Soon after the death of B.R. Ambedkar, the Republican Party of India (RPI), the party which he had imagined as the symbol of Dalit unity in order to achieve the political power, collapsed and fractured into the multiple factions. Dividing the Dalit politicians, the dominant political forces like Congress, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, and National Congress Party (NCP) have disintegrated the other marginal sections of the society into different political groups. With the use of modern hierarchical nature of society, dominant politicians managed to remain at the dominant positions. At the societal level, the discrimination and violence against Dalits continues to happen and on the other, in a political sense, no Ambedkarite political faction has been successful in getting political power in Maharashtra, except winning a few seats here and there. There is a continuous ostracization of the oppressed masses at the political as well as at the social sphere.
If we observe the recent developments in Dalit politics in general and anti-caste politics in particular in Maharashtra, one will note that its face is changing, specifically after the violence of Bhima-Koregaon that took place on 1st January 2018, when Ambedkarites celebrating 200th anniversary of the victory of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon, also known as ‘third Anglo-Maratha war’, were attacked by Brahminical goons. Prakash Ambedkar (a grandson of Dr B.R. Ambedkar) became the voice of the Dalits, thereafter he re-emerged as a strong opposition leader and staunch critic of the present BJP led governmental policies.
The emergence of Vanchit Bahujan Aghaadi (Oppressed Bahujan Front, hereafter VBA), could be seen as the expansion of Bahujan Mahasangh. VBA headed by Prakash Ambedkar, is the assimilation of many small political groups, a timely development in Maharashtra politics. In this “new times” when the ruling government Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) tries to set up its agenda of dominant politics, Prakash Ambedkar became one of the strong assertive forces fighting for the democratic rights of the oppressed sections of society. He was an active voice after Rohith Vemula’s ‘institutional murder’ (17 January 2016) during the ‘Chalo HCU’ (Hyderabad Central University) movement. He had spearheaded the anti-lynching rally “Wake Up Country’s Conscience” in July 2017. Ambedkar was also concerned on the issue of Chandrashekar Azad (Ravan), Una flogging and the way violation of human rights continues. Throughout these political and cultural processes, Prakash Ambedkar remained a supporter of democratic voices.
VBA aims to form the government of the working caste/class communities, of Alutedar and Balutedar. Their efforts in socializing the social seems a step forward in the process of social transformation. As Babasaheb Ambedkar had proposed a society with ‘social democracy’, or in other words, ‘conjoint associate living’. Although Maharashtra state has the legacy of Phule-Shahu Ambedkar social reform movement, yet no party led by Dalit politicians has been able to capture political power. The example of Uttar Pradesh where Kanshiram and his political party Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had captured political power through has also had an impact on the fight for social transformation. In this sense, VBA is trying to get political power with the model of social democracy.
When BJP and Congress try to keep marginalized Dalits and Muslims outside electoral politics, VBAs political alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) tries to bring the Alutedar and Balutedar and the Dalit-Muslims together. As Gopal Guru had observed in his commentary in EPW on “Emergence of Bahujan Mahasangha in Maharashtra” (1993), ‘the Akola pattern of BMS is related to successful mobilization of dalit, OBC, nomadic tribes and Muslim votes for electoral victory of the bahujan candidates. This experiment of bahujan electoral strategies of acquiring power was successful at two levels—ZP and assembly’. Bringing Dalits, Muslims, OBCs and nomadic people into the political fold, Prakash Ambedkar successfully experimented with the strategy in the Akola region of Maharashtra, and this is now known as ‘Akola Pattern’. This could change the political dynamics of the upcoming elections in 2019. However, the question could be raised: how is VBA going to keep the dominant section among the dominated group aside and provide opportunities to the deprived masses?
Ambedkar’s efforts to bring oppressed political groups together–VBA and AIMIM–promises to gain socio-political success when the Hindutva regime tries to dismantle the democratic functioning of the society. As Gopal Guru mentions (1993), VBA “has set before itself, the rather difficult but not impossible task of demobilizing the bahujans from the Hindutva forces, particularly the OBC sections who…back home, are being used by these forces against the dalit masses”. VBA is demobilization of the Bahujan from the Hindutva forces, and having an alliance with AIMIM is also an attempt to break the cultural hegemonic domination of the powerful and invoke the cultural assimilation of the pluralistic approaches.
It seems Prakash Ambedkar and the VBA are putting in intense efforts as they are continuously campaigning through Sabhas, Sammelans. They are also active on Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media portals; at present Prakash Ambedkar has more than 16K Twitter followers. VBA and AIMIM aim to bring victory to the oppressed masses during the upcoming Lok Sabha and state assembly elections in Maharashtra in 2019. Congress and other allied regional parties might make a claim to be the representative of the oppressed masses and support the VBA, but they also might play this political game in order to defeat the VBA candidates, same as Congress did with the Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) and the way they played with B.R. Ambedkar during his lifetime. The dominant groups such as Marathas always remain the vote bank of either Congress, BJP, Shivsena, National Congress Party (NCP). These parties are less likely to give the electoral candidature to the oppressed among the oppressed sections of the society. VBA’s attempt to bring sub-marginal sections into the political fold and its electoral agenda might change the socio-political structure in Maharashtra. VBA’s agenda in its political campaign is: to not just socialize the social but also to politicize the social so that those who always remain on the periphery of the mainstream electoral politics are included.
The VBA’s project of bringing the oppressed masses into the political stream needs to radicalize in such a way that it will also rationalize the faith of the masses into constitutional morality. The replacement of the power relations should not remain a short-term goal of mere achievement of political power, but it should also ensure enough space for the aspirations of the deprived masses.
Prashant Ingole, Doctoral Candidate in Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Gandhinagar.