There are mainly four dominant political parties–Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–in Maharashtra. It is conventional to consider the first two parties as secular and the other two as communal and non-secular parties. Today, the dominant electronic media serves the interests of above mentioned parties by allowing political discourse of only these four parties in the news channels, prime times and political debates on the television. Print media does the same by highlighting the news related to these four parties, coming up with articles in the editorial pages discussing generally the secular & non-secular binary, which again falls in the domain of these four parties. But this binary is a myth that television editors and anchors of the news papers, channels are creating in the people’s minds. They will say that BJP and Shiv Sena are non-secular, communal and hindutvawadi parties and if a secular force has to win over communalism, it can happen only through an alliance between parties like NCP and Congress. Now there is an urgent need to look into the proposition which makes NCP and Congress secular parties. This is a simple assumption that stands on a fallacy. If somebody asks the justification for it, journalists and opinion makers have no valid answer in today’s political context.
Picture from Rally in Solapur, 28th september 2018
Because, today’s national leadership of Congress is losing its secular ethos by reacting to the discourses set by the BJP, RSS and not really refuting the politics of BJP, RSS. Rahul Gandhi wearing a Janeu, showcasing himself in the higher rung of the varna system and appeasing savarnas, visiting Hindu temples publically. Congress party’s ideologue Shashi Tharoor comes up with the book ‘Why I am a Hindu’ and justifies his Hindu being. another Congress leader from Mumbai, Sanjay Nirupam, sometimes speaks on television in such a way that the audience feels he is a member of the BJP and not the Congress.
NCP’s case in not different from that of the Congress. Sharad Pawar, who is supremo of NCP, though having consciousness of the non-brahmin movement, is able to maintain good friendship with Narendra Modi in such a fashion that Modi goes on to say Pawar is his political teacher. He maintained public friendship with Shiv Sena’s late leader Bal Thackeray who was staunchly communal all his life. Sharad Pawar has not uttered a single word against Bal Thackeray, condemning his politics. Most of his party leaders have association with Hindu terrorists like Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan. When Shiv Sena decided to withdraw support to the BJP in the Maharashtra assembly, NCP rush to support BJP to maintain the government. Hence it will be harakari of one’s common sense, to call NCP and Congress as parties standing against hindutva politics of BJP-RSS and Shiv Sena.
Neither Congress nor NCP had/has come up with any staunch ideological programmes and agenda which refute the casteist and communal thoughts and actions of RSS and BJP. This has been done always, time to time by Dalit-Bahujan, Ambedkarite and other progressive forces in the state. Today’s political situation in Maharashtra has brought to the focus, this Dalit Bahujan, Ambedkarite force under the strong and able leadership of Prakash Ambedkar. The rise of Prakash Ambedkar in the politics of Maharashtra has broken the illusive binary politics of secular, non-secular played by Cogress-NCP and BJP-Shiv Sena respectively and paved the way for third alternative to the public and gaining wide support across the state. A possible explanation for the wide support for Prakash Ambedkar could be because of two reasons. He is the only leader among the Dalits in Maharashtra who has wide acceptance beyond Dalit communities because of his inclusive and principled politics. Another reason, which is very important to note, is that it has been almost three decades since the people in this state have been experiencing this two party alliance between the four parties. It is because of anti-incumbency against NCP-Congress government, people voted for BJP, Shiv Sena in the 2014 elections. Nevertheless, the same principle of anti-incumbency is going very much against BJP, Shiv Sena now. And people in Maharashtra do not want to opt for the same NCP-Congress again as an alternative. They are seeking something new, unconventional and beyond the rhetoric of these four parties which have done only lip service to the populace for almost three decades. They have done nothing but build political dynasties of particular families, much like feudalism of medieval times appearing in the 21st century India which is independent, democratic and republic in character.
Prakash Ambedkar is trying to blow up this dynastic politics in the state, by assuring representation to those social communities, groups which never got a share in political power. Hence, to bring this deprived groups into power he has come up with political front named, “Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi”/VBA (Deprived Bahujan Front). In Maharashtra there are many communities considered as lower caste in Other Backward Classes (OBC) who never get political representation in the state assembly and hence their problems never get addressed. If the Dhangar (herder) community, though comprising 12 percent of state population, has very minuscule representation among MLAs and is hardly able to reach the Lok Sabha, then think of other communities having much less population. Communities coming under De-notified tribes have also not been represented in the Lok Sabha and are under-represented in the state assembly too. Muslim community in the state is also under-represented in the assembly as well as parliament. Maratha population is said to be 30 percent of the total state population. But within them, only 169 dynastic families have hold over state power, a few manage to have hold over co-operative societies, real estate, land ownership and the rest of the Maratha community, the ‘left out’ majority, lives in destitution. Clubbing all these groups which are ‘politically deprived’ together with the Dalits and Adivasi communities under the banner of ‘VBA’ makes a huge political force to change the equation of power politics in Maharashtra.
In one of his speeches in 2017, Prakash Ambedkar said, “There were many lower caste communities enlisted in caste census of 1931. Now you do not find many of these communities at present. They are exterminated or no more in the world. In the period of 80 years, this small lower caste groups died out of hunger and starvation. Their names are not there in recent caste census of 2011. This is clear-cut case of genocide by the ruling class. Now they have fear that people will question them and take to the courts. This is the reason ruling class is not revealing caste census 2011”.
Who are this people ruling us since 80 years? Are they not accountable for this extermination? Are they not responsible for the destitution of marginal communities? Do established parties like Congress and BJP have an answer to these questions? They do not, because they are the political parties representing the ruling class which is the cause of the extermination of lower caste communities. Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi (VBA) is asking these questions and seeking justice for the marginal communities. VBA is getting huge response in every district of Maharashtra and Prakash Ambedkar is tirelessly making efforts to organize VBA strongly and instil enthusiasm and energy among activists and party workers so that brahmanical elements gets wiped out from power. You will be able to observe newly opened branches of ‘Bhartiya Republican Party Bahujan Mahasangh’ (Bharip) in the cities as well as villages. Print and electronic media is not displaying this narrative because they have other narratives which help in preserving their interests, to tell. Even if they talk about this change, they speak bitterly against it, in the name of criticism that seems like a paid one.
Christophe Jaffrelot, my favorite scholar, wrote an article titled ‘New corruption’ recently in which he has explained how the nexus between businessmen and politicians has undermined state’s independence and promotion of public good. In this article he quotes from a paper, ‘Is there a threat of oligarchy in India?’ written by former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. In this paper, Rajan has explained the phenomenon of how politicians need corrupt businessman to provide funds for the elections as well as to exercise money power over the poor and in reverse, how corrupt businessman need the politicians to get natural recourses cheaply. This is no other than Raghuram Rajan who was former governor of Reserve Bank of India, nation’s bank. Jaffrelot has explained Rajan’s proposition in a more elaborate manner by illustrating with examples like Vijay Mallya and the Adani group.
He goes on to say that, it is not just businessman-politician nexus but higher bureaucracy is also involved in it. Today out of 282 BJP MPs, 143 are businessman turned politicians. Since neo-liberalization, the number of businesspersons in parliament has increased. Now the question arises, will this lobby ever serve the interest of public good? The answer is a simple no. Hence, the idea of people’s representation through MPs in the parliament has been undermined and it has turned merely into representation of the business lobby. This phenomenon is not seen in BJP alone but in Congress as well. Hence the right question to raise is, do these parties listen to the voice of the people or of businessmen? If scholars like Christophe Jaffrelot and Raghuram Rajan say that these parties listen to businessmen, then do these parties have the credibility to go to the public and ask for their votes? Why is the media silent about this issue? Though Jaffrelot has not talked about this in his article, but it can be categorically established that the media is also a part of this businessman-politician nexus and, it is not the ‘duo’ of businessman-politician working together but the but ‘trio’ of businessman-politician-media working together to serve ‘each other’, leaving the general public of this country destitute. Now you would understand why there is no space for VBA in media and if at all there is any, why it is being ‘bitterly opposed’ through editorials and debate shows.
Prakash Ambedkar has identified ‘New Corruption’, which Jaffrelot was talking about, from the very beginning and has been vocal about it. He has termed it as ‘Corporate Corruption’ and in his every speech, he illustrates it to his party workers, activists and to the public, giving reference of Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya, the Rafale deal and alleged involvement of BJP government and Ambani group in it etc.
VBA gathering, image courtesy: e-Prabuddha Bharat
Many critics say that the present rise of Prakash Ambedkar in Maharashtra’s politics is the result of the one-sided attack on peacefully gathered Dalits by Hindutva terrorist organizations at Bhima Koregaon. Though the Bhima Koregoan incident played the role of a catalyst in the emergence of Prakash Ambedkar, it will be very shallow to say that the prominence of Prakash Ambedkar in today’s politics is just because of his stunning leadership of Bhima Koregoan.
Let me tell you that there are very few mass leaders in the whole country to whom people come to listen, having so much of faith in what their leaders say without expectation of any monetary payment. Prakash Ambedkar is one among them. Nowadays, it is a widespread phenomenon that to gather crowds for meetings, political leaders have started paying 500/1000 rupees per individual, usually from the slums. I have been observing this since long that at the time of celebration of ‘Dhammachakra Pravartan Din’ on 14th of October, when Dr. B.R. Ambedkar led the mass conversion to Buddhism, there have been huge assemblies of Buddhist followers in the city of Akola, Amravati, and Chandrapur. This assemblies are organized by Buddhist Society of India (BSI) and as the National Advisor of BSI, Prakash Ambedkar addresses these huge assemblies of millions. However, these events do not appear in the dominant newspapers. What gets space in the newspapers is the ‘Dasara Melawa’ of Shiv Sena. But one needs to understand that Dasara Melawa of Shiv Sena is a reaction to the Buddhist and Ambedkarite gatherings at Deekshabhumi. Poor reactionaries, learning ‘cultural politics’ from us! I do not know since how long, but Prakash Ambedkar has been engaging with such huge masses where he does political scrutiny of the established parties, as well as teaches good conduct in life to the people gathered.
Since 2012, I have been observing Prakash Ambedkar’s politics, his stands on various social issues etc. Now I am of the view that if at all Ambedkarite politics has to spread nationwide, we need leadership like Prakash Ambedkar. I remember well when I was in the Fergusson College, Pune, studying in 12th standard, I bunked my physics practical to attend Prakash Ambedkar’s speech held in Bal Gandharva Theater. Since then I have been scanning his political articulations as a student of politics. It is true that he is heir to the legacy of B.R. Ambedkar. Being his grandson, he gets a certain political aura. But let me say that he never used this aura for his own benefit. He has used it to build a strong Ambedkarite movement. He has preserved well the autonomy of the Ambedkarite movement in Maharashtra, socially as well as politically.
When the RSS backed BJP government came to power in the centre as well as the state, and people could sense the heat of the threat to the constitution, Prakash Ambedkar tirelessly organised the rallies in every nook and corner of Maharashtra and across India under the banner of “Samvidhan Bachao Rally” (Save the Constitution Rally) to bring awareness among the people.
After Rohith Vemula, Ambedkarite student and scholar, was murdered institutionally in the HCU by the BJP, RSS backed elements and by the goons of ABVP, there was a strong reaction against the BJP government, and a strong Ambedkarite Students’ Movement rose after that. Prakash Ambedkar not only stood as an empathizer of the movement, but he actively supported it by giving a call for protest in Mumbai and allowing Dontha Prashanth, leader of Ambedkar Student Association (ASA), to lead the protest.
Vidhan Sabha gherao, Mumbai. Photo courtesy: Sudharak Olwe
In 2016, Ambedkar Bhavan, which was a symbol of Ambedkarite movement in Maharashtra was demolished in Mumbai. State and non-state actors were allegedly involved in the demolition. Though the matter had gone to court, there was a huge demonstration against the culprits who demolished Ambedkar Bhavan. This was the point where a huge consolidation of Dalits of Maharashtra happened and they came under the leadership of Prakash Ambedkar. I, being part of this demonstration, had seen even old women walking in the rain and abusing the culprits of the demolition. Young, old, rural, urban people in huge numbers, without caring about the rain, were showing their anger against the state. It was a rare example in the history of protest. As a photographer, clicking photos from very close, I had experienced the power vibrations emitted by Prakash Ambedkar over there. This is where Prakash Ambedkar came into prominence in Maharashtra’s politics of recent times.
Last year, in Uttar Pradesh, he had done two mass conversion programmes, converting masses into Buddhism from Hinduism. When Chandrashekhar Azad, leader of ‘Bhim Army’ was jailed by the BJP government under National Security Act, Prakash Ambedkar came up with the support for the Bhim Army leader. There were big rallies in Lakhnow and Delhi under his leadership to support the immediate release of Chadrashekhar Azad.
The outburst of anger against the Bhima Koregaon incident in which Hindu fringe organizations attacked dalits and created terror in the state has happened under the leadership of Prakash Ambedkar. When he gave a call for a Maharashtra Bandh, it was not just cities in the Maharashtra but the villages too became a part of bandh. Maharashtra has never experienced such a broadbased and powerful bandh in its history.
When Elgar Parishad happened in Pune, when Dontha Prashanth (student leader from ASA) spoke, he shared an advice he had received from Prakash Ambedkar. He said, “I was advised by Prakash Ambedkar to follow the Republican line of politics, irrespective of success or failure. We don’t know when caste will go from the minds of people, if it goes they will accept us as their leaders but till then we should work tirelessly to transform their attitude and never stop doing politics of Republican line. For us our movement is bigger than politics”
In all above-mentioned incidences, all the elements involved in perpetuation of wrongs are directly or indirectly related to BJP, RSS and other brahmanical fringe groups. Dalits or Ambedkarites are the victims of brahmanical apparatuses and tactics. Nevertheless, they are rejecting this victimhood and coming up with countermeasures, but not with the intention of violence, but to claim justice. Until now Prakash Ambedkar has channelized this agitation with immense political maturity. This idea of rejection of victimhood and claiming of justice with political maturity has galvanized the consciousness of the larger public in Maharashtra beyond Dalits. This act itself is a threat to the established political parties, as they fear that it will turn against them in the election.
This fear among the dominant parties in the state has increased so much since Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of ‘All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’ (AIMIM), wrote a letter to Prakash Ambedkar proposing a formal alliance in the upcoming election in the state, as well as general elections for the Lok Sabha and it was accepted by Prakash Ambedkar. There was so much bashing of this alliance from all over. ‘This alliance is an impure alliance, AIMIM is communal and not an inclusive party’ were the general comments from journalists. Shiv Sena came up with an article saying this is a new pond in the politics of Maharashtra. Some journalists who consider themselves as staunch defenders of secularism started giving lessons saying how Ambedkar rejected Islam and this new move is against the ideas of B.R. Ambedkar etc. How shallow can their arguments get?
First of all this alliance is not just between Dalits and Muslims. It is between two political parties, Bhartiya Republican Party (BHARIP) and AIMIM, where both of them agreed to contest the election under the banner of Vanchit Bahujan Aaghdi (VBA) under the leadership of Prakash Ambedkar. In VBA there are not just Dalits and Muslims exclusively. There are all other communities who are deprived of power. There are 54 and 30 constituencies in the state in which Dalit and Muslims, respectively, are in numbers that could influence results. However, VBA is not claiming only those seats, they are claiming all 288 seats in the state assembly elections.
It will be for the first time that Prakash Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi would share one stage under the banner of VBA and make further strategy to nullify power greedy forces and establish power of the oppressed communities (BAPSA’s term) in the state. This public assembly is organized in the Jabinda ground, in the city of Aurangabad, on 2nd October. The title of this gathering is like “Farmers congregation and huge public assembly”. Left parties in Maharashtra are also criticizing this alliance, reducing it to mere identity politics. The title of the assembly itself is a tight slap for them if they are mocking the alliance.
Demonstration against Ambedkar Bhavan demolition, Mumbai. Photo courtesy: Mahipal Mahamatta
I am hoping that these two powerful leaders will roar against brahmanical modus operandi and warn ‘Manuwadi crooks’ by saying in the lines of Thucidydes, “It may be your interest to be our masters, but how can it be ours to be your slaves?” paving the way to corridors of power for the powerless.
Mahipal Mahamatta is from Maharashtra and currently works in a farm.