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Progress vs Regression: Interrogating the Erosion of the Morale of the Dalit Movement

Ronki Ram

Edited by Gopal Guru
Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, 2005, pp. 133, Rs. 200.00


B.R. Ambedkar christened his first political party as ‘The Independent Labour Party’ (ILP). He seemed to be particular about the title (read category) by which the party was to be known. He did not want it to be an exclusive political party of the Scheduled Castes. In the Bombay Provincial Assembly election in 1937, at least four caste Hindus ran on the ILP ticket for general seats. However, power dynamics of numbers in electro politics might have compelled Baba Sahib to amend his original plan. To contest the 1946 provincial assembly elections, he founded a new political party: All-India Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF). Despite the fact of its being an exclusive party of the Scheduled Castes, it failed miserably in the polls. What Ambedkar had in his mind probably did not match with the political exigencies that hammered the SCF. In last months of his life, Ambedkar could be seen once again revising dalit categories to capture the real substance of the field reality in order to facilitate dalit emancipation. This time, it seems that he wanted to bring back the abandoned broader categories for the dalit intervention. The formation of National Republican Party (RPI) – open to all – was one of the most important interventions. In fact, from ILP to RPI Dr. Ambedkar unfolds a large canvass for the construction of various dalit categories as well as their revisions. What Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been doing since its formation is, in fact, experimenting with divergent discourses as well as categories in order to acquire the proverbial ‘master key’.   The book under review critically explores the process of construction and revision of categories in the contemporary dalit politics. Gopal in his ‘Atrophy in Dalit Politics’ talks about dalit politics being reached a very ‘strange’ mode (p 13). A mode where dalit movement thrives on mere vocabulary of hollow categories by making use of the ‘rhetoric of Ambedkar as a discursive red herring’ for manipulating ‘the widespread complacence among the majority of the dalits’ about the categories that are ‘historically constituted, sociologically arrived at and politically articulated’ (pp 11, 13). Raised on fabricated categories, the dalit movement, argued the editor, is bereft of authenticity and is imposed from above (p 12). It lacks wide hermeneutic contents to articulate the existential needs of the vast constituency of dalit masses and is based on media-driven politics, which in turn hides its profit-driven agenda behind the façade of ...

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