Leader of India’s depressed castes Kanshiram dead

By M Rama Rao, Asian tribune, October 10, 2006

New Delhi, India -- Kanshiram is dead but the Dalit icon lives. The 72-year old bachelor, who single handedly changed the political discourse for the untouchables in the past three decades, died of protracted illness on Monday.

<< Kanshiram’s tryst with Dalit cause took off in 1978.

His body was consigned to flames on the banks of Yamuna here according to the Buddhist traditions in the presence of top political leaders, large number of his supporters and two sisters and a brother.Kanshiram’s tryst with Dalit cause took off in 1978.Kanshiram’s tryst with Dalit cause took off in 1978.

Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, former Prime Minister I K Gujral, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and former UP Chief Minister Mayawati who took over the BSP reins at the behest of Kanshiram himself some years ago attended the funeral.

Monks chanted Buddhist hymns and BSP workers raised slogans like`Kanshiram Amar Rahe' as the pyre was lit.

Some political thinkers consider Kanshi Ram’s contribution to Dalit cause as far more solid than Balasaheb Ambedkar, who was the first to put the focus on the suppression and denial of rights of scheduled castes.

Where Ram scored over others was in making the major national parties like the BJP and the Congress marginalised in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state that sends about eighty lawmakers to Parliament.

Kanshiram’s tryst with Dalit cause took off in 1978. He floated Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti three years later in 1981. Three years later he started Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Though he did not succeed in entering parliament in his first attempt in 1987 when he challenged Vishwanath Pratap Singh who was seeking re-election from Allahabad, he was successful in 1991 when the electorate of Etawah sent him to Parliament.

In the past couple of years, he remained bed ridden with multiple ailments like stroke, diabetes and hypertension. He made his last public appearance in March this year on the occasion of his 72nd birthday.