Ever since Chandrabhan Prasad (CBP) embarked on his distinctive style of politics, he has really managed to annoy many self-proclaimed radicals. Ravikant’s earlier post on CBP’s recent salvo on deserting the vernacular and inhabiting the world of English language is in that sense really welcome, as it sets things in perspective.
A few years ago, when CBP called for a Dalit bourgeoisie, there was a similar sign of dismay, scandal and utter incomprehension among many friends – even those who have now started recognizing that ‘Dalits’ constitute a key component of any future radical democratic (or socialist?) transformation. What many of these friends do not recognize is that it is not enough to say that “the Dalit question is also important”: As Khairlanji or the hundreds of other earlier episodes show, there is no way in which the ‘Dalits’ can ‘also’ become part of some imagined larger unity (say the peasant unity dreamt of by communists, or the so-called ‘secular unity’ propounded by bleeding heart secular liberals). For, to take the standpoint of the Dalit is to take the standpoint of a minority in the village and to incur the anger of the majority. The effort to unite might be desirable from a longer term point of view, though I am not quite sure about that too. CBP thus also annoyed many secularists as his attack on backward caste ‘secular’ parties was seen by many as a way of justifying BSP’s alliance with the BJP.
The real point about CBPs politics that earnest radicals do not get is that irrespective of the substantive aspect/s of his argument, he is opening out a new way of enunciating a politics of the oppressed: anger and emotion are sublimated here into a performative excess, thus initiating a politics of irony and hyperbole. Ressentiment (resentment?) is not the main mode of this politics of ‘betrayal’ (which I would call the politics of fleeing) which began in a true sense with Dr Ambedkar’s flight from Hinduism. There is one critical difference from Ambedkar though. I have often told CBP that he is a deviant Ambedkarite (kujaat Ambedkarvaadi, to twist Lohia’s term): after all, “chicken, mutton, daaru aur daliton ki kuchh samasyayein” is certainly not the mode of Ambedkar’s renunciatory Buddhist politics that still remained imprisoned within the logic of ressentiment.
Karan Thapar of CNBC -TV18 recently presented a half-hour debate on whether Dalits have a better future adopting English rather than one of the so many Indian languages. Some of us followed it keenly because we knew where it was comig from and also the dramatis personae – Chandrabhan Prasad(CP), Yogendra Yadav(YY) and Alok Rai(AR) – all very dear friends, and people who have been deeply engaged with the politics and practice of languages in North India. It was a one-sided debate from the moment it started: clear victory to Chandrabhan Prasad from the word go, first of all, because he had managed to pitchfork his provocative stance into a full scale discussion in the national press and the big media. Think about it: it has taken him just three consecutive annual Macaulay’s birthday parties to friends, to bring it to the attention of a much wider number of intellectuals and a larger public. It was a victory for his own brand of Gandhigiri – that you could very much debate and advance your cause while having fun: ‘chicken, mutton, daaru and daliton ki kuchh samasyayein’ is his style, in his own inimitable words. This is not to say that he does not believe in agitational politics. He does that as well.The debate was also one-sided because CP’s interlocutors did not have convincing answers to his extremist views on language and religion and the coupling of the two, which had to inevitably sneak into the discussion, considering en mass dalit conversions were fresh in media memory. For example, when Karan Thapar probed CP on why he suggested Dalits take flight from Hindi and Hinduism; was it because he hated Hinduism? CP had perhaps an obvious but pithy answer: I did not choose to hate Hinduism, Hinduism never loved me!YY and AR looked aghast and betrayed at the idea of rejecting Indian languages, for Dalits, after all, were communicatively, politically and experientially rooted in these languages, beginning with Marathi, most of the(autobiographical) dalit literature was written in indian languages. They went on, the NRI example of turning away from one’s language is not a healthy one: look how they have all become Hindutva supporters, etc. etc. CP of course rubbished this secular middle class sentimentalism by citing Ambedkar’s example, that he always wrote in English and he did so knowing very well that it is not the Dalits who would read him!
Continue reading The Dalit ‘Betrayal’ of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan