ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Contemporary Dalit Politics

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The editorial “Political Historiography of Dalit Freedom” (EPW, 22 January 2022) raises certain fundamental questions about contemporary Dalit politics. The Dalit politics that had been grounded in Ambedkarian principles of empowerment and moral progress has now drifted away considerably from these principles and reduced itself to subordination and servility. The critique of Dalit politics in general and moral degradation among the Dalit elite in particular is not new.

In a recent by-election campaign in Karnataka, senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah created a controversy when, in an election rally at Sindagi, he said, “Dalits are joining Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the sake of livelihood.” Siddaramaiah, himself coming from a humble backward caste background, is an ardent Ambedkarite and is known for identifying himself with the Dalit movement who experimented with the idea of AHIND (a confederation of minorities, backward classes, and Dalits) that played a crucial role in
defeating right-wing politics in Karnataka. The statement evoked statewide protests from Dalit groups; some of them went to the extent of challenging Siddaramaiah’s change of party, who was earlier with Janata Dal (Secular), and questioning whether that was for livelihood or not. What Siddaramaiah indicated was a tendency among Dalit politicians who are compromising with the ideology of B R Ambedkar for the pecuniary benefits they get in parties like the BJP. However, it is unfortunate to see that Dalit politicians have lost their sensitivity to sincerely reflect and introspect at such a constructive criticism. The common people from Dalit communities had the courage to accept the reality of rampant co-optation among the leaders and condemned it by saying “Jai Bheem Bolo… Kidharbi Chalo” (hail Ambedkar and follow anybody). Using Dalit identity as a brand and negotiating with right-wing parties has indeed become a political subculture among Dalit politicians across the country. This issue poses a substantial challenge to the deepening of democracy in India.

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