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April 14 as #DalitDiwali: Are Bahujan leaders 'insensitive' in choosing symbols?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

Dr Mama Deshmukh is a veteran Bahujan historian. In a conversation with me recently, he said that only Ambedkarite Buddhists are capable to lead the Bahujan movement. He insisted, they should get united. An interesting part of his discussion was the advise to Ambedkarites to be sensitive towards 'egos' of the Marathas, Kunbis and other Bahujan communities.
This is a wonderful idea. However, it is also a fact that no leadership can be imposed on people without the attempt by the leaders to reach out to the communities and people they belong to. Egos are part of the political culture of one time. These egos are sometimes contrived. There is also a tendency to overreact with regard to egos on occasions.
It is essential therefore to get into political realism and not judge people just because their tweets or statements offend. The 'offense' may not be against any sectione, however, it show the ignorance of the person or his/her advisers. Recently, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav tweeted that April 14 should be celebrated as #DalitDiwali. Akhilesh Yadav's tweet does not have any negative intent, but definitely, it shows lack of understanding of the Bahujan perspective.
If this was his father's tweet, I would have some how felt the mischief behind it. But I personally feel that Akhilesh Yadav has been making efforts to reach to all communities. However, as with majority of Bahujan leaders, he also depends on 'professional' advisers or public relation officers who have very little understanding of the Bahujan movement and icons who shaped our destiny.
Calling for April 14 as #DalitDiwali may seem insulting to the memory of Dr Ambedkar, as it appears to mischievously limits Dr BR Ambedkar, his struggles and achievements to the Dalit community. As a political leader, Akhilesh Yadav should have been careful with his words and utterings. World over, the Ambedkar Jayanti is celebrated as a knowledge day or social justice day, but our Bahujan leader wants him to confine it to #Dalits alone.
That is where it is important for us to understand the point raised by Dr Mama Deshmukh, that unless Bahujan leaders and social movements embrace the basic perspective of Dr Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule and EV Ramasamy Periyar about de-Brahmanisation of society, they will not succeed.
There are examples in front of us why the Mahars in Maharashtra and Jatavs and Chamars in Uttar Pradesh have shown the world that change has to come from within in order to ensure a narrative of success stories, whether in business or education or self-employment.
Dr Deshmukh agrees that most of his books are actually read by Mahars and not by his own community. Indeed, only Dr Ambedkar’s, Phule’s and Periyar's vision, which is inclusive for all, will strengthen the ideological frame work of the Bahujan communities and make them understand the culture of dominance and appropriation.
Why don’t our leaders understand how the RSS and Narendra Modi use Dr Ambedkar? They are working regularly on the issues and have a team which provides them inputs. The team consists of not just professionals but also community leaders, too.
It is essential for Akhilesh Yadav and other leaders hailing from Bahujan communities to give space to Bahujan intellectuals and activists, at least listen to them. They should keep professionals in their team who understand issues and shape proper tweets so that people don’t get offended.
Unless Bahujan leaders embrace basic perspective of Ambedkar, Phule and Periyar about de-Brahmanisation of society, they will not succeed
I have issues with those who started campaign against Akhilesh Yadav. I don’t think he has any bad intention. His intentions were right. At a time when Modi is speaking about Ambedkar and vaccination festival, Akhilesh Yadav wants a big celebration like Diwali, but, yes, he must be careful about the usage of symbolism. However, to start a campaign against him is deeply distressing.
It is the same people who lauded Akhilesh Yadav when the Samajwadi Party allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party. We all know that the role of SP-BSP is important in the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh. Both the parties represent fairly large sections of Bahujan community and that is why they need to come together. Even if they do not, they should not do things where future alliances become impossible.
Bahujan intellectuals have a bigger responsibility at the moment. One shouldn’t demonise leaders who can be future allies. One should keep option open for negotiations. Whether Tejasvi Yadav or Akhilesh Yadav, both of them cannot be ignored in the Bihar-Uttar Pradesh politics in the coming days. Both of them need to have more and more Bahujan orientation and understanding of social justice, which does not mean antagonising other groups.
The basic preamble of Bahujan politics should be social justice and fair representation. Bahujan politics in north India needs to go beyond Lohiaism and needs to embrace Ambedkar-Phule-Periyar as cultural ideology. Only then they will be able to counter the Brahmanical hegemony of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP.
Fighting against Sangh forces will need strong intellectual strength of the Bahujan movement and our liberators. It is time for introspection in such a way that no damage is done to the existing political leadership.
The RSS-Savarna narrative is clearly against established political leaders like Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Tejasvi Yadav. These leaders should speak to each other, can ask uncomfortable questions, but should be careful and not demonise anyone. It is necessary not to deepen 'contradictions' but to look for meeting points with a futuristic vision.
---
*Human rights defender

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