The Edifice Complex

By Shivam Vij

First published in Open dated 4 April 2009

On a Friday evening, Ajay Kumar Singh has driven his family to a tourist spot in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It is quite some spot, this. It is not a relic of the Awadh Nawabs or the British Raj; it is a statue of UP Chief Minister Mayawati alongside that of Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). On the other side of the road are similar gargantuan statues of Bheem Rao Ambedkar and his wife Ramabai. Singh is visiting the Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal or the ‘Site of the Symbol of Social Change’. Continue reading

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Kanshi Ram: Fighter for an equal conversation

By Shivam Vij

First published in Tehelka issue dated 21 October 2006

Whether or not Ambedkar’s birthday should be a holiday is a decided issue today; in 1965 it was not. At the Department of Defence Production in Pune, where he worked as a scientific assistant on a reserved seat after completing his B.Sc, Kanshi Ram found himself in the middle of an agitation by Scheduled Caste employees to prevent the abolition of the April 14 holiday. Although born in a community of Punjabi Chamars converted to Sikhism, Kanshi Ram moved in an educated urban ethos where there was little discrimination against dalits. But this incident shook him: he read Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste thrice in one night.

Along with his friend DK Khaparde, Kanshi Ram began to think of an organisation that would work for dalit officers but also mobilise them to give back to the community. As the political mobiliser took shape, he lost interest in his government service and abandoned his engagement and decided to dedicate his life to a new Ambedkarite movement of his own making. Continue reading

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Understanding the BSP’s silence on atrocities against Dalits

By Shivam Vij

First published by Tehelka on 24 March 2007

Raju Pal, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator from Dhumanganj Assembly seat in Allahabad, was murdered in January 2005. Mohammad Ashraf and his brother, Samajwadi Party (SP) MP Atiq Ahmed, were arrested and later released on bail. Since then, four more BSP functionaries in Allahabad have been gunned down. In what was widely seen as retaliation by the BSP, there was an unsuccessful attempt on SP leader Suresh Yadav’s life in September 2005.

The violence is seen as linked to BSP’s increasing influence in the Allahabad area and the SP’s attempts to retain its hold on the seats here. The BSP has tried its best to draw political mileage from the murders, staging dharnas and walkouts in the Vidhan Sabha in Lucknow. Continue reading

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The Elephant Paradox

By Shivam Vij

First published in Tehelka dated 10 March 2007

Saath saal puranay Sanghi ko tod laaye hain hum!,” (We have won over a sixty-year-old Sanghi — a member of the Jan Sangh — to our side) exults Sarvesh Shukla as he walks into his rooftop campaign office. Shukla is contesting from the Generalganj Vidhan Sabha seat in Kanpur in the UP Assembly elections, which will be held in April and May, on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket. Festooned with plastic BSP flags, the office overlooks a busy marketplace — and exudes an air that matches the thirty-something candidate’s upbeat mood.

Shukla is a Brahmin. He was active in Kanpur University politics until recently and had little chance of getting a Vidhan Sabha ticket from any party. But the BSP is wooing Brahmins in a big way — “Sarvajan” (for everyone) is BSP’s new mantra. For now the “Bahujan” agenda — the project of uniting dalits, OBCs and Muslims in a coalition of the oppressed — has been shelved. Continue reading

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The Elephant Charge

By Shivam Vij

First published in Tehelka issue dated 26 May 2007

You may have seen him on television on May 11, blue gulal all over his bearded, happy face and brand new kurta, dancing more for the television cameras than to the beat of the dholaks. Sobran Pal knew this was the right time for some publicity. This was his moment as much as it was the Bahujan Samaj Party’s, and although Pal had not been given a ticket he is instrumental for the BSP’s strategy to win over the Pals, an intermediate obc caste, not just in Uttar Pradesh but all over India. Based in Jalaun near Jhansi, he is also the vice president of the Uttar Pradesh Pal-Baghel Samaj, one of hundreds of such caste-based organisations across India.

What attracted Pal to politics and the BSP is exactly what Kanshi Ram had once told Mayawati to convince her to join politics: instead of trying to become a civil servant, she could rule over hundreds of civil servants. There are a few good reasons why workers like Pal are so central to the BSP’s historic victory in Uttar Pradesh’s 15th Vidhan Sabha elections. Like him, there are many workers who convince members of their caste to vote for the BSP. This stems from the BSP’s realisation that caste is the basic unit of Indian society. This idea is as central to the party’s Sarvajan Samaj strategy as it was to its Bahujan Samaj ideology. Continue reading

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Behenji’s Brahmin Gamble

Published in Tehelka issue dated 28 April 2007

If the ongoing elections in Uttar Pradesh result in Mayawati becoming Chief Minister of the state, she will be governing more people than any other woman leader in the world at this moment.

But that record she has broken before. Three times, in fact. In those three terms put together, she ruled for a little less than two years. That is not surprising in a state where one Jagdambika Pal was chief minister for all of 48 hours. The BSP is hoping not just to form a coalition government but one that lasts five years.

The BSP was founded by Kanshi Ram, a former laboratory assistant in a defence laboratory, in 1984, preceded by thirteen years of social agitations by dalit beneficiaries of affirmative action. The vacuum left by the co-option of the Ambedkar-founded Republican Party of India into the Congress made Uttar Pradesh a fertile ground for the BSP. Continue reading

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How DDLJ ruined my generation

First published in Scroll.in on 29 November 2014.

Like most Bollywood films, Dilwale Dhulania Le Jayenge ends unrealistically. The film ends with the girl’s father letting her go with her suitor, after having forever decided how she will live her life and who she will marry. “Ja Simran ja,” he says at the railway station, “jee le apni zindagi.” Go live your life. She runs as the train had begun leaving, catches Shah Rukh Khan’s hand and we get one of the most iconic Bollywood scenes.

While the happy ending makes the viewer happy, the overwhelming message of the film is inescapable: if your parents don’t let you marry who you want, don’t run away. Convince them. The obvious implication is that if they are not convinced, eloping against their wishes is not an option. Continue reading

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