Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA-JNU), an independent Ambedkarite students’ organization, is contesting the 2018 JNU Students’ Union elections.This is the fourth election since the inception of BAPSA in 2014, and a steady increase in its consolidated vote share gives us hope that more and more students on campus view it as an alternative political platform. This hope is not temporary or rhetorical; rather, it is political and emotional. An Ambedkarite organization’s work in protecting the interests of the historically neglected sub-subaltern groups on campus is not achieved via the mere romanticization of its existence. It is achieved through the trust it builds among the different sections of the students who are able to align themselves with its ideology and politics. By understanding this immediate need, BAPSA took up the responsibility in journeying towards Begumpura1.
Here, one should not forget that for BAPSA, this responsibility becomes more important and also in a way difficult, given the political culture of the region (North India) the JNU campus is located in. Ignoring this structural location and political culture of the campus and the region, at times, the “twice born” civil society inside JNU and outside, claims that Ambedkarite politics is a mere distracting force in the larger objective of fighting the ABVP and Sangh Parivar. The advent of BAPSA in electoral politics is portrayed as a helping hand in bringing ABVP to power. This argument is made by the so called progressive left groups in campus, including the faculty who side with them. What are the implications of these claims for the larger Ambedkarite movement? Firstly, by making this claim, the so called left forces attempt to ignore and undermine the emancipatory potential and the autonomous political project of Ambedkarite politics. Secondly, this emancipatory potential always challenges and questions brahminical hegemony and this in turn allows the organization to fight against the agents of this brahminical fascism (one such explicit agent is ABVP and also some casteist pseudo-left groups). With conscious and continued debrahmanization, BAPSA in JNU challenges concealed fascist elements at all times. This being the case, it is ironic that the above mentioned groups posit them as mere allies of fascist forces like ABVP and seek to undermine and delegitimize the political existence of Ambedkarite organizations.
BAPSA seeks autonomous political power, no space for Left or Right as savior
Apart from ridiculing and seeking to delegitimize Ambedkarite groups, the left groups also strategically present themselves as saviors of the anti-caste struggle. For example, after the Feb’ 9th incident (from 2016 JNUSU election onwards)2, the rhetoric of fear using slogans such as “vote for left or ABVP would win/fascism would come” by the left-unity groups allowed the larger section of students to understand the condescending and degenerated politics of left unity. In addition to articulating this rhetoric of fear, they believe that (in the words of a senior activist of a left group in the all-organization meeting in February 2016 in which I was present on behalf of BAPSA, a remark for which I had to register my dissent) “now that the campus and we are under threat from the BJP government, we have to bring the caste issue (Rohith Vemula issue, she meant) to the front in attacking this government and ABVP.” The question to be asked here is this: why are left organizations keen to take up the caste issue (or to put it clearly, to appropriate the anti-caste discourse) only to attack ABVP or the Sangh Parivar, and that too only when they face a threat from the Sangh Parivar forces? As we know, for Ambedkarite organizations across the country, this is not the case in dealing with hegemonic Brahmanical tendencies. In the everydayness of their political discourse/formation, they register their staunch opposition and resistance against Brahmanical fascist tendencies not just in the political space but also in socio-cultural spaces. Also, in fighting such tendencies with or without the support of organized groups, people from marginalized groups are even losing their lives.
Given the background of the above-mentioned rhetoric of fear, I would like to raise a few relevant questions that further enable us to go beyond the conventional left vs right binary. This in turn makes it easy to understand the emancipatory potential of Ambedkarite consciousness that offers a strong and constructive critique/struggle against brahmanical fascism. How do the left groups in JNU understand fascism and why do they believe that only via ‘numbers in election’ can one challenge or defeat fascist forces? Although winning JNUSU elections from a long time, why is it that only after the Feb’ 9th incident they started claiming that voting for left will keep away fascism? Other than attributing the factor of BJP’s presence in the centre to the (fear of) rise of ABVP in JNU, do the left groups ever bother to think about the larger socio-cultural aspects that is trying to weaken their presence? Why did AISA lose its confidence to contest alone after the Feb’ 9th incident and why the idea of ‘left unity’ had to come up only after the Feb’ 9th incident? Did the fear of ABVP winning in election bring them together or did the entry of BAPSA in the elections (so as to defeat BAPSA)? Why can’t the left groups welcome any move made by the Ambedkarite organizations to contest elections independently (through which Ambedkarites try to assert their ‘unnoticed-misled-sub(sub)altern’ autonomous political agency)?
By posing the above questions, I am in no way underestimating the political and ideological struggle of left. Instead, I intend to reiterate the importance of Ambedkarite critique of casteist left groups in India and their deep-rooted, hypocritical understanding of the Ambedkarite anti-caste movement. On one hand, they are eager to take up the Dalit cause for their survival, and on the other hand, they ridicule and delegitimize the political formation of the Ambedkarite oppressed sections by labeling them casteist and divisive forces. Ambedkarite activists engaging with SFI especially in HCU, JNU campus and in Kerala too would be aware of this fact.
Coming back to the election process and dealing with the claim that BAPSA’s entry into JNUSU election process would bring ABVP to power, one may say that elections are all about numbers and via this premise it is usually argued that if BAPSA does not contest the elections, their votes in bulk would go to the left organizations and thus ABVP would be defeated. In other words, BAPSA is extracting votes from the traditional vote bank of left, undermining the effort to defeat ABVP/fascism on campus. What if we were to say that BAPSA’s votes are extracted from ABVP’s traditional vote bank? If one says yes, then the conclusion would be that students belonging to Bahujan sections are/were inclined towards ABVP. Such a line of argument would be a fundamental blunder by any group or individual without acknowledging the historical trajectory of the Ambedkarite movement at any place. In JNU one already finds the existence of Ambedkarite anti-caste consciousness via UDSF, BSF, AIBSF and now BAPSA (formed in 2014). These organizations underlined the significance of autonomous political power without falling prey to pseudo-left groups or by getting misled as a vote bank. They have been mobilizing students under the autonomous umbrella called Bahujan. To be aware and reminded of one’s lack of autonomous political power brings core issues of subalternity into focus. This dimension, which BAPSA continues to articulate, is not done only in a rhetorical fashion but constructively by disseminating the ideology of Ambedkarism which aims at emancipating us from the clutches of many forms of slavery. Slavery for different oppressed sections in campus is experienced in the form of direct contact with brahmanical fascist elements or under the influence of the brahmanical left groups which would merely utilize their labour without providing their shareof representation and dignity/self-respect.
BAPSA unmasks Left-Right unity in North Indian, Hindi-Hindu-Savarna politics
In attempting to understand the nature of BAPSA’s struggle against uprooting brahmanical elements like ABVP, one should not ignore the political culture of the region in which the campus is located and its impact on the student politics in JNU. Here, language, religion and caste are three such major categories that largely impact the mobilizing strategies. It is of major significance for a student to be North Indian-Male-Abled-Hindu-Upper Caste-Hindi speaking and organizations valuing/materializing this factor receive more support and legitimacy. In many ways this factor reflects in the JNUSU election process too. By locating ABVP in this background, I would like to mention that, this organization actualizes the aggressiveness of Hinduness primarily reflected in the region and thereby tries to Hinduize the campus.
Now the question one can ask here is whether the Left is ready to challenge ABVP in such circumstances by countering this hegemonic project through the Ambedkarite cultural critique or by debrahminizing the social space of JNU. The answer would be negative, since the left too has to largely survive on upper caste Hindu votes and questioning the cultural aspect of the region or campus space would create antagonism among the same students who support the left. However, Ambedkarites in different campuses including JNU go to any extent in offering a cultural critique against the established and constructed hegemonic festivals or religion as a whole which propagate hatred and inequalities. So, to be precise, the whole basis of the Ambedkarite organizations in challenging the Brahmanical Hindu cultural system across the country gives them more legitimacy and power in directly fighting against forces like ABVP. Ironically, it is the left groups which created the left vs right binary to make the claim that only they can provide an authentic political struggle on campus against the right wing and further propagated that Ambedkarite political formations are not capable of the same.
Recently, by appropriating Ambedkar and his struggle, the Sangh Parivar is more enthusiastic than anyone else in bringing him to the fold of Hinduism so that the Dalits especially can be dragged into the Hindu fold. Similarly, ABVP is also interested in taking up the cause of Dalits and positing Ambedkar as one of their (Hindu) ideologues in JNU. Nobody can disagree with the fact that such erroneous attempts by the Sangh Parivar are questioned and challenged by Ambedkarites (in JNU and across the country) in a constructive manner right from organizing many forms of protests to choosing conversion as a means of emancipation. So, does the left believe in conversion as emancipation? Can left be the primary enemy or threat for the forces like ABVP in campus politics (where the Hindu fabric is not disturbed by the left)? In reality, the right wing is most threatened by and would like to end the political formation of the oppressed and Ambedkarites which is questioning the Hinduness of the region and the campus. By questioning such fascist and inegalitarian tendencies, Ambedkarite organizations seek to emancipate individuals from the clutches of brahmanical fascist elements and rescue them from Social Death.
In this regard, I want to share from my personal experience how BAPSA’s gradual entry into the non-social science schools helped clear certain stereotypes in dealing with the social transformation process. During the JNUSU 2016 election campaign, in which I contested on behalf of BAPSA, we were positively surprised by the support we received from Science School students. It was popularly assumed that science students vote only for ABVP. When we questioned left groups about their lack of confidence in changing the minds of such students and in not offering a constructive critique and alternative by challenging ABVP, they responded that the science students are more religious and are also under the influence of the faculty who are mostly supporters of the Sangh Parivar. However, for BAPSA it was/is possible to win the support of at least a small section among Science students who agree with the ideology of Ambedkarism and the critique it offers to the socio-cultural dimensions of Brahminical-Hinduism.
BAPSA: A conscious choice as Political Alternative
A growing Ambedkarite consciousness and intellectual tradition among students on the JNU campus is leading them to choose BAPSA as their potential and alternative force for defeating ABVP and other brahminical elements. By expanding its social base across different communities (Dalit-Adivasi-OBC-Religious/Sexual Minorities-PwD-Oppressed Nationalities) BAPSA is systematically challenging the right wing brahmanical forces and casteist pseudo-left groups.
To conclude, I would take us all back to what Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar said –“It seems to me that there lies on us a very important duty to see that democracy does not vanish from the earth as the governing principle of human relationship. If we believe in it, we must both be true and loyal to it. We must not only be staunch in our faith in democracy, but we must resolve to see that whatever we do not help the enemies of democracy to uproot the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.” This is what Ambedkarite organizations believe in and are struggling for.
(I want to extend revolutionary greetings to my co-ambedkarites ‘Aditi’ and ‘Nidhin’ for their timely help in providing valid feedback)
1. A poem by Sant Ravidas, http://roundtableindia.co.in/lit-blogs/?p=1968
2. Feb 9th incident, 2016: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/what-really-happened-on-the-night-of-feb-9-a-jnu-student-recounts/story-Hz3USZC3NwntZFwKpF2g1M.html
Manikanta is an M.Phil student in HCU. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org