The Dalits lose their mirror & Ramdhan

by Chandrabhan Prasad

Despite having been close to becoming the first Dalit Chief Minister of UP, Ramdhanji has died an unsung death. On May 23, 2001, Dalits lost the mirror which most truthfully reflected the social contradictions of the "cow belt". Read More Ramdhanji supported Indira Gandhi to the hilt during the Congress' first split in 1969. The Rightist wing, led by Kamraj, SK Patil, Nijalingappa and Atulya Ghosh, was opposing Indira for her economic policies, which included the nationalisation of private banks. They had the ideological backing of Morarji Desai who, too, was opposed to the idea of nationalising private banks.

I distinctly remember Janata Party leaders portraying Babu Jagjivan Ram as their Prime Ministerial candidate during the 1977 campaign. And I also recollect the evening bulletin of All India Radio - which threw all Dalits into a pall of gloom - informing us that Morarji would be the next Prime Minister and that Ramdhan, in protest, had resigned from the post of general secretary with the Janata Party. We all know that Ramdhanji and Babuji never got along, but what mattered to Ramdhanji most were his principles. We also know that the upper Shudra leader Charan Singh had threatened to split the party and take away the OBC contingent to the Congress, if Babuji was made Prime Minister. Jai Prakash Narain, the wily Kayastha, respected Charan Singh's threat and threw his weight behind Morarji.

Soon after the Janata triumph, elections in several states followed and the Janata Party swept away with the polls. It was rumoured that the "mistake" of denying Babuji the Prime Ministership would be partially corrected by making Ramdhanji the Chief Minister of UP. In other states, party high commands decided who would be the Chief Ministerial candidates but in UP, a "democratic" method was adopted. Charan Singh mobilised the OBC lobby and put up Narm Naresh Yadav - Ramdhanji was defeated. Thus, the circle of sidelining Dalits in the anti-Congress formation was completed. In that phase of Indian politics, Ramdhanji had singlehandedly confronted the Shudra onslaught.

1977 was a landmark year for Dalit politics. Two Dalit leaders were then close to occupying top executive posts - but both were humiliated. Had Babuji become Prime Minister or Ramdhanji Chief Minister, Dalit political clout would have witnessed a great leap forward - India's politics could perhaps have been different today. Born to illiterate Dalit parents in a sleepy village in the Azamgarh district of UP, Ramdhanji was jailed in 1942 during the Congress andolan. He did his post-graduation from BHU, joined the Socialist movement and grew close to leaders like Jaiprakash Narayan and Acharya Narendra Dev. But soon, he realised the monstrous character of the Samajwadi movement and joined the Congress in early 1960.

Disgruntled with the anti-Congressism, which had turned out to be a pre-dominantly Shudra affair, he came back to the Congress and became its general secretary. However, Rajiv Gandhi failed to understand the assertive Ramdhanji and crucial decisions were taken without his involvement. Ramdhan didn't want to be a showpiece and quit the Congress, along with VP Singh. Singh also knew about Ramdhanji's assertiveness and began promoting the perpetual yes man - Ram Vilas Paswan. While Mr Paswan was made a Cabinet minister, Ramdhan was handed the National Commission for SC/STs.

By the time his term with the Commission expired, the character of cow belt politics had undergone a sea change. The BJP replaced the Congress as the "Party of Dvijas", the BSP emerged as the sole representative of Dalits and Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party had taken over the Secular/Left space. Ramdhanji was very disturbed with the way the BSP was according legitimacy to the upper Shudras, by persisting with Bahujanwad. Seeing that the Congress was running out of ideas, he joined the BJP in 1998. However, he was unable to explain why he had joined the BJP. The question still remains unanswered.

Was he scripting a new social coalition of upper Varnas, Dalits and the most backward classes? Or he was only eager to check the march of social-fascist forces? As a matter of fact, when he saw that the BJP was also joining hands with fascist forces, like the TDP, the DMK and the Janata Dal, he quit them as well.

Ramdhanji is no more today. But his legacy remains. He was instrumental in launching the Dalit Shiksha Andolan, as he accorded a huge role to education in the Dalits' battle for emancipation. Is that the destiny of any Dalit leader who can assert himself before the Dvjjas and challenge the Shudras head on, but, in the process, find himself marginalised?