Once Kanshi Ram Saheb was going somewhere with his colleagues in a car. His health was a bit bad. A colleague, probably wanting to please Saheb, asked ‘Saheb, tell me, what do you want? Whatever you want, I will offer it to you.’ Saheb said, ‘Will you? Really?’. ‘Yes, of course’, he enthusiastically replied. ‘So get me time from somewhere. I don’t have it’, Kanshi Ram ji’s voice was suddenly very deep then. No one could utter a single word after that. There was eerie silence followed by that. The car was still on the road. Kanshi Ram ji was lost in some thoughts or was maybe drowned in some concern for his Bahujan people. He was about 65 years at that time.
Understanding Kanshi Ram ji, is neither difficult nor easy. Imagine a person who came to know about Babasaheb Ambedkar when he was 30 years old. After graduating in science, he was sitting in a government post. An incident (which most people are aware of) happened at DRDO (Pune), where he used to work; and a book written by Babasaheb changed his life. He left his job and family for the sake of the society. He did everything that would strengthen the Bahujan Samaj. It did not matter if he had to eat dry bread by dipping it in water, or had to starve. Or at the age of fifty, if he had to travel 4,200 km on a bicycle just to make people aware; he kept on doing everything he could, he did not stop. Today, in the midst of Brahmin-imperialism, where this country is being compared with the period of Pushyamitra Shunga, we remember Kanshi Ram ji used to challenge the same Brahmin-imperialism by holding its tail in his hand, and drive away its bodyguards.
Kanshi Ram ji was not even the quintessential hero type. There was worry, pain, resentment, dreams of equality and hope in the layers of his mind.
Even before running the movement, his goal was fixed – power; and through power, the establishment of an equal society. He had even done all the neccessary calculations to settle this confusing path.
However, even when he was in Pune, he understood that building the Bahujan samaj is as difficult as fighting brahminism.The biggest drawback that he saw in the Bahujan society was that the Bahujans did not trust each other. He thought if they could raise so many doubts against each other because of money, they could raise fingers against him too. That’s why he vowed not to keep any bank account, not to marry, not to acquire any property, not to bring any of his relatives into politics, never to return to his ancestral home, and kept these promises till his death. In this way, he eliminated every possibility of any finger being raised against him in the future.
But how to start creating a Bahujan Samaj? How to awaken a society? Neither was there money nor people. He said, “I will prepare educated people and with their money, we will reach the poor Bahujans.” BAMCEF was formally formed in 1973. He went everywhere in the next five years and connected bahujans to the mission. When the people and funds to run the movement were accquired, in 1978, BAMCEF was formally announced. But by then Congress was after him. Their goons did not allow BAMCEF activists to work. It took a radical group to answer them in the same manner. After consultation with colleagues, DS4 was formed on 6 December 1981. No government employee was involved in this group; there were mostly relatives of the employees.
Kanshi Ram ji is the epitome of a healthy minded Bahujan. After becoming disillusioned with Maharashtra, when he made Uttar Pradesh the chosen ground of his mission, he used to carry with him three pictures to awaken his society – one of Baba Saheb, the other of Jotiba Phule and the third of Shahuji Maharaj. There used to be a discussion among the people in Uttar Pradesh that – some babu has come from Maharashtra, with three babas, and he talks of the condition of the society with the example of a pen. He was accepted everywhere. The number of his fellow workers kept increasing in each state. The Bahujan perspective worked swiftly among Bahujans. Meetings took place and crowds began gathering in the rallies. Even a laborer started dreaming of his rule. At the behest of Saheb, the caravan started. Almost all of his work and method of work were brand new. He forced VP Singh to implement the Mandal Commission. This task was not easy either. The Boat Club (Delhi) used to hold morchas daily and arrests were made daily, which was equal to the number of backward castes, that is, more than three and a half thousand. But these arrests grew to be more than five thousand and this made the backward section of the society aware and attracted more towards the issue of reservations. Meanwhile, Saheb had come up with new formulae.
Unlike the Chamcha (stooge) type MPs or MLAs who got elected until then, when he prepared his candidates to contest elections in Uttar Pradesh, he said – “you will not be able to reach Parliament with this ticket. This is just a platform ticket. (i.e. the first time your deposit will also be forfeited) Next time you will board the train and only after that will you reach Parliament and the same thing happened. In 1993, the first government of BSP was formed, through in alliance with BJP. The BSP would rule for six months and then the BJP for next six months. When BJP’s turn came, Kanshi Ramji withdrew his support. He was called an opportunist. He accepted this saying that ‘a society which has never got a chance must be opportunistic.’
But the fact is that during these six months under the rule of Mayawati, as Chief Minister, the BSP did a lot of pro-bahujan work .The BJP was angry and was waiting for its turn. Kanshi Ramji didn’t bother about that. There is still a misconception among many people of the Bahujan Samaj about why Saheb had an alliance with a party like BJP. The answer should be found in the statement by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who said that “the alliance with BSP was our biggest mistake.”
Saheb’s mind would reach a decision after juggling with all the calculations. Earlier he wanted to become a king-maker, that is, he wanted to send bahujans to the Parliament. But then the question arose that Kanshi Ram himself does not contest elections. An attempt was made to ridicule Saheb. Kanshi Ram ji felt that it is necessary to fight his election else the morale of the workers will not be raised. So, he decided to contest the elections. In 1988, he contested the first Lok Sabha election from Allahabad and lost to VP Singh. But later won the Lok Sabha elections from Hoshiarpur (Punjab) and Etawah (Uttar Pradesh).
During his time, the spirit of the workers was heightened. During the elections of Bijnor, the painters trained by Kanshi Ram ji used to make elephants on the walls overnight in just two minutes. This work was done silently. When people woke up in the morning, the walls of the entire city were covered in blue elephant pictures. Newspapers wrote – Kanshi Ram has raised ghosts who paint the walls at night and vanish like vampires. It was not just the professional artists but those in high positions also worked and learnt how to paint quickly. Kanshi Ram ji brought the real meaning of the mission to the people and prepared them.
Kanshi Ram ji was a concerned leader of the Bahujan Samaj. He never thought of competing with the other Bahujan leaders. In the BAMCEF convention held in Chandigarh, he called leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan to Karpoori Thakur and many others from the Bahujan society. He was not interested in grabbing anyone’s political ground or competing, but wanted to create an independent Bahujan Manch. Secondly, whichever state he visited first he learnt about the local Bahujan icon, if any, who fought against Brahmanism and addresseed the people to settle their thinking according to those of local role models and continue to carry forward their unfinished mission.
It happened for the first time in history that Phule, Shahu and Ambedkar appeared together in the back-drop of the stage of BSP rallies in Punjab. No one except Saheb could make people aware that there are persecuted people of brahmanism in other states of India who have a history of fighting it. He brought Babasaheb to North India, he got the ‘Periyar Mela’ to Uttar Pradesh. On the other hand, regarding Punjab, he said that, the welfare of the Bahujans of Punjab lies in a Sikh Panthak (Sikh With Sikh Values) government should be formed there. He also met Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and agreed with his struggle and said that his struggle was also against Brahminism but he had the ability to take up arms.
“My society is not ready for this yet. My society does not even get bread two times in a day.”
He made untiring efforts and struggled against brahmanism but he would often disagree with bahujans with narrow mindedness. Many capable colleagues were with him, but still Kanshi Ram ji believed that the whole society would have to stand on its own two feet. He could foresee the future which made him more demanding of the rigor from bahujans. Looking at many people still confused, Kanshi Ram Ji would say sarcastically, ‘I am the leader of unworthy people’. He used to scold those workers who pulled legs of other fellow workers so badly that they would be in tears for hours.
His speeches were full of sarcasm. Talking about a bahujan cycle march, he laughed and said– there was only one man to reach Delhi from Haryana on cycle and that was Aman Kumar Nagra. What actually happened was that the people walking in the cycle caravan had secretly returned after cycling for a few kilometers. Taking a jibe at the MLAs who won 9 seats in Punjab (from BSP), Saheb used to say that ‘they have created a Bahujan Samaj of only three castes (9 MLAs were from three castes only) and now they want Kanshi Ram to give them tickets again.’Saheb went to England and returned from there sad; he sneered at the Bahujan people there, saying – I came to England and felt as if I am sitting in a group of some Chamars from Jalandhar.
Kanshi Ram was actually a mirror of the social and political scenario of post 1947 India. To understand him one needs to look at how he never turned back and never stopped. When BAMCEF broke in 1986, money stopped coming from there. This was a big loss. Saheb started ‘selling’ his speeches. He said, “If I want to be called for a speech, you will have to pay according to my weight.’ He was weighed with coins. It came out to be twelve thousand worth, which means one speech worth rupees Rs.12000. He collected money from speeches and spent it on elections.
The struggle that started from Pune never stopped, but was spreading. As Saheb used to say – “keep throwing down the germs of Bahujanism, I do not know who will get the disease of revolution.” And it proved to be the truth.
The second thing to be understood is that Kanshi Ram forced the Brahminical governments to be accountable. It is important to understand this point. Governments always refrain from addressing questions raised by bahujans. In response, these parties deploy diversions. They bring kamandal politics, or sometimes riot politics, and fully avoid bahujan narrative/discourses. Saheb compelled such parties to answer. The Congress was eager to make a deal with him, while on forums he kept calling Congress Sampnath, and BJP as Nagnath and Leftists as green snakes in green grass. He also said the Janata Dal is like the backside of a horse because you never know when it could kick you.
He had a clear understanding of the Hindu-Muslim binary. He said that like the upper caste hindus, there are upper caste Muslims, who discriminate against Pasmanda Muslims. When Saheb saw that the upper caste Muslims were supporting the upper caste parties to defeat the BSP, he said – From now on I will prepare the people of Pasmanda Muslim society only.
Nowadays, due to the dire current environment which is against bahujan samaj, silenced leaders and agitated youth form their own organizations in the name of Babasaheb and ten to twenty people divide the posts among themselves. They need to learn from the movement of Kanshi Ram ji. Even though the intention of such youth is right, but this path might not bring good results. Before forming any organization, there is a need to work on the ground and create confidence in the people. It is a difficult task but there is no substitute for it. Jotiba Phule also made a mark in the society by performing many works for 25 years before forming the Satyashodhak Samaj in 1873. Babasaheb also worked on many fronts before forming the Indian Labor Party on 15 August 1936. Kanshi Ram Saheb also formed the Bahujan Samaj Party after creating a platform to work among the people and taking risks. This work took 19 years. Particularly, after 1947, when brahmin governments were in power, this wasn’t an easy task at all.
Kanshi Ram ji stayed on the idea of Bahujan autonomy. Bahujan history has seen its peak in the era of Kanshi Ram ji. Those who worked with him say that in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, BSP was progressing so fast and governments could have been formed, which would have a direct impact on the rest of the states.
People started associating themselves with him. His slogans had cast a spell on the people. His resolve for Bahujan autonomy can also be understood from his slogans which other parties could never espouse. There are many slogans like jiski jitni sankhya bhari, utni uski hissedari (The higher the number, the greater his share). No other party could raise such slogans whereas slogan like ‘Garibi Hatao’ could be raised by anyone.
Saheb was not bothered by his clothing. He had two pairs of clothes, which he wore when he was among the people and would travel around the country. Many times, looking at his dirty clothes, someone would wash them. But by the time those clothes were dry, Saheb would have moved on wearing another pair. People would search for him and deliver clothes. He went to Japan and the managers of a hotel where Saheb stayed, seeing Saheb’s torn shoes, offered him shoes, which did not fit him. Many shops were searched but the shoe number of his foot was not found. The managers asked for some time from Saheb to make shoes on order. Saheb thanked them with a smile and returned to India. Saheb didn’t have much time. Saheb was equally careless about his health. The disease of diabetes caught him severely but Saheb would eat sweets by making a mockery of the suggestions given by doctors.
There are many shades of Saheb. How should they be remembered? Surely he will be remembered with all our might. The sense of history in his approach and the art of shaking the present, will make us scratch our thinking. Maybe we have to unlearn a lot. Today we call him the extension of Babasaheb and not the one who follows the line laid by Babasaheb. This difference also has to be understood. We have not only lost our great men, but we have never given much importance to his perfection. We haven’t reached the ‘pain’ Saheb used to carry. We haven’t reached that depth yet . This is the bitter truth. This fact might pierce our ego. When we do not understand Kanshi Ram ji or great heroes like him in their entirety, then there is a lot of space left somewhere. Perhaps the virus of Brahmanism is sitting in the same place, to blunt our decisive battle with its narrative.
Gurinder Azad is a poet, writer, activist. He is also the Editor of Round Table India (Hindi).