The upcoming Bihar elections brings back old memories. We subscribed to The Statesman (Calcutta Edition) as a news daily and India Today (every fortnight) as a magazine. This too happened after much discussion among the three siblings. My mother wanted us to read Competition Success. She often carried that way back from school where she taught. Oh yes ! Sportstar was a rare commodity which we got to read once in a while. We had to be silent when my father heard the news on TV. Doordarshan of course. And after the TV set was ours. That was our way of getting news and views.
In 1989, Vishwanath Pratap Singh became the Prime Minister of India and with him came the execution of the Mandal Commission which had placed its report in 1983 offering 27% extra reservations in educational sector and jobs to Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The newspapers and magazines changed its colours. It started looking gory. India Today shocked us when the self-immolation image of Rajiv Goswami was splashed. It made it to the front page of the magazine. We knew something was amiss.
We belonged to the general caste so we felt that there was nothing for us. We did not understand the logic. Nobody discussed these matters with us. Not even our teachers. Reading newspaper was boring (especially the OP-Ed pages). The Statesman was too eclectic. The Op-eds were intellectually of the highest order written by the best of minds theorizing the social context in the realm of the present times. The terms and social science jargon was unknown. No one discussed these with us.
My father was a weird person. One of those days when we happened to discuss the matter; all he said was – “It’s going to be tougher for us to get jobs , so better study hard”. Well that was the final inference that he had derived for us. He did not mince words. We exactly understood what he meant to say.
For the masses V P Singh , Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Kanshi Ram, Chandrashekhar, Devi Lal, and all the dalit leaders were the poster boys of India. They were seen everywhere giving out press conferences or addressing rallies. Doordarshan had to toe the government line and fed news that was relevant to the present dispensation. There were no live TV debates or chatter mayhem as we see nowadays. However the newspaper and the magazines covered both sides. As I say again, we hardly understood the theorization. For us they were enemy number one.
A few days back Ram Vilas Paswan passed away. Today, I recollect those times. By now I have read Gandhi and Ambedkar. I have also read the grand idea of India by Jai Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. I have soaked myself with a good deal of Marxist literature and a lot of Social Science papers theorising these conceptual framework that makes the caste and class divide in India .
Today, I understand what it is to be a Dalit during those times or say even now. I am sometimes branded by many as a letftist. Don’t know how they make such categorization in the present context when we talk about the concerns of having a secular India or a talk about social and economic alleviation of Dalits and Minorities. You do not have to belong to the Communist Party of India who jointly call themselves the Left Front.
Today, we see an excess of capital driven privatisation of the Public Sector Units or even telecom, railways, ports and airports. Where was the private sector when people had to be evacuated during the pandemic? When basic education and healthcare are in shambles, how do we reciprocate to this grand idea of shining India and privatising these sectors in the coming days in the name of PPP? How do we counter the forces when there are job losses and when people at the edge of poverty are left out of development discourses leaving them more vulnerable to the capitalist forces that tend to gobble up India. We do not need an East India Company…perhaps we have bred a few here itself.
How do I respond to all the morons who send me WhatsApp messages celebrating a few Indian billionaires as Forbes top ten businessmen? Should I feel happy that we have Indians in that list or should I be angry when I read that the wealth of 9 richest Indian is equivalent to bottom 50% percent of India. Should I not be angry when wealthy individuals are amassing India’s wealth by all possible means and tweaking government policies, while the poor are struggling to eat their next meal or pay for their child’s medicine or quality education? These are basic questions that we need to ask ourselves. If feeling for someone’s pain is being labelled as a leftist , well so be it.
Thirty years back , I was angry for the 27% rise in the affirmative action that the government had taken for the OBCs or may be even the quotas availed by the SCs and STs, But, today I feel happy . Thank god there were people like Mulayam, Paswan and Kanshiram.
Writes: Satyadeep Chettri. The author is a regular columnist and teaches at NBB Degree College, Tadong, Gangtok.
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