
member. The execution of this cooptation strategy was accomplished by
the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Yashvantrao Chavhan.

By the late 1960s, when the entire world was in turmoil with various
peoples' movements, the Dalit youth in Mumbai, while reacting to the
increasing incidence of caste atrocities, formed the Dalit Panthers,
emulating the Black Panthers in the US. They tried to transcend caste
and embrace all the socially oppressed and economically exploited
people into 'Dalits' and spoke a militant language of transforming
society. The sheer paradigm change it represented threatened the
establishment and stunned the world. Before it could do anything
significant, it split. One Raja Dhale raised an issue of Ambedkarism,
accusing others of leaning towards Marxism, which he contended,
Babasaheb Ambedkar opposed. His Ambedkarism was Buddhism. Dalit
Panthers splintered and practically disappeared but sprouted soon in
the form of the Bharatiya Dalit Panthers, with the likes of the late
Arun Kamble and Ramdas Athwale leading it. Around the early 1980s,
when the nostalgia of dalit masses for Babasaheb Ambedkar had reached
its high point, Prakash Ambedkar, his grandson, appeared on the scene.
He received good reception from Dalits on the basis of which he waged
some good struggles based on economic issues concerning Dalits and
other poor. Sharad Pawar, alarmed by the reemergence of the radical
looking dalit movement, followed in the footsteps of his mentor,
Yashavantrao Chavhan, who had successfully placated Gaikwad earlier,
and picked up Ramdas Athwale to neutralize Prakash Ambedkar. He would
thereafter play many games, the unity game being the infamous of all,
through his stooge, Athawale, and completely decimate the dalit
movement in Maharashtra.

The political movement of Dalits in Maharashtra today is reduced to
numerous factions of RPI, Prakash Ambedkar's Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh,
some factions of Dalit Panthers, and innumerable billboard
organizations, which become active on the eve of elections to claim
their share of political rent from the ruling classes. Needless to
state, all of them swear by Ambedkarism and call themselves
Ambedkarites. Their splintering from each other alludes to
differences, not necessarily ideological, nonetheless they are
inconsequential to this identity. One faction could ally with
Congress, other with BJP, and still other with someone else, but they
would all be Ambedkarites. The story is more or less same even for
other states. The idea of Dalit Panthers inspired youth in many states
to form their own Panthers. Gujarat, the neighboring state, saw a
vibrant Panthers movement but it also was steamed out. In Karnataka,
Dalit Sangharsh Samiti lived longer, carrying out many inspiring
campaigns but could not survive the forces of internal fission and
outside enticement. By far in the political arena, the only exception
has been the Bahujan Samaj Party created by the late Kanshiram.

Kanshiram began it with Bamcef in Maharashtra, around the same time as
the birth of the Dalit Panthers, mobilizing government employees
belonging to Dalits, Adivasis, BC/OBCs and other religious minorities.
For this forlorn lot, socially distanced from their own community but
not accepted by others, Bamcef operated like a club, very apolitical
and unthreatening. It maintained activity pace with periodical
meetings, seminar and conferences at various levels and charged fees
like any other club. It was 'giving back to the society', much lesser
than five percent that the Ambedkar's dictum demanded, in return for
the job they got with community identity. Kanshiram, graduated to
non-parliamentary politics by creating DS4, the Dalit Shoshit Samaj
Sangharsh Samiti and soon thereafter to formation of a political party
for parliamentary politics. As Kanshiram averred, he had learnt how
not to do politics from the RPI, he kept a unitary control of the BSP
in his and his close confidant, Mayawati's hands. There were no
leaders of consequence in BSP to be wooed for larger gains by the
ruling class parties. If anybody left the party for whatever reason,
he would be soon reduced to a non-entity. The inherent danger of split
was thus thwarted in this totalitarian design of the party structure
itself. BSP, with a unique advantage of Dalit demography and history
of erstwhile RPI-struggle clicked in Uttar Pradesh and emerged as a
veritable political force. Although, it never projected itself overtly
as the Ambedkarite party, its backbone was constituted by Dalits who
saw it as one. Imperatively BSP had to maintain its dalit core by
installing scores of Ambedkar statues, naming roads, colonies and
institutions; creating Ambedkar parks and memorials, etc., for
boosting the ego of Dalits.

Thus, the political arena is fraught with numerous factions, each one
claiming following of some Dalit segment to the ruling class parties
to extract political rent. BSP has styled itself differently, becoming
the ruling class party itself. There are many Dalits who jumped off
the RPI bandwagon and joined the ruling class parties obviously for
their own enrichment, but they continue to be Ambedkarites. Many of
them still swear by Ambedkarism with their convoluted arguments. As
one Marathi dalit poet perceptively challenged these self seeking
leaders, "vagalun bhimachya nava, tumhi pudhari hovun dawa" (exclude
the name of Ambedkar, and show us how you become a leader), they know
that without demonstrating allegiance to Ambedkar they cannot exist.
Dalits belonging to a majority caste within the scheduled caste
caste-cluster, irrespective of their party affiliation, excepting
perhaps the communist parties, claim the identity of Ambedkarite, as
though by natural rights.

Social Organizations

Although political outfits have greater visibility because of their
relative resource richness, there are numerous organizations afield
that call themselves Ambedkarite. As described, the offshoots of the
original Bamcef exist in factions and they carry on with the same worn
out model but without undiminished zeal. They have in fact grown, if
one goes by the geographical expanse of their conferences. For the
last few years, at least one faction of them has been holding
conferences abroad. They persist with the ideology of Kanshiram
encapsulated in the formula '85 versus 15 percent' and dream that one
day they will vanquish the Brahmanical forces. The entire thrust is to
reclaim the past cultural glory of the bahujans, which they accused
Brahmans of having taken away by overpowering them with deceit. Many
of the Bamcef factions have adopted a racist identity -Mulniwasi (the
original inhabitant) for themselves. Ambedkar had rejected the racist
theory behind varna or caste differentiation. However, that does not
affect their claim to be Ambedkarite. These factions do not operate
yet in mainstream political arena but have political ambition of
overturning the tables on Brahmans. Their current phase, which has
continued from at least early 1970s, is supposed to be the awakening
phase. Once the Mulniwasis awaken to the fact that they have to regain
their lost kingdom, they would come on to roads to wage the concluding
battle and fell the fortress of Brahmins.

There are many Buddhist organizations, initially confined to
Maharashtra but slowly spreading across the country, which are
supposedly working for realizing Ambedkar's dream of making India a
Buddhist country, which also claim 'Ambedkarite' as their rightful
identity. On the eve of his conversion to Buddhism, Ambedkar had
formed Bharatiya Bouddha Mahasabha (BBM) (Buddhist Society of India)
to manage the integrity of the neo-Buddhist community, which would
come into being after his conversion and carry on the conversion work
further. After his demise, his son Yashavantrao alias Bhaiyasaheb
Ambedkar had become the president of this organization, which is
headed currently by his widow, Meeratai Ambedkar, who had become its
president after the death of her husband. BBM also suffered multiple
splits and it is virtually difficult to know how many of them exist.
Almost every town and city has multiple BBMs but without any
connection with the central one. Besides, there are other Buddhist
organizations with different labels. All of them however are

There is another organization, which was formed by Babasaheb
Ambedkar—Samata Sainik Dal (SSD). During the Mahad satyagraha, people
had organized a voluntary corps, Samaj Samata Dal to look after the
security of the Mahad conference, which was transformed later into the
SSD. The SSD was a formidable force to keep away mischievous elements
from the dalit movement. After 1956, since one section of opinion
literally upheld Ambedkar's dictum that there was no need for Dalits
to have agitational methods and they should focus on constitutional
methods, SSD suffered erosion in importance and had almost
disappeared. It was revived by many people many times and it exists as
the poor version of its original self. There exist multiple SSDs, all
claiming legacy of the old SSD. All of them of course are

Then there are numerous community organizations, (youth organizations,
Mahila mandals, etc.) spread across the slums, hamlets and villages
with varied names, which have set up Buddha viharas, erected statues,
at places opened up libraries and boarding houses for students. To the
extent most of them are tenuously connected with some or the other
leader, they are also afflicted with factionalism. All of them however
are Ambedkarites.

Employees' Organizations

Thanks to reservations, Dalits constitute sizable proportion of the
employment in the public domain (government-central, state, local
self; PSUs, financial institutions and banks). While for some time
these employees had been a part of the mainstream trade unions and
officers' associations, they progressively experienced that their
issues did not fit in the latter and rather at times conflicted with
their core interests. Therefore they began forming their own
associations. Since there could not be caste based trade unions or
associations, they took the form of 'welfare associations' in each
organization. Some of them joined together and created larger entities
over expanded domain, industry, state or country. Ostensibly they are
meant to take care of the interests of their own members in service
matters. However, they tend to extend themselves to community in the
spirit of the Ambedkarite dictum of 'paying back to the society'. They
are typically found in the increasing congregations of Ambedkarite
Dalits at many places such as Chaitya Bhoomi in Mumbai, Diksha Bhoomi
in Nagpur, Koregaon Park near Pune, Mhow near Indore, Kranti Sthal at
Mahad, etc. and on many dates associated with Babasaheb Ambedkar. They
do 'social service' in distributing food packets to people, open an
eye check up camp and distribute free spectacles to the needy, open
free clinics to check up and distribute commonplace medicines. All
these Associations, needless to say claim to be Ambedkarites.


With the role model of Babasaheb Ambedkar and his mantra 'educate,
agitate and organize', there has been a good deal of progress among
Dalits in education, although it still lags behind that of others. In
higher education, there is a very high incidence of Dalits in
Humanities courses. It still hovers around 70 percent and majority of
them take up teaching profession and become 'academic'. This class has
been active in contributing to the knowledge in the spheres of
sociology and politics leveraging their subjective experiences. While
much of it may be ignored as stereotype, catering to academic rituals
and requirements, a few of them did interrogate the mainstream in
significant terms. Undoubtedly, they bore huge potential compared to
what they could actually accomplish. Lately, perhaps to create a
framework for their contribution, a strategic move is evident in
launching Ambedkar Chairs, Ambedkar Centers, or outfits with some such
names in every university and colleges. These outfits are poorly
provided and are invariably manned by Dalits. They offer regular
courses in Ambedkar thought and other social issues and carry out
research in those topics and have thus sped up their reproduction. As
such the academic energy of the entire higher educated Dalits is
sought to be bound within the newly created framework. There has been
sudden spurt in so called research activities and consequently Ph D in
the issues related to Babasaheb Ambedkar, with inevitable fall in
quality. However, they do promote variety and feed into already
existing tendency among Dalits to splinter. There is an urgent need to
examine the wisdom behind such a move apart from fomenting
identitarian outlook of Dalits in academics. With infinite quibbling
on issues among these academics, one thing however remains constant,
which is their identity as Ambedkarite.

Literary and cultural organizations

With the spread of education, Dalits began expressing themselves and
created their own literature, 'Dalit Literature'. It shook up the
literary establishment monopolized by the upper castes until then and
in course secured it recognition and certain amount of respectability.
It is not that there is any organized movement of these litterateurs
which coordinates their output or lends direction to their efforts.
This is perhaps accomplished through what are known as sahitya
sammelans (literary conferences). These sammelans have really
proliferated in the states like Maharashtra, the birth place of dalit
literature. Insofar as the literature is a mirror of the society, the
dalit literature could not escape marks of degeneration of the dalit
movement, which usually manifested into excessive subjectivism of the
individual litterateurs. It is a kind of reflection of this sad state
that they are found to squander their energy in the sterile debate
whether their literature should be called dalit, or Ambedkarite, or
Phule-Ambedkarite or Buddhist or something else. Besides literature,
there are groups which work for cultural awakening of Dalits through
the medium of songs, music, street plays and dramas, also without much
coordination amongst them. Not having anything objective to relate
with, they all revolve around identity and 'Ambedkarite' lends them

Professional Organizations

Although the overall enrolment of Dalits in higher education has been
far less than the national average of 12 percent, in the vicinity of
just 8 percent, much of it being in humanities courses as said before,
over the years there has been a sizable number of Dalits in
professions, such as engineering, technology, medicine, etc. who have
also formed their professional associations. They too operate as clubs
but quite like employees' associations, they also extend to do
community service, of curse with the Ambedkarite identity.

Dalit Diaspora

A sizable number of Dalits are settled/working abroad in many parts of
the world and constitute dalit diaspora. They too slowly organized
themselves around the Ambedkarite identity and have been working on
various causes, such as preparing opinion abroad so as to exert
pressure on the Indian government to take care of the dalit interests.
Some of these organizations did contribute in this direction in
significant measure but over the years they also got afflicted by the
same splintering disease as in India. They are invariably active in
celebrating the birth anniversaries of Babasaheb Ambedkar and act as
social network, wearing Ammbedkarite identity.

Virtual Networks

There are numerous e-mail groups, blogs and social networks like
facebook, twitter, and so on with which Dalit youths have formed their
virtual networks which are also reflect deep concern for the community
issues. They are inherently amorphous groups, which assume form
through their devotion to Babasaheb Ambedkar. They are all declaredly


From the mid-1980s, NGOs have acquired special space in the global
governance structure. Since the state was mandated by the Washington
Consensus, which directed this global capitalist campaign, to withdraw
itself from economic activities, to discard its welfarist garbs, and
to package services it traditionally provided for marketization, NGOs
were conceived to alleviate the pain caused by these developments in
various segments of populations. Dalits have been obviously a
prominent social group which was to be most adversely affected and
many NGOs were needed to work among them. As a result there has been
huge proliferation of NGOs, so much so that they have eclipsed the
entire dalit movement giving rise to a phrase "NGOization of the dalit
movement". NGOs work on specific issues with a professional outlook
and are usually manned by the youngsters appearing to do social work,
they appeal to masses more than the dalit leaders who are given to
empty rhetoric. NGOs effectively disorient Dalits from seeing their
woes as systemic and offer them piecemeal solutions. Most such NGOs
also swear by Ambedkarism and identify themselves as Ambedkarite.

Activists and Intellectuals

Besides the above, there are many individuals who may not be
affiliated with any of the above organizations but imagine themselves
to be 'active' in social matters. By virtue of their intellectual
standing, they enjoy some amount of recognition and are generally seen
in the seminars, conferences, conventions and conclaves. They are
invariably individualistic but claim to be Ambedkarite.

Common masses

Besides the above identifiable groups, the common folks of Dalits also
claim the identity of Ambedkarite.

The objective look at this bewildering picture certainly tells us a
few things: that despite wearing the same identity of Ambedkarite,
there is no coherence even within any groups not to speak of across
groups; that many of them could constitute opposite ends of an
ideological spectrum, that very few among them may be aware of
Ambedkar's work beyond superficial levels; that they are ostensibly
concerned with their narrow and short term interests and do not even
have an idea of what ails the community. It certainly tells us,
perhaps contrary to commonplace perception, that Ambedkarite identity
is not as much rooted in any philosophy or ideology of Babasaheb
Ambedkar as it is with his caste identity. The practical definition of
'Ambedkarite' is a person who is born in the caste which has hegemony
over the social space of Dalits in a province/state. For example, All
Mahars in Maharashtra, all Malas in Andhra, Holayas in Karnataka,
Pariahs in Tamilnadu, Chamars/Jatavs in UP, Vankars in Gujarat and so
on are automatically Ambedkarites, irrespective of what they do. Very
few Dalits belonging to other castes than these would admit that they
are Ambedkarite. Sadly and shockingly, Ambedkarite thus becomes a
euphemism for the caste-name, much narrower than even the term 'Dalit'

Crises faced by the Ambedkarites

Every Ambedkarite listed above, whether he is conscious of it or not,
experience some kind of crisis. These crises can be enumerated as

1. Crisis of Identity

Identity should serve the purpose of distinguishing one either as an
individual or some aggregate of individuals from their counterparts in
larger society. But when all kinds of people, seemingly located in
dissimilar camps, claim the same identity, it naturally entails
identity crisis. In what way, a politician with the BJP that professes
right wing Hindutva ideology or Shiv Sena which follows parochial
politics identifying people on the basis of their language, religion,
region and even sub castes is to be identified with a landless Dalit
struggling to eke out his living in a field of an OBC farmer, or a BSP
politician who professes 85 percent versus 15 percent calculus and
seeks to combine them (OBC farmer and a dalit farm labourer) together,
overlooking material contradictions between them? Obviously, there is
little common between a dalit bureaucrat and his dalit maid servant or
his people whom he has left behind in village. Ambedkarite identity
fails to serve as a viable identity to various interest groups as
listed above.

While the Ambedkarite identity is flaunted by Dalits within
themselves, many of them tend to hide it at the interface with others.
Since Ambedkarite identity is synonymous with low caste untouchable,
many upwardly mobile Dalits have changed their caste indicative
surnames and adopted upper caste names. They would not have Ambedkar's
picture in drawing room, lest others should identify their caste. Many
of them even go further to adopt the language, behavior, culture, and
to observe traditions and rituals merely to hide their caste identity.
To a large extent these schizophrenic behaviors of the upwardly mobile
Dalits also have created disconnect between them and the common dalit
masses. This behavior of the upwardly mobile Dalits rather refutes the
representational logic that has been the core of the dalit movement.
The higher educated Dalit individuals, occupying positions of power or
prosperity do not necessarily represent concerns of the dalit
community. This was sadly experienced by even Babasaheb Ambedkar in
his own life time.

2. Crisis of ideology

It may be argued that Ambedkarite is not a simple identity but an
ideological identity. It creates bigger problematic than associated
with even the simple identity because it raises a question what the
Ambedkarite ideology is. If Ambedkarite ideology is annihilation of
castes, there are number of Ambedkarites who proclaim to the contrary
and still claim to be Ambedkarites. They even go so far as to deny
that Ambedkar never advocated annihilation of castes. They argue that
castes can never be annihilated and hence they should be strengthened.
The shrewd among them use Marxian dialectical dictum to support their
casteist outlook. They would say that by strengthening castes, the
caste contradiction would be ripened, leading to a caste war which
eventually would resolve or transpose the contradiction in favour of
dalits. VT Rajshekhar of the Dalit Voice generally represents this
ideological strand. Mulnivasis, who claim racial distinction of Dalits
(and perhaps also Adivasis) and some others as original inhabitants of
India, want to reverse the Hindu social order to make all others as
secondary citizens, also are Ambedkarites, notwithstanding they
directly contradict Ambedkar's dictum that Indian castes do not have
racial basis and also his ideology expressed in terms of his aim to
create a society based on Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Babasaheb
Ambedkar, way back in 1938 had told Dalits that they had two enemies:
Brahmanism and capitalism. But a section of upwardly mobile Dalits
eulogize dalit capitalism and celebrate coming of the dalit
bourgeoisie. Ambedkar warned Dalits that his Brahmanism should not be
identified with people belonging to Brahman caste and that Brahmanism
could well be found among Dalits. Ambedkarites' outlook generally
failed to make this subtle distinction and have only targeted Brahmans
by caste. There cannot be any doubt that Ambedkar wanted social
morality in governance so as to take care of the weak. His Buddhism
was to provide the requisite moral armament for the society. Dalits
scarcely reflect concern for social morality. For instance, there is
hardly any difference between the Ambedkarite Dalits and others in the
matters of corruption or any other amoral acts. It is an indisputable
fact that Babasaheb Ambedkar was a socialist, albeit of a Fabian
variety. His States and Minority provides a glimpse of his vision to
hardcode socialistic structure of society into the Constitution of
India. But surprisingly majority of Dalit intellectuals, calling
themselves Ambedkarites lent their support to the social Darwinist
policies of globalization just to be on the right side of the
government. Ambedkar's ideology may well be seen in pragmatism, which
does not see any inexorable principle in the flow of history but deals
with it as things unfold. As against that, the Ambedkarites appear to
be living in past, which paradoxically has been cruel to them. The
entire Ambedkarite discourse appears past oriented, oblivious of the
contemporary forces that impeach upon them. Had it been rooted in
present, it would have noted the structural changes befallen the
society, warranting discarding of their anti-Brahman rhetoric and
identitarian obsession. Indeed, the ideological paradoxes are simply
too many to enumerate.

3. Crisis of Leadership

With such a crisscross fragmentation of Dalits and apparent
ideological incoherence, the Dalits face an acute leadership crisis.
In some degree all these crises are mutually reinforcing. Each social
group has numerous factions, with their respective leadership. The
model of leadership in the Ambedkarite dalit movement unfortunately is
rooted in the cultural paradigm of feudalism, quite like any other,
which primarily installs a leader and solidifies around him. It does
not have organic growth through the people, who are agitated over an
issue come together and create their leadership. This model
necessitates maintenance of distance between a leader and his
followers, which entails resources, which are not easy to come from
within Dalits. Therefore most dalit leaderships seek sponsorship of
the resource rich non-Dalit sources. Naturally, such leaders would be
obligated to their donors and do their bidding whenever they want. Of
course, it is not to say that all the leaders rise through the same
process; rather they certainly do not to start with. But at some stage
of their development, they do face this dilemma and inevitably succumb
to the demand of survival, gradually getting deflected from the very
purpose they had begun with. It induces self-seeking tendency among
leaders which sets in a vicious cycle of their degeneration. Today
this self-seeking tribe of leaders has become the greatest hurdle in
any attempt to extricate Dalits from the current morass.

4. Crisis of Politics

Politics has caught up with Dalits in a big way because it is seen as
the means to secure state power. The Ambedkar's dictum that political
power holds the key to all problems is therefore popular among most
Dalits, particularly the upwardly mobile ones. Political power is
simplistically equated with government power and all actions to secure
it become legitimate. It is therefore that one finds all kinds of
political acrobatics of dalit political leaders are condoned by
Dalits. This dictum is skillfully used by the political class to
create vast spaces for themselves to operate. Shiv Sena, which at one
point publicly denigrated Ambedkarite Dalits and even Ambedkar,
distinguishing them from the other Dalits, could be expected to be
just an anathema but no more. Prominent Dalits have entered and exited
Sena without any dent to their image. There were sterile noises
created among the intellectual circles when an alliance was mooted
between Ambedkarite and Shiv Sena forces, summed up in an idiotic
algebraic equation: 'Shiv Shakti+Bhim Shakti=Deshbhakti', but when it
is becoming a reality in Maharashtra, there is no clear disapproval of
it. On the contrary it is given respectability by making it an issue
of discussions in seminars. There is still no clear condemnation of it
from Ambedkarite Dalits in Maharashtra.

BSP's entire politics, in the face of huge contrary data, is resting
on the apologia that political power will automatically mean dalit
emancipation. Politics by default means parliamentary politics in
dalit circles. Other forms of agitational politics have been
completely overshadowed by it. Somehow, except for the early phase of
Ambedkar's struggle, his entire career is mapped by statesmanship and
parliamentary politics. Although, he was intellectually clear about
the limitation of parliamentary politics vis-à-vis the interests of
the majority of people, he could not articulate the alternate
politics. Rather, he appears endorsing it through the Constitution.
His early utterances soon after the adoption of the Constitution that
there would be no need for agitational politics and Dalits should
focus on constitutional means, also reinforced this notion among
people. The experience of the last six decades, of utter
non-representation of the concerns of dalit masses in policy
formulation exposes the pitfalls of the parliamentary politics. Dalits
find no solution in the current paradigm and see no prospects of
changing it.

5. Crisis of Morality

In Ambedkar's schema, morality acquires central place. His insistence
on the necessity of religion as the moral source for society is rooted
in this logic. Buddhism was not only meant to serve as an escape from
the tyranny of Hinduism, but as the catalyst for moral armament of
Dalits and larger society. This entire schema is disputed by many
non-Ambedkarite but paradoxically the people who vehemently called
themselves Ambedkarites have provided loads of proof for the former.
Alas, Buddhism failed to bring in any such change in Dalits. It has
merely become an additional identity marker for an Ambedkarite. It is
no more a doctrine of social morality; Buddhism is used merely as a
cultural identity. There is so much activity among a section of
Buddhists, who argue that Ambedkarism should be equated to Buddhism,
in the sphere of learning Pali, building viharas, singing prayers,
observing rituals and lately going for vipasana. There entire emphasis
is on the individual deliverance through spiritual sublimation of
mind. Their conscience is not hurt to see the misery of their own
brethren around. Rather the kind of Buddhism they follow distances
themselves from the world. The social becomes irrelevant for them.
They could deal with fellow humans as they like and still be
Buddhists. Indeed, that is what is precisely happening in the circles
of upwardly mobile Dalits who overtly profess Buddhism. They would not
have any qualm in indulging in corruption, misusing their position of
power, siding with the degenerate elites, and being ruthless with
common masses. Because their Buddhist vipasana has elevated them above
these mundane matters!

6. Organizational crisis

Dalit organization is characterized by the propensity to split. Dalit,
for all practical purpose has been the name of a caste; it has never
extended to its quasi class limits, encompassing all the untouchable
castes and still the dalit organization has been splintering. Before
consolidating Dalits, the dalit political entrepreneurs have ventured
to create a larger constituency for themselves by combining with other
backward castes as pioneered by Kanshiram. Enthused by his 'bahujan'
strategy, many politicians followed suit variously without
comprehending that the basic factor behind even the BSP's success in
UP has not been the unity of Dalits and others but a large enough
population of a politicised single dalit caste. The proof for this is
provided by the failure of the BSP itself in replicating its success
in UP elsewhere. Notwithstanding the anti-caste posture of the dalit
organizations, they are heavily based on caste identity. It is
forgotten that caste is fundamentally a hierarchy seeking category,
which does not allow unity. The fundamental folly of the dalit
movement is that it has not comprehended that caste cannot be the
category to articulate any radical struggle. The usual reasons cited
for the splintering tendency of the dalit organization are: With
spread of education and material prosperity, Dalit, unlike earlier
times would not accept subordinate position; there is so much
ideological confusion to expect cohesion; there are allurements from
the ruling class parties, there is a disconnect between leaders and
masses, and so on. These reasons, although partly true are not basic
and they rather serve to reinforce the basic tendency of caste to

7. Crisis of Living

The vast majority of Dalits have been facing crisis of living,
particularly since the neoliberal reforms in the country. These
policies have largely created crisis in rural area where almost 88
percent of Dalits live. The dwindling public as well as private
investment in agriculture has drastically affected agricultural
production. The investment deficit in non-farm sector before the
recent launch of the NREGA scheme, creating some jobs in rural areas,
had serious impact on incomes of rural poor. The impact of these
policies could be seen in many a worsening developmental indicator in
respect of poor in general, rural poor in particular and Dalits within
them. Per capita food availability, which had been increasing steadily
over the last six decades has gone down to 1950-levels. It declined
from 186.2 Kg/annum in 1991 to 151.9 Kg/annum in 2001, which is
reflected even in their lesser consumption. The share of agriculture
and allied sector in the national income has been falling from 59
percent to below 17 percent today although the workforce relying on it
has in fact increased in absolute numbers. In case of Dalits, the
incidence of landless has increased during these years, presumably due
to the land grab operations happening all over the country. The public
healthcare system, already poor as it was, has further worsened during
the globalization period. It reflects badly in the health parameters
of poor, dalits hovering on the margins of the state of famine.
Education, the most effective instrument of their emancipation has
been completely commercialized and most Dalits are structurally cut
off from quality education. Reservations, which held hope for Dalits
of getting job, and so motivated them to get educated, has
disappeared, its growth over the decade (1997 to 2007) has been minus
9.6 percent. Barring less than 10 percent Dalits, who could be seen
having come up during the last six decades, for the majority of Dalits
this is a veritable multifaceted crisis.

Causes of the Crises

Given the deep divide among the Ambedkarites, these crises may not be
easily acknowledged because most of them are faced by the dalit masses
who rarely count except for crowding the processions and congregations
referred to above. They have been under the spell of educated urban
Dalits far too long to see the things differently even when they
adversely affected them. As a matter of fact, their concerns which are
verily rooted in the land question were never taken up except for the
symbolic land struggle that took place in Marathwada in 1953 at the
suggestion of none other than Babasaheb Ambedkar and a nationwide
satyagraha of 1964 that happened under the leadership of Dadasaheb
Gaikwad. The entire dalit movement revolved directly or indirectly
around the issue of reservations. As a matter of fact, the upper layer
of Dalits is by and large detached from the dalit masses. Its concern
for them only stem from their aspirations to further thicken itself
through political medium.

As for analyzing the causes, the first response from Dalits would be
to externalize them. Dalits are particularly wont to do that
self-righteously. They have easy solution for every of their ills:
just blame someone, if not Brahman. It is Brahman who deceitfully
devised caste system and enslaved them. Dalits were the great people
but the Brahman cheats reduced them to subhuman level with their
scriptural intrigues. Dalit culture has been far superior, but is
undermined by the hegemonizing Brahman culture. It is not to deny the
intrigues of Brahmins in enslaving Dalits, but merely repeating this
blame externalizing rhetoric tends to blind Dalits to look inwards for
some of their weaknesses too, which is more important from the
viewpoint of their emancipation. For instance if someone played cheat
with them, the complementary truth will be that they were cheated,
which could have been possible only because of some weakness in them.
This perspective only can help them charting better future for
themselves. Externalizing blame might psychologically comfort the
victim but actually it does not help him getting over his weakness in
material term. While introspecting what has gone wrong, the
Ambedkarites would be better off searching their own self for internal
deficiencies before locating external forces responsible for them. In
most cases, the internal deficiency comes handy for the enemy to make
inroads and aggravate it to his advantage. If one considered even the
crises in above enumeration, one can be sure about at least one thing
that Dalits should squarely own up, which is the confusion about their
ideological anchor. Now the source for this confusion needs to be
located within, it surely cannot be externalized. Once noted, the
external forces will surely exploit it. But it should be conceded that
it verily exists within.

Indeed, the proliferation of Ambedkarites can primarily be attributed
to the hazy notion about Ambedkarism. There would be no problem anyone
claiming to be Ambedkarite, if Ambedkarism had been just an
inconsequential creed. But problem with Ambedkarism is that it is the
ideological anchor of a potentially revolutionary class. This basic
fact would keep the ruling classes on alert about Ambedkarism. They
would be on look out for the opportunity to blunt its radical edges.
Even if Ambedkarism was precisely contoured, the adversary class could
strive to blur it so as to deflect the ideological focus of the
masses. But if it is inherently hazy, it makes their task so much
easier. The inroads the right reactionary Sangh Pariwar could make
among Dalits with their samarasata strategy should serve as a good
example. Before we consider the aspect of Ambedkarism, it would be
fruitful to understand its evolution to the present form.

As it stands, the recognition of Babasaheb Ambedkar by the
establishment has passed through a phase of extreme reluctance to
acknowledge his contributions and has reached today to his
deification. Initially there were attempts to belittle him as just a
leader of his own caste, then one of the leaders of Dalits. This phase
ended by early 1970s with the rise of backward castes into powerful
regional parties threatening the monopoly of the national parties
dominated by the traditional dwija castes. The politics became
increasingly competitive and all political parties sought support from
the readily available caste blocks and when not available, tried to
create them. Dalits, already noted as one such block, were wooed by
co-opting their leaders and were weakened as an independent political
force. The value of the cooptation strategy lay in the premise that
leaders were followed by the people. But as fallout of this strategy,
the dalit masses soon got disenchanted with their self-seeking leaders
and ceased to follow them. Such a fragmented mass tends to become
independent and hence too expensive to manage. The ruling classes
needed some means to reconsolidate them. This was achieved by
constructing an Ambedkar icon. On the other side, as the disillusion
with leaders grew, the masses nostalgically leaned towards Babasaheb
Ambedkar, as an iconic figure. These two processes resonated into
creation of Ambedkar icons, sourced from the persona of the historical
Ambedkar but sans complexity and profundity of the latter, so as to
have a mass appeal. It was systematically promoted with flowery
tributes; erecting memorials, facilitating congregations, celebrating
anniversaries and so on in order to bind masses with the icon. Now it
was so much simpler for the ruling classes to play with the sentiments
of the entire dalit mass through these icons. Building Ambedkar
statues and monuments, naming roads, squares, programs and
institutions after him, promoting research, seminars, conferences on
his thoughts, etc. picked up great momentum. BSP's maintenance of its
dalit core through these things may also serve an example.
Commensurate with these simplified icons, the simplistic quips of
Babasaheb Ambedkar served as multiple Ambedkarisms.

The real Ambedkar had only tenuous relation with these icons in use,
inasmuch as the latter picked up just a facet or a part of him. Icon
served in communicating Ambedkar to masses albeit in distorted form.
Ambedkar was complex because he struggled creating his own spaces
during the most dynamic and contentious period of the last century. He
was dealing with the problem of caste for which he did not have much
reference to go by except for the stray attempts by some people. There
was no theorization that he could bank upon and had to create his own
while struggling with his own learning. Theorization moreover was not
his objective; it was mere aid to practical struggle that he waged,
for which he had to organize people and lead them through the cobweb
of issues. Later, he found himself catapulted to the exalted position
of a statesman and at the end taking refuge in Buddha. Even this
superficial view of his life can lead one to see him struggling in
search of the truth and simultaneously evolving in thought and action.
It was therefore that he dismissed consistency as a virtue of an ass.
He was mostly a Deweyan pragmatic who confronted things as they
unfolded. It is indeed difficult to capture a neat philosophy of
Babasaheb Ambedkar because it presents various strands of thoughts
dominating in each phase of his life and struggle. His life and
mission certainly projects a vision of an ideal society based on
liberty, equality and fraternity. But there is no unified system of
thought that explains how this state would be achieved, save for an
article of faith that sees it everywhere. It is clear that he saw
Dalit emancipation as a universal project, an integral part of the
emancipation of mankind and not of a particular people, while working
it out however from particular to universal. In various phases of his
life he emphasized various thoughts in diagnosis of the problem or
indicating solution to it. They do not easily cohere. For instance,
his initial vision was to attempt reforms of the Hindu society. Since
it did not happen, he tried getting special rights for Dalits through
political process. At the end, he emphasized social morality by
embracing Buddhism. If one recounts his writings, they add to these
variants in their emphasis.

It is therefore that some scholars like Upendra Baxi saw many
Ambedkars in his persona. Baxi identified as many as seven Ambedkars
in his discourse. The first Ambedkar is an authentic Dalit who bore
the full brunt of the practices of untouchability. The second Ambedkar
is an exemplar of scholarship. The third Ambedkar is an activist
journalist. The fourth Ambedkar is a pre-Gandhian activist. The fifth
Ambedkar is in a mortal combat with the Mahatma (Gandhi) on the issue
of legislative reservations for the Depressed Classes. The sixth
Ambedkar is the Constitutionist involved in the discourse on transfer
of power and the processes of Constitution-making. The seventh
Ambedkar is a renegade Hindu, not just in the sense of the man who set
aflame the Manusmriti in Mahad in 1927 but in his symbolic statement
on conversion in 1935 and his actual conversion to Buddhism in late
1954. [Upendra Baxi, 'Emancipation and Justice: Babasaheb Ambedkar's
Legacy and Vision' in Upendra Baxi and Bhikhu Parekh (eds.), Crisis
and Change in Contemporary India, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1995,
pp. 124-130.] And this is not the only way; one could have very
different approach to see different Ambedkars.

The complexity at the level of practice gets compounded when one deals
with the thoughts informing it. One who objectively strives to search
a philosophical strand in Ambedkar, finds it extremely difficult
because it appears flowing, evolving. Indeed, Ambedkar thought
incessantly evolved, in search of the truth. As is well known, through
his early socialization, he had belief in moral and spiritual
anchoring for being better human beings. His family belonged to
Kabirpanth, which was the most progressive creed among its likes,
believing in radical equality of humans. When he went to Columbia, he
was greatly impressed by the liberal tradition of the West and to find
a different world that did not have castes. He imbibed much of
liberalism but did not get bound by it. Actually, Ambedkar was
influenced by all the major political traditions of his times, viz.,
liberal, conservative and radical. The unique feature about him is
that he had transcended all these traditions. He was greatly
influenced by the ideas of John Dewey, the pragmatic American, Fabian
and his teacher at Columbia. The Fabian Edwin R. A. Seligman, his Ph D
Guide had considerable impact on his thought. He often quoted Edmund
Burke, the conservative British thinker, quite approvingly. He studied
in London School of Economics (LSE), which was actually founded by the
Fabian society and the founders of Fabianism, Sydney and Beatrice Webb
among them, still being around as professors in LSE. Ambedkar's all
radical materialist ideas can be seen belonging to the Fabian frame.
But at the same time he always believed in the utility of religion as
the moral anchor for the constitution of the society and thus
reflected idealist strand in his thinking. Thus his thoughts span
across the extremes over continuums of thoughts: one, from liberalism
to conservatism to radicalism and two, materialism to idealism. They
reflect prima facie extreme contradictions, which are not easy to
Those who speak easily about Ambedkarism or Ambedkar's philosophy
should understand the complexity underneath in defining them. When
Ambedkar spoke "My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in
three words: liberty, equality and fraternity", he expresses his
philosophical vision, not his philosophy. Philosophy as a critical
enquiry, different from philosophy as wisdom or philosophy as
ideology, needs to be constructed by taking into account many other
things he said and wrote, along with the extension of the same
statement; "My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political
science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the
Buddha." It might appear that Buddhism sums up his philosophy, but
even then it will have to be really constructed to deal with the
contemporary world, a la Buddha and His Dhamma. Without such
construction, to speak of Ambedkarism in amorphous manner is to offer
it to be misused by the vested interests as it is happening today. Any
and everybody can speak of Ambedkarism and become Ambedkarite and do
anything he or she likes. This may be reckoned as the source of our
ideological confusion informing the centrifugal tendency in the

The fluidity of Ambedkarism makes it so much easier for the ruling
classes to exploit it. If we had a well defined Ambedkarism, rooted in
struggle and hence internalized by masses, it would not be amenable
for easy distortion. Ruling classes will do all in their power to
prevent the ruled classes from having a radical philosophy. But they
cannot succeed in such attempts if it is well integrated into peoples'
struggle. They may make attempt for its refutation but cannot think of
distortion. They may try out all strategies in their armor: cooptation
to repression. But if the people are laced with a solid philosophy,
they can defeat all such strategies.

Philosophy that grips people is a live force. It may be backed up by
academic construction but more than that it is shaped and communicated
through the struggles of people for their rights. Any philosophy,
howsoever, it might be propounded by its originators, to be the weapon
in peoples' hand needs to be shaped and reshaped through peoples'
struggle. Ambedkarism, when it was not given in the form of a neat
thought system, particularly needed to be conceived only through Dalit
struggle on their core issues. Ambedkarism could be constructed
through the dialectical contention of peoples' experiences with their
practical struggles and Ambedkar's thoughts. His grand vision
(liberty, equality and fraternity) could be the beacon, the
inspiration for such a project. Ambedkarites have surrendered the
medium of struggle with their excessive obsession and haste for
securing political power. It is one thing to acquire political power
through peoples' struggle and quite another to get it by allying with
the existing powers. The former is earning and the latter is alms. The
former is concrete and the latter is a mirage. For the profile of
Dalits, a huge mass of predominantly landless labourers, suffering
from every conceivable deprivation, the struggle against the power
structure is the only way to secure their rights and build up
political power. Babasaheb Ambedkar's vision was a beacon to inspire
such a struggle and to shape up Ambedkarism through the process of
practical interpretation of his sayings and writings. Moreover,
struggle is the best mode for political education of people, best
fortress to protect its ideological resources from pollution; the best
gym to steel their resolve. Ambedkarites have missed this grammar and
ran after the mirage of political power shunning the struggle. By
putting the horse before the cart, they have allowed an army of petty
power brokers to rise from among them in the garbs of leaders. Once it
happened, these power brokers would use any and everything to remain
in power. This is what precisely happened to Ambedkarites. The masses
would lament about, crib against, be angry with their leaders but
would not know what to do to them. Others would bask in the hopes of
benefits that they possibly bring them.

Another malady the Ambedkarite Dalits face may be called statism, a
belief that state is the epitome of power, a just and an impartial
referee, the benefactor of Dalits. It is not easy to fathom the
sources of this orientation. It is easy to imagine the utterly
powerless people relying on state as a repository of power; at least
because they cannot confront the might of the state in any case. But
it still would not mean missing the character of the state and
surrendering all the strategies to totally depend on it. The state as
per the theory is essentially a coercive instrument in the hands of
the ruling classes, the preserver, a guard of the current order. It
could do many things but within the framework of the present order. It
would not easily do things that defy this order. So, Dalits could only
expect certain palliatives from the state at the maximum. However,
what they need is the change in the structure, which no state would
reconcile with. It warrants change of the state itself, which no state
can stomach. Dalits ought to aim at such a change and strategically
orient themselves towards it. The tactics are conditioned then by this
strategy. But what has happened is that they have whole hog become
statist, the props of the state. They do not see value unless the
state valorizes it. This staism has precipitated into a political
culture of Ambedkarites. The source of this orientation may be located
in Babasaheb Ambedkar, who strategically did not want to antagonize
the colonial state in his basic fight with the hegemonic forces behind
the hindu social order, and rather made use of it wherever possible.
He never denigrated the state as an institution, believed that a
constitutional state was the necessity and contributed to its building
and so on. He ascribed the ills of the state to the vileness of people
who manned the state. But one needs to go beyond these superficial
observations and understand what kind of state he meant by
constitutional state. His conception of the state was such a structure
which was unalterably ordained to guarantee social justice and
oriented to create a society based on liberty, equality and
fraternity. That is why he wanted the economic structure of the
society should be hardcoded into the constitution itself so that it
would not be easily tinkerable by anyone in future. The States and
Minorities alludes to what he had in his mind. But what happened was
totally contrary. It may be easy to lament over this but we must
introspect and see that such a notion was rather not practicable. The
fact that he could not even put forth his views before the
Constitutient Assembly, despite being in the driver's seat, provides
the proof of it. His later statements about the Constitution would add
to this proof.

This has certainly come handy for the opportunist elements to further
their self interests by being adjuncts of the ruling people. They used
Ambedkar's representational logic to fool the people by presenting
their pursuit of power and pelf would be the power of Ambedkarite
masses and the later believed it.

We will leave it at this and go over to see the challenges before us.

Challenges before the Ambedkarites

The foremost challenge before Ambedkarites is to construct Ambedkarism
as a guiding philosophy for the struggle of the dalit masses. Ambedkar
for this exercise is not to be confined with the historical Ambedkar,
he is to be the complete armour for Dalit struggle. The historical
Ambedkar is certainly a major source for constructing but to that we
may have to add the experience of last six decades of struggle. There
is much in Ambedkar that is still profound, that could be used to
forge this armour. Much of it has been mishandled by people, soiled,
distorted, blunted and corroded. We may have to clean it up, repair
it, sharpen it and reconstruct it. One must understand that Ambedkar's
has been a dynamic thinking; any snapshot of it could only be
misleading. Ambedkar's has been a great search because nothing in the
traditional repertoire of philosophies he found useful for the problem
at hand. One cannot say that his search ended with his life. One will
have to fathom the undercurrents behind his search, weigh them out and
construct a viable philosophy. It will have to be extrapolated to deal
with the contemporary problems. In process of this construction we
would precisely come to know the limitations thereof and way to
overcome them.

Such a construction should be mediated by the struggles of Dalits. It
might appear as a chicken and hen syndrome but if we just orient to
our focus to the majority of Dalits, it would appear immediately
doable. Do we focus on the issues of their security of living, either
in the form of land or secure employment; access to education of the
quality as is available in the best of the schools in urban areas;
health care facilities, sanitation, and such other problems? Do we
concern ourselves with the the high incidence of anemia, nutrition
deficiency, stuntedness of Dalit children? If we take up these issues,
the way forward may be found. Our philosophy should be basically
providing for these struggles. It will be enriched in course of actual
struggle; the way the state responds to it, the manner in which
various classes reacts to it. This is the only way to save Ambedkar as
the weapon in peoples' hand. Such an exercise is desirable to block
the processes of fooling the masses.

There are many other challenges which can be met even in parallel with
the above exercise. The challenge is to critically review the dalit
movement. We can ask questions such as: What is the implicit goal of
the dalit movement? Is it annihilation of castes or to be the ruling
caste? If it is to become a ruling caste, is it feasible? Which caste
is to be the ruling caste? Because Dalit is not a caste; it is a quasi
class, a conglomeration of all the erstwhile untouchable castes. If
they were to be the ruling people, how do we construct Dalit? Based on
caste as thus far or something else? If it is the annihilation of
castes, why do we tend to see everything in caste term? Is it possible
to annihilate castes with the organization based on castes? If not
caste, then what could be the basis of the organization? Did we have a
good enough understanding of castes, the obnoxious contrivance of our
dehumanization? What could be the strategy, standing in the present?
What tactics? Who are our friends and who are foes? What would be the
marker for accomplishment of our goal? If we ask these and such other
questions, we would surely come to know what has gone wrong with our
movement and what has been right with it. We would come to know that
we did not even have a clear goal; that much of our discourse is based
on rhetoric and not good understanding; that we did not even
understand caste which has been the fulcrum of our struggle; that we
did not have strategy; did not know our friends and foes; and in
absence of all these we have gone in the opposite
directions—strengthening castes instead of annihilating them.

We could also take stock of who we are fighting for and against? If it
is for Dalits, then where are they? What are their basic concerns -
immediate, medium term and long term? How do we unify these concerns
in strategic terms? What has been the theme of our movement? Does it
reflect the concerns of Dalits that we have found out? If not, how and
wherefrom has it come? How can we correct it? Can we accomplish these
concerns on our own? How can we reformulate the struggle? Who could be
our allies? And so on. These questions will enable us to see that we
have basically got our target wrong. Whereas our Dalits are rural
people, illiterate, linked with land, our struggle was entirely
premised on the educated, urban Dalits, who certainly do not represent
vast dalit masses. How did we miss them? Was there any strategy in
emphasizing reservations? Whose? What did we accomplish through it in
relation to our goal? What corrections need to be effected in the
current scheme? How do we do it?

State has been an important agent in the dalit struggle. In the times
of Babasaheb Ambedkar it was a colonial state that he had decided not
to antagonize in his contention with the caste Hindus. The assumption
was that the state would be an impartial referee. Even then he had
instances of frustration with the state during the struggling times.
Does the same assumption hold good for the post-1947 state? Dalits
believe that the Indian state is based on the Constitution architected
by their Babasaheb. They conveniently forget that he had disowned the
Constitution many times. Just to remind another thing, he had
submitted a memorandum on behalf of the SCF, "States and Minorities",
with a view to indicate necessity of hard-coding economic structure of
the society into the Constitution. At those uncongenial times, he did
not believe that he would reach the Constituent Assembly (CA). But as
it later transpired, he not only had reached there but had become the
chairman of its most important committee – the drafting committee. It
remains as a historical lesson for the future generations that even
through that exalted position; he could not make the Constitution to
imbibe the spirit of the States and Minorities. Only once he did
mention a part of it for CA's consideration but mysteriously hastened
to add that he would not insist upon it. He knew the way the CA was
constituted and that it would be futile to persist with the radical
agenda of States and Minorities. It is a veritable challenge for the
Dalits to understand these and other associated aspects of the
Constitution making to dispel their misconceptions. The state, if they
take a hard look at it, is far bigger oppressor of Dalits than the so
called Manuwadis in civil society.

One of the dominant lacunae of Ambedkarites that experience throws up
is that they are mostly past-oriented. Much of the Ambedkarite
discourse is rooted in the past. They seem to emulate Ambedkar who had
to fathom the sources of caste and its components. Whatever its
motivations may be, they appear relishing questions like who were the
Shudras, who were Dalits? How the caste system originated? How the
Dalits were Buddhists? How all the Hindu structures were Buddhist
viharas? What were the Tirupati or Sabarimala or Vitthal temples? What
Gandhi or Nehru did? The issues about the declining state of Dalits,
that the incidence of landlessness has been increasing among them, or
that the public domain employment has been consistently declining
during the last decade marking thereby the end of net reservations, do
not interest them. How has capitalism shaped the world; do we
understand the changes wrought in by the current paradigm of
globalization? Where do we stand in it? Are we insulated from the
geo-political dynamics? Do we need to understand and connect with
other oppressed people like us elsewhere? Where do we stand in terms
of our accomplishment vis-à-vis the Blacks in the US or Africa? Do we
not have a role in the fight against the ongoing plunder of peoples'
resources by the global capital? And indeed myriad such questions! The
challenge therefore lies in dragging them out from the past to the
present and push them to look at the future. Then only would they
realize what changes have come in the caste system over the last
century since the anti-caste movement began. Then would they realize
that they are still whipping the snake mark, whereas the snake has
already sneaked past them. Then would they realize that the
contemporary reality is that they have to confront and not its past
marks. Then would they realize that entire configuration of forces has
undergone change while they were stuck in the past.

Once the Ambedkarites come into the present, they would automatically
see the challenges before them. They can be likened to a legendary
sleeping giant. When he is woken up, he would shake the world. I for
one, would believe that Ambedkarites have been in trance, stupefied
with wrong ideological doses. Once they woke up to the reality of
their self and surrounding, the things would no more be the same for

Thank you.

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


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