Bhim Army, Azad Samaj Party Built on Ambedkarite Philosophy — the Bedrock of Dalit Assertion
Representative Image. (PTI)
Under Chandrashekhar Azad, the organisations have sought to carry forward the legacy of Ambedkar by bringing the discourse on self-respect, dignity, militant claim to human rights, educational opportunities into the fold.
- Last Updated: April 14, 2020, 10:18 IST
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The ideas and thoughts of Dr BR Ambedkar are indelible owing to their intrinsic ethical and normative claims for change and liberation. The recurring references to his ideas in contemporary times, even after seven decades of India’s independence, indicate his continuing relevance as a panacea for the enduring social, economic, political and cultural problems. Ambedkar’s thoughts are once again revitalised and reinvented, most prominently, in the recent phenomenon of a new Dalit assertion of the Bhim Army and Azad Samaj Party under the staunch leadership of Chandrashekhar Azad. This new Dalit assertion for reclaiming respect, recognition and dignity hinged on Ambedkar’s teachings once again instantiates his timeless relevance not only in the struggle of rights of the hitherto marginalised sections, but also in the process of establishing a society and reconstructing a world on the basis of social righteousness, liberty, egalitarianism and maîtree.
Bhim Army and Azad Samaj Party replicate the elements of Ambedkarite philosophy in terms of its mode of resistance, lexicon of defiance of Brahmanical hegemony, rights-based struggle, advocacy for political representation in conjunction with social reform, propagation of education as a major means of emancipation and adoption of a leadership style with an unflinching determination to fight against the injustices with no solicitude.
After eight decades down the line, Ambedkar’s legacy of an intrepid rejection of oppressive conventional norms as a mode of resistance is resurfaced and revamped in a new manifestation in the socio-cultural and political discourse of Bhim Army and Azad Samaj Party. Bhim Army’s contravention of the upper caste diktats to remove the signboard that blazoned their caste name with the prefix ‘the great’ at the entrance of Gharkoli village in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur district in 2016, their disdain towards the upper caste order of not allowing Dalit students to drink water from a well in a Rajput-run inter college in Saharanpur and their celebration of ‘Manusmriti dahan divas’ every year insinuate an adherence to Ambedkar’s legacy of flouting the Brahmanical rules imposed upon the Dalits as a manifestation of social resistance.
Another mode of resistance Ambedkar resorted to in his struggle for equity was his reliance on the rule of law and the constitutional values. He believed that masses can hardly do anything unless their gains are legalised and protected. In line with Ambedkar’s vision of bringing constitutional morality over social morality, Bhim Army and ASP have been striving to uphold the constitutional values and principles. Chandrashekhar Azad’s enduring appeal to the masses to uphold constitutional morality over social morality and his exhortation to save the Constitution in his rallies exhibit the commitment to the constitutional principles as a safeguard for Dalits. The photo of Chandrashekhar Azad holding up the Constitution at Jama Masjid in New Delhi with a background of people flaunting Ambedkar’s portraits during a protest against CAA-NRC this year symbolised his struggle for bringing constitutional rule over social norms.
Bhim Army and ASP’s successful movements in mobilising people against oppressive structures vindicated Ambedkar’s belief in the strength of mass action in generating unity and fortitude among the deprived sections. Ambedkar led many mass protests including Mahad satyagraha for water access in 1927, temple satyagrahas in Parvati and Kali temples in 1929 and Kalaram temple in 1930 in Nasik, agitation for anti-khoti legislative bill in 1938, protest in favour of separate electorate in 1946 and agitation for Marathwada area in 1953. Ambedkar wielded these mass actions as a medium to unite the people and provide them a sense of protection. Similarly, Bhim Army’s protest against the demolition of Ravidas Mandir in Delhi, movement against the dilution of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, protest against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were based on a tenacious mass action which successfully mobilised people to assert their rights and enhance a sense of security among them, especially at a time when the state’s apathy towards marginalised sections is at its pinnacle.
Bhim Army and ASP have heavily drawn inspiration from Ambedkarite ideology by envisaging education as an important means of emancipation. Inspired by Ambedkar’s vision, Bhim Army has initiated an education project for Dalits at the grassroots by setting up pathshalas across villages. They set up their first pathshala at Budhakhera where hundreds of school-going children are given free tuition and coaching in subjects such as mathematics, science and English. The children from deprived sections are provided with pencil, notebooks, textbooks and other essentials to study. Bhim Army also sought to pay the fees for poor Dalit students who secured admission in professional courses like B Tech. Bhim Army sought to empower Dalits through education by internalising Ambedkar’s idea of “educate, organise and agitate”.
Apart from education, Ambedkar considered political means as a consistent and united attempt to better the conditions of the "untouchables". He resorted to a trial and error method by experimenting with the provisions of special representation for the Depressed Classes, joint electorate with Hindus, separate electorate, and ending with his apprehension about the usefulness of the reserved seats for the Scheduled Castes. As if taking a cue from the Ambedkar’s idea of politics as a means of amelioration of social conditions of the "untouchables", Chandrashekhar Azad decided to enter into electoral politics by creating a political party with an aim to provide social, political and economic protection to hitherto marginalised communities.
ASP’s demand for sharing of power and representation reflects Ambedkar’s basic argument of entitlement of representation to the Depressed Classes as he argued that there was no “like-mindedness” or “endosmosis” between "touchables and untouchables". ASP has been upholding the basic premise of the Ambedkarite ideology that Dalits should be given adequate representation and should be represented by their own representatives. ASP’s exhortation on the idea of giving power to people according to their numerical strength in the population underlines the principle that the ruled should be represented by their own representatives.
It is thus very conspicuous that Ambedkar’s ideas and thoughts are echoing more vehemently in the political and social engagements of Bhim Army and ASP. ASP and Bhim Army under Chandrashekhar Azad have sought to carry forward the legacy of Ambedkar by bringing the discourse on self-respect, dignity, militant claim to human rights, educational opportunities into the fold.
The clout of Bhim Army and ASP in this new Dalit politics and assertion lies in the moral righteousness and ethical base of the Ambedkarite ideology, which seeks to be the single alternative force to exterminate any communal, fascist, parochial, xenophobic, regressive, orthodox, casteist forces in this country in the course of time.
(The author holds a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and she teaches Political Science at SPM College, Delhi University. Views expressed are personal.)