Men do need to be educated more to give up their privileges, he says.

Representation for Dalits in party leadership isnt adequate Intv with Dipankar Bhattacharjee CPI ML Liberation
news Politics Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 15:30

In the past decade, the All India Students Association, affiliated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, has built itself into a force to reckon with.

Some of its leaders, such as Kavita Krishnan, a member of AIPWA and student leader Shehla Rashid Shora, have managed to catapult their parent party’s views onto the national political arena.  

Buoyant on national attention, the CPI(ML) Liberation is looking to build a base in Karnataka, where it has contested elections since the late 1990s.

Visiting Karnataka to expand the party and plan a state-wide rally next year on the anniversary of the Naxalbari peasant uprising, CPI (ML) Liberation General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya spoke to The News Minute. In an interview, he answered questions on the criticism of the Left from Dalit groups, and other failures of the Left. Edited excerpts:

Can you talk about your party’s plans in Karnataka?

We have a presence only in seven districts. Perhaps next year we might have state conference. While we build the party here, we will take up issues such as the corporate plunder of resources, attack on democracy… Instead of addressing issues piecemeal, we need an integrated approach. 

There is an idea that Dalits and the Left should come together. For historical reasons, we have been separate. If we could develop in this direction, it would be good. 

That’s why we have a campaign to popularize the ideas of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar, two icons of the 20th century who are most relevant to contemporary politics. Statues of any other icon are state-sponsored, but those of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar are people-sponsored. The Sangh Parivar has tried to appropriate both, but they can’t. 

Dalit groups say that the Left simply doesn’t understand caste, because it doesn’t acknowledge caste and instead chooses to focus on class. 

Some criticism is due… When Ambedkar contested elections through the Independent Labour Party in 1952, we should have supported him. 

There is confusion about caste and class. Class is understood as an economy category but it is a social category. Class struggle has enabled us to understand a whole range (of divisions), gender… caste. The annihilation of caste is central to Ambedkar, as it is to the Left. Caste is reproduced by endogamy, but you can’t possibly have arranged inter-caste marriages. This brings us to the question of women’s rights (to choose their partners). 

Even Ambedkar felt that revolution is necessary, but we’ve seen that the benefits have been limited to a small group of people. Those who have benefitted are alienated from the community. The Una agitation has brought land to the table, people are rejecting the caste order. But you need to create new opportunities. 

The class-caste dynamic is shaping the class struggle. You need to uphold the class struggle to annihilate caste, and you need to annihilate caste to strengthen the class struggle.

In the past 25 years, we have seen neo-liberal reforms, the opposition to the Mandal commission and the rise of the OBCs, the ascendency of Hindutva. We need to draw lessons from this. 

The BSP has aligned with the BJP in the past, and now that the BJP is unleashing its agenda, they have realized that the BJP is anti-Dalit. 

There have been mistakes on the part of the Left, but there are possibilities too. We need to overcome the baggage of the past.

Dalit groups point out that despite all talk of unity, representation still eludes them. Your own party has often been called Chamaron ki party (Party of Chamars, leather workers) because of the stance against the Ranvir Sena in Bihar. Your membership is also significantly Dalit. Yet, there are hardly any Dalits among the top leadership of the party. 

We are yet to have a Dalit General Secretary. But we have had some Dalits in the Polit Buro, such as Ram Naresh Ram, one of the founders of the party. I accept that (representation of Dalits within the party) has not happened adequately enough, or rapidly enough. As the pool of party leaders expand, I look forward to have many more (Dalits) among the central committee members, and even a General Secretary.

But if you limit (Dalit rights) only to representation, you forget that other aspect, where you have the politics of the Congress and BJP, where Dalits are represented, but the policies are anti-Dalit. 

The overwhelming number of our members are Dalit and OBC, and it’s true that those leading the party (are upper caste). We are also trying to increase the number of women in the party.

A lot of the Left parties talk of gender and women’s rights, but they often fail to talk to the men. Women are becoming more assertive today, but no one talks to men about their privileges. How do you look at this?

We had a discussion on this yesterday in Karnataka. We do discuss the patriarchal division of labour (women working at home, men outside). We (party members) too come from the same society, we are bound to repeat (its patterns). Men do need to be educated more (to give up their privileges). 

There is an argument that Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste – how he described caste divisions as irreconcilable – can be read as an instruction manual for Hindutva which created a uniting factor (Hindu), the way George Orwell’s 1984 has often been described. Given the current right-wing sentiment, do think it is time to work backwards and focus on caste and gender, instead of talking about communalism?

You cannot afford to stop talking about communalism. But how we have fetishized the fight against communalism through secularism (needs a rethink). Fighting communalism is as important as fighting caste and gender (divisions). We thought Dalit-Bahujan people would be against Hindutva by default, but we have seen a BJP-BSP alliance. One of the 22 pledges that Ambedkar prescribed, was to reject (the Brahminical thought).

You need to look at the intersections, and common points and ensure that you are consistently on the side of justice and democracy. 

Left leaders tend to talk of “imperialism” and “colonialism” at street corners, often to autorickshaw drivers whose concern is the money she / he will have to shell out for repairing damage caused by poor roads. Do you think you need a new language?

These things are real, and the people know it too. But the people’s language is different, and we have to pick up that language. People do not understand (the terms) but they do understand what is going on. In the north, we talk of “company raj”, and they talk about “company landlordism”. It is a communication issue. We have to communicate our ideas better, there’s doubt about it. 

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