First Dalit in CPM politburo's in 64 years: Who's ‘backward', Left or Right?

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First Dalit in CPM politburo’s in 64 years: Who’s ‘backward’, Left or Right?
© Provided by Firstpost First Dalit in CPM politburo’s in 64 years: Who’s ‘backward’, Left or Right?

Every party wants their vote, but none has perhaps spoken so vocally and with greater sanctimoniousness for India’s socially dispossessed than the Left. Still, it took the CPM 58 years to appoint the first Dalit person to its exalted politburo, which was formed after the party’s split from its twin CPI in 1964.

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Seven-time MP and the CPM Central Committee member from Bengal, Ramchandra Dome has been bestowed the honour of being part of the party’s highest decision-making body.

What took so long?

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Part of the answer may lie in how the Left’s adversaries size it. A prominent BJP-RSS leader from the south once explained to me, with a mischievous smile, why it was easier for his party to poach from the CPM in Bengal than from the Muslim-bent and ideologically barren TMC.

Left parties have great ideological rigour and discipline, he said. So, at every stage of elevation with the party, the candidate is put through a tough ideological test on being godless and deracinated. He said that while the test is relatively easy for the educated upper castes in states like Bengal and Kerala, god-fearing Muslims and extremely backward caste Hindus find it almost insurmountable to pass. This is why the top echelons of the CPM have been occupied by upper castes like Brahmins, Kayasthas and Nairs.

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It is hard to brush off that hypothesis. From EMS Namboodiripad to Saroj Mukherjee, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya to Sitaram Yechury one finds the dominance of Brahmins. Jyoti Basu was a Kayastha, Prakash Karat is a Nair. Harkishan Singh Surjeet came from the dominant Jat Sikhs.

Which is why the CPM politburo having the first Dalit representation from the Dom caste, traditionally relegated to cremating the dead, is an indisputably welcome move. Interestingly, the 2001 census, done when the CPI-M had already been in power in Bengal for 24 years, showed that 46 per cent of Doms (aged seven and up) were literate in the state. Among Dom women, 67.4 per cent (two in every three women) could not read a book.

The Left, with its European, Russian and Chinese Communist templates, has failed to understand the caste and religion dynamics of India. In the 1989 general elections, the Left was at the peak of its national vote share at 10.6 per cent.

Then came the agitation over the Mandal Commission, which radically changed reservation in favour of the backward castes. While the Bahujan Samaj Party and some regional parties gained from the lower caste votes and the BJP and the Congress snapped up upper class anger, the Left was left clueless on what stand to take. Caste has never been part of the Communist syllabi.

From the high of 10.6 per cent vote share in 1989, the Left steadily skidded to 4.8 per cent in 2014, and further down to around 2.5 per cent in the 2019 general elections.

All this makes it sound hollow when the Left criticises the BJP for being an anti-lower caste party. The prime minister himself is OBC, the president is a Dalit. It has had chief ministers from the backward castes like Kalyan Singh and Raghubar Das, as also tribals like Arjan Munda and Sarbananda Sonowal.

Over the decades — going back to icons like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Madhukar Dattatreya Deoras — the RSS has only intensified its outreach among Dalits and lower castes across India. The RSS and the BJP has appropriated the tallest Dalit figure, BR Ambedkar, besides a growing gallery of regional Dalit icons like Mahatma Ayyankali from Kerala. If you visit the Sangh-run bookstore near the RSS Delhi headquarters in Jhandewalan, guess which books by or on which author you will see the most on the shelves?

Not Savarkar. Not Hedgewar. Not Golwalkar. Not Deendayal. Not Vivekananda. But Ambedkar.

In 2016, for instance, the RSS’s Delhi chapter organised a ‘Samajik Samarasta Vijayadashmi Utsav’ with noted Dalit saint from the Valmiki community of scavengers, Balyogi Sant Shri Ravi Sahji Maharaj, as the chief guest.

The RSS said it was in keeping with its central social tenet of ‘One Temple, One Well and One Crematorium’. The Sangh also made Delhi’s Ramlila committees include the worship of Sage Valmiki along with Lord Rama at Ramlila events.

The Modi government’s schemes involving bank accounts, toilets, LPG, electricity, housing, health insurance, and tapped water have reached millions of Dalit homes.

Embracing Dome in the politburo is a fine beginning for the CPI-M, but given how nimbly and far its opponent has travelled in this space, there is a staggering amount of catching up to do beyond glib academic slogans and social media gyan.

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