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Why Bhim Army not offering its head to the 2019 slaying machine is good news

My thoughts while attending the Dalit outfit's rally in Meerut to oppose Chandrasekhar Azad Ravan's continued incarceration.

 |  6-minute read |   14-02-2018
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A Dalit leader is in jail. With each passing day, his stature is increasing. It is increasing since the injustice of the police, courts and political parties to this man is crystal clear to the Dalit masses. Even Mayawati's hostility towards him can't lessen the support he is getting.

I am talking of Ravan, Chandrasekhar Azad Ravan, the leader of the Bhim Army active in western Uttar Pradesh. Without any evidence against him, he is being charged under the National Security Act and kept in Saharanpur jail.

Yesterday (February 12), I attended a rally in Meerut opposing Ravan's continued incarceration. Jignesh Mevani was highlighted as the star speaker. Here is the poster:

jai-bhim_021318043235.jpg

Mevani is in complete solidarity with the Bhim Army. He delivered a powerful speech. And yet there emerges a contrast between local Bhim Army leaders and Mevani, who pitches himself differently.

Jignesh Mevani has his sensors cast wide, directed towards 2019. He cannot avoid rhetorical and symbolic attacks on the "56-inch chest". Jibes, Twitter attacks and media symbolisms dominate his speeches. He attacks the corporate right-wing jingoistic media. He operates within a wider predetermined field of "Congress versus BJP" - somehow everything has to fall under this basic divide which constitutes the political scenario.

But with the local Bhim Army leaders, it is different. They are more local, unpolished but grounded, unsophisticated but solid. Their politics focuses "directly" on highlighting basic social divides rather than "playing politics" around these divides. They refuse to enter the highly surcharged scene of national politics which often instrumentalises these divides and uses "caste oppression" as a bargaining chip. Hence, the Bhim Army's frame of reference is refreshingly different and does not follow any given grid.

So, along with war cries over Una and Shabbirpur (where the atrocities against Bhim Army supporters took place in May 2017), you also get to hear about the Ranvir Sena and Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre of Dalits in 1997.

Rajputs who committed atrocities against Dalits in Shabbirpur are warned that they will meet the same fate as the Ranvir Sena. But the thing is, the Ranvir Sena is not a talking point today. It is not part of the present media discourse, unlike say GST as Rahul Gandhi's Gabbar Singh Tax jibe.

About Dalit-Muslim unity, the words you hear is not about Mohammad Akhlaq or Kasganj - you do not hear of "the latest in the media". You hear of how apparently Madan Mohan Malviya refused to drink a glass of water from Ambedkar's hands, but Muslims would invite Ambedkar for a full dawat. This is how Dalit-Muslim unity is pitched. Then Azad is compared with Bhagat Singh as also with Ashfaqullah Khan - then you go further back to Birsa Munda and Jhalkari Bai.

In this way, again and again local Bhim Army leaders take you beyond the buzzword - the current media discourse and Twitter handles, beyond the symbolic attacks and counter-attacks. They are not using Azad's imprisonment as a talking point, a handle to "expose" the BJP government, and then cut BJP's vote base - no, they are not "using it" to make a quick buck in the coming elections.

As all eyes are focused on 2019, Azad and the Bhim Army stand out. To the question, "where are these Dalit votes of western UP going in 2019"?, the Bhim Army response seems to be "get lost, we are not in the game". This seems more like an un-thought "attitude" rather than a considered "perspective" on mainstream electoral politics. The "attitude", is, however, grounded in their work and activity. There is something organic about it.

After all, the Bhim Army basically is a network of schools for Dalits - Bhim Army Nishulk Paathshala or free school. Education is crucial for what Ambedkar called "a broken people". Basic education, health and housing are crucial. Otherwise, if  a community jumps into the political fray as "a broken people" without the basic means of sustenance, then it loses autonomy. The reason the Black Panthers Party in the US emphasised on "community work for survival". For example, "free breakfast programmes" for children before they go off to school, was a crucial part of the civil rights movement in America. This followed from what Huey P Newton called "survival pending revolution" - focusing on basic sustenance before engaging in "politics". Ambedkar would have agreed.

Without "survival" there is no autonomy and self-determination. Hence, prematurely entering "electoral politics" would mean selling off politically, selling Dalit votes for nothing. Caste-based social antagonism gets displaced by populist radicalism. Such a give-and-take was/is suicidal for the Blacks and Dalits who control very little resources - perhaps a lesson those like Mayawati have forgotten and the Bhim Army is upholding.

The Yuva Hunkar Rally (January 9, 2018) had thrown up the trio of Jignesh Mevani, Akhil Gogoi and Chandrasekhar Azad. A little analysis will show that the odd man out here is Azad and his Bhim Army, with the approach of "survival pending revolution". The other approach can be called "politics pending both revolution and survival". It might actually be politics cancelling (not just pending) both revolution and survival. This would be harmful for both Dalits and Muslims in India, as it was for blacks in the US. Mevani must take note of this.

2019 is going to big politically. But it will also be big in terms of intensifying the use of big data analytics in the elections, turning parties into clients and voters into clickbait-able agents. The firm, Cambridge Analytica, is in talks with the Congress for 2019. With such developments, psychographic profiling of all Indian voters will make Aadhaar-card profiling look innocent and primitive.

This is a firm in the centre of the Russia-Trump nexus and close to the dreaded Russian oligarchy as also to Deutsche Bank. It is not only very close to Trump but it also backed the alt-right news outlet Breitbart. The right-wing BJP looks innocent out here.

That the Bhim Army is, in all likelihood, not offering its head to the 2019 slaying machine is good news. These were some of my thoughts while attending the rally in Meerut yesterday.

Also read: Rise of Bhim Army shows Dalit anger is spilling over under Modi-Yogi rule

Writer

Saroj Giri Saroj Giri

The writer teaches politics in University of Delhi.

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