[This is a comment on the recent article by Dr. N. Sukumar (Dalit Revolution and Hindutva Counter Revolution in Indian Politics) on Round Table India which questioned the new discourse in the opinion columns of mainstream media on how the Dalit movement has supposedly taken a 'rightward' shift. Thanks Dr Satyanarayana for keeping the debate going!]
Thank you for this timely reply. You have rightly rejected the mischievous view that Dalits are taking a rightward shift in Indian politics. Just because one is in JNU and in the dept of Political Science, one should not present himself as a self-appointed expert on Dalit politics. Based on some newspaper reports and half-baked truths, Ajay Gudavarthy made a sweeping generalisation about Dalits and their politics in India. He is irresponsible to push Dalits into the Hindutva fold by citing some 3 or 4 Dalit politicians joining BJP and the electoral victory of BJP in some pockets of the country. His article in the Hindu is full of common sense assumptions and half baked truths. See some examples:
1. Ajay claims "the larger sub castes among the Dalits have mostly converted to Christianity and some to Islam, leaving the smaller sub castes the sole option of moving to the Hindu fold." On what basis is this statement made? He is advising some sub castes to go to BJP? Is conversion (for social and spiritual reasons) the same as joining the Hindutva forces?
2. "This is why Mr. Raj joining the BJP or Ram Vilas Paswan joining the coalition is perceived as part of a pragmatic move necessary for the current Dalit agenda, while Arundhati Roy writing on B.R. Ambedkar is perceived as an illegitimate appropriation and worse, as "poaching" from the outside. Here, strangely, Dalit politics uses the exclusivist Dalit identity and the need to be born a Dalit to speak of caste and Ambedkar."
So those who "perceived" Arundhati Roy's writing as appropriation and those who defend Udit Raj and Paswan are "the same Dalits." What a way to defend Arundhati Roy who is advertised as co-author of Annihilation of Caste by Verso publishers in London! If Dalits do not support your Arundhati, they are all pro-hindutva? Is this the logic?
"The same Dalits" endorse neo-liberal politics. If this is the logic, who is Ajay Gudavarthy representing? Can we say he is speaking for all upper castes in India because of his caste? Or he is the only radical anti-hindutva left and secular intellectual left in the country?
3."Mobility by gaining acceptance looks far more tangible and achievable than the abstract and rather Utopian idea of annihilating caste." Which Dalits are making this argument? All Dalits in the country? Is this your advice to Dalits?
While the BJP is making a concerted attempt to win over Dalit people as part of vote bank politics, any concerned public intellectual would analyse the implications and critique the Hindutva agenda as dangerous. Anand Teltumbde did this in EPW by criticizing the three Dalit Rams for joining BJP.
Ajay represents himself as a secular and left scholar and bemoans the tragic turn of the Dalit community. This stereotype of the Dalits as a caste community (that always acts as a caste group) is a view that helps the upper caste intellectuals to occupy the radical and secular identity and also to hide their caste identity. By this logic, the Brahmins and other upper castes are a diversified community which has both secular and caste minded people but the Dalits are a homogeneous group tied to their caste. It is the secular upper caste intellectual who imposes "the exclusivist Dalit identity" on the Dalits. Ajay's article is the best example of this.
If the space in The Hindu is reserved for some, the site of internet and the websites like the Round Table India are all there for Dalits and others for spreading alternative views.
Thank you Sukumar for your critical analysis.
~ K. Satyanarayana
Associate Professor, EFL University, Hyderabad.