Reality Check India

Does a Dalit vanguard leadership in India exist ?

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 7, 2018

Dr B.R.Ambedkar was a front line (vanguard) leader of the Scheduled Castes.  If you study his public life, you will notice in that in all his engagements his primary motivation was to ensure the interests of his community.  The benefits  he sought and secured were constitutional and not merely legal.   You have to understand the difference between the two.  If you are given constitutional benefits then you do not have to cobble together an alliance with other groups and secure a majority rule every 5 years in order to protect it. On the other hand, if  you only have legal protections – you need to constantly be on your toes because a rival winning coalition can be cobbled together that will strip you of exactly those benefits and grant it to themselves.

I can readily connect with Ambedkar’s thought process. It goes like this –  if SC communities  had constitutionally guaranteed benefits they would be freed up from this painstaking and expensive “alliance building” that the rest of the groups in “Idea of India” political economy have to engage in.  What would make it worse for Dalits is unlike the other castes , say the BCs the SCs would have to forge alliances with more powerful groups who have institutional controls with them.  Freed up from this hectic activity, the SCs would then be able to grab the incredible opportunities reserved for them and focus on uplifting themselves.  Even before Dr Ambedkar  other SC leaders of the day like MC Rajah (see article on Rajah-Moonje pact)  and  before him Rettamalai Srinivasan were also had this kind of community first mindset.

None of these leaders believed in Dalits reformulating themselves as minorities and then playing the ‘Idea of India’ group alliance building games with much larger minorities who have powerful institutional controls i.e Education, clergy co-ordination, international base,  and legacy capital with them.

All of this changed in the past 15-20 years.  Prominent Dalit leaders today have turned into caricatures of the giants that lived earlier.  In just 70 years, they are now reduced to expending effort on alliance building, Kashmir issues, anti-brahmin and anti-Hindu activities that only weaken their own people.

The end goal of all of this appears to be to guide this group into a subservient parking spot under the two large minority blocks.   The current Dalit leadership is knowingly or unknowingly diluting their own strong and probably the only legitimate claim for social justice with this alliance building. They forgot the whole idea that drove Ambedkar – the Dalits dont have to waste time in any of this hectic alliance building activities.  This does not mean that Dalits turn into robots and not engage with social issues. Far from it – since they are freed up from alliance building they do not have to play the same faultline-deconstruction-hostility  games the others do. They get to work for harmonious relations with the larger community and at the same time use the constitutional benefit framework to uplift their society. Many SCs are now awakening to what other successful communities like Nadars have known for long   “Harmony with larger society leads to more trust , and more trust leads to faster contracts, and that leads to wealth, and wealth leads to institutions”.

How did we land up here ? 

To  separate the real Dalit leadership who are in the intellectual bucket as Ambedkar and  MC Rajah from those who are front-ended by the “Idea of India” ecosystem, let us test against a concrete example.  Let us examine how each group reacted to events in the wake of the 93rd Constitutional Amendment,  a keystone #core1 issue.

Have you heard of the Prof I Ilangovan v State of Tamilnadu  case ?

As I have explained in “A brief history of the 93rd Constitutional Amendment” ; on Dec 22 2005 the Congress led UPA government passed a constitutional amendment that fundamentally and perhaps permanently altered the texture of institutions in India. This amendment enabled the state to take any amount  from aided or unaided educational institutions for purported “social justice” but explicitly exempted the minority institutions.  Now in the Indian scenario, the exempt institutions are not some insular minority establishments but includes the thriving and outward looking top capacity of colleges and schools.  I am going to set aside for now how the minorities who are now projected as saviors never contested that or that neither Congress not its closest ally the DMK or the TN Dalit parties bothered to even comment on this.

No sooner had the Constitution of India been  amended by the Congress, than its closest ally, the staunchly rationalist and atheist DMK introduced a law in Tamilnadu on June 5 2006. This law is called “The Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Private Educational Institutions) Act, 2006”  also known as  Tamilnadu Act 12 of 2006.

The law made the following provisions :

Sec 3 (1) :  All private colleges had to follow a 69% quota for both faculty and students 

Sec 2 : Private colleges were defined as non Minority only.  Minority colleges whether aided or unaided had complete autonomy in selection of students and faculty.   In other words only Tamil Hindu run colleges had to follow this law passed by the self professed “Rationalists”.

Copy of Tamilnadu Act 12 – 2006 (PDF) Tamilnadu-Act-12-2006 (PDF) 

Not a single prominent Dalit  protested this instant cutoff of thousands of jobs and seats from the most elite and sought after colleges.  All of these posts are funded by the state government. 

In any case, this passed unnoticed and became law.  But not all Dalits were inert to this.  A  Professor I Ilangovan who is quite popular in some Dalit circles  was Head of English  Dept at Voorhees College Vellore. He  filed a writ of mandamus in the Madras High Court to quash the aforementioned Sec (2) denying SC/ST reservation in aided minority colleges. This which was decided on Apr 2015, about 9 years after the 93rd Amendment.

The case is Prof I Ilangovan vs State of Tamilnadu and 62 Minority aided colleges. These include the creme of TN colleges and includes religious minority colleges like Loyola, Madras Christian College, St Xaviers Palayamkottai, St Josephs Trichy, Stella Maris  Madras, American college Madurai, and 60 others. It also includes some linguistic minority like Tirumalai Nayakar, Saurashtra and others.

The sum total of the case

The petitioner, being the Head of the Department in the Subject of English at Voorhees College, Vellore, has filed this public interest litigation seeking to declare Rule 11(1-A) of the Tamilnadu Private Colleges (Regulation) At, 1976 insofar as exempting minority aided colleges from the Rule of reservation in appointments to SCs and STs is illegal and ultra vires of Art.16(4) and 46 of the Constitution, and consequently direct the respondent colleges R3 to R62 to appoint 19% of SC/ST Teachers and non-teaching staff against the total number of sanctioned posts.

2. The sum and substance of the petitioner’s case is that the Minority Colleges, which are receiving aid, cannot be given any exemption from Rule 11(1-A) of the Tamilnadu Private Colleges (Regulation) Act, 1976. Thus, the exemption granted to the Minority Aided Colleges qua communal reservation to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is put into challenge in this writ petition.


Even if you grant the extreme contention of some ideologues  that Dalit affirmative action is a Hindu burden and hence Christians and Muslims run institutions cannot be forced to pay for that – these posts are paid for the by government. Hence this appears to be a very reasonable challenge.

However it was shot down in a very short opinion.  A division bench of Madras High Court ruled  that in light of the earlier 2014 Pramati case the SC/ST cannot be granted faculty reservation in minority run aided colleges. This was in line with an earlier case “Federation of Catholic Faithful vs Tamilnadu 2014) which exempted minority aided from all reservation.  In that case the Federation of Faithfuls lost to their own co-religionists who had institutional control.

Prof Ilangovans case was decided with :

8. In the light of the aforesaid decisions, we do not find any unconstitutionality involved in the impugned Rule qua exemption granted to the private minority aided colleges from the Rule of reservation in appointments to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

9. Accordingly, the writ petition is dismissed. However, there is no order as to costs. Consequently the connected miscellaneous petition is also dismissed.

I recall very well what that judgment came out –  The Hindu did not even report this judgment. The Deccan Chronicle Chennai Edition did.  It goes without saying that the others like Indian Express, TOI, Wire, Scroll, NDTV wont tell you this either.

There were other similar cases like this all over India in all areas of insitution control such as teacher selection. Till date not a single Dalit-Minority alliance building activist has spoken against this. One wonder what kind of “alliance” is this ?  I would be tempted to chalk this up to ignorance, but if you recall in that same timeframe 2014-15 Dalits-Periyarits were rocking the IIT and HCU campuses for some minor gaps in faculty quota and promotions.

I think Dr Ambedkar if alive would have had a thing or two say about this state of affairs.



ps: Notice how I am completely side stepping the new narrative of Peshwa Dalit 18th century battle etc.  Every group has right to invent its own stories. If you can conjure up Lemuria as “a wronged continental plate” ..