Jignesh Mevani was elected to the Gujarat Assembly as an independent candidate last month, but he is primarily considered a Dalit leader and a staunch activist for Dalit rights. Why then is he being criticised for supposedly showing disrespect for Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the man who, among other things, championed Dalit rights?
The operative word is “supposedly”.
A purposively edited video (below) of a speech made by Mevani on August 15 has been dug up by TV channels and is being circulated on social media. The video appears to show Mevani displaying his disdain for several leaders of the Dalit movement, such as Bahujan Samaj Party leaders Mayawati and Kanshi Ram, apart from Ambedkar.
According to Times Now, Prakash Ambedkar, BR Ambedkar’s grandson and leader of the political party Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, responded to the video by saying, “Who is Jignesh? He shouldn’t have insulted Dalit icons.”
However, one need only listen to Mevani’s full speech (top) to understand the context of his statements, which actually pay respect to Ambedkar. In the almost 14-minute-long speech, Mevani discusses the Dalit movement, Left wing politics, and what is needed to bring about a change in society.
Here is an almost full transcript of his speech. The parts that have been taken out of context in the edited video are highlighted in italics:
“In India, to put it in the words of DD Kosambi, classes arose in the form of caste. So, in India, class and caste are intertwined and entangled. It is thus very clear that both the struggle for caste and class will happen at the same time. How can someone say that the annihilation of caste can only happen after the class struggle, or vice-versa? I believe that the movement to end class and caste needs to begin together.
Secondly, saying the Left has never, in the history of India, tackled the issue of caste is historically wrong. Reflect back on Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar in 1956, when he launched the Republican Party of India. He announced the party, but after his death, his associates’ chose to fight their first election not under the banner of the Republican Party of India but under a combination of Baba Saheb’s Scheduled Caste Federation and the CPI.
In the late 1930s, when Babasaheb Ambedkar was at his radical best, he launched many rallies with the communists. Definitely, during that period and in the following years, the Marxist communist movement had an application, but the question of caste, which is a specific reality in India, was something he could not get a proper grasp of. But there are many realities of India that even the communists could not grasp...
Given the Brahminical mentality, the communists did not raise the question of caste. This shows the cynicism as well as Brahminical attitude of some Ambedkarites in the Dalit movement.
I do not believe that the Dalit movement cannot be Brahminical. Someone on a web platform insulted Pratik Sinha [co-founder of Altnews.com] saying he is a Sinha. Hey, it is not my fault that I was born in a Dalit’s home, so how is it his fault that he was born in a Sinha home?...This is rubbish. This is absolute, complete Brahminism that is prevalent among Ambedkarites.
There is Manuvad even within the Dalit movement, as well as Brahmanvad. I admit that the way, and the credibility, analysis, dedication and commitment with which the Left Wing should have brought up the question of caste, suppose it did not happen – then you lift your own material issue, no?...The Dalit movement, because of its own fault, is unable to develop a decent class perspective.
The Dalit movement needs to understand that Left Wing parties, who want to form a society without class or caste, are natural allies of the Dalits. And if, regarding this, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar held a separate view, then even my view can be different from his. If what Lenin and Marx said is not set in stone, then what Babasaheb Ambedkar or Periyar Ramasamy said is not set in stone either. This is just what Babasaheb has taught us.
Use a scientific approach and your rationale to analyse his ideas. Babasaheb Ambedkar even said some things against Marxism and communism. He even said...the biggest enemies of Dalits and the working class are Brahmanvad and capitalism. Why isn’t the Dalit movement saying this?
In 1936, the Independent Labour Party that Baba Saheb Ambedkar first formed had a red flag. That was not a party of Dalits, by the way, but one for farmers and workers... this was also Ambedkar.
People do not remember this Babasaheb Ambedkar; they only remember the one associated with Buddhism. People do not remember the Babasaheb who wanted to end Brahmanvad and Manuvad, just the one who started the Republican Party of India. They remember the Babasaheb who wrote the Indian Constitution, but not the Babasaheb who, four months before writing the Constitution, wrote in States and Minorities, as a Left Wing politician would, that all the insurance sectors, land and key industries should be nationalised. Because of this, the logic behind the Dalit movement has gone awry.
Now, I say this to the Dalits – if all the Left Wingers of the world have gone to hell, you go then and fight for the land. You go and form unions for the farmers and wage earners. Who is stopping you?
It is because of the rise of identity politics, and all this Brahminical rubbish that got into it, and a misunderstanding of Left-wing politics – when we have abused it without understanding it – that we have reached a point where the Dalit movement talks about self-respect, but without (referring to) shelter. They want to fight for self-respect, but they are silent on economic exploitation, and have no perspective on globalisation – forget about understanding its link with imperialism.
It is my belief – and many Ambedkarites hold this against me – that all Ambedkarites should be seated on one side, and the Left Wingers on the other side, and they should debate the annihilation of caste. They will get to know whose understanding is better.
Taking aim at the Left for not raising the question of caste earlier will not do. I genuinely believe this.
The man who championed the cause of identity politics in Uttar Pradesh, I do not want to name him, the injection that he has been giving society for 20-25 years, that is the main cause of the present situation.
Whenever I go to Delhi to the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, all the student groups shout this slogan, ‘Red and saffron are the same, all comrades are fake.’ Now, the answer to this is simple. The so-called guide of the Dalits, Behenji, during the 2002 [Gujarat] riots, when she was supporting [Narendra] Modi, then nobody said that ‘blue and saffron are the same, all fountains are fake’. We should have said it then, no? I could have a disagreement, or even you could, but there should be a secular strain no? Nobody said, ‘Blue and saffron are the same, all bahujans [Dalits] are fake.’ So why are you saying it now?
Over all, the crux of the matter is this: the Left should develop a more intimate understanding of the issue of caste, and the abolishment of the caste system should become as much of a priority for them as the class conflict, and the reverse should hold true for Ambedkarites. It is only with this vision when the Left and the Dalit movement come together, only then will there be a change in this country.”
Mevani made the original speech at an event in Lamakaan, an open cultural space in Hyderabad, on the need for radical youth movements. It was part of a question-and-answer round with the audience.
After the video with selective parts of Mevani’s speech was circulated, social media was flooded with posts critical of Mevani on Friday. They called the MLA an “anarchist”, “more dangerous than a terrorist” and more: