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'Chanting Ambedkar's name makes Dalit leaders cross over to BJP'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
August 31, 2018 10:13 IST
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'The BJP stems from the RSS that craves, notwithstanding its myriad camouflages, to re-establish their supremacist regime.'
'They believe in everything that India had in its ancient 'Vedic' past, including the caste system.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with Dalit leader Minister of State Ramdas Athawale at an event to honour Dr B R Ambedkar.

Dr Anand Teltumbde was one of the intellectuals and civil rights activists whose homes were raided by the Pune police on Tuesday, August 28.

Professor Teltumbde was in Mumbai when a Pune police team searched his home in Panaji, and his response to the raid is published alongside.

Earlier this month, Dr Teltumbde published his latest book, Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva.

In the book, he explains how the condition of Dalits has remained more or less the same post-Independence, how various political parties were able to co-opt them from time to time, and how the masses were betrayed by Dalit leaders who benefitted from the concern of the ruling classes for their votes.

"I have not seen any Dalit leader in his lap ever voicing any criticism against Modi!" Dr Teltumbde told's Syed Firdaus Ashraf in an interview conducted a couple of weeks before the police raid on his home.

The second segment of a two-part interview:

You write that Dr Ambedkar disowned the Constitution saying he was used as a hack.

Ambedkar was initially opposed to a Constituent Assembly, but when it was convened, he was very desperate to get into it because he was anxious to see whatever safeguards he won for Dalits are continued in the Constitution.

There was no way he could enter it, however, as his party had won just two seats in the provincial assemblies.

He managed to get himself elected from the Khulna-Jessore constituency in East Bengal with the help of Jogendranath Mandal, a Dalit leader in united Bengal.

Soon, however, his membership got annulled due to the Partition of India, vide the Mountbatten Plan of June 1947.

Mysteriously, the Congress that treated him as anathema decided to shelve its plan and get him elected from the Bombay assembly before the next session of the Constituent Assembly was convened.

There is no documentary evidence to uncover this mystery, but given the dislike of Nehru for Ambedkar and the neutrality of Patel, it could not have been other than Gandhi who was capable of this masterstroke of strategy.

Because, as an emerging icon of the lower strata of the country, only Ambedkar could provide the Constitution the much-needed security.

He was accordingly made chairman of the most important committee, the drafting committee, and later projected as the chief architect of the Constitution.

No doubt he did much of piloting and correcting the draft (which was already made) of the Constitution single-handedly, but the Constituent Assembly debate clearly reveals his specific contribution.

When Dalits zealously attribute the making of the Constitution to him, they do not understand that they accuse him of its infirmities.

Ambedkar spoke out that his main purpose behind getting into the Constituent Assembly was to safeguard the Dalit interests.

Initially, he was sanguine about his accomplishment, but within two years he was completely disillusioned to disown it in the strongest possible words.

When we ask why he allowed himself to be abused, we forget the context in which he worked and also the making of the man.

Ambedkar was a pragmatist who believed in maximising the utility of given circumstances.

The Congress kept Dalits with them for very long, till the 1990s. How did the shift to the BJP occur?

Yes, during the early years, the Congress had a near monopoly over Dalit, Adivasi and minority votes, alongside the upper caste votes.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which proclaimed itself as a cultural organisation, floated a political party -- the Bharatiya Jan Sangh -- but could not have much impact.

It was only after (Madhukar Dattatray) Deoras becoming the sarsanghchalak that new strategies were forged to expand the constituency.

The RSS silently entered the forested regions and began working among the tribals to gradually Hinduise them.

Deoras realised the importance of Dr Ambedkar as well as the Dalits.

He silently included Ambedkar in the RSS's pratahsmaraniya (one who should be remembered each morning).

In 1983, the RSS floated a new special purpose vehicle, the Samajik Samarstha Manch, to woo middle class urban Dalits. They did not meet with much success, but persisted with it for decades.

They brought out a huge amount of literature subtly saffronising Ambedkar.

'The entire process is conducted as though I was a dreaded terrorist'

I had woken up somewhat late, tired by the late night arrival of the flight.

Just saw missed calls from Professor Ajit Parulekar, who is a colleague and director of the Goa Institute of Management where I work a Senior Professor and Chair, Big Data Analytics.

He shocked me by informing that the Pune police reached the campus and are looking for you. He said he is rushing to the campus and would let me know the developments.

I had come on an official meeting at 10 am and hence I had to rush for it. By the time I was through with the meeting there were a spate of calls on my phone which was kept on silent mode.

By that time all the TV channels were flashing the news of nation-wide raids on the houses of activists and intellectuals, and the arrests of some of them.

I called up my wife who said that our house also was opened and searched according to the TV reports.

She was obviously scared and already booked the tickets for both of us at 3.45 pm.

I asked her to hold on and consulted a lawyer friend who advised that the house needs to be checked by one of us for whether the police planted any object in the house with an alibi of a search.

He also suggested that a compliant needed to be filed at the police station to that effect.

As I had some work planned at Mumbai, I asked my wife to cancel my ticket and go to Goa. She reached Goa and took the help of a lawyer friend and filed the police complaint.

Later, when I called the director and asked him how the key of the house was given in our absence, he explained that before he reached the campus the police had done everything.

They met him and handed over the panchnama, the scan of which he mailed me through his secretary. He said he read it and there appears to be nothing in it.

One of my colleagues, Professor Krishna Laddha, senior professor, who happened to meet the police, narrated whatever he knew.

The police had threatened the security guard to get the key and asked him to open the door.

Professor Krishna asked them that they should wait for the director to come before they opened the door.

They rudely retorted him that the person accompanying them has the authority to issue a search warrant. He informed that the house was opened by the security person.

One or two police officials along with security person and a videographer entered the house and came out within four to five minutes and asked the security person to lock the door.

There being an important meeting in the office, Professor Laddha left and did not know whether the house was opened again.

I spoke with Professor Vishnu who stayed opposite my house. He narrated similar things, but said that the cleaning lady saw some plastic box being taken away from the house.

My wife, after reaching Goa, spoke with security and got the horrific description of the entire process.

In the morning hours, a police van accompanied by two police vehicles gatecrashed into the campus.

They took away all the cell phones of security personnel and disconnected landlines.

They enquired about me and picked up one security person from the main gate for showing the house.

At the second gate they repeated the same, taking away all cell phones and disconnecting the phone line, and came over to our house.

They threatened the security guard to get the keys. He brought the duplicate keys and the process of opening the house took place as described above.

The entire process is conducted as though I was a dreaded terrorist or a criminal.

The police could have enquired with me whatever they wanted to, either by sending a police official or calling me to the police station. But the entire intention is to create an atmosphere of terror and project that I had already done some dreaded crime.

All my information is in the public domain. I have been a meritorious student all through, passing through prestigious institutes of the country including the hallowed Indian Institute of Management- Ahmedabad.

I did my doctorate in cybernetics and have worked my entire career in the corporate sector, rising to be the executive director of the Bharat Petroleum Corporation and subsequently managing director and CEO of Petronet India Limited, a holding company in the private sector.

Unusually, while living my corporate life, I published over 20 research papers in prestigious journals.

After my corporate stint, I was invited to be a professor in another hallowed institute of the country, the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur where I taught business management courses for more than five years before coming over to the Goa Institute of Management in July 2016 as senior management.

I head the institute's big data analytics programme and launched a post-graduation course this year, the first of its kind in the country.

This professional life has been engaging enough, but with the intension to contribute towards creating a just society, I have been making my intellectual contributions by way of writing and speaking in the public for more the past three decades.

Through this process, I have written 26 books, which are published in India and abroad by prestigious publishing houses such as Zed books, Routledge, and Penguin Random House.

Beside I have written hundreds of articles along with a regular column, 'Margin Speak' in the prestigious Economic and Political Weekly.

All my writings get regularly translated and published in most Indian languages and even abroad. Most of these articles are available on the Internet and all are in the public domain.

I have delivered hundreds of lectures across India and abroad. I was twice invited by US universities for lecture tours.

I have been doing this role of public intellectual for all these years, winning several laurels, awards and honorary doctorates from universities.

I have thus a reputation as one of the outstanding scholars in my own field of management; as a professional, I have my reputation as a CEO level corporate executive, as a writer, I have a reputation of being one of the most sought after authors; as a public intellectual, I have a reputation of being one of the most sought after persons in the entire country.

I have been an activist since my student days, as a student leader, and later as a civil rights activist.

In course of time, I got associated with many organisations, none of which advocate violence or do unlawful things.

For instance, I am General Secretary, Committee for Protection of Democratic rights, Executive Member, Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations, Presidium Member, Alol India Forum for rights to Education.

Of course, in my role as a public intellectual, I have been critical of the policies of the government which I voiced in not a superficial way but with scholastic discipline.

I am definitely critical of the present regime, but unlike many others, fault the entire post-colonial construction of the State for its rise.

As for insinuation of my connection with Bhima-Koregaon or the Elgar Parishad, I happened to write a critique (external link) of the Bhima Koregaon episode published in The Wire, incurring the wrath of many Dalits all over the country.

As regards the Maoists, I had written books (for instance Anti-Imperialism and Annihilation of Caste, Introduction to Ambedkar's India and Communism, published by Left Word, and even Republic of Caste published by Navayana) criticising their practice and reliance on violence.

I, like many other people who have been targeted by people, was not even in the conference.

With what stretch of imagination, could I have even been suspected to have connection with these things?

The entire episode is based on a letter police produced, the authenticity of which is far from established.

Many people have already expressed serious doubt about its veracity.

And on this basis, the police are targeting summarily all intellectuals in the country.

They are misusing the draconian law like UAPA to terrorise people into silence by targeting select intellectuals and activists.

I urge the judiciary to take note of the monumental harassment and torture innocent persons like me is pushed to endure without any iota of wrongdoing on our part.

I also urge the people of my country to judge for themselves from the foregoing whether I deserve the treatment that I made to meet.

Dr Anand Teltumbde BE (Mech), PGDM (IIM, Ahmedabad), Ph D (Cybernetics), FIE (I), FACS (USA), D Litt (Hon) Ex-Executive Director, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Mumbai Ex-Managing Director & CEO, Petronet India Limited, Mumbai Ex-Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur Senior Professor & Chair- Big Data Analytics, Goa Institute of Management, Goa

Dalits who came to treat Ambedkar as a symbol of their pride and prestige, took pride in this acknowledgement of the Brahminic organisation.

This infirmity of Dalits is used by the political parties to the hilt.

Dr Ambedkar fell prey to Mahatma Gandhi as far as signing the Poona Pact was concerned, but which he regretted later, if I am not mistaken.

Yes, he was blackmailed by Gandhi into signing the Poona Pact that would annul the communal award allotting separate electorates to the Dalits and give them double the reserved seats in exchange.

It was not possible for him to resist anymore in the face of the falling health of Gandhi.

Surprisingly, Ambedkar's reaction to it was happiness. He said if that was what Gandhi wanted, he would have happily given him.

But soon he realised the import of signing it and regretted it.

Dalit leaders in the BJP and also their allies like Ram Vilas Paswan are upset that the National Green Tribunal is now headed by Justice A K Goel who as a Supreme Court judge delivered the order to 'dilute' the SC/ST Atrocities Act.

Ram Vilas Paswan is called a weather cock to assess political weather. He perhaps holds a record for remaining a central minister whichever party comes to power.

He, like many Dalit leaders, have to justify their existence to their voters uttering some platitudes.

If they do not take up issues like the dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act and reservation for Dalits in promotions, then their legitimacy comes into question.

Their legitimacy with the ruling circle is that they are the leaders of Dalits. They have to maintain this bogey.

Don't you feel that Y B Chavan getting Dalits into the Congress, thus bringing them into the national discourse, was good for India as a country? Ultimately you have to get everyone together for our country to work.

This sounds like advocating samarasata, social harmony, of the RSS.

It is like saying what is the harm for Muslims to say that they are Islami Hindus or Christians as Christi Hindus.

Can that be done? Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis are significant communities in India and there is no other way than recognising them as such.

The national interest rests not on hammering homogeneity, but acknowledging and recognising diversity.

The RSS is grossly mistaken; it must recognise that each of its acts is a destruction of the legacy of India, that they so loudly claim.

Right now, all Dalit parties are rising against Modi over the SC/ST Act issue. What, according to them, has been done to the Act?

As a matter of fact, none of the Dalit parties is seriously concerned with the SC/ST Act. If they have woken up to its dilution in the recent judgment of the Supreme Court, it is due to the concerns being raised among Dalits.

Given this development, they have to make a noise to display their concern for Dalits.

If they ignore and do not speak on these questions, their legitimacy will be in question.

But it may be erroneous to construe such statements as anti-Modi. I have not seen any Dalit leader in his lap ever voicing any criticism against Modi!

When one reads your book, one gets the feeling how Dalits were co-opted within the system and benefitted from it, but that strategy never worked for Muslims as they were always considered to be 'the other'. Why?

Muslims were co-opted by the Congress for quite some time. Today, they are so fragmented that they may not look dissimilar to Dalits.

The upper caste Hindus historically grudge them because of their low caste (Shudra and Ati-shudra, Dalit) origin.

The hatred for Dalits thus gets transposed to Muslims.

As they broke the dominance of the upper castes and ruled India for more than 500 years, this hatred grew intense.

The vivisection of India in 1947, as a matter of fact, was caused by imperialist interests duly supported by the Congress, but is entirely blamed on Muslims, intensifying the hatred against them further.

Therefore, when the opportunity arose, a section of the Hindus constructed its politics based on othering them.

In 2001, the destruction of the World Trade Centrwe and consequent announcement of war on terror by (then United States president George W) Bush, made terror synonymous to Muslims and they became international pariahs.

Emboldened in the neo-liberal times, the Hindutva party became aggressive against Muslims to consolidate Hindu votes.

Thus, there is no question of any major party openly co-opting Muslims today.

Is it not true that Dalits also benefitted from the co-option policy of the ruling classes? The beneficiaries have only been the Dalit politicians and, of course, the ruling parties.
What is the difference between the BJP and the Congress then?

Nothing that the BJP is doing today was not done by the Congress before. And that is what provides cover for the BJP to go berserk.

The only difference between the two is that the BJP is an ideology-driven party unlike the Congress, which is an expediency-driven party.

The Congress party's actions were tactical and expedient.

You must remember the BJP has a goal, the goal of a Hindu Rashtra, and they want to drive aggressively in the direction of the goal.

They have a model of fascism whereas the Congress tends to be totalitarian.

That is the fundamental difference between the Congress and the BJP.

The Communists were the only true Opposition in India post-Independence. Unfortunately, they are no different from any other vote-seeking parliamentary party.

When one reads the book, one realises that many Communist leaders were Brahmins and they never understood Dalit problems.

It was natural that the early Communists came from the Brahmin urban middle class because they had education and the cultural urge to think through.

However, the very background hindered their understanding of the Marxist basics. Significantly, they did not know rural society.

They did not know that Marx was not an alternative to any Hindu seers to give some mantra for bringing about change in society.

He was postulating some propositions that needed to be understood through practice. But the Brahminic attitude towards a given text was that they had to see the world to suit it.

If you see the early 1930s, Communist leaders like M N Roy said that India is already a developed capitalist country. Can you imagine that? It was only much later that he changed his view.

(Shripad Amrit) Dange later saw Communism in the Vedas!

As regards caste, while Communists willy-nilly admit the problem today, they still seem to see it within their theoretical device and maintain as though there was nothing wrong in their thinking or practice.

I had elaborately explained it in my longish introduction to Ambedkar's incomplete text India and Communism published last year by Left Word with a good intention of understanding what had gone wrong with both these movements -- Dalit and Communist -- and what caused their divergence, so as to get them on to the convergence track.

According to me, that is the only solution not only for the survival of both these movements but also for the future of this country.

But even this offends some rabid Communist fringe that thinks it is the sole arbiter of Marxism.

That is the unfortunate Communist culture that alienates Dalits and even many others from seeing it as the alternative.

In this book also, I have explained how the Marxian metaphor of base and superstructure was misunderstood by the Communists to isolate caste from class analysis.

Unlike others, I do not differentiate between class and caste; the latter as the residue of the previous mode had essentially to be incorporated into the classes and the class struggle be strategised to annihilate it.

This is not understood by most people. The Communists have progressed over a century to grant caste a place over the conceptual space mapped by base and superstructure, but still they do not admit the error in their comprehension and practice.

But then, when you see that Communist leaders were Brahmins and RSS leaders too were Brahmins, Dalits should have technically gone to the Communist party, but they went to the BJP instead.

Please do not make me identify people with their caste.

Caste as a pervasive reality should be duly reckoned, its cultural influences should be understood but only to understand the present reality. Not to re-caste the people.

I do blame the Communists for not overcoming their cultural confines, but I will not abuse them as Brahmins.

The Communists have made sacrifices more than any other groups and did many good things for the oppressed masses including the Dalits.

I salute them for that, but they should also admit shortcomings of their practice. It is not saying the same thing.

To treat them like the BJP Brahmins will be an unpardonable sin. The BJP stems from the RSS that craves, notwithstanding its myriad camouflages, to re-establish their supremacist regime.

That is a vile ideology. They believe in everything that India had in its ancient 'Vedic' past, including the caste system.

It may not mean that they would recreate it in toto, but essentially they do believe that that is the ideal structure for society.

Dalits should have been aware of this, but, unfortunately, chanting Ambedkar's name makes them easily cross over to the BJP camp.

Today almost all Dalit leaders, barring a few exceptions, are found there.

Interestingly, they would accuse Communists of casteism. While the Communists through their follies have wasted the last century and rendered people hopeless, as the path of liberation of mankind it has not lost its promise.

It still craves for contributions from millions of people to its theory as well as practice and promises a better world for mankind.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf /