A new Dalit leader on the threshold

Amit Sengupta
(New Delhi, January 14)

HIS NAME stood out because it was unusual. Ram Raj. He used to be obscure those days. If you had seen him in JNU in the late Eighties, studying German, you would never have believed his new political reincarnation.

He is still thin and wiry, but walks with a suppressed swagger, with a bodyguard along. He has changed. From an eclectic member of the CPI(M)'s student wing, SFI, to a mass Dalit leader, giving both Mayawati and Ram Vilas Paswan a fair bit of insomnia.

"In October this year, I will convert one million Dalits into Buddhism. In India, only a synthesis of Buddhism, Marxism, and the philosophy of Ravi Das, Kabir, Phule and Periyar can lead to salvation. This is because Buddha's principle was pain. And who else but the Dalits know this principle?"

Ram Raj is not media savvy. But he has arrived. The political class accepts his emerging profile and his influence in at least 50 constituencies. They are waiting for his next move. This is because Ram Raj, Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax in Delhi, is the leader of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations. His word holds good among lakhs of government employees all over the country.

"We organised a rally of 5 lakh people on December 11, 2000, in Delhi. Even the media accepted that after 'JP's Emergency rally' this was the only rally when the Ramlila Ground overflowed. Both Paswan and Mayawati, together, could not muster this number," he says.

His base has spread. Last March, it was he who got Parliament stalled for two days on the new rules concerning SC/ST employees. Almost 100 SC/ST MPs from across all parties (barring the BSP and Left) created a united ruckus. And it was Ram Raj, whose shadow loomed large behind the protests.

He says Mayawati hates him. "She is a liar. She has been slandering me. She has no respect for people. She is insecure, that is why she is so abusive."

And Paswan? "Paswan's days are over. Even in Bihar it is the upper castes who are backing him."

"I am a leader of employees. I work within the norms of democracy. I have never broken a single government rule," says Ram Raj. "But I am against communal forces. I am against leaders who have no ideology."

What is the guarantee that he will not betray the Dalits, as most Dalit leaders have done, making opportunistic alliances, using Dalits as vote banks? "My past will show that. I have not sold my ideology for political power. That is my guarantee for the future." One hopes he stands by his words. If not for himself, then for the Dalits of India.

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