J.V. Pawar is one of the co-founders of the Dalit Panthers – a formidable political and social force that emerged in the 1970s as a response to the oppressive caste structures and social injustices faced by marginalised communities.
Pawar, now associated with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, speaks to The Wire about his understanding of the national political scene, caste dynamics in politics and the forces that can take the right-wing politics head-on.
Excerpts from the interview:
Do you think the Congress has emerged as a strong opponent to the xenophobic, Hindutva politics of the BJP? Or does the key lie in the hands of the smaller, grassroots-level regional political parties who have a closer connection with the voters?
The history of the Congress party reveals that it also has an Hindutvadi political past. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had written a book, What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables. Their local and village leaders were responsible for atrocities on Dalits. There is no difference between the BJP and the Congress party. Congress was once a national party, but because of its high-caste politics, today, it is dependent on regional parties for its survival.
The Shiv Sena in Maharashtra was a by-product of the Congress party. In these general elections, Raj Thackeray’s MNS party has emerged as a “B team” of the Congress. Congress can no longer win elections without the regional parties’ support.
In Maharashtra’s politics, a watershed moment came last year – after the Bhima Koregaon violence. Balasaheb (Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s founding leader Prakash Ambedkar) emerged as a strong anti-caste leader who confronted the right-wing radical groups and the state government head on. Do you see him converting those mobilised forces in his favour this election?
There is no doubt that Balasaheb managed to emerge as a strong anti-caste leader last year, post the Bhima Koregaon violence. He was the first one to have responded to the violence. His call for the bandh (shutdown) on January 3, 2018, got a response from every political party. That success proved that he is the only leader who was able to mobilise people irrespective of their (political) groups.
In recent times, Balasaheb has been accused of not willing to accept the Congress’ terms for alliance and fielding all 48 candidates. He has been termed as a political novice and has even been accused of acting as a “team B” of the BJP. What is your opinion of these criticisms?
In no sense can Balasaheb be termed as a political novice. Instead, his political clout is such that, this election, every national party have hovered around him to have him on their side. He was the most contentious political leader in the state. This myth is media generated that he has been working as a team ‘B’ of BJP.
Balasaheb has been continuously criticising the BJP and the RSS. Paid journalists are made to spread false, irresponsible statements against Balasaheb. According to them, VBA contesting in all 48 seats will directly benefit the BJP. I then would like to ask how did BJP get a thumping majority in 2014? Was Balasaheb even in the fray then? Was VBA in existence then? Balasaheb’s dream might not come true in 2019, but he has surely emerged as a force to reckon with in coming elections.
Last elections Udit Raj joined the BJP amid criticism. Five years later, after the BJP denied him a ticket, he joined the Congress. Similarly, Athawale has stuck to the BJP-Sena alliance even after being treated badly. What could the reasons be for the Bahujan leaders sticking with the Savarna leadership even when they seldom get fair deals?
Both Udit Raj and Athawale are working to fill their individual bellies. They have always been in search of their livelihood. For them, their belly is more important than their brains. They are happy to carry the palanquins of their masters. These leaders are self-centred and the fact is that parties with Savarna leadership will never allow them to establish themselves. They will continue to be treated as slaves; it is in their blood.
The coming together of the Bahujans and Muslims is not new to Maharashtra politics. We have had instances of Haji Mastan floating his political front experimenting with this social combination and Jogendra Kavade too had tried this in the past. Is it an organic coming together or a forced alliance, in your opinion, given the fact that caste is a reality among the Muslims too and it seldom gets addressed?
The alliance of Bahujans and Muslims should be organic, which hasn’t happened yet. Mere political requirements can never bring in the true alliance. Forced alliances can never survive. The issue-based alliance will be able to earn something. And post-2014, protecting the Constitution of this country has emerged as a foremost need of both the communities. This one issue has brought the two together.
The north has given strong leaders like Mayawati and Lalu in recent political history. Kanshiram was one such leader in the recent past. Maharashtra, however, has lacked this. What could the reasons be?
There is a difference between North India and Maharashtra. Maharashtra is a land of great revolutionaries like Jotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj, and Babasaheb Ambedkar. The north Indian leaders can’t be remembered for their contribution beyond 3-4 decades. They are all politically oriented and politics can’t be a permanent feature.
People have almost forgotten Kanshiram. Mayawati and Lalu Prasad will be remembered so long as they are in active politics. This is not the case with Phule and Ambedkar.
So, as far as the politics of Maharashtra is concerned, the state has lacked leaders only in the recent past. But it is proud of Phule and Ambedkar and the land has cultivated many such personalities.
What role do you think the left parties of India have played in the process of the annihilation of caste? Leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar, who have got great support and recognition among liberal forces too refuse to accept his caste privilege, do you then see him or any newly emerging left leaders as leaders of the masses?
Left parties of India have always been caste parties, their leaders have always been upper caste. They have not played any crucial role in the struggles of the annihilation of caste. Karl Marx is there be all and end all. But Marx was not aware of the caste realities of this country. Had the Marxists of this country paid attention to the caste realities and the struggles faced by people, this country too would have made a lot of progress.
Instead of annihilating caste, they have worked towards strengthening caste. Even the prime minister of democratic India is unable to forget his caste. This attitude has only killed the democracy of this country.
Having said that, I think Kanhaiya Kumar is still right on track. He wants to forget his caste and not accept the benefits he has reaped due to his caste. That is fine.
But he has still emerged as a leader of the masses. I think he is ready to look beyond caste and work in public. He will get support and recognition from liberal forces. Even if he doesn’t gain politically, society will consider him a successful leader.