“I am privileged and do not need reservation,” says Ambedkar’s great grandson, Sujat
On March 26, when thousands of Dalits gathered at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to demand the arrest of Sambhaji Bhide, the right-wing Hindutva leader accused of instigating violence in the aftermath of the Dalit event at Bhima Koregaon, a youngster’s presence at the public rally evoked curious reactions.
Twenty-three-year-old Sujat Ambedkar, great grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, was the cynosure of all eyes. “The response to his speech was huge for two reasons,” said Siddharth Gaikwad, one of the attendees, adding that besides the speech, his long curly hair evoked as much reaction from the crowd.
For Sujat, that response has made him explore the option of dedicating himself wholly to politics, and to work with his father Prakash Ambedkar, president, Bharipa Bahujan Maha Sangh. “I would definitely want to work with the party my father is heading,” said Sujat, who is a political science graduate from Fergusson college and also has a degree from the Asian College of Journalism.
Sujat played in a rock band in college and the Dalit cause may well hope that the prevailing riff from this Ambedkar’s rock days is ‘progressive’ and not ‘alternate’.
Take his view on reservations, for example. “I don’t think there is a need for political reservation. In jobs and education, reservation should be continued although people who have achieved a certain economic condition should voluntarily give a chance to those in the community, who are still at the bottom of the pyramid,” says Sujat.
Sujat’s views are similar to his father’s. In an interview in 2013, Prakash Ambedkar had said that the time has come for scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) to get rid of reservation in electoral politics.
Sujat, for the record, has never availed of any reservation and always studied through the open category. “I consider myself most privileged since I got everything from the beginning,” he says, wanting to go beyond reservations and atrocities against Dalits to highlight day-to-day issues being faced by the marginalised through the website he is planning to launch.
The fourth generation Ambedkar scion is currently serving his notice-period at a city-based tabloid he joined some four months ago. “I have resigned from the paper because I want to start a news portal that will raise issues of the marginalised class,” says Sujat.
While it was his first public appearance at the Azad Maidan rally, he had already hit the headlines two years ago.
In March 2016, Sujat and members of a leftist union clashed with members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), when the latter tried to organise a function on the Fergusson college campus.
Sujat and other students, calling themselves as ‘Ambedkarites’, opposed the function, which forced college authorities to call for police intervention. The whole issue later snowballed into a major political row.
Student politics triggered by the Fergusson incident is now resonating at various levels in the state, what, with the caste cauldron churning after Marathas came out on to the streets in large numbers following the Dalit assertion, post the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
The controversy offered Sujat, born in the city and a student of an English medium school, the first few lessons in politics, one of these being to be politically correct. Sujat also spoke about the Prevention of Atrocities Act, because of which various states in north India witnessed violence on Monday, killing nine people.
“Atrocity Act is the only safeguard Dalits in India have. We should not dilute it,” said Sujat, while reacting to recent Supreme Court ruling.
Sujat’s take on reservation may not find immediate resonance among Dalits, but it has takers among a small group of SCs and STs who have climbed the social pyramid and want to allow others from the community to now avail the benefits.
“Dalits should defeat caste with capital and become job providers,” says Milind Kamble, chairman of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The issue of reservation has been at the centre stage of political debate in Maharashtra with Marathas and other castes demanding quotas for the community. In his recent interview, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the time has come to give reservation on the basis of economic criterion rather than caste. Reactions to Pawar’s remarks were mixed.
“For me, this is not the time to give reservations in jobs and education on economic criterion,” said Sujat, reacting to Pawar’s remarks.