Reclaiming the radical B.R. Ambedkar

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Anand Teltumbde. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
Anand Teltumbde. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Not many know that B.R. Ambedkar founded Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1936. It was later that he formed a caste-oriented organisation like the Scheduled Caste Federation, following the visit of the Cripps Mission to India in 1942 to fight for the rights of the Dalit community as the mission would only accept a “community”-based representation.

Anand Teltumbde, a Mumbai-based Dalit intellectual, human rights activist and author of several works on the question of caste and class, is intrigued by the manner in which this phase of Ambedkar's life has been erased from public memory.

Konkan struggle

“ILP demonstrated how caste and class can be combined in concrete battles,” he says. It was under the banner of this party that Kunbi and Mahar communities came together for several struggles in the Konkan region of Maharashtra.

“ILP should be marked as an important phase of Ambedkar's political journey. But precisely this chapter of his life is torn off by both Marxists and Ambedkarites,” observes Dr. Teltumbde, author of Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop and Hindutva and Dalits: Perspectives for Understanding Communal Praxis.

Intuitive notion

He believes that Ambedkar, broadly speaking, “operated with an intuitive class notion” and occasionally even touched the “boundaries of Marxian concept”.

A crisis of the Ambedkarite movement today, he believes, is that such “radical” aspects of Ambedkar's political life and his mission of “annihilation of castes” are given the go-by as deification of Ambedkar as an icon takes precedence.

“Social discourses elude precise definitions, but one would expect an Ambedkarite to be a hardcore believer in the annihilation of castes. But this part is totally missing in thinking and practice,” says Dr. Teltumbde.

“He is taken as the liberator of Dalits. The universal strand in him, when he spoke of annihilation of castes, is actually neglected.”

Caste identity

He argues that notwithstanding the anti-caste posture of the Dalit organisations, they are too heavily based on caste identity. “It is forgotten that caste is fundamentally a hierarchy-seeking and divisive category. The fundamental folly of the Dalit movement is that it has not comprehended that caste cannot be the category to articulate a radical struggle.”

He believes that the concerns of large Dalit masses, particularly post-liberalisation, are invariably rooted in the land question, which is never properly taken up. “The entire Dalit movement revolved around the issue of reservations. As a matter of fact, the upper layer of Dalits has been detached from Dalit masses.”

Caste and class

Dr. Teltumbde firmly believes the future of the movement lies in looking at the question of caste in tandem with that of class. “Had there been a convergence between Marxist and Ambedkarite thought earlier, Indian history would have been different,” he says.

Making them converge, he believes, is an urgently needed strategy today. “The Dalit movement needs class orientation and Communists should understand that they cannot build class unity or talk of class struggle without confronting the caste issue head on.”


‘The Dalit movement needs class orientation'




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