August 26, 2006

Shiv Sena Dangles Carrot For Dalits

Shiv Sena Dangles Carrot For Dalits

by Ram Puniyani

(26 August 2006)

Last few months have seen the politics in Maharashtra taking an interesting turn. The Ambedkar baiter Shiv Sena has turned 180 degrees and offered to ally with dalits. It has put forward as an attractive formulation, Shiv Shakti+Bhim Shakti=Deshbhakti (Shiv Power+Bhims Power= Patriotism, Shiv Senas clout+ Dalits clout=Patriotism)). Initially it sounded as a big joke as to how can Dalits even think of going along with Shiv Sena, which in the past has been at the forefront of Anti-Dalit tirades in the form of anti-Namantar movement (The agitation for change of name of Marathwada University to Dr. Ambedkar university), Riddles controversy (Shiv Senas opposition to publication of Dr. Ambedkars book Riddles of Hinduism), it had opposed Mandal commission implementation and what have you. But it seems the Shiv Senas heir apparent Uddhav Thackeray, who mooted this idea was not totally shooting in the dark. there are elements in the dalit movement who do favor this alliance.

The coming in of this proposal at precisely this juncture is very curious. It is a time when Shiv Sena, an unshakable ally of BJP, who in turn is the handmaiden of RSS and its Hindu Rashtra project, is going to face the assembly elections. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is trying to break new grounds to come to power next time around in assembly elections, which is not too far. It is also at a time when the most prominent dalit party Bahujan samaj in UP is sitting in the lap of BJP for short-term gains of power. It is also the time when the stalwarts of Sangh Parivar are using Dr. Ambedkar for their Hate propaganda by saying that Amdekar was anti Muslim etc. Can, should these two streams come together for political purpose?

Dalit aspirations took strong political articulation with Dr. Ambedkars struggles for social, economic and political rights of oppressed sections in general and those of dalits in particular. Ambedkars struggles for social justice, Chavdat Talab, Kalram mandir and Manusmiriti burning were the nidus around which the movement crystallized it self. These were supplemented by the formation of Independent labor party, Scheduled Caste Association and later Republican Party. His legacy continued in the struggles for land reforms, land rights. All this was supplemented by the provisions for reservation for dalits, which gave the space to this social group to come forward in the social and political arena of national life.
Dalit panthers came up as the most promising organisation for dalit rights and their path was that of alliance with the other oppressed sections of society. They broadened the definition of dalits to include workers, minorities, adivasis and women. This indicated the line of allaince to be followed. This last concerted effort fell to pieces with different leaders of dalit movement getting co-opted by one or the other political power or personality. Many of them displayed the power hunger and were ready to offer their services for the crumbs of power thrown by the upper caste / class formations. The worst example of this came with Mayawati allying
with BJP to came to power as the chief minister of UP.
This shortsighted move ensured that Dalits have to become junior partners of the grand Hindutva project of Hindu rashtra. She campaigned for the butcher of Gujarat Narendra Modi and is now preparing to strike a long-term alliance with BJP for the parliamentary elections. Meanwhile the position of dalits, nationwide is declining vis a vis employment, education and land holdings. The changes brought in by globalization have marginalized the dalits to the subaltern existence. The plight of dalit movement can best be gauzed by the recent Gujarat carnage where dalits were mobilized in large number by Hindutva leadership to carry on the anti-Muslim carnage.

Shiv Sena came up in Mumbai in the 1970s on the principle of Sons of the soil. Its first major target was the South Indians. It simultaneously attacked the left trade unions and helped the managements to crush the rights of workers. Its unions became handmaiden of managements and colluded with them to wipe out the genuine aspirations of workers. Later it turned its attention against Gujaratis and North Indians. With the implementation of Mandal commission it found itself in a strange position. It opposed Mandal tooth and nail. It was the time it allied with BJP and accepted the goal of Hindu Rashtra and the politics of Hidutva. It gloated over the fact that if Babri was demolished by Shiv Sainiks, it is a matter of pride for the party. It went on to lead the anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai in 92-93. It has been firm ally of BJP since than and has been talking of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra. Its mouthpiece Saamna has the byline, promoter of radical Hindutva. As a junior partner of Hindu Rashtra project, Shiv Sena is basically against the process of caste and gender rights, against the concept of social and gender equality. It targets against the minorities in a more aggressive and menacing way. It has ruled the streets of Mumbai by sheer hooliganism and patronage of the powers that be from behind the scene.

What is its political vision and goal? What can it deliver for the Dalit
masses, the Bhim Shakti? Today Dalit movement is in the throes of crisis as never before. The challenges of last two decades have put immense pressure on the Dalit masses. The closure of mills, factories have affected their employment. The Govt and public sector jobs are no more available with the various sorts of ceilings and impact of globalization. The private sector does not much encourage the employment of Dalits for various reasons. And of course there is no provision of reservations in the private sector. The land reforms are stagnant, barring few pockets the land issue dogs the Dalit masses and rural poverty is on the rise, with Dalits as the main victims.

The Hindutva movement in a way came to tide over the social crisis posed by the new economic needs of the elite and upper castes. It began with anti-Dalit violence in Gujarat and later changed tracks to target the Muslims and Christians. In the process it did come up with the brilliant strategy of co-opting an upwardly mobile section of Dalits, and on the other came to recruit the poor Dalit masses as its foot soldiers, as witnessed in Gujarat carnage. Cooption of Mayawatis and Bangaru Laxmans for BJP has been the greatest achievement of Hindutva politics. To co-opt the real victim and to unleash it upon the imaginary outer enemy, Muslims in this case, is a clever move on the part of Hindutva. While the Sangh Parivar is playing its strategy in a deft and clever manner, the dalit leadership, gripped by myopia has become easy pray for the designs of the politics of status quo. Vinay Katiyar concoction that Ambedkar was against Muslims symbolizes the fusion of the two trends of RSS politics. On one hand it aims to appropriate Dalit symbols on the other it aims to use it against the outer enemy. The real idea being to sustain an atmosphere of Hate and social terror where the issues of social transformation are stalled in the din of emotional issues like Ram Temple or Godhra.

Dalit leadership is in the quandary. Mayawatis, sounding very successful in coming to illusions of power is the landmark achievement for Hindutva politics. Today what dalits need is not a short-term compromise with the forces of status quo or the ones opposing social transformation. Dalit aspirations are for jobs, land and security. Shiv Sena and its elder brother, BJP, are precisely opposed to these agendas of Dalit movement.

A section of Dalit activists frustrated by the lack of unity and purpose of their leadership are finding the bait put up by Shiv Sena as too tempting. Not many of them remember that Shiv Sena was the most vocal opponent of the writings of Ambedkar, not many will think that it is not just a matter of opposing Ambedkars writings but also the deeper game of RSS, which wants to reinstall the Brahminical values of caste and gender hierarchy in the modern garb. While there was a time when Dr. Ambedkar could strongly condemn all the values of Brahminical Hinduism, tragically today most of the Dalit leadership has deviated away from the path shown by Dr. Ambedkar, the path of Learn, Organize and Struggle. If Shiv Sena can succeed in its attempt to ally with Dalits, in a way, the circle of opportunist politics will be complete. It is just fortunate that none of the major Dalit leaders have fallen for the bait so far. Today the choices in front of this movement are clear and obvious. One, to come back to basics-employment, land, education on one hand and falling trap to short term power and their by subordinating to the oppressive politics of Hidnutva a la Mayawati. On one hand Ambedkars principals of upholding the principles for long terms goals and on the other lure of short-term power.

The choice on the one hand is to ally with the weaker sections for getting the Rights and on the other to lick the carrots of power thrown by the upper/caste/elite formations. One hopes that Shiv Senas carrot will dry up while in the dangled position and the fragmented Dalit leadership will come together to bring back the movement to its proper tracks.