Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s sudden demise last night has definitely created a big vacuum particularly if we speak Bihar politics. Paswan was a very seasoned leader, a powerful orator and a leader with the masses who broke many records while entering in Parliament. His record win from Hazipur and other constituencies in Bihar showed his grip over the masses.
Ram Vilas Paswan’s best year and I can say formative years were 1989-1990 under the VP Singh government where he spearheaded campaign for social justice and was one of the key ministers along with Sharad Yadav to have campaigned strongly for the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report. The three leaders, V P Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav got the maximum abuse and scorn from those who hated reservations and felt that these three were responsible for Mandal. But that is not the only thing. Prime Minister V P Singh depended a lot on Ram Vilas Paswan for advise and the result was various committees for Dr Ambedkar Centenary Programme, declaration of April 14 as public holiday, portrait of Baba Saheb in Parliament, reservation for neo Buddhists and Bharat Ratna for Baba Saheb Ambedkar were the major decision of that government and definitely contribution of Ram Vilas Paswan in influencing the prime minister and the cabinet that time can not be done away with.
Paswan might have emerged during JP era but he really flourished during 1989-90 and stood solidly with V P Singh when Chandra Shekhar broke away with the Janata Dali and formed a separate party and then government with the support of Congress Party.
Ram Vilas Paswan was definitely a prime minister material as we know in India, independent Dalit identity is unacceptable to political leaders. He showed sign of outreach to various people, Ambedkarite in India and abroad. He started a magazine named as Nyay Chakra and also formed ‘Bhim Sena’ with members across the country. He nurtured a number of Ambedkarites as well as other intellectuals and got organised various international conferences on Dalits and minority rights in India and abroad. It was that time, he got in touch with various Ambedkarites abroad who too felt the same way but given the political nature of Bihar’s social justice politics dominated by the former leaders of JP movement, he found at odd with them.
While many of his supporters and those of us who felt that he was a potential candidate for the prime minister ship, the post Mandal politics of Bihar never allowed him. His own space became questionable with the Mandal forces, a thing which we all know he was one of the most important members of the cabinet to have influenced the decision. He stood up with Dalit, OBCs and minorities and yet when the politics in his own home state came, he found himself completely unwanted by the social justice biradari of politicians. All those who cried against brahmanical hegemony were not ready to give him space.
Paswan realised this that it is difficult to survive in politics with one community and hence he nurtured a number of Rajput leaders too in Bihar. In later politics, he realised that he can only remain relevent if he remain in power and for that he definitely compromised with his ideology but it is also a fact that when he came out of NDA citing Gujarat 2002 and became part of UPA, RJD and JDU were uncomfortable with him and he was virtually out of UPA and joined NDA.
It brings us to another important point and need to great introspection from us all. It is often blamed that Dalit politicians ‘compromised’ and joined hand with BJP though the fact is BJP has all, Brahmins, Thakurs, Bhumihars, OBCS, Banias but then the blame always goes to Dalits and Dalit leadership particularly by the ‘brahmanical seculars’ who have occupied secular spaces and not merely in politics but everywhere, cultural spaces, media as well as protests. Autonomous Ambedkarites are unwanted in all these schemes of the things. One or two who find their way in media or these protests seminars are there because brahmanical seculars have their patronage and privileges in media.
Why I am saying this because failure of these social justice parties to accept Ram Vilas Paswan, a leader who became leader not because of some gift but purely by dint of his hard work and massive mass contact result in their going in other camps which is ‘despised’. Ultimately it is the power politics.
It brings us to other point that why it is important to have independent Ambedkarite polity and then negotiate according to their own position and not as a tail- ender of these powerful privileged parties. The one man who could challenge the monopoly of the brahmanical intellectualism and political sophistry was Manywar Kanshiram who from the day one never roamed around these manuwadi media and parties to get legitimacy. His focus was building his own cadre and party. I think, every Ambedakrite should think of that model. Ofcourse, we need to ally but no alliance can be possible if the secular social justice parties ignore the agency of Dalits to take a decision about themselves which mean that secular parties will have to respect the autonomy of Dalit political groups and parties to build a big coalition.
Today, we remember Manywar Kanshiram Saheb on his 15th death anniversary. Important to remember his work, his pragmatism and his connect with masses. He created leaders from cadres who were dedicated Ambedkarites. He knew it well that political parties and media will not speak about you unless you have your own strength and autonomy. Ram Vilas Paswan had good connections with media and brahmanical elite but at the ground zero he found himself isolated because none of the current leadership was ready to accept him as a leader and this is ironical as he was the man who always won his elections through record margins. In fact, he held that record margin in the Guinness Book of world Record.
Ram Vilas Paswan rarely spoke to Miss Mayawati or Manywar Kanshiram. His politics was different but when he decided his own way in Bihar, it was categorical that the man who once aspired to be the prime minister, was not even being looked as a chief minister for Bihar but his own colleagues. That reflect the nature of India’s political structure where caste prejudices are so powerful that it make it difficult for the Dalits to be in driving seat politically. In UP they could do so because there was a strong Ambedkarite movement unlike Bihar where Dalit movement is still at the very nascent stage. It also reflect the pattern that anti brahmanism is not should not become a slogan for the next of the communities to dominate and then deny space to those who are lower in the caste ladder. Important for all of us to embrace Phule-Ambedkar-Periyar’s ideology, strengthen anti caste movement and build a bigger bahujan alliance. Ram Vilas Paswan could not build an ideological alliance as he did not have the same cadre which the BSP build up on a strong Ambedkarite philosophy and the result is that BSP became a movement despite the fact as a party it is politially weak in most of the places except Uttar pradesh but the movement never dies. Political parties might come and go but the socio cultural movement will always remain. Ram Vilas Paswan build a political party which is like any other political party without a proper ideological cader and hence difficult to predict what will be the future of the party after his demise. He got blamed for promoting his family everywhere like the other social justice parties.
It is here I would say that Manywar Kanshiram is the biggest role model for all of us. The man who left everything to build a movement and remain grounded till end. An enlightened Ambedkarite political movement has to spread its outreach and build alliances and coalition. India can not be run through one state, one community, one religion domination. We will have to build alliances and make leaders from caders as that only will be the way to success. Parties will come and go but movement remain and Ambedkarite movement will ensure that even when a political party is weakened, the hopes will not dash and people will rise up to the occasion. That is why we must respect Manywar Kanshiram for building Ambedkarite politics a reality and purely independent which can then negotiate with other like minded groups on the basis of a common minimum programme.
My tribute to Ram Vilas Paswan, as a Minister he was effective but his political legacy has very little meaning for the Ambedkarite movement unlike Manywar Kanshiram whose legacy will always remain and give hope to people. Ram Vilas had potential to build up the movement but he abandoned that so while he might have become Minister in the later stage, he dashed the hopes of those who thought big of him because perhaps he was not keen to build up the movement or strengthen it. Manywar, Kanshiram created huge cadre and that is where even if BSP is not in power, people will always remember him for his contribution to give them hope, autonomy and political alternative. My humble tribute to both of them.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
October 9th, 2020