ARTISANS’ NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY: IS IT NEEDED ?
HOW TO COME OUT OF POLITICAL WILDERNESS…
A community , 15% of the Indian population, still in political wilderness and in the brink of professional extinction.
Globalisation at present has added to their traumas.
This has also incited subtle shifts in their identity projection at present. Creating a new community consciousness on the bedrock of primordial glories and its deployment in the present politics of communal bargain becomes salient in this process.
The community has many peculiarities that make its case unique and precarious especially in the case ofKerala. First of all, the artisan community, Vishwakarma, is the largest single group under the Hindu fold in India with a population of 18 crores.
Similarly this is one of the very few castes in Kerala that has its representation outside the state also. It is the third largest community after Ezhavas and Nairs in the Hindu fold.
Yet the artisan community never made a decisive social or political presence in India or in Kerala. In the case of Kerala they were always marginalised and are specifically noteworthy for their ineptitude in fetching the communally brokered political privileges.
Vishwakarma community could never consolidate itself like other communities either politically or communally. It failed to organise politically since it never had a philosophical vision needed for political organisation. On the other hand, it could never organise communally also since it lacked a spirituality that could impart symbolic coherence to the community’s aspirations.
We have lost the label of the Hindu itself due to the lack of this spirituality and have become outcaste Hindus.
The vishwakarma community’s identity had always been pivoted around our profession, almost aprioristically. The craft traditions, go back to the ancient Indus Valley civilisation itself. Work manuals inherited from the early history manifest high influence of cosmology, geometry, astronomy, physics, meteorology and metallurgy . It is a true fact that vishwakarmas were the real architects of the Indus Valley civilization.
The identity of the community suffers from a number contradictions engendered both within and without. This may be, because of the ‘bad ego’ deriving from the nature of the respective professions of each group. The goldsmith, since he works upon the precious metal, thinks that he is the most superior. The blacksmith, since he works upon iron, which is the most essential and strongest of metals, thinks that he is higher. On the other hand the bell metal worker and stonemason since they make human and even divine forms think that they are the greatest. Carpenters feel that they are the creators of buildings, doors and furniture, most essential things for living. The very medium they work upon and the natures of the profession foment jealousy towards each other and prevent the community from coming together.
Again the community always identified with wrong ideologies and causes at wrong times, thus thinks many influential ideologues of the community. For a long time, to be exact till 1980s, the community identified with communism, which hampered their prospects. Almost 70 per cent of the community had always been Left Front supporters headed by the CPI and CPI (M) But the Left Front never did anything worthwhile to improve our condition. Similarly the identification with the communists also prevented from participating effectively in the freedom struggle led by the Indian National Congress. The community failed to organise under an eminent community
leader during the freedom struggle, which in fact happened to many other communities, like the Nairs and Ezhavas
The first communal organisation of the Vishwakarmas in south India was started in 1903 in Madras namely the ‘Vishwakarma Kulabhimana Sabha’. After that we see a number
of communal organisations budding, growing, splitting, merging and vanishing among them. The year of India’s freedom, 1947, witnessed the formation of the Akhila Thiruvithamkore Vishwakarma Maha Sabha (ATVMS) in the Travancore area. After
10 years in 1957 it grew into a statewide organisation called Akhila Kerala Visvakarma Maha Sabha (AKVMS). Many local associations coexisted with this frontal organisation while many associations emerged newly due to factional rivalry in this period
They also organised under two political parties of their own namely Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) and Bharathiya Labour Party (BLP) in 1980s and 1990s respectively, to negotiate more effectively with the government, but failed miserably.
The identity projection at present evinces a more critical outlook and negotiatory spirit as necessitated by the political bargains based on communal headcount and the worsening employment conditions. As a result there has been a deliberate effort recently
to put a check on the fissiparous tendency prevalent among the community organisations earlier and a conscious effort to show unity. This had an initial success when the three communal organisations AKVMS, VSS and TVS merged into KVS on March 14, 2001, the eve of the assembly elections. This was done primarily to negotiate with both the Left and the United Fronts for more political spoils in the name of the community. The Left
Front headed by CPI(M) didn’t oblige, so KVS declared open support to the United Front headed by the Congress. The Congress dealt with them better and gave two assembly seats to the community members, one of which they won. The United Front also assured them in their manifesto that if they came to power they would implement the most important demand of the community: that they should be declared as ‘traditional labourers’.
But nothing of this sort has happened.
It is noteworthy that the Vishwakarmas have aligned with all the political fronts in the last 30 years in the major elections. It seems that with every decade they change support. Except for a short interlude they were the supporters of the Left Front in the 1980s. Early 1990s saw them shifting the alliance to BJP. They along with a few other backward communities (OBCs) formed Bharathiya Labour Party (BLP) and aligned with BJP in the elections. The alliance broke miserably later. Again, as we saw, the birth of the new century had them shifting allegiance to the United Front under Congress. This alliance has also not fructified in any meaningful way till now. Our communal politics therefore becomes a restless itinerancy from one camp to the other and getting more debilitated with each switch over. The image the community as a whole conveys is undependability and opportunism for many from other political parties. All political parties in Kerala view them as a taken for granted vote bank that could be lured on the eve of the elections.
But such political wanderlust, normally equated with ideological effeminacy, could be critical in its long-term effects when seen in the backdrop of the growth curve of Hindu nationalism in India.
The community is pragmatic and would only resort to a political line that could help them solve their problems in the occupational front. “Everybody knows that in Kerala BJP is never going to come to power. So what is the point in supporting them? Of course out of sudden resentment with the other two Fronts, which ignored the community,we have to think about a new alternative.
Notwithstanding their identification with what is potentially negative in the Visvakarma
community, all political leaderships refuse to share power with us in any meaningful manner. They also try to nurture Vishwakarma as a vote bank. It is clear that all political parties treated us very badly in the 2011 election. When we asked for a specific number of seats for the community members in return for political support the leadership retorted brazenly. One of them asked, “Who in Kerala will vote for a vishwakarma if he is fielded as a candidate in the present situation?”
It seems that there are some congenital flaws at work behind our no-escape situation and perennial political marginalisation. Firstly, there is something innate in our ideology and worldview that prevents us from rallying under a coherent political ideology or political leader. Secondly, there is some structural elasticity in our worldview that facilitates our identification with political ideologies of all hues: from left, centrist to far right. Thirdly, though we are the largest single community under the Hindu fold in possession of a religio-ideological system potentially as xenophobic as militant Hindu nationalism we have never shown any capacity to rally under it in a combative manner. Fourthly, as a corollary to the above, in their hands this potentially explosive super-brahminic ideology becomes an instrument of subjection and self-surrender.
Without being able to identify with either the upper castes or the lower castes on caste questions, or with left ideologies or rightist forces in the political front the Vishwakarmas ofKerala aimlessly straddle one shelter to another. Theoretically they become important as their case gives some important leads regarding the manufacturing of community identity by castes in the middle level especially caught up in the economic throes of
post-capitalism and globalisation at present. We should remind the words of venerable Visvavani Natarajan, the first English professor from the community: “The people who once made palaces, temples, great monuments and some of the wonders of the world in India are today making septic tanks and toilets. They grow like the snake-gourds, downwards”.
Globalisation in combination with mechanisation is wielding a devastating influence on the traditional arts and crafts of India at present. The case of the traditional artisan community of India, vishwakarmas, becomes a sordid tale of pauperisation and dispossession in this context.
We admit, as a scattered society, vishwakarmas may not be a vote bank.
But as a society having 15% of the population we can prove ourselves as a decision maker. That’s why we are thinking about a new political community network of artisans – the Real owner of this Earth!
With clear-cut political ideology and manifesto why don’t we come foreword in the forth-coming Lok Sabha Election ( 2014) to prove our strength and will power as a political power?
This is an opportunity to find out 21 candidates from our community to prove our strength in this political game…
As the real creators of the earth, we need political representation in this democratic country.
Think about a political crusade…political renaissance…