Today, October 9, is the death (Parinirvan in the Buddhist parlance) anniversary of Babu Kanshi Ram, a sterling dalit leader of the contemporary times. His followers rightly called him, out of reverence, Manyawar, Sahib, Babuji, in spite of the fact that he never hankered after name and fame just for the sake of it. Kanshi Ram (March 1934-October 2006) belonged to an ordinary family of Punjab. After studies, he joined service as a Scientist in one of the Governmental lobotomies. He had no political inclinations. But the ongoings in the office and the society at large, particularly discrimination against and ill treatment of dalits made him think and revolt. He studied Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the leaders like Mahatma Phule, Shahuji Maharaj, Ramaswami Naicker and many more. He was fully convinced that a relentless struggle was needed to awaken and emancipate dalits of the country. He disapproved the dalit leadership, particularly of the Congress Party and BJP, and their ways to deal with the problems of dalits. Later he termed them as Chamchas (stooges) thrown by the understandings of the Poona Pact signed between Gandhi and Ambedkar in 1932 in which Ambedkar, under duress, conceded to Joint Electorate instead of Separate Electorate as provided by the Ramsay MacDonld’s Communal Award. Kanshi Ram initiated to ‘distinguish between genuine and counterfeit leadership’ as stated by him in the Preface of his book the chamcha Age.
Kanshi Ram dedicated his book Chamcha Age to Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and said “We are thinking, planning and struggling to put an end to the Chamcha Age and usher in Bright Age for the Shudras and Ati-shudras.” Keeping in line with his thinking and vision, he floated an outfit of dalit employees called Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in 1978, Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4) in 1981 and ultimately to realize his political goals established Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984. Kanshi Ram was a crusader and dedicated visionary. He vowed that ‘he would not marry. He would not make any property. He would not visit his home and family. He would devote and dedicate the rest of his life to achieve the goals of Phule-Ambedkar Movement’. Giving shape to his philosophy, he said that he believed in two nation theory of his own: those who oppressed and those who were oppressed. With this, Kanshi Ram arrived on the political scene of India. He was instrumental in generating self confidence among the dalit masses. With his political acumen, BSP succeeded in having its presence felt in north of India, particularly UP. Under the leadership of his protégé Maywati, BSP became the ruling party successively. BSP showed a good presence in the Indian Parliament. The fate intervened and the mission was cut short with the untimely death of Babu Kanshi Ram on October 9, 2006.
The relevance of Kanshi Ram and his mission remains. It will remain as valid as it was before till his goal of empowering dalits and making them the equal partners in the power structures of India is not achieved. BSP under the stewardship of Mayawati, of course, would try and encash the legacy of Kanshi Ram. But it is matter of satisfaction that, of late, the other political parties has started to recognize the importance and relevance of Kanshi Ram. Recently addressing a seminar on ‘National Dialogue on Social Disparity” organized by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Rahul Gandhi praised Kanshi Ram and said that the movement started by Kanshi Ram had come to a standstill after his death. It was a well deserved tribute to Babu Kanshi Ram. BSP should take it seriously. Congress Party may hijack Kanshi Ram and his legacy as it helps in making the political arithmetic more rewarding. Let it be as it comes as long as it works for the emancipation of dalits. It will be a fulsome tribute to Babu Kanshi Ram.
Post script: Speaking at the S.C. empowerment workshop organized by the National Commission for Schedule Castes on October 8, 2013, Rahul Gandhi again made a significant statement to own Kanshi Ram. He said “There are three stages in the Dalit movement of India - the first led by Dr BR Ambedkar, the first Dalit who attained escape velocity and gave us the concept of reservations; the second under BSP founder Kanshi Ram who consolidated the Dalits who gained from reservations; the third, under Mayawati wherein the production of Dalit leaders has stopped,”