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Dalit champion

Few will deny that Kanshi Ram left a distinct footprint on north India?s politics.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2006 00:38 IST

Few will deny that Kanshi Ram left a distinct footprint on north India’s politics. Unlike Babu Jagjivan Ram, the towering Dalit figure till the Seventies, Kanshi Ram saw his community’s salvation in the creation of its own political vehicles. He was more of an organiser and a political strategist than a visionary — his views were shaped largely by BR Ambedkar. After a decade spent in organising Dalit government officials, the beneficiaries of a generation of reservation policies, he launched the BSP in 1984. The party was narrowly focused on promoting Dalit interests, even though it sought to gather all the so-called ‘disadvantaged’ such as Muslims and some of the other backward castes. The BSP made no bones about its determination to seek political power at the earliest, and at the cost of the upper castes. While this has not been a smooth process, the BSP has come to play a major role in shaping the politics of UP, MP, Punjab and Delhi, with the help of Kanshi Ram’s charismatic protege, Mayawati.

Kanshi Ram owed his success as much to hard work as to good timing. His rise coincided with the re-emergence of caste in public discourse. The ‘Mandalisation’ of politics initiated by VP Singh worked in his favour by legitimating a new politics of the disadvantaged. It also rode on a political trend that saw the decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP. In this flux, Kanshi Ram pursued the objective of power with single-minded rigour, and struck electoral alliances with scant regard for either principle or stability.

While the BSP consolidated its hold, the governance of the state where it was the strongest atrophied. Kanshi Ram will undoubtedly be remembered for his role in promoting Dalit empowerment. But his place in history will only be secure when the party he founded can also show that it has the capacity to provide good, if not better, governance than its rivals.

First Published: Oct 10, 2006 00:38 IST