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Don’t Give Me Red!

Ajith Kumar A S

ajith_kumar_copyGoing straight into the matter, let me confirm that this note is my response to Anand Teltumbde’s article “It’s Not Red Vs Blue” published in Outlook ( Aug 20, 2012). I am sure that it is not a comprehensive critique of the article. But rather I will be sharing some questions that came up in my mind while I read that article. The article seems to be an invitation to both dalits and the left for a creative engagement. The title says “It’s Not Red Vs Blue”. And the explanation of the title is “Ambedkar was more about class than caste, but the Left won’t see it that way”. I think the problem starts there or I would rather say, it is the first thing that started troubling me. Is he trying to say that the only way Marxists and dalits can come together is by reducing Dr Ambedkar’s politics into class? And that the merging of caste into class, the “master category”, that an alliance is possible? If he means that, I feel, this article is a call to the dalits to give up the caste question and merge into class. I felt from the beginning to the end of the article that it tries to convince that Ambedkar was talking more about class than caste so that dalits can move on to Marxism and that Marxists can appropriate Ambedkar.

I am not going into a deep critique of all the arguments, but I would say the basic approach of the article itself is problematic. He is worried about the divergent histories of dalit and the communist movements. He says “Both were born around the same time, spoke for or against the same issues, grew or splintered similarly, and find themselves equally hopeless today.” I am really doubtful about the claim that they “spoke for or against the same issues”. If we read this claim as a continuation of the argument that Ambedkar was speaking more about class doesn’t it mean that dalit movements are unnecessary because the communists were speaking for the same issues? 

Was the history of “divergence” of these movements so simple? I would say no. the divergence was not just in the case of ideologies but also in the case of power relations. Kerala and Bengal would be the greatest example of this. In both states communist movements and dalits movements were never talking the same issues. The communists ruled the state for many years and they weren’t different from any other ruling class. The communist party machinery is itself a dominant structure that has tried to silence the dalits and adivasis. Hence communist movements are one of the dominant structures that dalit movements have to confront politically. Chengara land struggle had clearly exposed the interests of the dominant left in the state. The dalit movements wanted a radical break from the political discourses that prevailed in the state to question caste domination. It had to battle the discourses of caste domination in many forms. Hindutva and the dominant left politics had to be confronted. The Dominant “Malayali” was mainly left liberal secular who hesitated to give up his caste privileges.

How Dr Ambedkar was portrayed in Teltumbde’s article has to be discussed in detail. Here I would express my uneasiness in the way his use of the term “depressed classes” was used to prove that “Ambedkar was more about class”. This I think is a very irresponsible articulation. To best of my knowledge, depressed class wasn’t a term coined by Ambedkar but rather an administrative category till the term “scheduled caste” came into being in 1935 as part of the Government of India Act. Teltumbde seems to suggest that Ambedkar would have turned a Marxist if he hadn’t been influenced by the American Fabian “John Dewey”. This I feel is a disregard to Ambedkar’s contribution. Marxism seems an unavoidable choice in this articulation.

I was wondering why Teltumbde doesn’t ask the communists to address caste instead of making Ambedkar a “Marxist”. I think it is the Marxists who are facing the crisis due to the assertions of different categories Dalits, Muslims, women and sexual minorities in contemporary “Indian subcontinent”.. Now it is the turn of the Marxists to address these questions if they wish any radical alliance with these categories. It is they who have to change.



Ajith Kumar A S is a Dalit musician and writer based in Trivandrum.

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