Whither Parliamentary Democracy In India?

03/07/2011

P R Dubhashi

Fasts of Anna Hazare regarding the passing of the Lokpal Bill and Baba Ramdev against corruption and events that followed have raised fundamental questions regarding the functioning of parliamentary democracy in India. The 97-hour fast by Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar which evoked huge response of people in Delhi and all over the country, compelled the government to concede his demand to constitute a joint committee of ‘Ministers and members of Civil Society’ to formulate a draft by the end of June 30 on the basis of the draft formulated by the government and the one by the civil society. After some initial smooth sailing, serious differences have arisen, as could only be expected, regarding different issues such as the inclusion of the Prime Minister and judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal. While this was going on, Baba Ramdev began his fast at Ramlila Ground (after permission was denied to hold it at Jantar Mantar) regarding the wider issue of elimination of corruption and black money. To dissuade the Baba from embarking on the fast, four Ministers of the Union Government, headed by no less than Pranab Mukherji, went to the airport to meet him but the Baba was adamant on his fast. Thousands of his followers, young and old, women and children, assembled in the huge pandal specially erected for the purpose at Ramlila Ground to fast in sympathy. The exchanges between the two parties nevertheless continued. When Kapil Sibal, the Minister negotiating with the Baba, publicly announced that the Baba had agreed to give up ‘tapa’ after three days, the Baba felt he was compromised and exposed, while his followers were still coming from all over the country to join the fast. The Baba immediately hardened his stand and announced that he would continue his fast till the government issued an ordinance to declare as ‘public asset’ the black money stashed abroad in the overseas banks. The government accused the Baba of betrayal. Past midnight on June 4, 2011, the police of the Rapid Action Force of the State Government, armed with teargas and lathi, swooped on the sleeping congregation while trying to arrest the Baba. A drama followed, the Baba escaped from the Pandal but to the relief of the government was apprehend by the Delhi Police while running away surrounded by his female followers himself disguised in female dress. More important, sleeping men were rudely woken up by police who burst teargas shells and resorted to lathi charge even on women and children. As many as 70 injured persons were admitted to hospitals and some to intensive care units. A particularly bad case was Rajbala who was paralysed. The nocturnal crackdown was condemned not only by the Baba’s followers but people all over the country. L.K. Advani, the leader of the BJP, said that the crackdown reminded of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by General Dyer during the coloneal days. Anna Hazare and ‘Civil Society’ activists condemned the crack-down as ‘kalank’, a blot on humanity and democracy. Shanti Bhushan, the senior lawyer, demanded that the Union Government should resign. Government representatives tried to defend the action. First Sibal claimed that none was injured. But when seventy injured persons were admitted in hospitals his claim was found to be not correct. After waiting for a day following the crackdown, the Prime Minister said that the incident was ‘unfortunate’ but in the situation that developed, it was ‘unavoidable’. The Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, took a press conference even to declare that the crackdown was necessary for the maintenance of ‘Law and Order’. None was convinced. When the crackdown was described as a panicky action of a weak vacillating government, it was asserted that the plan for removing the Baba, if necessary by force, was already decided upon. This was proof enough that the crackdown was not a reaction to a situation but a premeditated coldblooded assault on defence-less people. Then there was an attempt to malign the Baba’s fast as instigated by the RSS which Rahul Gandhi, in a contro-versial statement, had equated with SIMI! Chidambaram cited an intelligence report to support the allegation. The presence of the ‘notorious’ Sadhvi Rithambhara on the dais with Ramdev Baba was a further proof of the ‘communal’ nature of the Baba’s fast. The govern-ment was not prepared to accept that the fight against corruption and blackmarket cannot be curbed by such allegations. Actually only a few days earlier the Ministers had gone to the airport to receive the Baba despite the knowledge of the intelligence report. The Congress party spokesman first tried to distance itself from the government and objected to the senior Ministers going to the airport to receive the Baba giving the impression that the party and government were working at cross-purposes. Why were the government Ministers trying to placate Baba? They had found Anna a hard nut to crack. They felt that the egotist Baba would be more manageable and vulnerable. When this did not happen within the time limit contemplated by the government they suddenly reversed the gear and took aggressive action in the form of the nocturnal crackdown. Ramdev Baba continued his fast even after he was shifted by the government from Ramlila Ground to Patanjali Ashram in Haridwar. After days of fasting his health seriously deteriorated and he had to be shifted by the BJP State Government to Dehradun Hospital (the Union Government had washed off its hands once he was shifted to Patanjali Ashram). Even in hospital, Baba continued his fast. It was left to Shri Shri Ravi Shankar to persuade him to give up his fast after nine days. It was stated on behalf of the Baba that his fight against black money would continue. In the meanwhile Digvijay Singh, the General Secretary of the Congress party, publicly accused the Baba of money-laundering and demanded that the vast accumulation of wealth exceeding Rs 1000 crores should be investigated. Even while he was fasting, the Baba publicly announced details of his wealth. Anna was also subjected to maligning by Digvijay who alleged of his association with the RSS in view of the fact that the picture of Hindmata displayed in course of his fast was similar to that of the RSS. Touched to the quick, Anna angrily stated that Digvijay should be sent to a lunatic asylum. He wrote to Sonia Gandhi complaining about the smear campaign against him and demanded evidence to prove his association with the RSS. The public discourse is obviously getting shriller and shriller. After surrendering to Anna’s demand of a joint committee and placating the Baba by four Ministers going to the airport, the Congress leaders and UPA Government have taken a hard line. In an interview at Kolkata, Pranab Mukherjee stated that the civil society movement is undermining democracy and the elected government at the Centre. Parliament is supreme to pass the law and a handful ‘civil society’ activists cannot dictate terms to a government which has the confidence of Parliament. (The Times of India, June 13, 2011) The emerging political scenario is worrisome. When the country is facing major challenges like terrorism, violent Maoist movement, resistance to land acquisition by people, deteriorating law and order situation, hostile Chinese action on the northern Himalayan border and major corruption scandals, leading to loss of confidence of foreign investors, instead of taking a united national stand in firmly dealing with these problems, the nation is engulfed in intensive conflicts. The future of the joint committee on Lokpal seems to be dismal. No consensus is likely to emerge. The government may even decide to wind up the work of the committee. And even if a ‘final’ draft would be ready by June and introduced in Parliament, the passing of the Bill is likely to be no smooth sailing and may not be passed by August 15, the date by which Anna insists it should be passed or else he would again go on fast. The government would not allow the kind of response Anna’s fast had at Jantar Mantar. The government’s attempt to communalise the Baba’s movement against corruption was an attempt to drive a wedge between the communal Baba and the ‘Gandhian’ Anna. The civil society activists were earlier not enthusiastic about the Baba but once the nocturnal crackdown on the defenceless men, women and children took place, the two sides forgot the differences and came closer to each other. The civil society activists used strongest words to condemn the crackdown. The BJP declared that the government was bringing back the Emergency days and the party would organise nationwide protests against corruption, blackmarketing and suppression of fundamental rights of the citizens to express opinion through peaceful demonstrations. The Congress party in reply decided to organise a national movement against fundamentalism and communalism embodied in the BJP, RSS and allied organisations. But for the government more serious than the challenges of the BJP, Leftist parties and regional parties like the SP which spoke against the noctural crackdown on a peaceful assembly of people, was the 15 days notice issued by the Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court to the Union Home Secretary, Delhi State Government and the Delhi Commissioner of Police to explain the crackdown. Chidambaram has blithely stated that the Delhi Police will file the affidavit forgetting that the Supreme Court is not likely to be satisfied with the explanation of the State Government and will also hold the Union Home Ministry, if not the Union Home Minister and the Prime Minister themselves, accountable. Law and Order POLITICIANS in power are often inclined to pass on the buck on ‘law and order’ matters to the police forgetting that the issues behind any serious law and order situation have to be handled well on time by the politicians in power and the civil servants who work under them. In the present case the issues of corruption and black economy and the passing of the Lokpal Bill have been long neglected and not tackled with any sense of urgency and sincerity. The most glaring instance of this was the fact that the Lokpal Bill has been pending since 1968, that is, over the last fortytwo years. The mega scams relating to the 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Society apartment in Mumbai, were attributed to politicians in power like Union Ministers and Chief Ministers. Even after the spectrum scam was exposed by the CAG, Kapil Sibal, in additional charge of the Telecommuni-cation Ministry, brazenly stated that there was no loss to the public exchequer and attacked the CAG for giving a wrong report alleging a presumptive loss of Rs 1,76,000 crores to the public exchequer. The Prime Minister defended Minister Raja responsible for the 2G scam for a period of over two years. Suresh Kalmadi was allowed to run the show of the Commonwealth Games despite the fact that he was accused in corrupt deals six months before the Games. The media gave wide publicity to these scams and the nation was outraged at the studied inability to prevent and control corruption. The Finance Minister doggedly refused to disclose the names of those whose funds were stashed abroad citing the secrecy clause of the taxation evasion agreements with foreign govern-ments. People started losing confidence in the government, and their pent-up anger was articulated by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev through their fasts which evoked nationwide response. Even after the fast started and people gathered, politicians of the ruling party did not care to meet the people and convince them about the sincerity of the government. The government must actively communicate with the people to prevent a popular agitation going out of hand instead of letting loose the police. If serious consequences follow in the shape of injury and loss of lives, the police are exposed to judicial enquiries. The politicians and administrators mostly remain aloof, when they should squarely be blamed for allowing the law and order situation to drift and assume serious proportions. When we became independent we declared that the ‘police state’ of the British Raj will be replaced by the ‘welfare state’ of the people’s government. But in free India police raj seems to have come back with a vengeance. Legitimacy of Elected Government AFTER some initial hesitation, the Congress has decided to go on the offensive. They are asserting that the Congress and its allies have been voted to power by the people and the Opposition parties and ‘civil society’ activists have no business to destabilise them through their agitations and by people like Hazare and Ramdev Baba going on fast to coerce thew government. How far is the argument valid? It is true that the government has every right to decide on legislation, policies and programmes. All the same it is also the duty of the Opposition to oppose actions by the government through constitutional means. The government should recognise the legitimacy of the Opposition to oppose as much as the Opposition should concede the right of the government to govern. But if the government treats the Opposition with contempt and gives short shrift to the reasonable demands of the Opposition, the Opposition gets frustrated and resorts to action which immobilises the functioning of Parliament. This was what happened to Parliament in the last winter session. The whole session was washed out. Eventually the demand of the Opposition was conceded before the Budget session could go on smoothly. If this had been done at the beginning of the winter session, the nation would not have had to suffer a non-functioning Parliament. For this the government and the Opposition are equally responsible. What about the people? Should they helplessly suffer an inept or corrupt gtovernment? Have they not the right to call the government to question in between the elections? Do the duties of the citizens end once they have voted? Surely that is not so. Even in between elections, the government is accountable to the people and the people should be able to express their dissatisfaction through all means allowed by the Constitution. The active groups of citizens can take the lead in mobilising public opinion through all means allowed by the Constitution. This does not amount to ‘backmailing’ of an elected government as is alleged by some Congress spokesmen like Digvijay Singh. Hazare’s reply was that if fast and dharna amount to blackmail then he will ‘blackmail’ the government. In this context it is necessary to recall what Dr Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Constitution, said in his address to the Constituent Assembly—“We must hold fast to the constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic goals. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It also means we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and Satyagraha. When constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for unconstitutional methods. Sooner these methods are abandoned, the better for us.” Dr Ambedkar’s warning was prophetic. He feared that the Gandhian legacy will be continued even after the government starts functioning as per the Constitution of the Indian Republic. But the government also holds the responsibility of running the government in a transparent, open manner without making an ugly display of arrogance of power. As Hazare reminded, the government. Ministers and legislators are servants of the people; the people are not their servants. Unfortunately our politicians have became so arrogant and self-serving that they have forgotten the basic premise of democracy that it is the bounden duty of politicians in power to serve the people with sincerity, honesty and dedication. If the current agitation teaches this lesson to the government and politicians, its purpose would be served. But if the government resorts to repression and intolerance of any Opposition, makes all kinds of defamatory statements against those who oppose them, if public opinion is stifled and evils like rampant corruption are allowed free play, the future of the Indian parliamentary democracy may be very dismal Formerly Secretary to the Government of India and Vice-Chancellor of Goa University, Dr Dubhashi is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra. His e-mail is: dubhashi@giaspn01. vsnl.net.in

http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article2868.html

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Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil

29/10/2010
The slave’s dream
By Jawed Naqvi
Thursday, 28 Jan, 2010
Chief Minister of Gujrat, Narendra Modi’s administration reinforces an Indian variant of apartheid. –Photo by AFP

“Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” Arundhati Roy? Wrong. It’s Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the Dalit leader who wrote India’s republican constitution 60 years ago.

Going by Ambedkar’s expressed fears, the Indian republic is like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Slave’s Dream. It was created by a people that were subjugated by colonialism and its republican ideals were shaped by a human rights pioneer who rose from the lowest layers of the country’s caste heap, a form of slavery in some ways more degrading than apartheid.

India celebrates its Republic Day each year with an hour-long display of military hardware, which of late has included dummies of nuclear-tipped missiles. The accompanying convoy of floats showcasing the country’s cultural variety (and humour) with everything ranging from ayurvedic massages to tribal dances, to harvest festivals is a more realistic sample of the country’s anarchy and depth than imported military arsenal, which guzzles depleted resources, annoys neighbours and contributes to keeping millions of Indians in penury and poor health.

Ambedkar’s fear of an inhospitable soil that deters rather than nurtures democracy if left to itself has been vindicated by the country’s sharp tilt to the right since 1990. His most entrenched detractors belong to the Hindu right, but the exigencies of the country’s caste arithmetic, which shores up the parliamentary system, compels them to woo his followers, if not his legacy.

That’s why it remained unclear on Tuesday, as to which was a bigger affront to India’s democracy — the inability of the state for the first time in 19 years to hoist the Indian flag in the alienated precincts of Srinagar’s Lal Chowk or a vaudeville staged by the chief minister of Gujarat who carried a giant replica of the Indian constitution on elephant back to display his sudden fondness for the rule of law.

“This is a historic moment for Gujarat, as the procession of the constitution is being taken out for the first time in Indian history,” Chief Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed not without dollops of irony. There was no remorse in his tone over the worst anti-Muslim pogrom his state witnessed, and for which he is being investigated.

Ambedkar had perhaps anticipated Modi’s antics, whose administration reinforces an Indian variant of apartheid, in which Muslims and Dalits have been driven to live in hidebound ghettoes. Let’s hear what Ambedkar had to say about a Republic Day he had helped create.

“On 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-man one-value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

“There is no nation of Indians in the real sense of the world. It is yet to be created. In believing we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realise that we are not yet a nation, in a social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us.”

“… My definition of democracy is — a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the social life are brought about without bloodshed. That is the real test. It is perhaps the severest test. But when you are judging the quality of the material you must put it to the severest test. Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards our fellow men…”

“A democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of a society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy. It may not be necessary for a democratic society to be marked by unity, by community of purpose, by loyalty to public ends and by mutuality of sympathy.”

“But it does unmistakably involve two things. The first is an attitude of mind, and attitude of respect and equality towards their fellows. The second is a social organisation free from rigid social barriers. Democracy is incompatible and inconsistent with isolation and exclusiveness resulting in the distinction between the privileged and the unprivileged.”

“What we must do is not to content ourselves with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there is at the base of it a social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items. They form a union in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity.”

“… On 26th January, 1950, India will be an independent country. What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain or will she lose it again? This is the first thought that comes to my mind. It is not that India was never an independent country. The point is that she once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time? It is this thought which makes me most anxious for the future. What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only has India once before lost her independence, but she lost it by treachery of some of her own people.”

“Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. … Will Indians place the country above their creed or creed above their country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we all must resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
jawednaqvi@gmail.com

http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/14-jawed-naqvi-the-slaves-dream-810-zj-05


Fusing Phule And Ambedkar Kanshi Ram redefined and expanded the scope of parliamentary democracy in India

25/07/2010


Fusing Phule And Ambedkar

Kanshi Ram redefined and expanded the scope of parliamentary democracy in India by successfully fusing Phule’s advocacy of the bahujan with the Ambedkarite idea of negotiating space for a communal minority in a political majority.

In 1971, when Kanshi Ram was an employee in the munitions factory of the DRDO in Pune, he picked a quarrel with a senior officer, and allegedly struck him, over the non-appointment of a young, qualified Dalit woman. This led to his eventual quitting the government job. There is this great Indian myth that once the Dalits or other backward classes enter the realm of modernity and become a part of the apparently seamless middle class, caste would disappear, caste would wither away. Urban Indians are not casteist, it is believed, except in matrimonial columns. By 1965, Kanshi Ram and his fellow Dalit and backward class employees realized that was hardly the case. Dalit employees were routinely humiliated on an everyday basis at their workplace. And Kanshi Ram deeply resented that. If this were the fate of an educated, employed Dalit, what would her fate be in the feudal-rural scenario? Even in his early 30s, as an organiser, he nurtured his support base among the Dalit and Backward Caste government employees; the very first organization he established with his colleagues in 1971 was the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Minorities Employees Welfare Association in Pune. The objective: to counter the harassment the shoshit (oppressed) employees faced.

In 1996, in New Delhi, Kanshi Ram slapped a TV journalist and BSP workers assaulted other members of the media. What the provocation was we shall not know, for there was no one to report that, as Kenneth J. Cooper, then the Washington Times correspondent in New Delhi, discovered. He was shocked by the manner in which the Indian media had reported the happenings at Kanshi Ram’s residence. Cooper, a witness, wondered: Is there no one to report the Dalit side of the story? He then asked senior journalist B.N. Uniyal, among others, if there were no Dalits in the capital’s media. Cooper went on to write an article in Washington Timesabout the absence of Dalits in the Indian print media. Uniyal made a search for Dalit journalists and even published an article about his vain search in The Pioneer. Not much has changed in the last ten years, as a survey by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in May 2006 indicated.

Be it in 1971 when he struck a higher official or in 1996 when he slapped an overbearing journalist, Kanshi Ram was animated by the same spirit to defend the self-respect and dignity of Dalits . In 1973, he established the All India Backward and Minority Employees Federation (BAMCEF), and in 1981 formed the came DS4 (the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti), a precursor to the Bahujan Samaj Party founded on Ambedkar’s birthday, April 14, 1984.

Since 1919 when he made his first political intervention on behalf of the Depressed Classes in the Southborough Commission till his death in 1956, B.R. Ambedkar tended to articulate the Dalit issue as essentially one of a ‘minority’ problem. In positing Dalits as India’s biggest minority group that needed political and societal safeguards, Ambedkar was reacting to the Muslim self-perception in colonial India. The British adjudication and manipulation of the politics of numbers, using Census figures, were crucial for these early debates on the scope of democratic representation in India.

Kanshi Ram, unarguably the biggest leader to emerge from among Dalits in the post-Ambedkar period, and someone who succeeded in the realm of parliamentary democracy in which Ambedkar repeatedly failed, drew heavily from Ambedkar’s political resources. However, he decided to deploy a different strategy at the ground level. Surely, the consolidation of Uttar Pradesh’s 22 percent or Punjab’s 28 percent Dalit populations alone would not ensure victories in elections; but such a consolidation would force the tormentors and opponents of Dalits to come to the bargaining table.

Kanshi Ram realized that if the Dalits had to wrest their share in political power on their own terms, they needed allies. In this sense, he was more a follower of Jotiba Phule (1827–1890). At the heart of Kanshi Ram’s politics was the concept of the ‘bahujan’—the oppressed majority, a quintessential Phule formulation that believed in the organic unity of the Sudras (BCs and BCS) and Atisudras (Dalits and Adivasis); (something with which Ambedkar differed since he saw the Sudras as essentially erstwhile khsatriyas and the untouchables as fallen Buddhists). Following Phule, Kanshi Ram believed that the Sudras and Atisudras needed to join hands with Muslims and other minorities to combat the Brahmin-Baniya-Rajput combine. The logic that drove this postulation was that if democracy was the rule of the majoritarian voice, then why was it that in Indian democracy only the voice of the dwija castes was heard? In the early phase of his political career, Kanshi Ram believed that the Dalits and their immediate tormentors in the rural landscape—OBCs—could join hands. The mastermind of coalition politics in Uttar Pradesh sought to first forge an alliance at the societal level before seeking to fortify it at the political level. This was not easy, as we shall see.

The birth of the BSP in 1984 did not happen in the most conducive circumstances. Rajiv Gandhi swept to power on a sympathy wave. The BJP’s hindutva agenda was looming large and Rajiv played along, allowing the shilanyas and the telecast of Ramanand Sagar’sRamayana. Not the best of times for a man without any previous political foothold in Uttar Pradesh—born on March 15, 1934 is a Raidasi Sikh family in Khawaspur village, Ropar district, Punjab and bred on Phule and Ambedkar’s ideas in Pune—to pose a challenge to both the Congress and BJP. The challenge could bear fruition only when the OBCs and Dalits joined forces, Kanshi Ram reckoned. One of the early DS-4 slogans was ‘Brahmin, Bania, Thakur Chor, Baki Sab Hum DS-Four’ (meaning, Brahmins Banias Thakurs are crooks, the DS-4 are their victims). In the 1993 UP assembly elections ‘Tilak, Taraju, Talwar. Maaro Unko Joote Char’ was on every BSP worker’s lip. This slogan to give the boot to the oppressors was not just imbued with anti-caste sentiments but anti-hindutva as well; the tilak invoking the Brahmins, the taraju the Baniya and the talwar the militant Kshatriya, all in the service of hindutva. This was essentially an inversion of anti-Dalit traditional rhymes that equatedchamars with chors (thieves).

An alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajawadi Party followed. This remained an uneasy alliance at the core because the OBC mindset was such that it would never accept a Dalit as leader. Sharing power with OBCs proved a tough task. Be it a Brahmin like Lalji Tandon, or OBCs like Mulayam Yadav or Kalyan Singh, they resented the idea of being headed by a Dalit . (Even an MBC of Nishad caste like Phoolan Devi preferred to join the Samajwadi Party, a reflection on how the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati leadership could not be stomached by most non-Dalits .) Moreover, in rural UP, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 (PoA Act) assumed meaning whenever the Mayawati-led BSP was in power. While the media preferred to highlight only her excesses with Ambedkar statues and parks, under her regime the PoA Act came to be termed the Dalit Act and UP became the only state where it was not possible to casually insult a Dalit and get away with it. To refer to a Dalit with contempt—which caste Hindus had done as matter of convention and traditional right—became a crime that could result in a FIR and booking under Section 3 (I) X of the PoA Act. Police officers were given instructions to fearlessly implement the Act, both unprecedented and never emulated in any other state under any other regime. The implementation of the Act went a long way in recognising and restoring a sense of self and dignity among the Dalits of UP. This was seen by the caste Hindu society and the media—inured by routine, everyday humiliation of Dalits —as the registering of false cases in the name of the Dalit Act. (According to a study, the UP Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission says 80-85 per cent of the cases brought before it are genuine.) In these cases, the OBCs were named as the primary tormentors of Dalits . The Dalit -OBC political alliance in Lucknow could not be translated into a Sudra-Atisudra social harmony. The slew of FIRs, with OBCs shown as aggressors, strained the BSP-SP alliance. This was a fundamental societal contradiction that Kanshi Ram could not resolve. The echoes of the free and fair use of the PoA Act could be heard in faraway Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where the BC and OBCs groups demanded the repeal of the Act.

It is an irony of our times that in her last term as CM, Mayawati sought to dilute this very Act in order to please her ally, now the Brahmin/Thakur/OBC-filled BJP. In July 2002, the Mayawati government issued a directive signed by chief secretary D.S. Bagga and special secretary Anil Kumar with respect to the PoA Act which instructed the entire administrative machinery, to prevent ‘misuse’ of the Act and asked them to direct the state’s penal and executive bodies to be ‘extra careful’ about registering the cases under the Act.

How and why did Kanshi Ram ally alternately with BJP and SP and even the Congress—in other words, with BCs and OBCs, as well the Brahmin-Baniya-Thakurs? Here, we need to invoke Ambedkar on the place of minorities in the midst of communal and political majorities. He argues in his neglected, late work Thoughts on Linguistic States:

People who rely upon majority rule forget the fact that majorities are of two sorts: (1) Communal majority and (2) Political majority. A political majority is changeable in its class composition. A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is closed. The politics of a political majority are free to all to make and unmake. The politics of a communal majority are made by its own members born in it. How can a communal majority run away with the title deeds given to a political majority to rule? … This tyranny of the communal majority is not an idle dream. It is an experience of many minorities.

Kanshi Ram understood that what was being played out in Indian democracy was the rule of communal majority in the name of the rule of the political majority. For a communal minority like Dalits , the only way to democracy was by kneading its way into the forces that constituted political majority in electoral politics. Dalits could not join the communal majority constituted by Baniyas, Thakurs and Brahmins, for, as Ambedkar says, the door to communal majority is closed. But they sure could join the political majority, since the class and caste composition of the political majority could change. This was manageable through alliances. Under Kanshi Ram’s stewardship, the BSP practically demonstrated what Ambedkar had theoretically formulated. In this sense, Kanshi Ram redefined and expanded the scope of parliamentary democracy in India.

If Kanshi Ram did not ally with one force, it was with the Left. The Left of course had hardly a presence in Uttar Pradesh. At the national level the CPI and CPI(M) preferred to do business with the ‘secular’ Mulayam, Karunanidhi or even Jayalalitha, but refused to engage with the BSP.

Kanshi Ram painfully realised that Phule’s bahujan concept would not work under Dalit leadership. Kanshi Ram therefore successfully wedded Phule’s advocacy of the bahujan with the Ambedkarite idea of negotiating space for a communal minority in a political majority. With this premise, within a decade he managed to build a national party that became the sole challenge to the supremacy of the Congress and the BJP in the Hindi heartland.

crtsy: OUTLOOK, Oct 14 2006