'The educated, employed and self-sufficient Dalit is being attracted towards the BJP.'
'The middle-class that has rapidly emerged among Dalits in the last two decades has deviated from its path. It has become a traitor to its own class. It cannot distinguish between a friend and an enemy.'
Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress are competing with each other to announce a series of measures to commemorate Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar with a view to the Dalit vote in Bihar (15 per cent), and UP (21 per cent), where assembly elections are due soon.
Jyoti Punwani spoke to Bhanwar Meghwanshi, a well-known Dalit rights activist in Rajasthan, on the issue.
Meghwanshi, below, left, is an activist of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan and one of the founders of Dagar (Dalit Adivasi Ghumanti Adhikar Abhiyan).
His journey has been interesting. He was an enthusiastic follower of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement till he came face to face with the deep caste feelings within the movement. In 1998, he was thrown out of Ram Vilas Paswan's Dalit Sena after writing about its leader's luxurious lifestyle.
Why are the Congress and BJP both trying to appropriate Dr Ambedkar?
They are just using Ambedkar's name to get Dalit votes. For political parties, Ambedkar is only a symbol through which they can fool people into believing that that they are the protectors of Dalit interests.
Which one will succeed, if any? Why?
Right now it appears that whoever can lie the most will win. Till today, that's how it has been -- the Congress and the BJP have won simply by using Ambedkar's name to confuse Dalits. Ambedkar's followers get taken in every time by these tactics.
What is the credibility of both parties vis-a-vis Ambedkar and vis-a-vis his followers?
Neither of them have any credibility vis-a-vis Ambedkar. Neither has anything to do with Ambedkar's thoughts. Their basic character is against Ambedkar.
With Ambedkar's followers too, their credibility is suspect. They pretend to be benefactors of Dalits merely for votes, but their conduct is anti-Dalit.
The Congress has an old history of alliances with the Republican Party of India or one of its factions in Maharashtra. Do you think they know how to win over Dalits? Will this help them in their attempt to own Ambedkar?
There are some basic differences between Dalit politics in Maharashtra and in the rest of India. It is true that one section of the RPI has always had an electoral alliance with the Congress. But that does not mean that the Congress is sincere towards Dalit expectations, or that it understands the sentiments of the Dalit masses. Not at all.
However, it has long experience in exploiting Dalit votes, and by and large, it has succeeded in winning over Dalits by wearing the mask of being a friend of the Dalits.
But in last year's Lok Sabha elections, this belief was shattered. The votes of Ambedkar's followers went to reactionary forces, which is worrisome.
The Congress keeps repeating that Ambedkar was part of the Congress dhara (stream). How true is that?
Ambedkar was never part of the Congress mainstream, in fact he kept questioning the Congress tamasha of 'untouchable uplift'. Those who view Ambedkar as being part of the Congress mainstream, should read his book What have Congress and Gandhi done for the Untouchables?
The Congress mainstream is characterised by greed for power and opportunism, and from the start, it has been dominated by Hindu upper castes and upper classes. How could a rational karmayogi such as Babasaheb be absorbed into such an unscientific ideology?
In fact, he was a strong critic of the Congress ideology. Just because he was law minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's Cabinet it doesn't follow that he was a Congressman. This is a false claim of the Congress.
Professor Kancha Ilaiah says while the Congress has a history with Dalits, the BJP has none, and is trying to build such a history from scratch. Is that correct?
To some extent we can agree with Ilaiah, but now it is obvious that the history of Congress-Dalit relations has itself become history. Most Dalit leaders are now sitting in the laps of the right-wing BJP. This is a suicidal step.
The BJP and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) want to turn Dalit consciousness around; they want to destroy the thoughts of Buddha, Kabir, Jyotibha Phule and Ambedkar.
The sad part is that the educated, employed, and self-sufficient Dalit is being attracted towards the BJP. The middle-class that has rapidly emerged among Dalits in the last two decades has deviated from its path. It has become a traitor to its own class. It cannot distinguish between a friend and an enemy.
Because of such people, the BJP has been able to mislead Dalits. But it will not be able to succeed in this for long.
Notwithstanding Hindutva, will the shift in Dalit vote to the BJP in last year's Lok Sabha elections help the BJP get regarded as the true heir of Ambedkar? They do have more Dalit MPs than the Congress.
This has happened because of the insatiable greed for power and position within the Dalit leadership. You can't describe the BJP's victory among Dalits as a victory of an ideology as poisonous as Hindutva.
Factually it is true that a large section of Dalits has this time become part of the BJP, and most of the reserved Lok Sabha seats have been captured by the BJP. But I still see this more as a defeat of the Congress campaign than a victory of the Hindutva campaign.
What are the fundamental contradictions between the Congress and the BJP vis-a-vis Ambedkar's views? And will these be apparent to Dalit voters in Bihar and UP? Will that be a factor at all for Dalits?
The Congress has neither ideology nor cadre. Grab power by hook or by crook, that is all that's left of its ideology now. There was a time when the Congress had an ideology. But even at that time, it was opposed to Ambedkar and Ambedkar was opposed to the Congress.
To cut Ambedkar to size, one Babu was created by the Congress -- Jagjivan Ram. The Congress and Ambedkar are two mutually contradictory ideologies.
Gandhian and Ambedkar's thought are in constant struggle.
Coming to the contradictions between the BJP and Ambedkar, my view is that these are two opposing pole stars. It is not possible for them to meet.
Ambedkar stood for human equality and dignity, whereas the umbilical cord of the BJP is tied to Sanghi Hindutva, which stands for inequality and contempt of others.
As far as the Dalits of UP and Bihar are concerned, UP's Dalits will vote for the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party). In Bihar, the Dalit vote will be scattered among Jitan Ram Manjhi, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, the Congress and the BJP. The contradictions in ideology have never been a factor in the way Dalits vote, nor will these be a factor now.
The BJP has interpreted Ambedkar's thought as samarasta (harmony). How far is this a deviation from Ambedkar's thoughts?
They don't want samaanta (equality), that's why they keep talking about samrasta. Ambedkar was not just in favour of political equality, but he also wanted economic and social equality, whereas the BJP wants only samrasta, while keeping inequality intact.
This is the BJP's conspiracy to blunt the sharp edge of the struggle for equality.
Do you think the BJP view of Ambedkar will prevail, given their skill at propaganda and their control over education as well as official media? Will that be dangerous in the long term? According to Kancha Ilaiah, taking Ambedkar to upper-caste homes will be exciting. What do you feel?
Kancha wants to make the mistake of letting the cat guard the milk. Doesn't he know that these BJPwallahs will make Ambedkar into Veer Sawarkar, B S Moonje and M S Golwalkar?
Ambedkar who throughout his life, strove to uproot the poisonous tree of Hindutva, will be presented as a supporter of a Hindu rashtra.
On the one hand, Ambedkar's praises will be sung; on the other, attempts will be made to change the Constitution drafted by him.
Why should we entrust our ideology into the hands of our caste and class enemy? They will pollute Ambedkar.
We do not need the BJP, nor do we need the media, which is a pimp of the power establishment. We will take Ambedkar in his true spirit to the so-called higher castes, never mind if they reject him.
We will not let the long-term plan of the BJP and its mother the RSS to hijack Ambedkar and thereby demolish Dalit Bahujan consciousness, succeed.
Does any party come close to representing Ambedkar' views?
Today one can't see any such party. There are many parties who scream Jai Bhim at the top of their voices, but none that can be called the heir to Ambedkar thought.
Be it the BSP or the RPI, they lay claim to Ambedkar, but they have lost their way. For them too, Ambedkar has become an image to be used and consumed.
Today there is no party following Ambedkar's ideology. Forget actions, even in speech they are not aligned with his thought.
The increasing rage among Dalit youth shows that the time will soon come when there will be a decisive struggle between Hindutva and Ambedkarite thought. This is inevitable. And victory will go to the thought of Dr Ambedkar, the inspiration for human liberation.
Image: Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis and other leaders after garlanding a statue of Dr Ambedkar. Photograph: PTI