Dalit leader and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani
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ThePrint Dalit History Month

My fascination for Dadasaheb Gaikwad has its roots in the failures of our own land struggle. Like me, he too was called a Communist stooge.

The grammar of the Dalit movement in present-day India is locked in the dilemma of what I call abstract versus concrete politics. While we are busy attacking the abstract politics of ideology, we are getting ourselves kicked everyday by the concrete and the material deficits on the ground.

We must prioritise the struggles for the real, material issues of land and resource rights, instead of getting lost and entangled in the rhetorical cycle of politics. We need to go beyond the politics of ‘Manuvaad-Brahmanvaad Murdabad’ to look at the rights of our working classes, farmers, and our access to land ownership.

This is the intersection of Dalit politics where we find icons like Dadasaheb Gaikwad.

I may be berated for saying so, but I wish he was more – or at least as – popular as Kanshi Ram.

My fascination for Dadasaheb Gaikwad has its roots in the failures of our own land struggle. In the aftermath of the Una incident, our rallying cry was: “Gaay ki poonch tum rakho, hamein hamari zameen do!” (You keep the tail of your cow, give us our rightful land!).

Such has been the grip of the upper-caste, upper-class hegemony on all the organs of the state that land reforms, a programme which is in harmony with the preamble of the Indian Constitution, could never materialise.

The work of Dadasaheb Gaikwad holds up the mirror to our failures. It explains why even today, in 2018, a Dalit activist in Gujarat called Bhanubhai Vankar had to immolate himself over a piece of land.

After quitting journalism in 2008-09, I came back to Gujarat, following the call of my heart. I met a Gandhian land-crusader, Chunnibhai Vaid. Unlike most other Gandhians, he was quite a character. Even at 96, he was willing to trudge the villages of Gujarat for the land-struggle. It was at that time I came to know that Dalits in Gujarat had possession of land, but only on paper. But only Ambedkarite activists here were talking of it, not the regular NGOs in the state.

When I read Anand Teltumbde’s book ‘Dalits: Past, Present and Future’, I learnt that even Babasaheb Ambedkar wasn’t able to do much for landless Dalits in his life, even as he set the theoretical bases for it in his work, ‘States & Minorities’. It was after Ambedkar’s death that Dadasaheb Gaikwad emerged among a consortium of leaders of the Republican Party of India (RPI), and he stood out for me because he raised land as a key issue.

In 1959, the RPI found itself divided into two factions, as separate conferences were held in Nagpur and Aurangabad. On one side was B.C. Kamble, the erudite lawyer and constitutionalist. On the other was Dadasaheb Gaikwad, who held his conference in Aurangabad, setting the precedent for his movement demanding the state ownership and redistribution of lands for cultivation.

On 30 July 1959, Dadasaheb Gaikwad went onto lead a land satyagraha across Maharashtra. Approximately 50,000 volunteers, including women and children, launched a jail-bharo (fill the jails) movement, and thousands of Buddhists and non-Buddhist Dalits, Adivasis, as well as caste-Hindus courted arrest. That satyagraha was supported by Communist party leaders and agricultural labourers – that is what comes close to our own struggles today.

Kamble’s faction had more influence on urban, middle-class Dalits. Allegations were made against Dadasaheb Gaikwad; he was called a Communist stooge. It made people uncomfortable that Dadasaheb Gaikwad was raising material issues, just like I did after Una happened.

Post-Una, I was told by other Ambedkarites that I wasn’t doing ‘enough’ for issues such as Dalit self-respect and the cause of Buddhism. Barbs were traded. To some, I too appeared to be a Communist stooge. The difference between Kamble, the constitutionalist, and Dadasaheb, the ‘man of the streets’, is what shapes my own life’s trajectory. Like Dadasaheb, I believe in people’s movements and the need to take to the streets to assert our rights.

Despite the satyagraha of 1959, many promises remained only on paper. By 1964-65, the RPI decided to take the agitation to the national stage. A renewed movement was launched, demanding the nationalisation of land and collectivised farming, introduction of a national minimum wage, a strengthened reservation system and that benefits be extended to Dalit-Buddhists as well. Over 3,60,000 Dalits were locked up across India’s prisons, from Punjab to UP to Maharashtra, as of 30 January 1965. Even today, this stands unprecedented in history, especially with land struggles.

The government ultimately buckled under pressure to fulfil five key demands. But many viewed leaders like Gaikwad a ‘dhotrya’ (dhoti-clad villager), a man raising class-oriented issues affecting both landless Dalits and non-Dalits.

When we talk of workers of the world uniting, it should not be forgotten that many of these working classes are from scheduled caste origins. Today, while some accuse me of being a Leftist ‘sell-out’, Dadasaheb Gaikwad’s success at bridging the gap to launch a unified, pro-poor land-rights movement serves as a poignant reminder that Ambedkarite ethos and Communist struggles will and can fight hand-in-hand.

(As told to independent journalist & activist Sabah Azaad)

Jignesh Mevani is an independent MLA in the Gujarat assembly and convener of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch.

ThePrint is publishing articles on Dalit issues as part of Dalit History Month.

Read more: Dalit history threatens the powerful. That is why they want to erase, destroy and jail it

Separate fact from fiction, the real from the fake going viral on social media, on HoaXposed .


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11 COMMENTS

  1. With agrarian distress and steadily reducing size of holdings, distribution of ” surplus ” land to poor Dalits is an idea whose time has passed. Members of dominant land owning castes are agitating for reservations in education and public employment. The priceless legacy of affirmative action Dr Babsaheb Ambedkar created for Dalits and Adivasis has stood the test of time, although, given the number of claimants in relation to what is available, it has left many unbenefited. The causes Shri Jignesh Mevani is fighting for resonate beyond his home state. May he succeed.

  2. Why is Print obsessed with playing one icon against the other? How loaded is that headline? Mewani talks of picking Gaikwad over Kamble, and you conveniently compare Gaikwad with Ambedkar and declare Gaikwad could what Ambedkar couldnt! Very British, aren’t we here, now in dividing people. Also, noone there studied Dialectics? All ideas combine the best of contemporary thought, add, subtract, tweak, blend. Ideas don’t wholesale dump a thought / action. What’s this black and white demarcation of the Dalit movement, and clearly when Mevani isn’t saying that! Don’t be sensationalist. You ll get the hits, and every such mischief will chip at your respect

  3. 2% government jobs, 98 % private jobs where no reservation apply.
    Last 4 years, crimes increase against dalit or sc/st.
    You dont get house or even room on rent/ property in good area if you are belong to sc/st communities. Its true please don’t hide n share because we want to make a good society.

    • Govt Jobs make up 80% of all jobs in India and pay pension, health insurance etc.
      Last 4 years has seen the “counter-revolution” against Dalit Fanatics and Dalit Organizations who blame and abuse the upper castes. Abuse of the SC/ST atrocities act is now rampant that the SC itself has cautioned and watered down the law. Dalit groups increasingly resorting to violence like Bhim Army and others spreading poison against upper castes and attacking shops and properties of upper castes.

      Boss – you don’t get a house on rent in good areas even if you are a brahmin bachelor or a Firangi white skinned ready to pay 1 lakh per month in a Jain veg-only apartment or colony. Don’t pretend your facing some great injustice – everybody is facing it in their own way and unlike your people they don’t have SC/ST act to threaten people or have reservation in colleges, jobs etc.

  4. The lethargy and laziness displayed by the dalit community to cultivate the lands gifted to them by the governments has culminated in present position. They have entrusted their lands for cultivation to other communities who are basically farmers and hard working in scorching heat. Now after so many years the real owners are only on paper and the cultivators have become possesors.
    I know one family surnamed More & Gaikwad in my native district Palghar in Maharashtra who have entrusted their 3 acre land to an upper caste farmer. Now they want to sell this land but the law does not permit the sale. Why this family is not cultivating a good quality land?

  5. The way Reservation Policy and Dalit Leaders are taking, another 1000 years cannot uplift the Dalits. The leaders like Jignesh are the ones who have benefitted from the reservation Policy and he will ensure that only his progeny claims the reservation benefit in next 100 years.
    To uplift all our Dalits brothers the benefit of reservation should be given only once and once taken the benefit that individual should become a General Category. A child of SC District magistrate has no right to compete with fellow SC whose father is still a peon. And if the child of SC District magistrate remains in the competition than the reservation policy extended till 1000 years will not uplift those who are still down trodden. These unscrupulous Dalit leaders will only play politics and never allow the caste system to vanish. How can caste system vanish or atrocities get vanish if people who are Dalits never become General Category?

  6. @RawTruth some of your points are right but this article is not about reservation so why mention it here. Guess what ? this means you are only looking for an opportunity to say what you have to say.

    • @Vitthal Actually my comment was on the nature of Dalit Politicians like Jignesh… These leaders will never allow nor address the real issues but keep beating behind the bush.

  7. Jignesh:
    1. Please educate yourself that raising ‘material issues” does not make one a communist stooge in Ambedkarite politics, a simplistic version probably because you are not aware nor privy to the history of struggles in Maharashtra makes you think it is that.
    2. You are miseducated and have no idea of the painful histories of ambedkarites and communists in Maharashtra, your political aspirations which are fine (you say you are a communists, independent candidate but also supported by congress– this is always the character of india’s left) how can they accuse RPI of idealogical lack when they have themselves been Congress supporters–who Baba Saheb clearly said was a shetji-bhatji party, then our communism what happens to it. To be a good dalit communist in india you do not have to hate the middle class, or for that matter dalits who heavily stress on identity politics. go and learn something, air is in your head and you have too many upper caste comrades around you… essentially your crisis is that every dalit communist has faced– i these days call it as the – “red-blue syndrome”

    Jai Bhim!Lal Salaam!

    • Too many upper caste around you ? Is that as bad has having “too many Dalits” around you ? Breathtakingly vulgar racism from Dalit fanatics.

      Mark my words, this sort of Dalit “mentality” with its militant madness borne out of Communist ideological bankruptcy will produce only violence and conflict from the upper castes. Already, people like the Patels, the Kapus etc are mobilizing and questioning the lopsided Dalit affirmative actions. It won’t be long before more join the fold against you Dalit fanatics.

      The crimes of the past cannot be balanced by your war and hatred against the people of today. Trying to do so will only reignite a system which is dying a natural death and produce a counter revolution .

      FYI – Ambedkar despised Communists .

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