Maharshi Vitthal Ramji Shinde contested the new council elections that took place in Bombay Presidency in 1920 from the Pune city. He published an article titled ‘Bahujan Paksh’ in Baroda’s Jagruti Patra detailing various interests of the Bahujan society. This article, which also serves as a manifesto of his party, is an important document in the history of Maharashtra anti-caste politics. The original article was written in Marathi.
Politically speaking, the population of India can be divided into two groups. These two groups are: (1) The forward class, of people who have hegemony over knowledge, wealth and power, and (2) backward class or Bahujan society, of people who are backward because they have been kept away from knowledge, wealth and power. This second class also includes the much despised untouchable class. As soon as political reforms started in the country, we started witnessing the contradiction between these two groups and on the basis of this contradiction, a new party emerged among the backward class or Bahujan society. This party is called non-Brahmin party. However, a caste-specific name like non-Brahmin party does not capture the essence of Bahujan society that is marked by helplessness and powerlessness. Therefore, if we call this party Bahujan Party or People’s Party, which is a very apt name, nobody can object to it.
Way of working: This party will have independent relations with others. Wherever this party’s own interests are involved, our party will be ready to provide active support to any party or person as far as our party is treated on an equal footing. This is so because our party’s base is concrete material interests, not just feelings. Following classes are the subset of this party:
1. Farmer: In this category, overbearing zamindars or ancestral jagirdars cannot be included at all. The one who tills his farm or tenurial farm himself, and for that work, takes care of enough number of workers by giving them equal and appropriate wages, should only be considered as a farmer. In western countries, this class is known as ‘peasant proprietor’. Even though this class is autonomous, it doesn’t possess wealth, education or power and, hence, has still remained backward.
2 Soldier: Sardar is strictly not counted in this class. Since sardars have power and authority, it is better to put them in the forward class. Due to their oppositional interests, it is natural that they would not be a part of the Bahujan Paksh. But it is imperative that only our party should take care of the interests of the ordinary soldiers as they are backward. The way Kunbi [farmer, also a peasant caste in Maharashtra] is the true nurturer of all, while zamindars and jagirdars are only freeloaders, similarly a soldier fighting without caring for his own life, is the true Kshatriya. He is not just a pattewala (steward) or a peon. Sardars earning titles and enjoying generational pensions riding on the hard work of soldiers are indeed Kshatriya by caste but they are not backward. Therefore, our party needn’t worry about their interests. But we must care for the soldiers.
3. Teaching class: In this category, priests and Joshis cannot be included. The ones who are capable of imparting practical education in trade or literature, and, are ready to take wages according to market rates, whatever their caste, religion, country may be, our party must protect their interests. Because they are also backward and their interests are national interests.
4. Entrepreneurial/skilled/semi-skilled peoples: Carpenters, goldsmiths, weavers, tailors, milkmen, gardeners, oil pressers, paanwallahs (Tamboli) are also stakeholders of the nation, and their importance is not even an inch less than the farmers and the soldiers. They are backward. Our Bahujans society regularly employs services of drama troupes, gondhalis [artists performing folk art gondhal], fortune tellers, shahirs, quacks/healers, and midwives. Then how can our party forget their well-being?
5. Traders: Understand that the creditors who get rich by charging exorbitant interest and by diverting others’ capital towards themselves, are excluded from this category. But we need non-exploitative traders to distribute the wealth that was produced by the farmer with the help of industrious persons and labourers — and which was protected by the soldier — across the country. And till this trading class remains backward, our party will strive for its progress.
6. Labourers: In this category, along with manual labourers, a case can be made to also include lawyers and doctors. But this second class (of lawyers and doctors), using its educational credentials and knowledge, easily reaches a position of power by accumulating more wealth than one’s needs. Not just that, the leadership of Bahujan society also goes to them, and then everything gets messed up. Even though these people are technically workers, they are in reality not backward. Therefore, it will be proper if the responsibility to protect these people’s interests is left to them only and not taken by the infirm Bahujan Paksh. Of course, for the remaining real and physically labouring workers our party is the only one that will pay heed to their concerns. There is no doubt that this class is free to put forward its rightful demands regarding issues like wages according to market rates, work hours, rules for rest, maternity, sickness, old age, family and feminine emergencies, etc. But to organise them in such a way that they develop the ability to get their demands addressed, while keeping the interests of the nation in mind, is an important and difficult duty of this party. However, this is not a labour party; it is a party of the whole nation as it is party of the masses. If the worker gets unruly, our party has more right than anybody else to counsel them.
7. Untouchable class: Due to untouchability, this class has remained backward as well as has been crushed. Without giving any excuse of religion, tradition, culture, etc, our party will work towards complete eradication of untouchability and helplessness of the untouchable class, and endeavour to integrate it in the Bahujan society on an equal footing. This task is very urgent. We have already wasted a lot of energy in useless fights, insincere resolutions and self-serving sympathy, and as a result a few persons of this class have naturally chosen unscrupulous paths. If our party does not learn any lessons even after this, then there is no hope.
8. Women: The current political apparatus hasn’t been of any benefit to our country’s women, but our party needn’t feel dejected because of this. On the contrary, our party is not a party of scholars, orators and loudmouths and hence it is impossible that it will forget the womenfolk. The womenfolk is our cradle. If we behave uncaringly towards them, our party will be stillborn.
Till here, we have given a class-wise list of our party’s interests. But there are lot of other issues that cannot be categorised like this. Compulsory education, protest of alcohol consumption, personal autonomy in observing religious rituals and social customs are some of these issues. When all these issues are national but a party that calls itself national becomes an obstacle or a party that calls itself progressive doesn’t show much interest in these issues, a new and independent party like ours, which will awaken the Bahujan society and make it stand on its own feets, needs to come forward. Whoever is on the side of national interests, we will not oppose them. We hope they will join us, or at least support us.
Vitthal Ramji Shinde
Nanachi Peth, Bhokarwadi, Pune
September 1, 1920