Frankly I curse myself for having gone to Chandigarh. Not so much because I am embarrassed by the unseemly controversy created by certain pseudo Ambedkarites in Maharashtra but because I am deeply saddened to see the egotistic bunch of people with frozen mind masquerading as Marxists. I imagined there will be serious discussions on the current state of castes and the possible way out for their annihilation. But within my brief stay of a few hours I gathered an impression that it was meant not to enrich the standpoint they presented in the approach paper with outsiders’ participation but to prove how they are right and all others are wrong.
Such conferences are meant to be for free and frank discussions to evolve understanding on some complex issue. They are not the public meetings that the organizers can unilaterally decide to throw open the raw discussion to the public. Simply because the larger public will not be at the same level of understanding as the delegates to the conference to whom one basically speaks to. Therefore, there is a basic mischief in organizers’ making the raw record of the conference public in proof of their claim that they came out as victors. If they had little sense of responsibility, they would not have done so. This itself reveals how distant they are from understanding the Indian reality of caste and their immaturity to handle these delicate issue.
Media craves for sensation and they jumped on to my stray statements, of course sans context, that I termed Babasaheb Ambedkar’s all efforts towards dalit emancipation as grand failure. As a matter of fact the Approach Paper already attributed this to me and therefore it was not the first time that I was making this ‘explosive disclosure’. I have been making such observations over many years in various contexts and never ever was it construed as an affront to Babasaheb Ambedkar. It only showed how ill informed the pseudo Ambedkarites were who woke up only by the media and swallowed it without ever suspecting its veracity. As for the leakage of it to the Hindi newspaper, Abhinav Sinha denies having given it to the journalists but can he be absolved of the responsibility for it? Because the manner in which he has been hampering on my ‘second statement’ as my volte face reveals his own ignorance, real or pretended, about the context with which I stood and spoke there. I set the context right in the beginning itself that I did not find anything new in the approach paper except for the horrendous distortions that were indulged in, in describing the contents of the anti-caste movements led by the greats like Jotiba Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar, almost trashing them. The known commentators of these movements with certain radical approach, such as Gail Omvedt, Subhash Gatade and I, also were dismissed in similar fashion. The entire text apart from its usual parts of ‘Marxian’ historiography of caste, smacked of heavy prejudice against the non-Marxist (thin line to differentiate it from casteist and brahmanist, the familiar terms in Indian context) movement, theory and opinions. I therefore decided to merely expose these distortions with a view to chastise the organizers that with this kind of casteist attitude they would be unfit to discuss caste. I chose just a para in the Approach Paper that discussed about my purported opinions on castes simply because that was the best thing that I could do towards the objective I set for myself.
The para originally in Hindi roughly translates as below:
“Anand Teltumbde, the main proponent of the amalgamation (samanvaya) of Marxism and Ambedkarism accepts on the one hand that all plans of Ambedkar for annihilation of caste have proved to be a failure but still considers, one does not know why, Ambedkar’s book – Annihilation of Caste (the analysis of which we have already given above) as important as Communist Manifesto in India. Teltumbde considers reservation as a mirage and useless in the era of declining jobs. He is also a bitter critique of identity politics. However instead of understanding caste within the framework of the metaphor of base and superstructure, he considers this framework itself as a hurdle in understanding the relations between caste and class and considers that the failure to link caste with class struggle is the unpardonable mistake of the Indian communists. We have presented our opinion on the base and superstructure above. We neither get any direction for annihilation of castes from even Teltumbde nor do we understand what Ambedkar can contribute to Marxism in linking castes with the strategy of class struggle.”
Before this there was a sentence with reference to me as follows:
“Yes, most of the ML groups, Gail Omvedt, Anand Teltumbde, Subhash Gatade, etc. are stunned at Ambedkar’s fundamental theoretical contribution that the caste system is not only a division of labour but also a division of labourers, which marks the specificity of India. Lack of understanding compels us to be impressed even by very commonplace things…
The monumental ignorance in belittling the division of castes to the level of other divisions along the order of places in production system (such as division between mental and physical labour, skilled and unskilled workers, permanent and temporary workers, British and Irish workers in Britain and white and black workers in America—these were their own examples) apart, just note the insulting tone of the sentence! It is this misfounded self-righteousness that pervaded the entire discussion of the anti-caste movements, their leaders and their commentators.
Now those who are conversant with my writings would never find that I ever advocated amalgamation of Ambedkarism and Marxism. Rather I have never used the term Ambedkarism, attributed to me. The manner in which I was accused of treating Annihilation of Caste as important as Communist Manifesto insinuated as though the former was worthless. The approach paper was replete with such references ridiculing or trashing others’ opinions and projecting their opinions as the only correct understanding. Obviously, the organizers had formed their opinion on me on the basis of the Introduction I had written to a reprint of Annihilation of Caste issued by the Students for Resistance in JNU in 2012 and some recent interviews floating around on the Net. I have been writing on these issues for the last 30 years and my opinions are fairly known among activists and concerned scholars. Obviously they had not gone through my books where I discussed the contemporary caste question and provided a blueprint for the Annihilation project. Even the sources they referred to did not warrant such misrepresentation and hence it appeared to me that they deliberately wanted to belittle others’ opinions that smacked of casteist prejudice. Moreover, there was a Bushesqe arrogance associated with it that ‘either you are with us or against us’. This attitude not so unfamiliar in traditional Marxist circle being inimical to the building of wider organization of increasing numbers of oppressed people, I decided to just deal with it.
My entire comment therefore was confined to pointing out this attitudinal deficiency in them. The more objectionable manifestation of it was the prejudice reflecting in the text against the anti-caste struggles of the lower castes, particularly dalits. I had duly explicated this context and object to the audience. I tried to show how the distortions were willful and deliberate and therefore smacked of some casteist prejudice. If one understood this context, my entire comment could be easily seen in proper perspective. It did not relate with supporting or opposing Marx or Ambedkar, it did not relate with comparison of their philosophies or methodologies, which anyway I inherently hate to do; it did not relate with even opposing any one of them or their movements, much less trashing them. Take for instance, the issue of manifestos. They accused me of considering Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste as important as Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The raw writing of this kind itself revealed their brahmanist obsession to hierrachize even the ideologies and movements. As capitalism commoditizes everything, Brahmanism hierrachizes everything! Fortunately for me, Asit Das of CDRO who spoke before me had read out the actual sentence I wrote: “What Communist Manifesto is to the capitalist world, Annihilation of Caste is to caste India”, and had also observed that it was not the same as what the Approach Paper conveyed; their domains having been duly differentiated. It was not my concern to analyse the correctness or otherwise of these manifestos. As for Annihilation of Caste, even the same Introduction that they referred to provides a glimpse of my reservations about its applicability to the contemporary castes. Manifestos are the expression of struggles in time and space; they do not happen in vacuum. The right or wrong about them is inevitably associated with the success or failure of struggles they represent. Only time can decide that.
Interestingly, while Sinha misconstrued my statements as the justification of Ambedkar, some misinformed and vested interests among Dalits, the pseudo Ambedkarites projected them as the insult to Ambedkar. Actually, I did neither; it was not my purpose at all. In relation to the phrase ‘Ambedkarwad’ I reiterated my old stand that I did not consider anything like it existed. I gave my own justification in terms of the philosophy or methodology informing Ambedkar’s struggles and polemical writings. Many scholars have written about how deeply Babasaheb Ambedkar was influenced by his professor John Dewey in Columbia. He himself had acknowledged his intellectual debt saying as late as in 1952 that his entire intellectual being he owed to John Dewey. The philosophy of Progressive Pragmatism or Instrumentalism that Dewey is associated with considered that knowledge was tentative; any theoretical postulate needed to be tested out in practice in order to get enriched theory as well as enlightened practice. I merely stated that this methodology, as considered by many commentators of Dewey, could be taken as scientific methodology, for that is what scientist do in their laboratories. This was misconstrued by Sinha as my justification of Dewey and in turn support to Ambedkar. How foolish! It was only meant to stress the plausibility of this philosophy that it may not be casually discarded. I was not justifying anything or supporting or opposing anyone. It was in the same vein that I pointed out the necessity of rethinking many of Marxist formulations in view of the changes that befell the world. I said that I had a long list for Marxist prompting such a rethinking. Was I therefore criticizing or trashing Marx? Only fools would say so. My only stress was on sensitizing people who are intoxicated by this or that ism to be open to realities the world presents; simply because eventually revolutions have to happen in these worlds not in their heads or the books they adore.
Unlike Marx, I said, Babasaheb Ambedkar had no claim to any grand theory. Rather, his basic reservation about Marx stems from his deep distrust of his grand theory. With his meager resources, he followed his pragmatist methodology and in process frequently changed his strategies and tactics. To recount, he initially believed in reforms in Hinduism such that the hardships of the Untouchables could be alleviated. This belief was soon shattered with the hostility the caste Hindus exhibited in Mahad and the entire society kept mum over the issue as it happens even today. He switched his attention to political opportunities that were unfolding with communal turn in politics. He began stressing separate political identity for the Untouchables and soon won them separate electorates in the Round Table Conferences against spirited opposition from Gandhi. But they proved still born. Gandhi’s epic fast blackmailed him into giving them up and accepting joint electorates with reserved seats and other promises in the Poona Pact. The entire plan proved trickery and he realized that the reserved seats had rather become an instrument in the hands of the ruling class parties to decimate genuine representation of dalit interests. He experimented with Independent Labour Party (ILP) and drove his politics along class lines; toyed with joining hands with the Communists but got a taste of their ‘brahmanism’. This experiment also was short-lived in the face of colonial promotion of the communal politics. The Cripps Mission Report of February 1942 became the last straw and he had to dissolve the ILP and launch the Scheduled Caste Federation. Around the same time, he became a minister in Viceroy’s cabinet and was instrumental in converting the incipient preferential system into quota system of reservation and a plethora of labour laws. When the Viceroy’s executive council was dissolved, he found himself totally sidetracked from the parleys for transfer of power for three long years until he was inducted in the all party cabinet, thanks to the Gandhi’s strategy. In the wake of formation of the Constituent Assembly, he prepared a draft outline for the future constitution of India and giving a plan of ‘state socialism’. Against the obvious odds, he managed to reach the Constituent Assembly but it became short-lived because East Bengal, from where he was elected, was marked as Pakistan. Congress at the instance of Gandhi again inducted him into the Constituent Assembly and made him even the chairman of its most important committee – the drafting committee. He initially reposed faith in the Constitution but was soon disillusioned to disown it completely. At the end of his life he fulfilled his vow taken in 1935 by converting to ‘radical’ version of Buddhism.
If one takes an objective look at this brief life sketch, Babsaheb Ambedkar kept changing his strategies and tactics as per the situations with a sole focus on the emancipation of Dalits. One does not find any enduring theory or a theoretical postulate that represents him except for pragmatism. He could be ideal, a role model, for his unstinted commitment, iconoclastic attitude, intellectual honesty, hard work, integrity and sincerity but possibly cannot be extrapolated to face the future. If he had been always evolving and changing all through his life, how possibly could one extend him into the future? It is in this studied sense I have been writing that there cannot be Ambedkarism, which is casually spoken about a section of scholars and sentimentally celebrated by Ambedkarite Dalits. I stated the gist of all this in the conference. I said that my self-initiation into Marxism dates back to my early childhood and by conviction I do follow Marxist methodology, but I still would not call myself a Marxist. Because, firstly, the kind of dogma the Marxists reflect I would never subscribe to and secondly, I might shun all these isms because they also unconsciously serve as identities and eventually divide people. I explicated my conception of Marxism as the core of dialectical materialism, until it is disproved by physical sciences. Thereafter, much of the body of Marxism is a derivation from this core, prone to errors and hence should be available for verification. The claimants of grand theory have to be vigilant about its validity in face of changing reality. But unfortunately, the so called Marxists have made Marxism a religion, an article of faith that Marx has said the last word. This attitude made Marx to exclaim, “thanks god, I am not a Marxist” and impels me too to say similar thing.
Even a cursory look at the life sketch of Babasaheb Ambedkar will indicate that he faced failures at every stage. Nothing that he expected materialized. The political representation of Dalits over which he had struggled so hard proved to be the bane. He himself could never win an election on reserved seat even against the political pigmies. He emphasized higher education for Dalits and opened colleges but soon lamented that the educated people had cheated him. He gave the mantra of Annihilation of Caste but had to reconcile with castes getting Constitutional legitimacy in modern India. We can go on citing such undesirable ends his efforts met all through his life. If one takes a look at the current state of Dalits, we get the similar picture. While a handful of dalits made significant progress, vast majority of Dalits are stagnated vis-a-vis the non-Dalits or even fallen behind. Broadly speaking, untouchability, though outlawed in the Constitution is rampantly practiced as the recent surveys indicate; castes are kicking as a part of modern institutions. The caste identities are being proudly flaunted even by Dalits, paradoxically claiming to be Ambedkarites. Gauged by incidences of atrocities, that I considered the best proxy for casteism, castes have surely aggravated. All the institutions Ambedkar had started for Dalits, viz., Peoples’ Education Society, Buddhist Society of India, Samata Sainik Dal, just to name a few, are in shambles today. The less said of Ambedkarite politics, the better it is.
If these things are not to be construed as failure, what else could one call them? It is as glaring as sunlight but this is picked up as a bombshell and agitated against by Dalits, not knowing that with their behavior they are further failing Ambedkar. He wanted them to be ‘prabuddha’ the enlightened ones; but refusing to see the reality they proudly show up as ‘nirbuddha’, anti-enlightenment. Will they introspect to realize that each bit of their behavior to claim allegiance to Ambedkar is anti-Ambedkar and verily insulting to him? It is not Babasaheb Ambedkar alone, every great person in history who cherished universal goal of human emancipation has met with grand failures. But the fact remains that the humanity owes its existence to them; more to their failures than successes. We cannot negate their contribution to betterment of our lives. The stark realization of such facts only can awaken Dalits to reality from their self-imposed slumber. Only through the realization of his failures can we realize the pain and travails Babasaheb Ambedkar underwent, understand the value of his contributions, and internalize our responsibility to strive to accomplish his dream. Should they not recall that at the fag end of his life when he was looking back to his life in an introspective mode he used to suddenly burst into tears saying that whatever he had done benefitted only a handful of urban people; he could not do anything for the vast majority of people living in villages? It was this realization that he had asked BS Waghmare, who had visited him along with the SCF team of Marathwada to launch struggle for land. The only significant struggle that happened on the real problem of Dalits in the entire history was the countrywide satyagraha for land in 1964, which I guess was also prompted by him in his last years. This says all to the so called Ambedkarites who have constructed a canard against me on this issue as though I was raising it just now!
Most great people can be seen as grand failures because they never accomplished what they set for themselves. The goal of human emancipation, expressed in varying language and terms, since ancient times still stays the same despite struggles and strivings of scores of great people in every era. What was Babasaheb Ambedkar’s goal? He stated it himself in terms of his conception of an ideal society characterized by ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’. Is that fulfilled? Even his subsidiary goal of emancipating Dalits remains unfulfilled. I have already recounted all that he desired but met with almost its opposite end. He imagined he would make entire India Buddhist. The fact is that Buddhism remains confined to his own caste people even among Dalits. Babasaheb Ambedkar detested hero worship; paradoxically he himself became a hero extraordinaire and a cult figure. He ruthlessly dissected gods and goddesses; sadly he himself became bigger than any god ever. He hated irrationality and humbug; but he is drowned in it thanks to his followers; he hated intellectual dishonesty; his followers have made it a virtue; he was proud being an iconoclast; he himself has become the biggest ever icon; he expected his followers to be enlightened and take his chariot ahead; they have shut themselves off from the world and became his blind worshippers, a la bhaktipanth. Whether it is his followers or whether it is the circumstances; the fact remains that he has been so distant from his goal post.
My other point, which remained unsaid (giving an opportunity to Sinha to exploit it to the hilt) but was very much implicit in the context of my comment on ‘grand theory’ and ‘rethinking’ hints was to sensitize the comrades about the failure of Marx being far more catastrophic than any other failure in history. Ambedkar’s failures were implicit in his methodology of progressive pragmatism. Sinha’s belabouring this point in his lengthy lecture on Dewey’s philosophy, which I confess I liked and so acknowledged in my second statement, was really unnecessary, which also I pointed out in the very first statement. I wished to remind the Marxist audience that Marxism is not a fossilized doctrine or exhibition of allegiance to Marx but it is a methodology to understand the dynamic reality around us in order to change it for the betterment of mankind. We can easily recount as I did the failure of Babasaheb Ambedkar or for that matter most great men in history including Marx. However, Marx’s failure becomes more colossal because his was a grand theory. If we give up the article of faith, Marx’s formulations have failed to confirm to the reality, much so to bring about change in it. Capitalism, despite its inherent crises has been able to limp past it and even marginalize it. Should Marxists be not concerned with it? If I say so, I am not at all demeaning Marx. He stands as one of my most adorable thinkers. Therefore, Marxists should not indulge in another kind of self-deception that Marx has uttered the last word, a la end of theory. They have developed more elaborate lexicon to block any impurities in their ideology. A lifelong comrade could suddenly turn a renegade, reactionary and enemy of people!
I had recounted few developments in the world which crave for proper fitment into Marxist praxis and hinted that I have a long list of such things. Sinha rejoices exploiting the fact that I did not ever mention the failure of Marx. I did not have a written speech; I was speaking extempore in a language which I was not used to and to an audience which was potentially alien to what I was speaking and hence might have not been as coherent but I do not think that handicapped me in my communicating what I meant to say as Republican Panthers’ version independently recounted. The thrust of my entire argument was to sensitize them that they should not be conceited in trashing historical movements and peoples’ heroes just because they did not belong to their tribe. The biggest challenge before the Marxists in India is to transcend the existing alienation of Dalits and gain their confidence.
Ambedkar was no Marxist. As I said, he inherited critique of Dewey against Marxism. Anybody can see that with little effort. He also inherited Dewey’s Fabianism which got further reinforced when he entered the London School of Economics, the institution founded by the Fabian Society, in which the founders of Fabianism, viz., Sydney and Beatrice Webs still taught. Fabianism opposed Marxism and had a very different hodgepodge of a vision about socialism. They thought socialism will be brought about through gradualist and reformist way, rather than revolutionary means and it will be accomplished by the enlightened middle class rather than proletariat. Babasaheb Ambedkar also reflected these notions. It is only later that the Fabians felt the need to organize workers and founded the Independent Labour Party (ILP). Ambedkar’s ILP was fashioned after this Fabian ILP. Despite these deep influences he was curiously aware of the potential attraction of Marxism to the downtrodden and always kept on projecting his methods being superior to the Marxist, perhaps as an imperative. He was not opposed to it as can be seen from the serialized features on Russian Revolution and occasional references to its heroes in his Marathi writings. It is only later, with the bitter experience with the Bombay communists that he developed some kind of abhorrence for them. I see him using Marxism as the benchmark, something as the second best to his own methods. In 1953, he writes to his lieutenant Dadasaheb Gaikwad that he saw his methods were not working and hence his people could become communists if they wanted to. Nonetheless, it can still be said that his understanding of Marxism was far from proper. He never referred to or touched upon any basic tenets of Marxism. Although he once said that he read more books on Marxism than all communists combined, if true, none of them might have been the classics. Even in his last lecture in Kathmandu, where he presented a comparative picture of Buddhism and Marxism, he just referred to things about Marxism which no sensible reader of Marx would take seriously. Why should even Ambedkarites also feel slighted by this observation? Is their behavior not irrational? Does it become a true follower of Ambedkar?
It is not at all important in evaluation of his contribution to the Indian society that he did not care for Marxism. He has been singularly instrumental in raising the consciousness of the lowliest of the lowly to their human rights. He has been the first to foreground the caste question at the national level and give a slogan of Annihilation of Caste. No one can deny the contribution of the communists and it is verily true that in the mode of class struggle they waged in countryside, castes had melted away. But in terms of sheer magnitude it may have to be admitted that Ambedkar’s influence exceeds all of them. One may examine the quality of this consciousness but that is a different matter. In India this may be seen as necessary step in the process of democratization. It is with this sense that I said that his contribution to India’s democratization is greater than all communists combined. It is deliberately rhetorical because I want communists to think what opportunities they have missed and what have been the consequence of that miss.
I have been faulting the early Marxists for importing the moulds from Europe for doing class analysis of India and excluding castes as superstructural category. Lenin had defined classes as follows:
“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and their mode of acquiring it”. (Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘A Great Beginning: Heroism of the Workers in the Rear: ‘Communist Subbotniks’ in: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 29; Moscow; 1965; p. 421).
My contention is that if the early communists had internalized this definition of Lenin, castes could not have been left out to yield an idiotic duality of class and caste. Even today they keep swearing by the Marxian metaphor of ‘base and superstructure’. Sinha still sees a big problem in my statement that this metaphor has been the biggest hurdle in the path of Indian revolution. Ask any Dalit Marxist and he would trash this metaphor; ask any non-Dalit Marxist he would cling to this metaphor. Why? That is the reality of India and its caste divide! Now don’t say that only the non-Dalits grasped the ‘pure’ Marxism. There has been quite a controversy around this metaphor that prompted theoretical developments in the realm of cultural Marxism. But we would not enter that sphere here. Over the time the Indian Marxists limped to realize that castes are not merely the aspects of superstructure but extend into the production base itself. Castes in 1920s almost defined peoples’ lives at least in broad terms and hence if they had been incorporated within the class analysis, the anti-caste struggle would have been an integral part of the class struggle eliminating the need of separate anti-caste movement, which was sure to be developed in a divergent direction as it did. I called this the biggest sin of the communists. Even to this proposition there was lengthy retort from the organizers’ side. Of course, what was possible in 1920s cannot be tried in 2013. But there should be a realization that a costly mistake was committed. Surprisingly, there is no admission ever from the Marxists. With all kinds of display of enlightenment on caste question with unmistaken pretention that it was superior to what existed, confront them on this simple issue and you will find them clinging to this metaphor as though it was the core of Marxism.
I have been saying umpteen times that the core character of caste is like an amoeba; it only knows splitting. Castes basically seek hierarchy; it cannot survive in non-hierarchical waters. Castes under external pressure tend to contract together, but remove the pressure they would start splitting. All caste movements have experienced it but failed to note this core characteristic of castes. Babasaheb Ambedkar tried to articulate his anti-caste struggle in class terms, organizing all the Untouchables into a class. He tended to use ‘class’ instead of castes. His first essay on Caste, when he was just a student in Columbia makes profound observation (I am aware, Sinha and comrades of his ilk will not be amused) about their characteristics. Needless to say, that his conception of class was not Marxist and rather came closer to Weberian sense. But as he proceeded, he was compelled by the circumstances to repeatedly fall back to castes. As a result, it sounds unpalatable to many people that his was not the caste based struggle. ‘Dalit’ that was shaped through this movement deceptively appeared viable, collapsing all the sub-castes into one whole, but today after 60 years it faces a threat of extinction from the upsurge of sub-castes. The logical conclusion for Dalits to realize is that castes cannot be the basis for articulating any struggle for radical change. What does it mean? It means that they will have to shun caste idiom and orient them towards class. The circumstances are congenial today than ever before to realize it as every caste has created a class layer within it, which pretends to identify with the rest but is in fact inimical to it. It is not necessary for Dalits to sublimate to Marxism because they have not yet exhausted Ambedkar itself. Babasaheb Ambedkar gave them a vision of Annihilation of Caste. That is a good enough dream to pursue. Any and everything that comes in its way should be discarded as anti-Ambedkar. Castes cannot be annihilated by Dalits alone for the simple fact that they have not created it. Unless the larger society owned up this task, castes will not be annihilated. Therefore, they should orient them to identify their friends and foes not on the basis of ‘certificates’ but their placements in life situation, i.e., class. I have been advising the Left also in a reverse direction that they should shun their orthodoxy and understand that they ought to see castes as the prime hurdle in revolution and reflect it in their practice. It is not the lip service that they will speak out all wise things but still hamper on the worn out metaphors. Let their theory as well as practice reflect this conviction that they have really changed. It is through the gradual convergence of these two movements and not the isms that the new revolutionary movement will be born quickly fructifying into Indian revolution. It is with this logic that I have been warning both sides for years: “there is no dalit emancipation without a revolution and there is no revolution without dalit participation.” Is there anything anti-Ambedkar here? Or am I speaking the same thing as Sinha did?
There is one more issue that is picked up by the pseudo Ambedkarites and that relates with the Reservation Policy. I pointed out the genesis of the current system of reservation based on ‘quota’ into an innocuous memorandum Babasaheb Ambedkar issued while he was a Labour Member in Viceroy’s Executive Council. The same policy was continued after Independence with an addition of a schedule for the Tribes. The related articles in the Constitution connote the rationale for reservations for the SCs, STs and BCs in terms of their backwardness. Backwardness in a backward country like India did not make a sound ground for making big exception to the general principle of equality. The rationale should have been caste based exclusion. This exclusion was suffered by the SCs alone as the Untouchables, not by the tribals who were outside the pale of castes and surely not by the BCs. The reservation for the SCs therefore should have been based on the principal that it was not their disability (backwardness) but the disability of the larger society to treat its own members equal necessitated reservations as a countervailing force of the state. Even if the SCs were not backward, the society would never give them their dues because of the ingrained notion of their caste. The first correction that would follow is to its domain. It would not be restricted to only miniscule public sector but would encompass entire societal sphere, i.e., public, private, and everything. Such a formulation would have eliminated most of the current deficiencies in policy: the lack of self-terminating feature; lack of well defined objective; lack of linkage to the annihilation of castes; lack of acceptance of the larger society; lack of consideration of the psycho-cultural impact on the beneficiary population, etc. The caste exclusion of the SCs was a concrete reality and was not in dispute unlike backwardness. The onus of annihilation of caste could have fallen on the larger society, where it ought to be, making it strive for it in order to end the policy. The stigma being borne by the society, the beneficiaries would be destigmatized and still they might not like to carry the traditional attribution of low caste. Today the SCs bear huge cost in terms of psychological pressure that perpetuates their backwardness everywhere. While I say this I am not against the tribes and BCs; I admit on the criteria of backwardness, there are as backward people among them as among the SCs. And the state owes responsibility towards them. But reservation is a bitter pill and should be used sparingly. There are other policy instruments to remove backwardness of people without enlivening castes. The ruling classes would never let go of this golden goose but the intellectuals on the peoples’ side should not have blindly toed their line.
These reservations to the SCs moreover needed to be implemented carefully taking the social reality into consideration. The SC was a administration category which did not correspond to the social reality of numerous castes within it and different environments (rural versus urban) and socio-economic statuses of people within them. Small number of people living in cities and towns with relatively better socio-economic condition were bound to grab larger share of reservations than the rest of the population. These reservations moreover would further strengthen their position and push the vast majority to disadvantage. Therefore, while the reservation to the Untouchables was justified for the above given logic, its implementation within the beneficiary set should have been on the basis of family unit. The families that were in advantageous position may grab the first chunk of reservations but they would be excluded from the potential beneficiary population. This simple principle could have dampened the caste idiom within Dalits and ensured even distribution of the benefits across the SC population. The glaring fallacy of the current system of reservation that while it benefits an individual but costs the entire caste could have been eliminated to a larger extent. I had proposed this scheme years ago and publicly offered the implementation assistance if anybody had any doubt about it. The ruling classes for whom the current scheme of reservation has proved as the most potent weapon to divide people at will asunder, would surely ignore it. But this caste-dampening scheme did not evoke any reaction even among Dalits. The fact remains that everybody loves his caste; the lower the caste, more you do. Well, Com Sinha, this was my enduring stand on reservation. Do not search my words in your record as subtle things could not be explained to people who are not open to hear anything than their own voices. And the pseudo Ambedkarites, is there any slighting to Babasaheb here in such a policy analysis? If you see that you are surely holding him responsible for all the ills the country suffers from.
Now the programme the Approach Paper ends with on last two pages of the 55 page document gives you a feel of ‘khoda pahad, nikala chuha’. It is fraught with all salutary statements which could be found in any communist document on caste. I would say, CPM through its anti-caste front has gone far ahead taking up concrete caste issues in certain states like Tamil Nadu. That we should have thousands of propagandists doing anti-caste prachar among masses, that we should accord primacy to the dalit demands in the general charter of demands, that we should demand ban on caste based matrimonial advertisements, khap and other caste based organizations; that the communists should not follow castes, etc. are besides being a usual wish list, does not reflect any Marxist theoretical feat. Anybody Marxist or non-Marxist will easily come out with such measures while speaking against caste system. What theoretical formulation informs it? All of them arguably belong to the bourgeois liberal space. For argument sake, and mind, I am not advocating for Ambedkar, consider his measures in his States and Minorities put forth in 1947. Are they not far more radical than any of these worn out recipes to confront castes?
Now listen, I distilled out an approach to annihilation of castes in my book ‘Anti-Imperialism and Annihilation of Castes’ based on adequate theoretical analysis and support from my own research in cybernetics. One, I found that under the capitalist onslaught since colonial period through 1960s, the ritual castes are weakened to a large extent and hence to speak about castes in a classical hierarchy is fruitless. Contemporary castes have reduced to dalits and non-dalits. Two, the caste contradiction manifests in rural areas between the class of rich farmers and rural proletariat who mostly belong to Dalits. These contradictions are based primarily on economic interests but they are accentuated with non-economic (social, cultural and political) considerations. The rich farmers using their caste ties with their own caste people can easily transform them into a caste conflict between Dalits and Backward castes. Three, atrocity precipitates because of the intrinsic weakness of Dalits (as identified way back in 1936 by Ambedkar). The nexus of the state and its apparatus with the rich farmers adds to this power asymmetry between Dalits and non-Dalits. It is by far the dominating factor. Four, generally the advanced elements of society should undertake education of people against the evil of caste through political economy; not in a cultural or moralistic manner. This is expected to weaken the caste ties between rich farmers and their caste fellows who do their bidding in becoming their foot soldiers against dalits. Five, there will still be some elements who do not understand it and participate in atrocity. They need to be physically dealt with. Here comes the opportunity as well as a role for the Left to intervene. If they join their forces with Dalits, this can be accomplished. The fall out of this process will be in terms of Left winning the confidence of Dalits and thereby the forces for Annihilation of Castes getting spirally strengthened. I am not cluttering it with my worksheets for this blueprint. Do this much, and you will find yourself close to Annihilation of Castes.
Finally to the self-obsessed Marxists, I would like to say that it is childish to take support of words and lose sight of the content. The entire rejoinder of yours to the Republican Panthers hampers upon my second statement, that I annulled all that I said by agreeing with you. Amazing! The very first sentence of the second statement was that I did not say all that you belaboured to refute and you indulged again in distortion. Assuming what one said something and then celebrating refutation of that something is purely a waste of labour. When I said that I agreed with much of what I said, I meant the contents of your Approach Paper (I never said I rejected it entirely. I said, I got a feel of déjà vu reading it) as well as your pontification on Dewey’s philosophy (which I carefully heard). ‘Much of’ however does not include all of it, surely. I was in hurry as had to leave for Jalandhar to observe my other commitments. I uncomfortably spoke something, (not that I do not mean it and am making a volte face) to get out of there, which cannot be construed as agreement with you on my main points. When I told Sinha that he again distorted my statements, he said that “aisa mujhe dhwanit huwa”. To hear what is not said is called hallucination and if it repeatedly happens it is serious enough for a Marxist because then he cannot see the reality. As a senior activist, I had advised against the self-righteous arrogance you people reflected to the comrades who came with me. Please mind it.
And now to the pseudo Ambedkarites, I would state that you have only exhibited your characteristic ignorance in using my stray statements to spread canard among gullible dalit masses that I insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar because I have been expressing such opinions based on my studies over the last 30 years through my books, articles and speeches. It is not I but you who have insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar in process by exploiting the sentiments of his innocent people against someone who has worked singularly for them keeping away from the camp of the ruling classes. It is you who have insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar not now but every moment of the last 57 years by imprisoning him and his thoughts into an inert identity icon, systematically intoxicating dalit masses with devotion to that icon and disorienting them from the issues of their life and death; by trading the brand of Ambedkar for getting into good books of the ruling classes to get state concessions, nominations to posts, getting election tickets, becoming ministers, state largess and scores of such things for your selfish gains and in exchange supporting ruling class policies that have systematically exploited dalit masses; by systematically distorting Ambedkar to support your nefarious activities; and by becoming dalals of dalt interests. Not insulting alone, you have killed him. I am the one who has never shown any iota of bhakti to Babasaheb Ambedkar unlike your tribe but sincerely followed his role model in excelling in whatever I did, in standing firm on the side of the oppressed masses, securing capability of analyzing the world around on behalf of them, and striving to the best of my capacity to fulfill Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity.’ You have insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar, you have insulted me, and you have insulted the sacred legacy of all those who struggled for human emancipation.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, scholar of peoples’ movements, civil rights activists with CPDR, Mumbai.Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org