Interview

‘Education is the only solution’

Print edition : May 15, 2015

Prakash Ambedkar. Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

Interview with Prakash Ambedkar, leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh.

PRAKASH AMBEDKAR, the 61-year-old grandson of B.R. Ambedkar, is a qualified lawyer and a leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM), a party that he formed in 1999 after the Republican Party of India (RPI) went through one of its many splits. The BBM believes in Dalit socialism and secularism. Bearing the name Ambedkar is a huge responsibility, and Prakash Ambedkar is only too aware of this. Nor is he any less conscious of the fact that he has a tough act to follow. Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline:

Reservation has always been a contentious issue. Ambedkar had reluctantly agreed to a decade of reservation of constituencies and permanent reservation in institutions and services. You too said the same thing, causing other Dalit leaders to label you anti-Dalit. Could you explain your views?

After the first parliamentary elections, Dr Ambedkar said it was no longer necessary to continue the policy of reservation since its purpose had been achieved, i.e., to make the general voter vote for a Scheduled Caste [S.C.] candidate. But political parties manipulated reservation and used it to select candidates from the S.Cs who were weak or their paid servants. Thus, the purpose of electing proper representatives from the S.Cs was defeated by the political parties, and the reserved seat in Parliament became the hegemony of the ruling party and a hindrance to the uplift of the S.Cs. The same situation exists today, and that is why I demanded abolition of reserved seats in Parliament and the [State] Assemblies. But in the zilla parishads and municipal corporations, it should continue as this will lead to development of leadership. Reservation in educational institutions and services has to be a permanent part of the constitutional fundamental right. It will be a long time before the changed social status of the S.Cs is accepted.

Another aspect is that there is no guarantee which caste will become an outcaste in the future, and therefore, until the very idea of caste is eliminated from society, reservation should continue. There is a provision in the Constitution for the appointment of a committee after a period to check the caste situation in India. So the processes of addition and removal of the castes mentioned in the schedule can be undertaken on the basis of whether a caste has developed or fallen back.

If the policy of reservation were not there, what sort of helping hand would be required?

A situation where there is no reservation can only be achieved if the general masses and the forward castes demonstrate that they do not believe in the caste system. The hypocrisy of forward caste organisations is well demonstrated [by the fact] that they have woken up to the issue of abolition of untouchability after 60 years of Independence. The obvious outer form of the caste system is no longer followed in society, but the inner form of untouchability is followed. Forward caste organisations like the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad try and show they are for social change, but this is humbug.

The fight against untouchability has been very different in Maharashtra.

This region has a history of strong social movements that goes back nearly 300 years with great thinkers and social reformers like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Dr Ambedkar. The anti-Brahmin movement united the rest of the castes to fight for their own emancipation and also served to break the caste barrier. This situation helped the Ambedkarites develop the intellectual movement in Maharashtra. The other reason for Maharashtra’s Dalits being different is that population-wise the S.Cs are small in number compared with States like Utter Pradesh. In thickly populated states, the S.Cs spoke for change through numbers and in other States they spoke through the intellectual aspect.

What is the state of Dalit parties in Maharashtra and how has their political fragmentation affected the community?

In the Indian context, development is always measured in terms of the number of elected members. The numbers of the S.Cs are small, and getting elected on their own is impossible. Also, quality of leadership and intellectual understanding are not up to the mark. Therefore, they played the game of political [alliances] and got sucked in and used by their stronger electoral partners, who made them look like puppets. But the true development of the S.Cs does not depend on the number of representatives they have in the Assembly. The S.Cs have realised that education is their only salvation. Hence, the level of education is very high. This has infused them with self-confidence. Therefore, leadership or no leadership, the class will march to its own emancipation.

In the Assembly election of 2009, Mayawati contested all 288 seats but won none. Why?

In 2009 and also earlier, Mayawati and Kanshi Ram contested elections in Maharashtra. They had little success for the same reason the RPI [did not succeed]. The votes of Ambedkarites in Maharashtra are not more than 15 per cent. To win, you need at least 30 per cent. This additional vote of 15 per cent is difficult [to get]. Even though the general masses support Ambedkarites, they have yet to accept the leadership of a S.C. person. In Uttar Pradesh, the population of the S.Cs is not less than 26 per cent. Thus, with the addition of some castes, winning is possible. Another reason for the failure in Maharashtra is that the caste combination that they could work out in Uttar Pradesh was just not possible.

Politically speaking, who is there for the welfare of Dalits?

At present, no political party is working for the development of the S.Cs. They are only paying lip service [to the issue]. The reason is caste and class conflict. If policies and programmes are made for the development of the S.Cs, the forward castes fear that one day they will be displaced. National political parties fear the wrath of the forward castes and so neglect the S.Cs.

Do you approve of the idolisation of Ambedkar?

No doubt the iconisation is wrong. We are making all efforts to keep alive his intellectual legacy. But in a society where bhakti marg depends on the iconisation of the individual, it is to be expected to a certain extent that Dr Ambedkar will be iconised.

When you allied with V.P. Singh and went to the Rajya Sabha, you managed to get S.C. rights and privileges given to neo-Buddhists from whom these had been taken away. That was a big boost for the community, but despite that you seem to have lost political ground within it. You are Ambedkar’s grandson, so why does the name Ramdas Athavale come first to mind when one thinks of Dalit leaders and not yours?

I have not lost my political base or my clout. Mr Ramdas is projected by all political parties because they are afraid that if the field is left open for me the real challenge will begin. Even without any support (except mass backing), I am still feared. As long as I am in politics, some person or the other will be projected by giving him membership in either House and through the press and electronic media. The only intention is to show that the Ambedkarite movement is divided.

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