Monday, September 24, 2018

Poona Pact of 1932 – A Cursory Appraisal

Poona Pact of 1932 – A Cursory Appraisal

Poona Pact of 1932 was signed on September 24. Today, is the anniversary of this unsung and forgotten but important pact which was signed by Babasaheb Ambedkar and upper caste Hindus led by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya to save the life of Mahatma Gandhi who had undertaken a fast unto death to oppose the Communal Award of PM Ramsay MacDonald? In the aftermath of the Round Table Conference to address the communal issue, PM Ramsay MacDonald gave the award on August 16, 1932 in which all the minorities including the depressed classes or dalits were given separate electorates to elect their representatives to the provincial and central legislatures. Mahatma Gandhi opposed Dr. Ambedkar, who pleaded for separate electorates for dalits, and termed him as “unrepresentative” of the depressed classes even at the 2nd Round Table Conference. Having failed to convince the British rulers, Mahatma Gandhi resorted to the coercive and clever method of fast unto death, to undo the communal award. The entire leadership of the Congress party and hardcore Manuwadis stood against Dr.
Ambedkar and even threatened him of dire consequences to the extent of endangering his life. The emotions were raised to a sort of frenzy, terming Dr. Ambedkar as an ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-Hindus’. Mahatma Gandhi was of the view that the separate electorates to dalits would “slowdown the integration of the depressed classes into the society”. He did not oppose separate electorates to others but to dalits. It was a clever ploy, as some critics observed, to keep dalits under the subjugation of upper castes as ordained in the traditional texts of Hindus. While promising to undertake the issues of untouchability and empowerment of the weaker sections of the society, Mahatma Gandhi opposed the communal award tooth and nail and said that it was an “injection of poison that is calculated to destroy Hinduism and do no good whatsoever” to the society.

The Poona Pact was formulated under such diverse and difficult political and social scenario. The objective and intention of Mahatma Gandhi was to save Hinduism at the pretext of social cohesion at the cost of rights and dignity of dalits on one hand and on the other Babasaheb Ambedkar was concerned about the welfare and empowerment of suppressed and oppressed people of India. It was a challenging situation. Dr. Ambedkar was a nationalist to the core. He was a spiritual person with a strong moral standing. Dr. Ambedkar succumbed to the pressure and machinations of Mahatma Gandhi and other Hindu leaders who were raising the bogey of saving the life of Mahatma Gandhi who was continuing his fast unto death in the Yerwada jail at Poona now Pune. The Poona Pact, a turning point in the Indian history and the position and space of dalits in the polity and society, was signed and Mahatma Gandhi ended his fast unto death. Some analysts termed it as “Ambedkar won the battle but lost the war to safeguard the rights of dalits” to save the life of Mahatma Gandhi and maintain the social cohesion and also the momentum of struggle for independence from the British as a true nationalist and human par excellence.

The Poona Pact carried forward the concept of reservations propounded by William Hunter and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule in 1882. It carried 9 clauses stipulating, inter alia, 148 reserved seats for dalits under the joint electorates (dalits clubbed with Hindus) as against 71 seats reserved for dalits under the separate electorates as provided in the communal award of PM Ramsay MacDonald. It was provided to give special consideration to dalits in civil services and sufficient educational facilities. The Hindu leaders under Mahatma Gandhi agreed to launch a movement against untouchability and care for empowerment of dalits with a view to integrate them with the main stream of the society. These pronouncements were made by the leaders at a conference in Bombay, now Mumbai, on September 25, 1932 in which Dr. Ambedkar also participated. He endorsed the Poona Pact in the larger interest of the country and the society. The necessary and relevant provisions of the Poona Pact were duly incorporated into the subsequent legal framework including the constitution of free India. The rest is history.

Since the Poona Pact of 1932, much water has flowed into the Ganges. It is time to have an appraisal of the pact in the given and current socio-political and even socio-economic status of dalits in India even after almost 9 decades. Not long after the signing of the pact, the dalit leadership led by Dr. Ambedkar expressed their regret and dismay on the outcome and results and even behavior of the upper castes to address the problems of dalits. All India Scheduled Castes Federation of Babasaheb Ambedkar in its Madras, now Chennai, session in 1944 passed a resolution and demanded separate electorates for dalits.  Dr. Ambedkar took up the matter with Lord Irwin and Winston Churchill appropriately to get the separate electorates as stipulated in the communal award. The reason for such a change in their approach was the non-serious attitude of the upper castes and the society at large to address the issues of untouchability and empowerment. Moreover, it was felt that the reservation of seats in the joint electorate tended to promote and elect stooges and yes-men who were not the true representatives of the suffering masses. Even after independence and provisions in the constitution of India, the question of true representation and social acceptability of dalits remained an issue.  Babasaheb Ambedkar along with his several lakhs of followers converted to Buddhism in October, 1956 to end the social and spiritual subjugation of dalits. The subsequent developments and leadership under the likes of Babu Kanshi Ram underlined the ground situation and demanded to rectify the situation appropriately to get the true representatives of dalits elected to the legislatures and parliament.  Babu Kanshi Ram’s book “Chamcha Age” published in 1982 addressed the issue threadbare. The question of reservations in services and educational institutions attracted the attention of the community and its leadership in the face of unplaced clamour and opposition of the so-called general classes or say Manuwadis. These issues tend to generate avoidable heat and animosity in the society which is termed as ‘unwarranted and dangerous’.

Let us try to find answers to some of the relevant questions in this regard. In spite of constitutional provisions, has untouchability and caste system been abolished? The answer is a big NO. Did political reservation in the legislatures help? Again the answer is a big NO. In the given political arrangements, the dalit representatives are nothing but glorified ‘Chamchas or Stooges’ as termed by Babu Kanshi Ram. Reservation in the general electorate has no meaning. It seems separate electorates are the answer. Political polarization of dalits on the basis of issues pertaining to their empowerment and integration into the main stream of the society is much needed to address the issues of caste, social, economic, educational and political marginalization of dalits. The so called general class or Brahmanwadis oppose reservation of dalits in the services and educational outfits. Is it justified? Not at all. Are they interested in abolishing caste discrimination? Do they tend to claim their share in the dirty work like manual scavenging and going down the sewer? No they want to have the cake and eat it too. The general class must know that these special provisions or reservations for the weaker sections of the society were not given voluntarily by sweet will of the rulers and the society. These were earned and obtained by a relentless and right struggle by the suffering humanity under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar and his associates. His heirs are interested in maintaining these till the lofty ideals of ‘Equality, Liberty and Justice’ as enshrined in the constitution are attained to usher the country into much needed ‘Harmony’.  Could we succeed in transforming our political democracy into a social and economic democracy, as visualized by Babasaheb Ambedkar and other leaders? Again the answer is in the negative. Let us have a sincere introspection to answer these questions on this day of the anniversary of the Poona Pact which was an instrument to preserve the social and political order and to maintain the momentum of our struggle for freedom from the British rulers. The issues of dalits should be addressed with all sincerity before it gets too late. They contributed much in sacrificing their ‘identity’ under the Poona Pact in the larger interest of the country to defeat the often alleged ‘Divide and Rule” policy of the British. We will ignore this historical background at our own peril.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

S.C. Commission Ch Mere 6 Saal – Book Review

S.C. Commission Ch Mere 6 Saal – Book Review

S.C. Commission Ch Mere 6 Saal is said to be an account of the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission, Rajesh Bagha. It is also claimed to be an auto-biographical narration but the contents, if I venture to say frankly, do not justify the claim. I think, Rajesh Bagha, is an educated and well groomed political and social activist under the wings of RSS and the BJP. His biography is still in the making. It is better to wait and see. Rajesh is a good friend of mine and I take the liberty of saying this at the risk of getting misunderstood. But my intension is positive and complimentary.

In the brief prologue of the book, he has clearly indicated that even after completion of his tenure as the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission in November, 2017, he intended to keep the oil burning in the journey of his social and political work. Rajesh has frankly indicated that it could become possible only with the active support and involvement of Desraj Kali, a community activist and a renowned and duly recognized figure in the acclaimed literary circles not only in India but beyond. The book clearly carries the signatures of Kali Sahib in the prose and presentation. Desraj Kali is also a dear friend of mine. It is a matter of gratification.

The book has 15 chapters spread over 112 pages. Many chapters carry verbatim record of some important meetings of the Commission and decisions taken. It seemed a routine aspect but a couple of pointers came to fore. One, the system, or say the government did not attach much importance to the Commission and its functioning, though it is said to be a statutory body. The low level of official representation at the meetings deputed by the Departmental or Divisional Heads where they were supposed to be
in attendance was disturbing. The financial crunch and lack of proper working tools like computers and other apparatus and also human resources i.e. staff, obviously, adversely effected the functioning of the Commission. Chairman Rajesh Bagha tried his best, given all the constraints, to set the position in order but it appeared the political bosses did not have the will to provide teeth to the Commission.

The first Chapter touched upon the social and economic condition of the Punjab Dalits in the changing socio-economic and political scenario. Chapters 2 and 3, if I say so, are the only pages where the auto-biographical aspect found some space with regard to Rajesh’s initiation into RSS fold and his political affiliation with the BJP. Rajesh Bagha carefully chose his path which helped him to find his due place in the BJP hierarchy. He became President of the BJP’s SC Morcha at a young age under the able stewardship of now President Ram Nath Kovind. Incidentally, it may not be out of place to mention that Rajesh came to our family home in Jalandhar to meet my brothers Krishan Lal and Paramjit along with Ram Nath Kovind Sahib in 2006 for a political rally “Dalit Bolia Shinghasan Dolia” at Bootan Mandi. Kovind Sahib, one of our family friends, was an MP and President of the SC Morcha of BJP. Kovind Sahib’s gracious wife Savita Behen is a close friend of our sister in Delhi, Kamla Kumar. Rajesh rose up the ladder in the party and was made the General Secretary of the Punjab BJP and rightly so before his appointment in 2011 as the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission, a well deserved position and an important job. While the book under review is awaiting its formal release and launch, Rajesh Bagha has been made the Vice President of the BJP in Punjab, yet another high position in the party. Congratulations to the young and energetic Rajesh. Chapter 3 is devoted to his family. Rajesh’s upbringing and thinking, it seems, have been influenced by the personalities of his UK returned grandfather, whose name should have been mentioned, and his elder brother Tilak Raj ‘Bhalwan’, the Punjabi version of Pehalwan or wrestler. Rajesh himself was a sportsman of sorts and remained a wrestler. It is a matter of satisfaction to note that he was never a politician or social activist depending financially on others and ran successfully his restaurant and community palace to earn his bread and butter. Of course, these business establishments helped him dig his roots and also make and nurture his political associates in his chosen career.
Rajesh considers that the issue of reservation should be seen not through the prism of economics but through the social background.  He is of the view that good results and resultant positive impact of reservation is much visible in Punjab. There is a need to harness
and channelize the newly generated energy among the dalit youth to make them equal partners in the social, political and economic order of the country and the society at large. Surprisingly, in spite of his political affiliation with the BJP, Rajesh Bagha is a fan and follower of Babu Kanshi Ram. It fully demonstrates his strong sense of understanding and conviction. I liked his narration, attributed to Babu Kanshi Ram, when answering a question from the media that BSP had not issued its election manifesto Babu Kanshi Ram replied that Shri Guru Granth Sahib was his manifesto. Rajesh has rightly termed that Babu Kanshi Ram was not a person but a phenomena.

Rajesh Bagha has listed some of his major activities and contribution towards empowerment of dalits of Punjab during his tenure as the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission viz. Post-Matric Scholarships for dalit students, allotment of common land to the dalits for agriculture, redressal of complaints of high handedness and discrimination against dalits in the villages and government services, celebration of 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in a befitting way involving the bigwigs and the academia in the process, demand for revival of Chamar regiment, inter alia. These are not small achievements but it could have been better if the government and the political bosses could have extended all due help and facilitation to the functioning of the Commission and its Chairman.  Frankly, I was expecting some firework in the book exposing the Thekedars for putting hurdles in the functioning of the statutory Commission on account of their own hidden agenda. But it was not to be. Rajesh Bagha has promised the second part of the book. Let us hope to listen something more to make a full assessment both of Rajesh Bagha as Chairman of the Commission and the Commission itself. Nevertheless, I am impressed by the simplicity and unassuming nature and demeanor  of Rajesh Bagha as clearly narrated in the last chapter of the book when the security guards of a leader in Chandigarh mistook him as the driver and treated Des Raj Kali as the VIP.

अपना मुक्कदर आप बनाते हैं एहले दिल;
हम वह नहीं जिन्हें  ज़माना बना गया !

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 16

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 16

Rahul Gandhi’s Kailash Mansarovar Yatra – Rahul Gandhi has arrived in the political firmament of India, it seems. But, let me add hastily that he is yet to reach. His position and space i.e. “Dasha and Disha” will be decided by the elections of 2019. Many new stories about him, good and bad, are discussed in the media not to tell the truth to hapless voters or general public but to camouflage and confuse things, unfortunately. I take one such issue, Rahul Gandhi’s on-going Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. The forces opposed to Rahul Gandhi including the pliant media, I think, are making unnecessary noises to cater to their political ends. General public is not interested and is totally unconcerned. The Mansarovar Yatra is a private matter. There is no need to highlight the issue. The media and the BJP, if I
go by the debates being conducted on the electronic media, are dragging in China in the matter which is totally unwarranted. Kailash Mansarovar is located in China. There is no way one can go there without going to China. What is the issue? Why has Rahul Gandhi gone to Nepal first and from there he has flown to Beijing? Whom he would meet and why? These are irrelevant and bizarre questions particularly because of the security aspects of the one who is having the highest category of security umbrella provided by the government of India. He is also a leader, President of the one of oldest political parties which is also the biggest opposition party. Rahul Gandhi is also the scion of Nehru-Gandhi clan which ruled the country for decades. And as such he enjoys his own political and social standing not only in India but also abroad. It would be better for the subservient media and the vested political interests to rise above petty politics particularly the China connection. It is a sensitive matter. It has already become a laughing matter. Media, knowing full well that it is a non-issue, still showing exclusive interviews a Minister terming the photographs of Rahul on the yatra as fake and photoshopped. It is the height of lopsided reporting at the cost of hapless public. Rahul Gandhi to put the things in perspective tweeted “The waters of lake Mansarovar are so gentle, tranquil and calm. They give everything and lose nothing. Anyone can drink from them. There is no hatred here. This is why we worship these waters in India.”

Now I come to some diplomatic insight as a humble player in game of diplomacy. The opponents of Rahul Gandhi have raised a question on the said interest and request of the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi to go to the airport to see off Rahul Gandhi leaving for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. There was no diplomatic “not to do” in this. Rahul Gandhi President of one of major political parties of politics in India. He is the young face of Indian politics in the years to come and is the flag bearer of the cherished legacy of India. Any Ambassador stationed in India will only be too happy to avail of an opportunity to come closer to the current and future leadership of India. Why one shall find fault with the Chinese Ambassador when Rahul Gandhi was going to his country. It is a recognized diplomatic nicety. I think any Indian Ambassador should have done the same, in such an eventuality.

RSS Invitation to Rahul Gandhi - Yet another non-issue and an hypothetical proposition of RSS’s intended invitation to Rahul Gandhi to come and join them at some meeting/dialogue to be fixed and arranged in Delhi along with other political and academic personalities in September, 2018. As usual, the so called ‘Bhagat” electronic media made it a big issue and wasted hours in discussing Rahul Gandhi and RSS’s masterstroke. The RSS invitation is yet to come. Obviously, Rahul Gandhi would respond to it as he considers fit and proper. Where is the need to raise the dust to blind the general public?
As regards whether Rahul Gandhi should accept or decline the invitation,
my personal thinking is that he should accept the RSS invitation to join others to say their mind as openly and candidly as they deem fit to address the challenges before the country. We are living in a democratic country. There is no harm to sit and discuss issues of interest and concern. RSS is the biggest outfit engaged in socio-cultural life of India with an enormous political clout. There is no point in treating them as ‘untouchables’. More over the ‘caste system’ has been abolished in India. RSS, though still considered a ‘Manuwadi’ organization by the large chunk of dalits, is to prove itself that they stand for social justice and equality as stipulated in the Indian constitution and not in the traditional Hindu texts.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bhima-Koregaon Incident and its Fallout

Bhima-Koregaon Incident and its Fallout

The ghost of Bhima-Koregaon events (December, 2017-January, 2018) are still haunting the administration and the society even after nine months. It seems the things have taken full circle. It turned out, rightly or otherwise, to be a turning point for the fight against Brahmanwad or Manuwad and their off shoot, Caste system, one of the biggest menaces against the unity and harmony in the country and the society at large. One may or may not agree with this assertion, depending on one’s mindset and resultant
perceptions. It is time to sit and think coolly and calmly before we push the country to “Grammar of Anarchy” as warned by Babasaheb Ambedkar, the chief architect of our constitution. The forces supporting the tyranny  and high-handedness of the so called upper castes, knowingly or sub-consciously, and forces, representing the oppressed and marginalized masses,  opposing the prevailing situation, through empowerment and awareness,  increasingly tend to have head on confrontation with each other to change the status quo with the fast changing and changed times. The sooner we understand this, the better. We may ignore this ground reality at our own peril.

I will not dig into the details of the Bhima-Koregaon incidents but would like to underline the trigging effects of these incidents. Dalits are no more ready to pocket and get the things lying down. They tend to assert themselves and stand up to protect their honour and respect. It was clear from the incidents of January, 2018 that the water has come a full boil. Subsequent events like Supreme Court’s verdict on SC and ST Atrocities Act, arrest of Bhim Sena’s Chandrasekhar Azad resulted in a successful and eye opening Bharat Bandh of April 2 with its pan India manifestation. The government has taken a few steps like amendment in the SC and ST Atrocities Act, launching of Ambedkar memorials etc to placate the dalits with an eye on the vote banks in the ensuing elections. But it is a matter of regret the message of professed ‘change of heart’ is not going down to the mass level. Milind Ekbote and Shambhaji Bhide, the alleged culprits of Bhima-Koregaon violence are still roaming scot free. Some of the upper caste Hindu outfits and their field operators are opposing the empowerment of dalits and enabling judicial provisions. Dalits perceive, rightly or wrongly, that this is being done with the implicit direction and guidance of the RSS and BJP. No strict action has been taken against the known to be upper castes Hindus who burnt the constitution and raised slogans against Ambedkar and Chamars. The arrest of some human right activists and said to be supporters of Maoists and Naxals has been linked to the Bhima-Koregaon incidents. These, some of the recent happenings, have further polarized the caste divide. The country is passing through a challenging time. The government and the civil society need to take an immediate notice of it before things go out of hand. It may be true that some vested interests representing anti national and anti social forces were exploiting the situation by supporting the marginalized and oppressed sections of the society. But how can we blame the suffering humanity, if they, willingly or unwillingly, fall prey to such forces. Dalits are clamoring for respect and dignity and due space both in the polity and society. The powerful and established social and cultural forces like RSS, among others, should come forward and join hands with the weaker sections of the society to address the challenges before it gets late. Any communal confrontation should be avoided at all costs. 

I close by quoting Faiz Ahmed Faiz to drive my point home:

खाक नशीनों उठ बैठो; वह वक़्त मुकाबिल पहुंचा,
जब तख्त गिराए जाएँ गे; और ताज उशाले जाएं गे !