“On January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be reorganizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”
66 years after this speech, Dr. Ambedkar’s words are finding resonance in the society in various ways. The social inequality is rendering Indian democracy meaningless for the downtrodden. At the same time political parties from right to mainstream left, are desperately trying to appropriate him in all possible ways even while democracy is in peril due to the political classes perpetual denial of a social reality which repudiates the principle of one man one value. It is this denial mode of the political class that led research scholar Rohith Vemula to take his life after the authorities made him realize the fact that ‘his birth was his fatal accident’. So what could be the reason that despite the rhetoric made by political parties, Ambedkar’s vision of having social equality found a quite burial in India?
Ambedkar’s political ideas generally led to two kind of political approaches in India. While one set of thinkers and activists believe that there are economic angles to the Dalit emancipation, some others feel that mobilisation based solely on identity assertion will break the stranglehold of hierarchical caste order. Even among those who stress on economic aspect there are different school of opinions. While some think the economic liberalisation and free moment of capital is helping the Dalits in their pursuit for freedom, some others are of the opinion that capitalism, rather than agent of social liberation is strengthening the social status quo.
Ambedkar who started Independent Labour party in 1936 and later Scheduled Castes Federation in1942 himself might have given impetus to two kinds of approaches aimed at emancipating the down trodden. Writers and Ambedkar experts like Christophe Jafferleot feels that the parties formed within an interval of six years represented Ambedkar’s dilemma. The Labour party gave importance to economic questions. Ambedkar felt that Indian workers are victims of Brahmanism and capitalism. But at the same time he believed that caste system is not just division of labour but division of labourers. Six years after Ambedkar formed Scheduled Castes Federation ostensibly to give emphasis to caste.
The different political parties which claims basis of their ideology on Ambedkar thought, differs on their perception of the importance attached to economic factors.
While one set of parties gave stress to the identity issue of the Dalits, while others- which is a very small section- considered there is class element of the Dalit emancipation.
There are activists and scholars who feel that the Ambedkar’s vision of economic and social orders are best reflected in Scheduled Caste Federations manifesto. Chandra Bhan Prasad, who started Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) in a recent interview said that the manifesto of the Scheduled Castes Federation clearly explains Ambedkar’s economic vision. People like Chandra Bhan Prasad are of the opinion that economic liberalisation while democratizing monopoly capitalism also changes the social order. They consider market as great social leveler.
In spite of having his own reservation against Marxism and socialists, Ambedkar never stood for unbridled privatization. Many instances can be quoted from his writings and speeches in which he argued for societal control of economy. Capitalism for him was system that should be fought by the depressed class. Having said that like his political thought his economic vision were also complex to fit into left –right binary.
It is true that even the most vocal Dalit parties have not explicitly come out in the open supporting the economic liberalisation. But even parties like BSP’s position on economic liberalisation and finance capital are quite ambivalent. Perhaps they may not be considering the economic policy aspect important in emancipating the Dalits from thousands of years enslavement. For they view attaining political power will naturally liberate the Dalits. On political lines also, majority of the Dalit parties have not evolved a clear ideological stand. From Republican party to Dalit Panthers to Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) the Dalit political spectrum, all claiming as true Ambedkarities, are fraught with divisions. When Sangh Parivar tried to appropriate Ambedkar, the BSP considered to be the strongest of the all the Dalit parties in the country aligned with the BJP. In Maharashtra, some Dalit parties in the past have aligned with the Congress too.
Despite the claims to the contrary by some votaries of economic liberalisation which includes some Dalit entrepreneurs, the Dalits condition in India is still pathetic as is evident from regularly occurring anti dalit atrocities. What is being proven is that social prejudices can’t be overcome by addressing from economic angle. In fact the same people who now say that the economic liberalisation is pro Dalit, are the persons who questioned the Marxists for stressing on class thus ignoring caste factor. Their charge against socialists and Marxists were that the economic understanding of society can’t address the issues and problems that the depressed castes facing.
In fact the Dalit intellectuals who says economic liberalisation will naturally help the Dalits and the mechanical Marxist approach of considering caste just as division of labour are trying to address the caste issue economically. Though Marxists of different persuasion in India now seriously trying to understand the caste, major Dalit parties still are clueless on how unbridled capitalism is going to push the Dalits down and hence reluctant to have an economic plan for Dalit emancipation. For them identity politics is all encompassing project, ignoring the fact that merely emphasizing identity rather than annihilating caste is going to strengthen it. It is these politicians who are failing Ambedkar.