Dalit Capitalism and Pseudo Dalitism
Anand Teltumbde

What does one make of the tiny section of dalits propagating dalit capitalism?


n the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels had stated “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. In capitalism this history comes alive in its pristine form through the contention of two antagonistic classes, bourgeois and proletarians. They prophesied that proletarians would emancipate themselves by intensifying class struggle so as to bring about revolutionary transformation into socialism. Alas, it did not occur to them that proletarians could themselves become bourgeois and subvert such history. Indeed, why even struggle against brahmanism as did Ambedkar; dalits could become brahmins and end the problem of casteism. The proposition may sound preposterous but then that is what is precisely suggested by a section of dalits who have been propagating dalit capitalism.

Deflecting the Dalit Agenda
If one looks at the profile of dalits as a predominantly (81%) rural people, linked with land as landless labourers and marginal farmers, with a small (19%) section living in urban areas, a large part of which lives in slums and works in the informal sector, one surely finds that the historical dalit discourse revolving around reservations has always been unrelated with the majority of people, because it was articulated by upwardly mobile urban dalits who detested stereotypical dalit description and aspired to see themselves as having “arrived”. It is this section which has been organising and attending five-star conferences and international conclaves and had even planned a “dalit capitalism march” in 2006 of 5,000 dalits in three-piece suits and an umbrella-in-hand on the roads of Delhi to demonstrate their progress. It is a different matter that they could not accomplish the latter. The concerted propaganda from them in favour of globalisation and
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capitalism in various newspapers and even scholarly magazines such as this one should be seen in this light. It is claimed that dalits have prospered by migrating out of their villages during the period of globalisation. But those who make such assertions forget that dalits, with little stake in village India, have always been migrating out. As for the claim that they are better off today than before globalisation (contrary to evidence), it suffers from a methodological fallacy, based as it is on some superficial observations. Second, and more importantly, the state of dalits, better or worse, needs to be established in relation to that of the non-dalit population. The celebration of dalit capitalists and their Chamber of Commerce on the basis of some 100odd individuals (out of more than 170 million) in businesses, the cumulative value of which may not even be a droplet in the corporate ocean, will certainly elate the neoliberal propagandist but, in itself, it is not a great development. There have been such “capitalists” and such “chambers” many times before. Although, any achievement by dalits may be laudable, when it is projected over the entire community overlooking its woes, it becomes seriously problematic.

Ambedkar on Capitalism
In the dalit universe, Ambebdkar constitutes the supreme ideological authority and hence he is invariably invoked by people in support of their viewpoint, particularly when it is unfamiliar. The protagonists of globalisation have tried to project him as a proponent of the freemarket, indeed, as a neoliberal, and have even gone to the extent of painting him as a monetarist (monetarists are supposed to be the intellectual initiators of neoliberalism) to claim him in support of their propaganda. In any case, how many dalits, even among the educated ones, know what monetarism is? Ambedkar, who publicly professed his opposition to capitalism throughout his life, was thus wilfully distorted to be the supporter of neoliberal capitalism, which globalisation is! Way back in 1938, Ambedkar, while addressing railway workers in Manmad,
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EPW Economic & Political Weekly

Anand Teltumbde ( is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.


caste. while explaining why he embraced Buddhism. with caste neatly enmeshed in modern secular institutions. creed or even country. Caste of Capital Capitalism came to India under colonial cover and did not have to contend with the feudal forces for its growth. Ambedkar’s ILP was then the true leftist party of India. Going by the logic of capitalism. The surplus coming from capitalist agriculture found ways into capitalist enterprises. The ILP. but there have been dalit individuals who were extremely rich even in colonial times. Sindhis. mostly stemming from capitalist relations of production. nor can they foil the trans-caste formation of a class of capitalists. he termed capitalism “a dictatorship of private employer”. The same phenomenon is noted in its pronounced form in relation to the successful entrepreneurship of the middle castes. While it is true that caste acts as social capital. economically and politically. On the contrary socialism appeals to the poor but does not appeal to the rich. which prospered primarily using caste resources. 2011 11 . For example. One fails to understand the real motive behind such projections. The odds have thus multiplied against the vast majority (more than 90%) of dalits. was fashioned on the lines of the British Labour Party. The ritual aspects of castes did collapse among the dwija castes which adopted capitalism. Although. In fact. Ambedkar’s leftism and anti-capitalism remained unaffected. Let dalit individuals become big bureaucrats. Today. Marwaris. Moreover. even at the very fag end of his life. other community ties have performed the same role. Capital has an intrinsic tendency towards globalisation.” In fact. reducing the caste system to its classical divide: caste and noncaste or non-dalits and dalits. these farming castes were hugely enriched by the Nehruvian modernist policies of land reforms. with the elitist neoliberal policy thrust. In that sense. In his “Buddha or Karl Marx” he comes closer to accept Marx but for his methods. rendering dalits hopelessly dependent upon middle caste farmers for their survival as wage labourers. out of the realm of its investigation. exemplifying caste as social capital. Caste can obfuscate contradictions between capitalists and workers belonging to the same caste but cannot eliminate them. the Communist Party of India had borrowed its method of class analysis from the Comintern. Gujarati. with the communists then joining the Congress Socialist Party. which were immediately followed by the green revolution. the Independent Labour Party (ILP). Tirupur. setting up petty businesses. manifested itself in caste atrocities. which according to him were overcome in Buddhism. As the villages were vacated by the upper caste landlords. which in caste terms joined the dwija caste block. If it is to highlight the riches of dalit individuals. a world leader in the knitted garment industry. which left caste. The contradiction between dalits and these castes. So. who have global networks of their castes aiding their businesses. dalits displayed ample entrepreneurial prowess by accepting new vocations. a memorandum submitted to the Constituent Assembly in 1947 on behalf of the SCF had proposed a radical model of state socialism. It rather made skilful use of some of its components and let live others. Kutchi and so on. As a matter of fact. big bourgeoisie or make it big elsewhere in the system. he had to dissolve the ILP and form the Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) in response to the Cripps Mission Report in 1942. Kutchis. Somewhat inexplicable. which appears to be the case. march 5. the dalit movement was actually the by-product of this process. the left wing of the Congress Party. jajmani relations. That did little difference to their status as dalits. in societies sans caste. if this move to project dalit capitalists is meant to praise the government for its policies of globalisation. to guard against unbridled grid of capitalists. In the face of this pathetic dalit reality. nevertheless. religion. set up by the Gounders. etc. capital does not have the identities of race. The real question is while capital is created using caste networks. The “States and Minorities”. it comes out in its true character as global capital. which impelled some to characterise capital by its caste. and hugely empowered a section of middle castes. on the other hand. which followed the Fabian line of peaceful transition to socialism but abhorred capitalism. Patels. As a fall out. however. which characterised vol xlvI no 10 village life in most parts of the country. As an abiding lover of democracy. the general lament over Economic & Political Weekly EPW Marx’s prophesy at the time of the introduction of the railway network that it would entail collapse of castes is misplaced. and made huge progress. During the colonial times (and even before). collect and conserve information and secure political patronage. or modernising their caste vocations. The same is true of the Nadars. There have been plenty of dalit intellectuals seeking favours of the ruling classes by praising their policies. demonstrated in practice how to embed caste and class in the struggle for social justice. mop up credit. the baton of brahmanism also came into the hands of the middle castes. the pervasive reality of Indian life. his love for socialism (and hence hate for capitalism) comes out starkly.MARGIN SPEAK had famously declared that the Untouchables had two enemies: brahmanism and capitalism. such as Marwari. a typical middle farming caste in Tamil Nadu. caste identities came handy to keep the working class divided. These castes used their caste networks to mobilise investments. citing stray examples of dalit petty capitalists as the marker of progress is nothing short of a cruel joke. Still its advent and spread did impact the complexion of the castes which have internalised its accumulation logic. A Cruel Joke The Nehruvian modernist project spread capitalist relations in the countryside. is by now famous. it would be condemnable as not only dishonesty but also as betrayal of dalit interests. least of all to their community. Since the mid-1980s. Elsewhere he rationalised his choice saying that “capitalism appeals to the rich and does not appeal to the poor. were uprooted. the answer has to be in negative. which lies only in thoroughgoing social transformation. as a individuals they cannot count for much in the emancipation project of the dalit community. can that be characterised as caste capital. During the early post-independence decades. dalits were further adversely impacted vis-à-vis others. His first political party. such cases of individual wealth existed even before.