By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Life and death are part of our growing but some deaths leave you in a sense of deep loss where you do feel the loss of inheritance of a movement which we all contribute to build to see India a secular progressive nation where each human being live in dignity and honor. Prof D Prempati's death is a deep loss for all of us who joined the social justice movement in the Mandal era. Prempati, a Marxist actually realized the real nature of his university teachers, who were not just joining the anti Mandal agitation, but actively instigating the students to thwart every efforts to get it implemented. He felt it deeply that those who speak of Marxism as their idea suffer from caste based identities and in their heart remain highly anti Dalits and anti shudras. Those were the days when we all witnessed a national hate campaign against the Dalits and OBCs and many mask fell on the ground revealing their true identity. The brahmanical secularism was getting exposed with the hardened reality of post Mandal India where each community was asking for its share in political structure.
Normally, university teachers suffers from various tantrums and one big is in terms of 'space', 'honor' and 'talk time' at any programme. However, there are many exceptions whose life became an open secret in social movements and my respect for them is tremendous who come in the movements leaving their tags of 'Dr', 'Prof' and many other things. Prempati, that way was extraordinarily humble and would never like to be called as 'Prof' or 'Dr' D Prempati. In fact, so simple was his style that many in the social movements never realized that he was a professor of English language who taught Shakespearean drama at the Delhi College of Art. It was his conviction that made him absolutely common with other people in the North particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. He had deep faith in the Dalit backward Muslim communities of Uttar Pradesh and every time whenever elections would be announced, we had gone together to do our bit.
In December 1992, Babari Masjid was demolished and Prempati was deeply anguished. That was a time when so many of us came together and felt we must do something to defeat the communal fascist agenda unleashed by various offshoots of Sangh Parivar. He was clear that it is not the question of 'secularism' of brahmanical variety but participation of Dalits and backward communities in power structure too. He knew well that shudras need to be politicized and along with Dalits and Muslims they can change the power structure and defeat the brahmanical forces permanently. It was his firm view that only Mandal forces can demolish the artificial structure created by brahmanical superiority but there were deep disenchantment with the politics of both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.
His two booklets on Mandal Commission Report and Hindutva politics in the aftermath of Babari demolition became very popular. The booklet 'Hindutva Hai Kya' published by Teesari Duniya Publication initiated by Mr Anand Swroop Verma sold like hot cake. It was the first such book in the Hindi heartland immediately after the demolition which actually broke the myth of Hindutva and its brahmanical politics. Normally, RSS and Sangh Parivar politics would always be discussed in the 'secular' 'echelons' in terms of Hindu Muslim relations but Prempati linked to RSS politics against the Dalits and shudras and Babari demolition with undoing of the Mandal revolution. I still remember the bold cover page of Samkaleen Teesari Duniya after Babari demolition was 'sharm se kaho ham Hindu Hain' was a rage in which Prempati too contributed. He strengthened it as an alternative media and wrote extensively in the magazine which was actually capable of challenging the so-called 'mainstream' magazines in the market in layout, contents and professionalism.
In the 1990s we started tabloid 'Bahujan Bharat', a fortnightly with great thought that something would emerge out of it. He knew that a journal for backward communities is going to suffer in the absence of finances and human resources. We put all our efforts in bringing it out but it did not succeed and finally we had to close it yet our efforts in uniting Dalit Bahujan Muslim communities continued with public meeting, pamphleteers and conventions whenever and wherever required. He campaigned tirelessly against the Hindutva and wrote extensively in Hindi as he believed that our message must reach the larger audiences in the villages. He had a mastery over language which never ever reflected his background from a non-Hindi speaking state. He felt that we must bring out more pamphlets, tabloids and small booklets to educate the Dalit backward communities about the dangers of Hindutva. Despite the failure of 'Bahujan Bharat', both of us came together again with 'Buniyadi Times' during election season and exposed communal agenda of Sangh Parivar. Of course, this time too, the magazine failed in the absence of a basic requirement of resources.
I still remember being with him at a village level meeting where we had gone together. We would sit hours and hours and discuss political issues. His capacity to learn and unlearn was great. He was never bored from these discussions and would be happier with the people in the ground. The one thing that I learnt from him was leaving those tags of knowing 'English' or an urban person who pretend not knowing Hindi. He was remarkable with language. Never ever in his public meetings, would he bring even a single word of English language which are often part of our discourse, as he understood many in the crowd may even not know those words. He warned me not to bring these heavy words in the popular discourse and speak the language of the people.
He enjoyed speaking to people and listening to them. He would help the youngsters who would come to work along. Once in Bundelkhand, a district level reporter came to know that he is with me, so he inquired about him. When his editor came to know about him, he asked the reporter to have an interview with Prempati on Nuclear explosion done by Vajpayee government but did not really know how to interview him. I laughed when Prempati asked him to come to our hotel next day for the same. This correspondent came but was just clueless about the interview that his editor wanted from Prempatiji so he said,' Sir, aap he kuchh bataaiye', please tell me yourself sir. Prempati after some time dictated him the entire interview in the question answer format. I was amused to see him painstakingly putting the question and then answering himself and the reporter dutifully writing the dictation.
We traveled a large part of India together and enjoyed the company of each other. Though at age, he was a father figure but he always mentioned me as a colleague, a friend. It was a privilege with loads of anecdotes which he would share with us and would joke too. While people like me used to get depressed many time with prevailing situation in the country, Prempati was an optimist and firm believer in political battle. So much so that he was always eager for a political front where left political forces along with Dalits, Backward Communities, Aadivasis and Muslims form a block and fight for their right. 'Bahujan Vam Shakti' was one such initiative but could not move much due to various other issues involved in it including resources.
As I said, he was always eager to contribute his time and energy, ready to live in all the circumstances. Travelled in sleeper class on many occasions just to fulfill his commitment even when age of catching up. He would come to coffee house to meet and after the meeting whenever I would go and put him in the particular bus for his home. Such breed is rare today. He was unfit in today's politics which is actually 'management'. For people like him it was conviction which mattered more and that is why all his initiative failed to move because of absence of 'management' which became an ugly reality of the current world. He would discuss issues, politics, planning and actions and yet at the end of the day at the absence of resources, it became difficult but despite that he continued to live in optimism and encouraged people to form political formation that could take on the brahmanical capitalist forces of Hindutva. He knew that the shudras are being influenced by the Hindutva forces and hence working hard through his writings and direct relations with the people to wean them away to secular social justice platform. I was amazed to see his eagerness to start any political formulations, organisations and parties. He was never tired off them and believed that we have to do. He never bothered about failures and always believed that we must be in political action.
In the past few years, his mobility was influenced due to age and eye sight yet he would ensure that he is present in major programme that were organized for the rights of the people. For his friends, he was always available. He would never ever bother to go back home if we was in the company of political activists. Age was never a deterrent for him. While in his writings he promoted Hindi to reach to the larger masses and spoke eloquently in English as well whenever an opportunity came to him though he despised seminar culture meant for 'academic brown Sahibs'. At all his forums, he spoke extempore and with great courage of conviction and did not really appreciate those who 'read' texts in these seminars. A fierce critique of Narsimha Rao's politics which he termed as anti-Dalit and anti shudra-minorities, Prempati was the voice of those who are not even represented in these marginalized sections. He felt that Rao's politics was meant to undo what VP Singh had brought in public life through his Mandal agenda. Prempati was a strong votary of Mandal forces and felt it is they only who can defeat the Santh Parivar and the liberal Brahmins of Congress left parties. He was among very few such as Bhagwan Das who was never ever impressed with Bahujan politics and was a fierce critique of both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati who he claimed to have known much through friends and relatives. He was upset that these two politicians who could have changed the political history of India were hobnobbing with brahmanical forces of Congress and BJP. That time, when Prempati was writing against them, all condemn him but today he has proved correct as political forces have been exposed and have connived with their brahmanical masters. He felt that only a Ambedkar-Marx-Phule-Periyar's combine thought could demolish the brahmanical hegemony in India and place a truly republican democratic government at the helm of affairs of the country.
Prempati was a public intellectual though I wish he had written more and extensively. During our conversations, I expressed this desire to him to start writing his memoirs as well as critique the entire movement so that people can learn from their failures. I feel he did not do justice to his intellectual level as most of the time he was preoccupied with political groups which could rarely make their presence felt in the current environment.
The passing away of D Prempati is a great blow to the movement for social justice as he was a friend, philosopher and guide who was always ready to help and go to any extent to support the cause of Dalit OBC and minorities. Most of the time, people would come to him to write a 'parcha' or theme for their programme, philosophy of their 'political party' or social movements and he obliged them without any ifs and buts. At the time, when the brahmanical forces are on the rise, the demise of Prempati is a great blow to the forces of social justice. Yet, he has left a large number of friends who are contributing in public life and hope with their combine strength our battle against brahmanical capitalist hegemony will continue. The best tribute to Prempati would be to keep our egos aside and join hand for a greater cause of secular India where each citizen of the country can live in peace and with his head high. The country is passing through a crisis and hence his presence will be severely missed.