Reviews

A look back at the colourful history of a bahujan leader

KANSHIRAM — Leader of the Dalits: Badri Narayan; Viking/Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 499.   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K.Sridharan

Forget the controversies about Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, he was far more effective in taking Hinduism to the masses than Swami Vivekananda, a strong Hindutva votary once argued.

So also the author of the book under review seems to imply Kanshiram was the one who contributed a lot more than Ambedkar himself in empowering Dalits, at least in some parts of India.

“Kanshiram reinvented Ambedkar, in his own way, through bahujan politics, much to the dismay of Ambedkarites…before the 1980s Ambedkar had been relegated to the margins of political discourse in independent India. But the Dalit discourse and Dalit culture, with its own set of metaphors and symbols, introduced by Kanshiram, changed the pivot of Indian politics. They brought Ambedkar back into the consciousness of people. Once again in their political psyche he became a force to reckon with,” remarks Badri Narayan.

Even Anand Teltumbde who slams Kanshiram’s “disdain” for moral values, goes on to acknowledge, “Notwithstanding these broad differences, he has succeeded in luring the Dalit masses in certain pockets of the country by projecting an Ambedkar icon that sanctioned his unscrupulous pursuits of power.”

The drift is clear. The man has made a difference, never mind some turning up the nose. And his disciple might have performed disastrously in the recent polls, still the BSP seems to be a factor to reckon with. In such circumstances, a look back at the colourful history of Kanshiram is most certainly in order. But it is almost a hagiography. Interestingly while there are a number of books recounting the rise and rise (and now fall) of Mayawati, arguably Badri Narayan’s is the first scholarly attempt to chronicle the life of her more celebrated mentor. Looks like Ramachandra Guha himself has guided the author along, but the results are nothing much to speak of.

Well, the staple of biographies — birth, death, key events in between, some interesting snippets and a purported attempt at critiquing — are all there, no doubt. But Badri Narayan conveniently skirts such issues as the nature of the relationship between Mayawati and her mentor.

In the chapter on Kanshiram’s last days, citing an interview by Shekhar Gupta for NDTV, Badri Narayan declares sternly: “From this interview it is clear that Mayawati had deep concern for Kanshiram that surfaced when he was ill and helpless. Her devotion to and care of him completely vindicates (sic) the criticisms of the opposition parties and his family members that she had any ulterior motive in bringing him to her home.”

Badri Narayan is a professor at the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. The editorial mess apart, why should an academic stick his neck out so much and speak up for a politician when there are so many versions doing the rounds is a moot point. Yet again - “Today Kanshiram’s party is firmly in the saddle in U.P. and Mayawati, though no longer chief minister (yet again, sic!), is a force to reckon with… She has been chief minister four times and her party swept the polls in 2007, which more than vindicates Kanshiram’s judgment of Mayawati’s leadership potential when she was only in her early twenties.” What will the author have to say of the no-show of this year, one wonders.

Having said all that, the book is still perhaps worth a read. It meticulously charts the growth of the movement founded by Kanshiram, his passionate concern for the miserable lot of the Dalits, his rainbow coalition, his innovative use of the Dalit myths, the tireless work he put in and so on.

Badri Narayan does regret Kanshiram’s cynical manipulations and discusses the limitations of the sarvajan model as opposed to the bahujan. He also refers in passing to the corruption charges against Mayawati.

But not just the sarvajan vs bahujan issue alone, the very limitations of identity politics will have to be analysed a lot more honestly and aggressively to figure out why a movement that once showed so much promise began to stagnate and failed to take off anywhere else except in U.P. Perhaps that is a task left to a less starry-eyed analyst.


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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 1:59:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/a-look-back-at-the-colourful-history-of-a-bahujan-leader/article6210206.ece

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