Paying Trbute to Kanshiram, a Moot Question : Will BSP Nurture Young Ambedkarite Leadership Or Risk Political Irrelevance?

Today we remember a great social scientist of India who changed the nature of politics and political movements in India. Whatever the brahmanical elite may say about him, the late Kanshiram influenced the Indian polity more than anyone else in the mid 1980s and this impact is still felt. Right in the midst of a vibrant political career, he fell seriously ill and could not really complete the mission that he wanted. Ofcourse, one of his most significant achievements was to make Ms Mayawati, a political novice that time, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. An action otherwise impossible to achieve. It was this political understanding and acumen that drew political parties towards the BSP in alliance.

Kanshi Ram

There was a time when BSP was never considered a serious entity politically. His was a social movement which he built solidly on the foundation of loyalty to the mission by  dedicated workers who toiled hard with him, travelled across various Indian states, cycling to various places, slept on the floor and going hungry for days. 

This biggest irony of the political movements is that they are built on the dedication and commitment of such visionary missionaries of the first generation. Power politics soon plays havoc with their dreams and sentiments. The politics of today revolves around a ‘messianic’ individual and most of the time they become larger than the entire movement and therefore stagnate before attaining any maturity. 

South Asia suffers from these larger than life individuals whether in politics, art, sports,or literature who become too powerful and too big. This individual centrism is often the reason behind the movements’ collapse.

The importance of being Kanshiram ji was in providing spaces to diverse sections of people from Dalit Bahujan communities, many of them had never before ever tasted power even at the Panchayat level. It is this sense of commitment to representative democracy, to bring those minorities among the Dalits and MBCs to the mainstream of the Bahujan movement and make them owners of it, within the political entity he created that was and remains his single most significant contribution. Apart from the fact that he never went to any political party to seek legitimacy. He was least bothered about the media and ‘mainstream’.  

The only other person who never became fond of this mainstream till today is Mr V T Rajshekar, the editor of Dalit Voice, who was always critical of the Indian media and never tried to get legitimacy from them. 

The importance of BSP was in its unique character, a cadre dedicated to the Bahujan movement and of course the vision of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.  Ofcourse, many people would differ with their definition and understanding of the Ambedkar mission but if we put that debate aside for the moment, none can ignore the factor that BSP became the most potent form of Ambedkarite political aspirations.

Kanshiram ji’s untimely death was the biggest blow for to this political goal. He remained confined to bed for several years and the movement started drifting. Ms Mayawati remained at the helm of the affairs of BSP and steered the party to power in Uttar Pradesh on several occasion. Today, however, the party is definitely passing through a very critical phase.  All over the country, there is a huge unrest building up particularly among the youths, Dalits, OBC, Adivasi students and young dynamic Ambedkarites are challenging the status quo and seeking justice. Unfortunately, BSP has not been able to capture the imagination of those youngsters. The party’s response to these issues has not been powerful enough to give the confidence to the people. There is no doubt that Ms Mayawati still commands the biggest following and trust of the community yet she has not been able to develop a new leadership within the party.  

Nobody can deny the importance of Sarv Jan but this building of a coalition cannot happen at the cost of the young budding Ambedkarite aspirants.  The Sarv Jan movement cannot bring in domineering or arrogant caste forces but must have persons from all castes dedicated to an anti-caste movement. This is what Babasaheb envisioned. In the heydey of his political movement Babasaheb Ambedkar had Brahmin friends but they were thoroughly dedicated to the anti caste movement. In fact, the radical act of burning the Manusmirti  was done by Shahashra Buddhe, whpwas a Brahmin himself. So, the Sarv Jan movement should essentially have to have those people from diverse communities who believe in Baba Saheb’s mission of Prabuddha Bharata and stand fundamentally against brahmanical patriarchy. I don’t know how many Sawarnas in BSP today are dedicated to that vision.

Manyawar Kanshiram would have definitely used the power of youth  to build up the party if he were alive today. BSP needs a wake up call. The party formed by Kanshiram and nurtured by Mayawati has cadres and people all over the country expect a lot from it.  The important factor is that a man dedicated to Dr Ambedkar’s ideas build up a party without any political patronage or privileges, create dynamic leaders not just Ms Mayawati but many others and that too from the ground.

The power of Kanshiram was people and the connect he had with them. He was never a great orator but his warmth with people was unmatched. He would remember the names of the ordinary karykartas and meet them, visit their homes to give them confidence to fight. Now these are the things of the past as what is lacking today is, the connect, with the Karyakartas as well as with the people. BSP was an oasis for the Ambedkarite because the leadership that Kanshiram built came from the movement and not from privileged political families.

We know well that in politics there is a lot of give and take, adjustments and so many things. None expect BSP to not respect that politics of inclusion or Sarv Jan but it is equally important that the non-Dalit political leadership that comes into the party adhere to Dr Ambedkar’s anti caste principles and annihilation of castes become the political agenda. BSP has the capacity to do so. 

There is no other equally powerful socio-cultural force which can become a guiding figure for the political parties and leaders of Dalit Bahujan Adivasis. The Sangh Parivar has been doing it for so many years and they understand the power of socio cultural movements because political power may come and go but the impact of cultural movements goes beyond power of politics.

 Dr Ambedkar’s biggest impact on us actually come through the cultural changes that he brought by embracing the path of Buddha on October 14, 1956. BSP needs to engage with diverse Dalit Bahujan communities for this cultural transformation, in Buddhism and, in that too in a political way to make a larger and powerful and everlasting political impact.  

Will Ms Mayawati nurture a new young Ambedkarite talent to lead BSP into the future like Mr Kanshiram did it or will the party move towards becoming a new political family unit?

Kanshiram left family, home and hearth to achieve just such a Bahujan representation, vision and transformation. Not to honour this vision and take it forward to a logical conclusion will be a betrayal of the dream, the vision, the sacrifice.

That was Manyawar Kanshiram.



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