Babu Jagjivan Ram: A truly visionary Leader of the Dalits

Babu jagjivan ram Sat, 23 Jul 2016

Babu Jagjivan Ram: A truly visionary Leader of the Dalits

The contributions of Babu Jagjivan Ram breaks all attempts to classify his leadership in any homogenous framework. No doubt, he belonged to the section of society oppressed by caste discriminations. It prompts scholars to situate leadership of Babuji in a framework serving the marginalized sections or to describe him as a leader of the Dalits. But, any deeper analysis of his contributions and methods to address challenges opens a new dimension of leadership from Below. The range of classification for leadership of Babuji is very wide and it includes diverse aspect which has been largely ignored by mainstream media and knowledge production system. 

Falsifying Myth of Homogeneity in leadership

The greatest challenge faced by any scholar in analyzing the leadership of Babuji is that it is very difficult to situate the leadership in any framework of homogeneity. Truly, he inherited a background of army and legacy of thoughts situated in discourse of ‘Begumpura’ (idea traced in the thoughts of Saint Ravidas). These twin traditions had a powerful impact in crafting of personality of Jagjivan Ram. Further, his journey from childhood to youth shows immense energy to compete and perform. The desire to compete and perform shows a leadership rooted in culture of resistance,

scholarship and inclusive practices. He sharply reacted to the oppressive practices in different ways, broke the traditions by creating new paths and worked for practices oriented to welfare. The diversity in his actions with a blend of army culture and traditions of Bhakti movement situate Babu Jagjivan Ram in a very different framework of leadership. A leadership immensely dedicated to serve the masses, aware of challenges faced by nation and committed to empowerment of the weak.

It is also true that Babu Jagjivan Ram had opportunity to understand the work culture of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi etc. His methods of addressing responsibilities were innovative and based on principle of welfare of large section of society. These aspects are very obvious in his actions for welfare of army, ex-serviceman, family members of army, who sacrificed life in battle, insurance schemes for workers, Green revolution, victory of country in battlefield, commitment for Congress Party etc. Yet, the elements of Rebel in his personality got reflected when he sharply focused on vertical mobility of a person from below due to various reasons, and breaks traditions of unconditional support to show new dimension of leadership.

Culture of Resistance and search for inclusive politics The traditions of army developed a culture of resistance in Babu Jagjivan Ram and this aspect was reflected continuously in his functioning in various capacities throughout his life. The first case is visible, when he got admission in Arrah Town School in 1922, where practice of keeping two separate pitchers of drinking water for Hindus and Muslims was a rule. Now, the admission of Jagjivan created a crisis because the students were aware of the separate spaces for the Hindu and the Muslim, and unable to situate presence of student from the depressed classes. The students and authorities found solutions on the principle to keep apart and proposed a third pitcher for the untouchables. His intense opposition to decision of school authorities, not by begging, but by breaking the third pitcher repeatedly jolted the oppressive mindset. Finally, the school authorities reacted in a very creative way by starting a new tradition of keeping one pitcher for all students and it created a new space where an identity of student could not be challenged by sectarian identities. It shows that Babu Jagjivan Ram had very sharp understanding of impact of space on younger generation, and following methods of Saint Ravidas, he preferred to reform the society from within.

Jagjivan Ram did not perceive religion as source of mobility, but he treated the religion as a powerful source of energy naturally existing in society. He aimed to channelize this natural energy towards structural change in society and the welfare of people. In this regard, his approach was focused to engage state and society for an egalitarian society. Unlike Karl Marx, who situates religion in a discourse of ideology of ruling class, Jagjivan Ram was close to the approach of B.R. Ambedkar towards religion as a powerful instrument of shaping mindset of society. For Jagjivan Ram, Temple was an institution of setting way of life and he demanded temple entry for oppressed sections of society. At the same time, he kept alive the tradition of Saint Ravidas to challenge orthodox way of understanding religion. So, he not only organized innumerable Ravidas Sammelans, but also, established Akhil Bhartiya Ravidas
Sabha in 1934.

Apart from this, he was a great freedom fighter and a committed Congress leader. Although, it is very true that his meeting with Madam Mohan Maliviya in school while delivering welcome address and winning Bihar Legislative Assembly seat unopposed(ensured victory in 14 reserved seats on banner of Depressed Classes League) prior to joining Congress Party shows dynamic aspect of his personality. As an ardent freedom fighter, Jagjivan Ram intensively participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement and Quit India Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi. It led to his arrest in 1940 and 1942. It could not stop him, and he continuously organized rallies and meetings, against colonial state in 1943. The closeness of Jagjivan Ram to Mahatma Gandhi and his presence in the Congress Party at various level such as member of the All India Congress Committee (AICC, 1940-1947), Congress Working Committee (1948 to 1977) opens a new dimension of presence of a leader from below and creates cultural capital to shape up the mindset of younger generation to participate in politics for nation building process. Jagjivan Ram’s approach towards politics shows that he visualized politics as a tool to empower the downtroddens. In this regard, he is a source of inspiration for masses to participate in democracy to find out solutions of various problems and motivates people to get engaged with state. Unlike Naxalbari movement, state is concptualised as a space, which offers solutions for various challenges, for Jagjivan Ram Discourse of Begumpura (land without sorrow) The oral traditions refer the concept of Begumpura (land without sorrow) to Saint Ravidas and his inclusive traditions are also documented in Panch Vani text of Dadupanthi , Sri Guru Granth Sahib etc. He had a very powerful impact on society and primarily tried to reform Hinduism from within by challenging orthodox and discriminatory practices. The dedication of Jagjivan Ram in welfare of people through relief and rehabilitation work in natural calamities, and devoting life for policies-programmes for welfare of people clearly reflects legacy of Saint Ravidas. Jagjivan Ram was strong supporter of civil rights movement and his role in Protection of Civil Rights Act,1955 is clearly evident. His skills to handle so many issues is clear from the range of Ministries Babu Jagjivan Ram was assigned such as Labour, Railways, Transport, Communications, Defence, Food and Agriculture etc. These responsibilities of Jagjivan Ram show an approach for function of state as a welfare agency. He worked very hard to improve status and conditions of workers. Rightly, he ensured constitution of National Labour Commission, Contract Labour Bill, regulation of working hours of labourers. Further, He chaired the conference of ILO organized at Geneva 1950. He ensured nationalization of air transport and, as a result, Air India and Indian Airlines were created. These policies not only ensured state intervention, but also , the increasing capacity of state to provide jobs made the policy of reservation a relevant policy for empowerment.

Similarly, he is credited with the beginning of reservations in departmental promotions of employees from SC/ST categories. While writing opinion in the Hindu on 27/2/2008, M.S. Swaminathan said, “The best tribute we can pay to Jagjivan Ram’s life and work is the conversion of the concept of inclusive growth from rhetoric into reality.” Swaminathan argued that Jagjivan Ram was a visionary leader, who adopted creative and innovative methods. The initiatives taken for acceptation of green revolution, opening Krishi Vigyan Kendras, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi, the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning at Nagpur etc. The impact of his work as Food and agriculture minister may also be understood from the fact that foodgrains production increased from 74 million to 94 million. At the same time, he worked hard to ensure proper implementation of the Public Distribution system. Obviously, Jagjivan Ram was a great institution builder and always respected the autonomy of institutions. He allowed institutions to evolve progressive work culture. In addition to this, he strongly stood for the army man as the army man goes to any extent to protect country, and Jagjivan Ram realised the sacrificing aspect of this work. He was very well aware of the pain and the sufferings faced by families of armyman.

Again, the human face of Jagjivan is reflected through various schemes that he initiated such as family pension for widows, sheltered appointments, war injury pay, medical treatment to families, free land distribution, employment to widows etc. These policies not only motivated common man to think that joining army service is the service to the nation, but also, addressed the challenges faced by families of army man.

It clearly shows that Jagjivan Ram was a dynamic, committed, hard working, inclusive leader who always believed in institutionalized solutions to various challenges faced by the country. He was blend of continuity and change. The discourse of Saint Ravidas kept alive immense desire to serve the poor man and it showed continuity of Indian civilization. Further, the immense dedication for modernized and institutionalized solutions to challenges reflects change. His rise from a member of oppressed section of society to Deputy Prime Minister of India is unprecedented and guides the youths from below to seek solutions of various challenges by participating in mainstream politics. It may not be argued that Jagjivan Ram represents masses of this country. He will always be remembered as the leader who strengthened the nation and paved the way for an egalitarian society.