Referring to a recent article “Congress, Dalits and elections” by Ms. Gail Omvedt in the Hindu, the Dalits need to think and take some hard decisions: Empowering of Dalit-Bahujans was started by Mahatma Phule in mid nineteenth century, furthered by his widow Sawitribai, later supported by Rajarshi Shahu in his state and lastly implemented by Dr. Ambedkar in whole of India.
This revolution attracted the attention of the world scholars towards the movement of the “Sudras ati-shudras” of Phule and who are called Bahujans in todays terminology. Ms. Gail Omvedt is one of such American scholars who came to India to study the movement, and ultimately made India her home. She wrote many books and articles on Bahujan problems and generally has a good reputation as a well known scholar on Phule Ambedkar and Dalit Bahujan matters, and has good respect among the educated Dalit Bahujans.
I am also one of her admirers. But I feel this time her advice is rather bizarre. She had, earlier also, advised the Dalits to vote for BSP in UP and to Congress in M.P, on the basis of the analysis of previous election results. She does it again in a rather round about way. This time it is based of “Bhopal Declaration”, document prepared by Dalit bureaucrats for Madhya Pradesh Government. I thought then and I think now that, her advice as rather mischievous attempt to downgrade the working of BSP in the name of being the friends of Dalits. That time also I had protested and criticized her saying, the BSP should be voted for, even in M.P.
I had argued, firstly if Dalits do not vote for BSP in M.P. because, in past elections, there was no success, there will never be any success. Secondly, BSP does not always contest for winning, first it contests for registering the presence of the party, then it contests for defeating the party in position, and lastly the situation comes for fighting for victory and forming the government. By this strategy only, BSP has become the third largest National Party in India, and hopes to reach the top. I think that winning situation has arisen in at least two states now, these being Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
Though she has blamed the policies of Congress high command, and criticized Kashmir conclave, in this beautifully worded article, she has praised, in vain, the “Bhopal Declaration” as if it has brought the paradise from heavens for the benefit of Dalits. But it is an “Empty Agenda”, as she herself labels it. It has not given any substantial contracts or U.S. Scholarships or lands, as contemplated, to the Dalits. Even Ms. Gail does not say that such benefits are actually given. All that has happened is some Dalit bureaucrats and journalists, got a free trip to U.S. along with Chief Minister Digvijay Singh at Government expense. Some “experts” and “invitees” were also involved in it. All received nice grand hospitality at Bhopal, but not a single Dalit is tangibly benefited as far as I know. And “the right of every Dalit to a fair share in resources, power and wealth” remained an empty dream as ever. If I am wrong, I stand to correct myself.
It is not my intention to analyze the “Bhopal Declaration” at this time; may be some other time. Now only I wish to register my initial reactions. It is a very witty, humorous and pitiably funny Declaration. Therein, Shri Digvijay Singh as the President of the “Task Force” (or may we call it farce) requests, demands, recommends, suggests and declares certain things to himself as the Chief Minister. He also addresses all people from United Nations to Prime Minister of India to Trading and Business community to the “State Government” — meaning himself again!. He does not say, he did such and such thing for empowering Dalit Bahujans, he only says such and such things should be done — of course by others. It is most pitiable document of Digvijay Singh’ss failure in empowering the Dalits. It is greater pity that the scholar of the stature of Ms. Gail recommends to vote for Congress in M.P and for BSP in other states. That reminds one of the famous words of great Acharya Bhishma of the Mahabharata fame.
The Congress at the Srinagar conclave vociferously proclaimed its secularism, condemned what is known as its “soft Hindutva”, praised arrest of Praveen Togadia and promised, as usual rut, employment opportunities. But it also promised reservation “for the poor among the upper castes”, thus making “mockery” of principle behind giving reservations by the founding fathers of the Constitution. Naturally, as Ms. Gail says, the Dalits feel the Congress, has nothing to offer. She is right in saying that, Dalits supporting the BSP, and those influenced by Dr. Ambedkar’s life-long struggle with Gandhi and his Congress feel “Congress is the most dangerous enemy,” and when asked about BJP, say, “Oh, we can handle them!”
It is also true as she says, the Congress, has been dangerous because it — in her own words — “looks seductively progressive without in reality being so”. What she fails to tell us is that the Dalit Bahujans have not forgotten and can never forgive Gandhi for predating the Dalit Rights given by the British by coercive fast leading to Poona Pact of 1932. Therefore, the sagacious elements among the Dalit Bahujans are not at all disturbed about Ms. Mayawati’s under-standing with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, as Ms. Gail says.
One can not, however, agree with her when she says the castes behind Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ajit Singh are direct enemies of Dalits. Many Ambedkarites, like me, feel that OBCs are “natural” allies of Dalits. Only they need proper awakening, which is going on endlessly. When that takes effect, one can be pretty sure that the castes behind these leaders will desert them, and as the vote of Congress was brought down by BSP, during 1996 Parliamentary elections, from whopping 48 percent to 8 percent and made Congress to loose the deposit on all the 85 seats — though BSP got only 6 seats — , similar fate will befall Mulayam Singh and Ajit Singh.
Ms. Gail, rightly calls reservation to the “poor” among upper castes as “mockery”, calls Congress’s secular policy is empty, and disapproves of Congress’s programme opposing cow slaughter, and yet likes Digvijay Singh’s steps to “empower low castes” and certifies that his image as a “sanatani Hindu” can be wiped out by these steps, though she herself claims that his “Promising employment is empty”. Then she declares, “The Congress, as a whole, has totally failed to address the issue of caste discrimination in any new and significant form”. Even then, rather paradoxically, she advises Dalits to vote for Congress in Madhya Pradesh, as if M.P. Congress is fallen from heaven and is not part of Indian Congress or Digvijay Singh has guts to go against Congress High Command.
Ms. Gail’s apprehensions are that, with the increasing Hindutva power nationally — Dalits only getting partial access to power — the BSP may turn into “simply follower” of Hindutvavadi agenda. This can not be substantiated by the known record of last three terms rule of Ms. Mayawati. She is ruling as CM of UP and will continue to rule, as long as she does, on the “danke ki chot”, never abrogating Dalit rights. Mayawati and Kanshiram have always maintained that their understanding is a purely temporary arrangement — necessitated by political compulsions — is restricted to UP alone and will continue only as long as it benefits the Bahujans. The understanding with BJP is purely short-term and based on tactical strategy, which Ms. Gail also justifies. For Dalit Bahujans in general, and BSP in particular, as is well known to all, both Congress and BJP are basically hostile parties and both are equally “dangerous” as serpents!. Terms of “class” like Left, Right, Center and its various shades really do not apply to these parties in caste ridden India, where the Caste and not the Class rules.
Ms. Gail ironically feels, the BSP lacks a political programme “aside from that of empowerment”. What programme does a ruler need? Once you become a Ruler, you are the master of situation. As has been declared by Kanshiram time and again that BSP has one point agenda “to make the Bahujan Samaj the Rulers of the country”. What more does one need? And BSP has competent leadership to carry it out, as Ms. Gail agrees that Ms. Mayawati is a “daring and assertive woman and not only a Dalit political leader”. It is better to see what BSP has DONE rather seeing a piece of paper declaring what SHOULD be done.
The image of the Congress, as a party fighting for independence or the party of Gandhi and Nehru has been dimmed by its image of “the Original Brahminic Party”, as Ms. Gail says, and unless it becomes also “the party of Ambedkar and Phule, it will never succeed in winning back its hold among the Dalits of the country”. Everybody knows Congress will NEVER become party of Ambedkar and Phule. She admits all this but curiously enough, exonerates Madhya Pradesh Congress Government from all the ills of Congress. Then the bottom line comes as an ‘about turn’. After narrating all the short-comings of Congress, the “Operative Part” of her article says:
“The option for Dalits and other anti-caste radicals in the upcoming elections, then, seem clear: support those parties which support their cause. At present, this means supporting the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, and opposing it elsewhere so long as there is a general refusal to adopt the Bhopal Declaration policies.”
This is the reversal of all she has said before. Without attaching any motives to her advice, we respectfully beg to differ from her advice. One must vote for BSP even if it is ones single vote in the machine. If the Congress is useless for Dalits elsewhere, it is equally useless in Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal Declaration can not be anything but fake, empty and hollow and can not exonerate the Madhya Pradesh Government from the crimes of Congress. For the Dalit Bahujans, the Congress is the Predator of Dalit Human Rights and Gandhi the villain of Poona Pact and all Dalits feel that the Congress leaders of today must apologize for the acts of Gandhi. And this applies to Madhya Pradesh Congress, as well.
In the backdrop of the so called “Bhopal Declaration”, about two years ago, what exactly has been achieved in Madhya Pradesh is not clearly mentioned even by the supporters of the Declaration. Is it some thing that has really to be examined. In any case, when we have got a role model, which is tried, tested and found useful for empowering the Dalit masses, in the form of Mayawati’s achievements in Uttar Pradesh, do we really need to think about the “Bhopal Declaration” as a “Model”?
During her first and second tenure of three and half and six months, what Mayawati did and how she accomplished six years work in six months is well documented. Let us take a look at what Mayawati achieved during last one year rule of coalition — not an absolute rule. The first problem for the Dalits in this caste ridden milieu Indian is the question of safety to life and property. Mayawati has sternly dealt with this aspect and the “Crimes against Dalits” have come down in whopping 72 per cent. The number of fire arms seized by police from anti social elements runs in thousands. Dalits are now living a comparatively fearless life, unlike other states of India.
The Rule of Reservation is applied in the appointment of Police Station In-Charge Officers, with the idea of safeguarding the life and prestige of Dalits. Digvijay Singh only complains they do not have enough police staff.
Never in the Congress Rule in U.P., for years together, there were more than two Dalit Collectors. When BSP came in power, there are 42 Collectors. And there are 42 S.S.Ps. The D.G.P., the senior most officer in Police Department with 4 I.G.Ps, and 4 Additional I.G.Ps., 8 DIGs and 62 SSPs under him, is also a Dalit. What is the situation in Madhya Pradesh, can some body enlighten us. These postings are within the purview of the Chief Ministers. There can not be a better practical method than to give chance to Dalits on these posts, as a strong way of empowering Dalits. Has any other State, including Maharashtra with a Dalit Chief Minister, has any such record? One would really like to know, if such situation exists in any other state. If it does, that Chief Minister deserves the kudos. It certainly could not be Digvijay Singh, who only keeps on lamenting and does nothing because of absence of political will.
Dalits have been the victims of policy of “No land to Dalits”. Dalits were not supposed to hold any land with property rights, apart from what in our area is called the “vatan” lands. That has been the tradition for centuries. Since independence, various Governments gave some land “pattas” to Dalits. But the lands were not available on site in actual finding, and if they existed they were being tilled by some body else. All such lands were restored by Mayawati to these people.
New lands were allotted and the number of “pattas” were issued and physical possession of the land was given to 89 thousand landless Dalits, and 28,084 people were given actual possession who had already been allotted land before.
During the current year, 12,000 villages — the “Ambedkar Grams”, — with more than 50% Dalits population, the facilities are nearly complete and what ever is missing has been ordered to be completed within one month. This is in addition to the older schemes of earlier regimes. For future, 25 new villages in each MLA segment, have been decided to be added to the scheme each year. This comes to more than about 10,000 villages per year.
Grabbing the land of Dalits, on the point of gun is an everyday experience all over India and was more so in U.P. Provisions were made to punish the culprits trying to grab the Dalit lands, a great deterrent for the “land mafia”. Fines up to Rs. 15,000/- are ordered, and jail sentences ordered.
The construction by Dalits on Gram-Sabhas lands is regularized and ownership conferred on them.
Schemes for Empowerment of students are many, and are put in action with great fervor. Target number is 87,23,000, out of which 82,31,347 are actually benefited up till now.
Marriage grants for Dalit girls and Illness grants for Dalit patients disbursed till now amount to Rs. 8,07,58,000/-
These are some of the figures those are published. There are many more things to talk about. The progress made by U.P. in the field of Dalit empowerment is to be seen to be believed. Most of the people either believe what people like Tej Singh and Udit Raj say, or what is printed in biased hostile media both electronic and print, and go on blaming Mayawati. Their main complaint is the understanding with BJP, and they ignore what has been achieved without in anyway jeopardizing the Dalit Bahujan prestige. With the same intention, some fifteen Dalit youths of non-BSP parties from Vidarbha visited Uttar Pradesh to find faults with U.P. scenario. When they returned, however, they were full of praise for BSP.
With all these facts taken in consideration together, the advice to vote for Congress in Madhya Pradesh, should be considered as an ill advice, specially by a sympathizer of Dalit Bahujans.
Dr. K. Jamanadas