Manoj Kumar Jha
The outreach of the Left-liberal outfits to the Ambedkarites should be seen as a coming together that can accomplish the unfinished agenda of altering the contours of an ugly, tyrannical socio-cultural order. This can usher in a politics where people are not closed to being open.

‘Lal Salam’ is back and that too with ‘Jai Bheem’
Demonstrators shout slogans as they carry banners and placards during a protest march in New Delhi to express solidarity with Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student of the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide. REUTERS

DURING one of the recent marches in solidarity with Rohith Vemula and Jawaharlal Nehru University, a colleague from Delhi University remarked that it was heartening to see ‘Lal Salam’ and ‘Jai Bheem’ finally develop a kind of camaraderie that could not be envisaged few years back. A cursory content analysis of the slogans raised whether at the Hyderabad Central University, Jadavpur University or the Jawaharlal Nehru University, reveals how the last few months have witnessed the amalgamation of cultural-political yearnings which had followed antithetical trajectories so far. I would like to insert a disclaimer that I do not consider ‘Lal Salam’ (the Red Salute) the intellectual property of the Left political parties; neither do I consign Bharat Mata ki Jai to the solitary proprietorship of the BJP-RSS. 

Historically, ‘Lal Salaam’ expresses the longing for transformatory politics of millions of people from different professions, peasants and workers. A majority of them remain unaffiliated to any political party. It also covers the volunteers and workers of several liberal-democratic outfits operating under different names but with a singular vision to ensure that politics of oppression and subjugation is decimated forever so that the Preamble of the Indian Constitution stands vindicated. It includes thousands of students studying in different university campuses across India, subscribing to diverse ideologies but united in dreaming of an inclusive and just India.

The disclaimer was merely to reaffirm that whether we like it or not the Red Salute transcends the boundaries of any and every party headquarter. Having said that, now I wish to state as to what makes me look at this coming together of ‘Lal Salam’ and ‘Jai Bheem’ as one of the most significant cultural-political churnings in recent times.

 It was Ambedkar himself who said that the liberty provided by the Constitution had to be employed to alter the social system which remains full of inequality and brazen discrimination. He added that it was urgent because the odious features of the oppressive structure shall always remain in conflict with the fundamental rights enshrined in the  Constitution. Thus, he assumed that only a conclusive battle against this oppressive structure shall create the way for genuine social and economic equality. That was a call to build solidarities across several subaltern classes and the subjugated communities. However, well-meaning radicals of the times believed that like all primordial identities caste-related atrocities and discrimination shall vanish with the strong posturing of the modernist politics; a political replication of the trickle down of the Nehru-Mahlanobis model in the economic sphere.

The Left, as well as several liberal democratic political outfits of the time, did not even bother to engage with the alarm raised by Ambedkar. As  time showed, the trickle down failed when it was supposed to make a substantial dent. Its failure in the realm of caste-based oppression and discrimination was only a foregone conclusion. The disengagement and aloofness from the issues of caste-based discrimination amongst the liberal-Left discourse was more often than not a deliberate ploy under the illusory belief that rendezvous with caste shall tarnish their progressive politics. 

In a much-acclaimed but undelivered speech, Annihilation of Caste, appealing to the socialists and communists, Ambedkar had said that they must deal with the social order first, failing which they shall not be able to accomplish revolution. Going further, he forewarned that even if they achieve revolution on account of good fortune, they would be compelled to take account of caste after the revolution. The Left-liberal political outfits preferred to look the other way while this appeal was made and continued to look away without realising when they lost whatever little ground they had secured.

However, arguably, never before in antiquity a suicide note has impacted the course of history in such a manner as is the case with Rohith Vemula. When he wrote,  “But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident”, his note acquired the tone and tenor of a suicide note of an entire civilisation, which has summarily failed to engage with and expose the privileges of the Brahamanical order that has permeated the institutions of the State and the State itself. In his death, a brilliant scholar shook the conscience of an entire generation.

That is why the ears which did not listen to the passionate appeal of Ambedkar directly in the 1940s are more than willing to connect with his philosophy through Rohith Vemula.In this backdrop, the Left-liberal outfits’ outreach to the Ambedkarites should be seen as a coming together that can accomplish the unfinished agenda of altering the contours of a tyrannical social and cultural order. And yes, it cannot simply be understood and celebrated only through the much-talked-about coming together of the “red bowl” and “blue bowl” but the endeavour should be to draw in and build solidarities with “bowls” of different hues which are disposed to coming together in order to prepare the plinth for a new radical politics. It should usher in a politics committed to preparing a democratic sphere where people shall not be closed to being open. Being radical must now mean looking at politics beyond primetime debates and reaching out to the people and communities suffering under the toxic alliance of Right-wing authoritarianism with neoliberal priorities.

Thus, while coming together of ‘Lal Salam’ and ‘Jai Bheem’ is a historic moment, the moment also expects them to consciously move beyond the traditionally demarcated and delineated spaces of the cultural and political arena. Millions of people beyond the university campuses would expect them to jettison the undesirable baggage of history which has kept the genuine peoples’ solidarity as an elusive proposition.

They need to move beyond romanticism and symbolism and reach the flaming fields and anguished ghettos to be able to march together to highlight the unambiguous link between gross economic deprivation as well as social-cultural marginalisation in the countryside and Orwellian thought control processes on the campuses. Nothing short of this will be a tribute to whose lives remain “a fatal accident.”The writer is Head, Department of Social Work, Delhi University.