Bringing development to the bahujan within the bahujan

H.L. Dusadh is not the typical high-society Delhi intellectual one sees at the India International Centre and other usual places in the seminar circuit.

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni | Published:February 22, 2009 1:18 am

H.L. Dusadh is not the typical high-society Delhi intellectual one sees at the India International Centre and other usual places in the seminar circuit. He,like crores of other Indians,is a victim of linguistic discrimination that is as odious,if less subtle,as caste discrimination. For our intellectual establishment displays an arrogant notice at the entrance of its privileged enclave: ‘Entry only for those who speak English.’ Dusadh doesn’t,and most of his colleagues don’t. They write only in Hindi. But the work that they have produced on Dalit empowerment,with meagre resources at their disposal and no institutional research support,is voluminous in quantity,substantive in quality and displays a rare kind of transformational passion that only those with deep grassroots social involvement can summon.

I consider myself fortunate in having come to know Dusadh and his group,which calls itself Bahujan Diversity Mission (BDM). We have been interacting for close to a year now. Our dialogue has been especially rewarding for me since it has somewhat bridged the differences that separate us. I am proud of my Hindu roots. Many intellectuals belonging to this group are religious rebels who are angry with traditional Hinduism. I work for the BJP,whereas they have no affinity with it. But if these differences have not come in the way of our interaction,it is partly because we have a common link in Dr Sanjay Paswan,a former BJP MP from Bihar who was also a minister in the Vajpayee government. I have always admired Paswan for his dedication to the cause of Dalits’ all-round progress. I was an avid reader of Vanchit Vaani (Voice of the Excluded),the magazine that he used to edit.

Dusadh,bespectacled,bearded,soft-spoken and frail on account of all the hardships he has faced in life,responded to Kanshi Ram’s call of ‘Pay Back to Your Society’ and made research and writing his lifelong activity. He believes that Kanshi Ram,founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party,was not merely an excellent organiser and a farsighted political leader but also an original thinker. Kanshi Ram’s principal goal was to achieve for Dalits social equality and economic empowerment. However,he was firm in his belief that this goal can be reached only by achieving “political influence initially,and political power ultimately.” Most of his life was spent in pursuing the first objective of making the BSP politically influential through ceaseless mobilisation of Dalit intellectuals,employees and masses. Towards the end of his life,the BSP also gained partial political power. His achievement was all the more remarkable since he succeeded where traditional Ambedkarite movements had failed?namely,in transforming mobilisation into legislative strength.

Mayawati,Kanshiram’s successor,has taken the party considerably ahead along that path by adopting an unusual tactic of social alliance building?of bringing Dalits and Brahmins together in Uttar Pradesh. But the strategy,according to Dusadh and his colleagues,remains the same. Tactics are subservient to strategy.

I shall not dwell here on Dalit intellectuals’ dilemma over Mayawati’s brand of governance,characterised as it is by rampant corruption and,lately,criminalisation. It is the kind of dilemma that all politically committed intellectuals experience,to a lesser or greater degree,with regard to the parties they support. What interests me,instead,is the concept of ‘Bahujan Diversity’ that Dusadh and his colleagues have been advocating. Their basic proposition is well known: India’s social diversity is just not reflected in its economic profile. A small minority,belonging overwhelmingly to upper castes,is rich and privileged,whereas the majority (Bahujan),comprising the Scheduled Castes,Scheduled Tribes,OBCs and others,is excluded from the nation’s progress and prosperity.

How can India’s social diversity be fairly represented in its development? Dusadh invokes a slogan that Kanshi Ram had coined: ‘Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari,uski utni bhaagidaari’ (Numerically proportionate share to each caste or social group). I consider this formula flawed and unworkable. Neither democracy nor any dynamic economic system can sustain it. Another flaw: India is an integral,united and self-reforming entity,not a numerical aggregation of separate and unchanging social groups.

But Dusadh,who is the president of BDM,and his colleagues have also been advancing a related concept of diversity promotion,which deserves serious consideration. Its primary virtue is that it takes the debate on affirmative action beyond the limits of reservation in jobs. For example,Dr Vijaykumar Trisharan,a BDM activist from Jharkhand,writes categorically that “Dalit liberation is impossible through reservations alone”. He calculates that the government sector,with 1.94 crore employees,can give 45 lakh jobs to SCs and STs when quotas are fully implemented; additionally,the organised private sector,which employs only 87 lakh people,can give 19.57 lakh more jobs,if and when quotas are introduced in it. Thus,only 64.57 lakh SCs and STs can have quota-based jobs. Assuming an employed person supports a family of five,only 3.24 crore SCs and STs can benefit from the quota system. “Where should the remaining SC/ST population of 21.75 crore go and what should it do?” is the blunt question Trisharan poses.

I must confess that this is the first time I have across Dalit intellectuals so squarely and unambiguously positing the limitations of the quota policy. Reservations are,of course,justified and must continue. But aren’t we,as a society,morally and constitutionally duty-bound,to look beyond job quotas to bring tangible benefits of development to the bahujan within the bahujan (majority within the majority)?

As a solution to this problem,Dusadh and his colleagues have been advancing another diversity- promotion principle,which,according to me,has some merit. It is based on preferential treatment for SC/ST entrepreneurs,contractors and professionals in government purchases and contracts and also in the purchases and contracts of private sector companies that avail government support in one form or the other. It also envisages skill development,induction of science and technology inputs into traditional vocations on which large numbers of SCs and STs are dependent for their livelihood,and empowering them with beneficial market linkages without exploitative intermediaries. “Political parties should look beyond the B-S-P (bijlee,sadak,paani) model of development,” says Dusadh. “What matters ultimately is whether there is diversity in development.”

I agree.

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