1984: Kanshi Ram launches Bahujan Samaj Party

The Dalit cause became a political movement in north India with the BSP.

Published : Aug 15, 2022 06:00 IST

Kanshi Ram.

Kanshi Ram. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Although B.R. Ambedkar had formed the Independent Labour Party in 1936, the Dalit cause did not really become a political movement in north India until Kanshi Ram in 1984 established the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which went on to dominate electoral politics in Uttar Pradesh and won significant gains. Kanshi Ram’s biggest success was in creating the bahujan identity that united various marginalised castes—SCs, STs, and OBCs—into one fighting unit.

Kanshi Ram, affectionately called Saheb, was born in a Chamar family. He had got a government job through reservation but quit to become an activist. One of his first moves was to establish the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) through which he encouraged Dalits to fight against discrimination in the workplace. He asked members to educate, consolidate, struggle.

In 1972, Namdeo Dhasal had founded the Dalit Panthers in Mumbai, a radical organisation inspired by the African-American Black Panther movement. Its focus on militant methods went against Ambedkar’s insistence on democratic struggle, but it became fiercely admired among the oppressed castes. Kanshi Ram, however, realised early that political power was the route to freedom for Dalits and nurtured the BSP for that role.

In 1994, the BSP garnered enough success to form a coalition government with the Samajwadi Party in UP. It was also around this time that Kanshi Ram began to groom Mayawati as his successor, who would then become India’s first Scheduled Caste Chief Minister.

Although the BSP has been losing steam in UP since the arrival of the BJP, Kanshi Ram made a significant impact on the political evolution of Dalits in north India and made possible the emergence of a younger crop of Dalit leaders such as Chandrashekhar Azad and Jignesh Mevani.

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