Born on 15 March 1934 in a humble Ramdasia Sikh family in the Ropar district of Punjab, Kanshi Ram, the messiah of Bahujan politics in India, was a simple and alluring personality. He was gritty, focused and had a strong presence in the minds and hearts of Bahujans. His words and strategies made him popular among them in a short period of time. As a prominent leader, he transformed the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh, shocking major regional and national political parties.
Variously known as ‘Manyavar’, ‘Saheb’, or ‘Bahujan Nayak’, Kanshi Ram was never applauded by mainstream media, which failed to understand and project the life and mission of the Bahujan leader.
Casteist chasm and the enthusiasm
Kanshi Ram’s early political socialisation happened far away from his home in Pune, Maharashtra, where he had gone to work after his studies in Punjab. He started working as a junior scientist with Explosives Research & Development Laboratory (ERDL). While the birthday of Dr B.R. Ambedkar was an official public holiday in the records, it was suddenly withdrawn at ERDL in 1957. Dinabhana, a fourth-class employee, along with some Dalit employees, protested against the management. He paid a heavy price for the same – on account of his ‘misconduct’, he was fired. Nevertheless, Kanshi Ram, despite being in the ‘senior cadre’, came out in support of Dinabhana and helped him in his legal struggle.
The ‘Bahujan Nayak’ felt the rampant casteism in the administrative system the moment he was asked to stay away from the trade union, having nothing in common with his colleagues save for the fact that Dinabhana was a Bhangi and he was a Chamar. Another incident, in which a qualified Dalit woman was denied a job, encouraged Kanshi Ram to work for Bahujan rights.
Revamping Bahujan politics
The above-mentioned instances motivated Kanshi Ram to spearhead organisations like the All India Backward and Minority Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in 1970 and the quasi-political entity, Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4). BAMCEF was an alternative to the political aspirations of countless Bahujan government employees. Without this initiative, the evolution of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as a colossal Dalit organisation wouldn’t have been possible.
On 6 December 1984, the death anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, DS-4 metamorphosed into the BSP. Kanshi Ram was a source of encouragement and inspiration who thought about the future of Bahujans, asking, “What if they fail to represent themselves?” Such a failure would have tied them back to everyday oppression and discrimination with the loss of a platform to address their issues. Nonetheless, it meant giving power in the hands of Savarnas to oppress and utilise Bahujans for their own gains. As Kanshiram rightly said, “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni bhagidari (The greater the number, the more the share).”
Ratio, proportion and reciprocation
The world may not have enough empathy to understand the plight of marginalised sections — particularly Dalits — but people like Kanshi Ram could really tell each Bahujan mulnivasi how important it is to represent themselves. He propounded the concept of ‘85 vs 15’, where the 15 per cent were the Savarnas ruling the 85 per cent of Bahujans. Kanshi Ram’s significance lies in the fact that while everyone was aware of the ‘85 vs 15’ status quo, only he knew how to transform it into political power. A power that was never imagined by any of the predecessors of Kanshi Ram, except Ambedkar.
New ‘Bahujan genes’
Kanshi Ram died on 9 October 2006, but he left enough behind for Bahujans to determine their politics and work to uphold their rights. His charisma spurred an intellectual class in the country. An emerging new generation now speaks of the issues of the Bahujan mulnivasi and has a strong social media presence. He brought pathbreaking and revolutionary changes in Dalit politics, which might have been the dream of Ambedkar too. He walked on the path that was set and designed by Babasaheb.
The new generation of Dalit intellectuals is attached to BAMCEF as well as other platforms to assert themselves and speak on numerous issues pertaining to Bahujan politics. A few of them are Round Table India, Savari, and new publication houses such as The Shared Mirror and Samyak Prakashan. There is an entire range of Bahujan media channels, prominent among which are National Dastak and The Shudras (now The News Beak) and various meme pages, including ‘Just Savarna Things’, ‘Badass Bahujan Memes’ that mock the casteist culture of the Savarnas. The Birsa Ambedkar Phule Student’s Association (BAPSA) emerged as a marginalised student’s political group in central universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Gujarat Central University.
Kanshi Ram passed the responsibility of leading the Bahujans to his protégé, Mayawati, but somehow, she could not balance the equation between herself and the multitudes. In Kanshi Ram’s scheme of things, the mobilisation of the Other Backward Communities (OBCs) was critical to building coalitions.
One prime concern could be the lack of leadership in BSP. All the tall leaders of the BSP have either passed away or crossed the floor of Parliament. Rather than giving power to the deserving candidates, Mayawati, the BSP supremo, got wedged in nepotism. And that has set the stage for the weak presence of the BSP in different states. However, today, no party is exempt from practising nepotism and experiencing such shortfalls. Instead of bringing strong, charismatic leadership that is fodder for a political party to survive, they stick to decrepit politics. Nevertheless, certain structural changes that were required for the appropriate functioning of the BSP were often overlooked. Mayawati has remained surrounded by useless flatterers who have spoiled the performance of the BSP as a whole and reached an impasse.
Dr. Renu Singh is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Amity Institute of Liberal Arts, UP. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)