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Neglected by social justice politicians, Paswan failed to give Ambedkarite push to Bihar

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan's sudden demise on October 8 evening has created a big vacuum, particularly if one speaks of Bihar politics. Paswan was a seasoned leader, a powerful orator and a mass leader who broke many a record in electoral politics. His record win from the Hazipur Lok Sabha constituency, as also other constituencies in Bihar, showed his grip over masses. In fact, he entered the Guinness Book for his record wins.
Paswan's best, and perhaps formative, years were 1989-90 under the VP Singh government, where he spearheaded campaign for social justice, and was one of the key ministers along with Sharad Yadav to have strongly pushed for the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. Three leaders, VP Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav, got maximum abuse and scorn from those who hated reservations. These critics felt that the three were responsible for Mandal.
Yet, the fact is, Prime Minister VP Singh depended a lot on Paswan for advise, and the result was declaration of several committees for the Dr BR Ambedkar centenary programme, as also the decision as to have April 14, Dr Ambedkar’s birthday, as public holiday, placing Dr Ambedkar’s portrait in Parliament, reservation for neo-Buddhists and Bharat Ratna for Dr Ambedkar.
Paswan might have emerged during the Jaiprakash Narayan (JP) era in 1970s, but he flourished in1989-90 and stood solidly with VP Singh when Chandra Shekhar broke away from the Janata Dal, and formed a separate party. Many consider Paswan a material who acquired independent Dalit identity, when he showed signs of outreach to Ambedkarite groups in India and abroad.
Paswan started a magazine, “Nyay Chakra”, and formed Bhim Sena with members across the country. He also nurtured a number of Ambedkarites and other intellectuals, and also helped organise various international conferences on Dalit and minority rights in India and abroad.
However, given the political nature of Bihar's social justice politics, which was dominated by former leaders of the JP movement, he found at odds with them. The post-Mandal politics in Bihar never allowed him to acquire centre-stage in Indian politics for becoming a potential prime ministerial candidate.
Paswan’s own space became questionable with Mandal forces despite being one of the most important members of the VP Singh government. He stood up for Dalits, OBCs and minorities, and yet when politics in his own home state came, he found himself completely unwanted by politicians claiming to espouse the social justice cause. All those who cried against Brahmanical hegemony were not ready to give him space.
Paswan realised this that it was difficult to survive in politics with one community, hence he nurtured a number of Rajput leaders in Bihar. Later he realised that he can only remain relevant if he remained in power, and for that he compromised his ideology.
Yet, it is also a fact that, though he came out of NDA citing the 2002 Gujarat riots and became part of UPA, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) were always uncomfortable with him. In fact, social justice parties refused to accept him, one reason why he found himself pushed towards the BJP fold. 
Paswan could not build an ideological alliance as he did not have the same cadre which Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has had
Paswan had good connections with media and the Brahmanical elite, but at the ground zero he found himself isolated because none of the current leadership was ready to accept him as a leader. This was particularly strange, as he was the man who always won his elections through record margins.
Paswan rarely spoke to Mayawati or Kanshiram, who laid the foundation of Ambedkarite political movement. He decided his own way in Bihar. While his supporters may have considered him a prime ministerial material, he was not even being looked as a potential chief minister of Bihar by his own colleagues, reflecting the nature of India's political structure, where caste prejudices are so powerful that it make it difficult for the Dalits to be in driving seat. 
In UP they could do so because there was a strong Ambedkarite movement, initially nurtured by Kanshiram, unlike Bihar, where the Dalit movement is still at a very nascent stage.
Paswan could not build an ideological alliance as he did not have the same cadre which Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has had. BSP became a political movement as an Ambedkarite organization despite the fact as a party it is weak as an all-India party, except in UP. However, the fact is, as a movement it has survived outside UP as well.
Paswan, on the other hand, built his political party without proper ideologically-inspired cadres, hence it was always difficult to predict what would his party do in future. In fact, critics blamed him for promoting his family. This was quite unlike Kanshiram, a role model for all of us, who left a legacy to build a movement grounded in the Ambedkarite ideology, one reason why it could spread its outreach and build alliances and coalitions.
Paswan as a minister may have been effective, but his political legacy has very little meaning for the Ambedkarite movement. He had the potential to build a movement, but he abandoned it, dashing the hopes of those who thought big of him.
---
*Human rights defender

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