ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Maestro of Identity Politics

Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan (New Delhi: Penguin Books), 2014; pp 263, Rs 499.

Now that Kanshi Ram’s tryst with resolving the caste tangle by using the master key of political power is ending with the electoral debacles of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP), one can dispassionately look at the phenomenon he was. As such, there could not have been a better time for Badri Narayan’s ably crafted biography.

Whatever little has been written on Kanshi Ram has been heavily affected by the electoral successes of the BSP. A man who came from nowhere; who forsook all ties to shape the future with only grit and determination as his resources; and who raised an army of the most unlikely people – government dalit employees – to catalyse a political movement that captured power in the most unlikely state, can only be described as a phenomenon. He made the ideological B R Ambedkar stand on his head, and still claimed to pursue his mission; he made a virtue of the vice of opportunism that plagued the post-Ambedkar dalit leadership, and still succeeded. Whichever way history pronounces its verdict on him, it cannot ignore the fact that he was an extraordinary strategist, an organiser of people, and focused on what he wanted to carry out. Whether he contributed to the empowerment or emancipation of dalits, as he and many others apparently believed, is difficult to answer.

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