Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ram Vilas Paswan and Muslims: India's leading Dalit politician in wilderness!Ram

LJP hief Ram Vilas Paswan
Once the enfant terrible of Dalit politics in India, Ram Vilas Paswan, appears a lonely figure in the Indian political scenario.

A die-hard Dalit politician, who genuinely took up Muslim issues, and was touted by most including his opponents as Prime Minister material, has been marginalised by the growth of BSP.

In conversation he no longer exudes the same confidence and looks dejected. He is trying hard to keep his Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) flock stay together.

But he knows it is difficult to survive the Mayawati storm sweeping across the heartland and even beyond. Though he is still a Union Minister, Paswan is no longer the force, he once was.

In the 80s when anti-Muslim rhetoric was at its peak, Paswan was the only politician who countered rustic rabble-rousers like Uma Bharti, Mahant Awaidyanath, Kalyan Singh and their comparatively more 'suave' hate-preachers like Lal Kishenchand Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, both on ground-level and in the parliament in the same idiom.

His speeches in the Lok Sabha, especially in 1989-1991 period, gave many Muslims the hope that there were still leaders who were ready to speak on behalf of Muslims in the communally charged political atmosphere.

Once, he held the record for a win by highest margin from Haridwar, and in later years had to return to Bihar and keep shifting his constituencies to win the election. LJP is not a force to reckon with even in Bihar. His Dalit Sena is in a disarray.

And the media, particularly, the Hindi-English [Brahmanical] press, doesn't seem to have a linking for him, at least, that's what he feels. Sometime back he held a big conference on Dalits in Delhi and not a single major newspaper or TV channel reported it.

A couple of from months from now, he will chair a global conference that is being organised in association with Dr AR Nakadar. This international conference will be regarding issues of Dalits and Muslims apart from bringing these communities together. It will be held in America.

Though it seems unlikely that the current caste equations would change much in Uttar Pradesh [UP] in near future. Take Mayawati's name in front of him and Paswan, gets angry, 'She is rejuvenating the manu-vad, if the horse befriends the fodder how will it survive' and even tougher words.

Though he was a coalition partner with the NDA government led by BJP, Ram Vilas Paswan was the only leader who quit the government and resigned from the post of minister, on the issue of Gujarat riots, and among the rare politicians who demanded Narendra Modi's arrest.

He was the first politicians who openly advocated the demand for reservation for Muslims and also pressed for extension of facilities to Dalit Muslims [who converted to Islam from Dalit castes]. Even if politically motivated, these issues found few takers initially.

All along his career Paswan has been sincere towards Muslims unlike Mayawati who has become Chief Minister of UP repeatedly with the Muslim support but never taken any concrete step towards the empowerment of the community.

He is sad that Dalit movement is almost dead. That the Dalits are not internet-savvy and can't mobilise on the issue of Khairlanji killings the way Jessica Lal issue hogged limelight. What's the future of Paswan and his party? Paswan also seems unsure.