As a dalit student from Maharashtra who became a Buddhist, my friend Chandan Kamble was curiously sceptical of Marxism. He was sinfully prankish and was never bereft of a wild observation about anyone. He was at his acerbic best when within earshot of a dyed-in-the-wool Communist. “In capitalism, man exploits man. In communism, it’s the other way around.” The kindergarten lines were deliberately parcelled and farmed out depending on the moment, and Chandan was a practitioner of precision timing, like a jester in a serious play.
I have no idea where Chandan has disappeared. We were in the same hostel at JNU. A common JNU friend in Princeton said he last saw him years ago in a US university campus, possibly Harvard. Why am I suddenly thinking of the missing Mahar friend whose cryptic homilies on politics and Marxism, in particular, I indulged but disagreed with? A possible answer lies in the question itself.
Why did the Marxists shun dalits as dalits? They worked hard to get the dalit students priority in admission and so forth. Yet there was a pronounced aloofness at an intellectual level, a palpable snobbery. Or was it because B.R. Ambedkar had poured vitriol on Indian Marxists in his great work on the revival of the dalit cause? If that was so, why didn’t any comrade woo the lowest in the caste heap to his or her side, ignoring or critiquing Ambedkar if they had a valid argument?
What puzzles me equally is the shocking ability of the BJP to woo dalits — in Gujarat, in Uttar Pradesh and so forth. It is perhaps this worry that has sent me cartwheeling into the past. Here is a perfectly casteist party, one that Ambedkar would have loathed. And his followers are today marching mindlessly into the Hindutva fold.
Of course, there is Chanakya’s wily wisdom at play. Divide and rule, Emperor Chandragupta’s brahmin counsellor had decreed, way before the advent of colonialism of any stripe. It worked in Uttar Pradesh last month. Jatav versus non-Jatav dalits; Yadav versus non-Yadavs among the OBCs; something similar with Muslims is afoot. That’s BJP. What about the Marxists?
Indian Marxists, like their comrades elsewhere, are a threatened species. The BJP is out to swallow their two remaining hubs — one in the tiny tribal state of Tripura and the other, of course, Kerala, the redoubtable Communist bastion. One should have thought that the BJP was a cause for serious worry. But the Marxists seem to have different priorities. They look keener to bring down the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal, possibly in cahoots with the Congress. The BJP would be only too happy to let them do its dirty work.
The thought is horrifying for the sheer lack of sensitivity. The Marxists took a lead in fighting Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, and they were a source of strength to the movement that ended in the Janata Party experiment. The experiment included the BJP then called the Jan Sangh. And the first thing that the Janata Party government did was to ban school textbooks on history that were authored by Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and Bipan Chandra.
Any sane observer of the unfolding Indian scenario would feel it is time all Opposition parties came together as they once did against Indira Gandhi. What is happening instead is that one by one the non-Congress and non-BJP governments, including the Left Front, are coming in the cross hairs of the Modi establishment.
It is worrying that the main Marxist groups — and not to forget the Congress — seem to believe that the threat posed to India’s democracy by the BJP is comparable with Ms Banerjee’s rule in West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal’s in Delhi.
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