The Rashtrasant Tukdoji Maharaj Nagpur University every year organises seminars under the Dr Ambedkar Study Centre of the University, which is supposed to be an autonomous body. This year on March 18-19, 2017, a two day seminar was organised on the subject “Decay of Democracy – Challenges and Solutions”. It was decided that this seminar would be inaugurated by Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the CPI(M). Invitation cards were printed and distributed, the press was informed and the university even sent flight tickets to Yechury a month ago.
Suddenly on March 14, 2017, Vice-Chancellor Dr S P Kane announced that the above seminar was postponed, without giving any reasons. The progressive forces and Ambedkarite professors reacted sharply against this arbitrary decision of the VC. The media contacted the VC, who argued that no proper permission was sought and the programme was organised in violation of administrative norms. The progressive academics retorted that proper permission was sought and the VC was not only apprised of the programme, but the Convocation Hall of the university was also decided as the venue and the VC had himself agreed to chair the inaugural session. Progressive forces met the VC in deputation and protested his action. The deputation comprised renowned Dalit writer Dr Yashwant Manohar, ex-minister Dr Nitin Raut, Nagesh Choudhary, Dr Kharat, Dr Ashok Godghate and others.
On March 15 and 16, the print media published the version of the VC and the reactions of progressive forces. The VC now told the press that the programme was postponed because Sitaram Yechury’s visit would disturb law and order and create turmoil in Nagpur. All the progressive and Republican forces together condemned the stand of the VC and decided that the lecture of Sitaram Yechury on the very same topic will be held at any cost at Nagpur on March 18 itself. The principal of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar College, Nagpur, offered its Hall near Diksha Bhumi, the historic ground on which Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar converted to Buddhism on Dussehra day in 1956, along with lakhs of his followers. All progressive and Republican forces formed a joint committee to conduct the programme. There was no doubt left in anyone’s mind that the VC had cancelled the programme under pressure from the RSS and its outfits. During this period, the print and electronic media in Nagpur, Maharashtra and all over the country gave wide coverage to this issue.
On March 18, a series of programmes was conducted by the progressive forces right from receiving Sitaram Yechury at the Nagpur Airport. Hundreds of activists of Left parties like CPI(M), CPI, Forward Bloc, and also Republican parties of all groups, the Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party etc were present at the airport from 2.30 pm to 5.45 pm till the arrival of Sitaram Yechury’s flight which was delayed by an hour. On the arrival of Sitaram, there was thunderous slogan shouting of Lal Salam and Jai Bhim. From the airport till the venue more than 500 motor cycles and cars took out a rally, which was taken to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue where Sitaram garlanded the Mahatma, then to Samvidhan Square where he garlanded the statue of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, then to the Nagpur University where he garlanded the statue of the prominent social reformer of Vidarbha and former agriculture minister Dr Punjabrao Deshmukh. The rally then came to the Diksha Bhumi. Sitaram Yechury paid respects to Diksha Bhumi and came to Dr Ambedkar College where the media were waiting for him. He answered media questions on the issue and stated that the action of the VC of arbitrarily cancelling his lecture was an attack on democracy and freedom of expression.
The hall was jam packed and people were standing on the corridors on all floors of the College. Outside on the campus a massive crowd of more than 5000 had assembled. The organisers arranged speakers and screen on the ground where thousands of people from all walks of life were present.
The meeting was presided over by Dr P C Pawar, principal of Dr Ambedkar College. Dr Gautam Kamble made the introduction, Dr Avinash Fulzele conducted the proceedings and the vote of thanks was proposed by Prof Vidya Sorpagar.
Sitaram Yechury started his speech by saying that he felt honoured to give a lecture in this historic place of Diksha Bhumi and Dr Ambedkar College. He said that the basic concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity in the constitution are under threat today. Unless these three concepts are understood, accepted and adopted, the threat to democracy in Bharat will increase. We all have multiple identities based on caste, religion, state, region etc. Despite that we are all Bharatiya. In the Constitution Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had stated ‘India i.e. Bharat…’ purposefully to avoid any religious identity to the nation. Explaining further he said that, ‘Bha’ relates to feeling, ‘Ra’ is raga in music, ‘Ta’ means Tal (Rhythm). Unless all three come together the tune will not be pleasant. He further stated that people in the south worship Ravana and his temples are there, whereas people in the north burn his effigy. Who then should be called true Hindus?
He also pointed to the rapidly growing social, economic and political inequality in the country. Even when we have accepted one vote and one value for everyone in the country, socially, economically and politically values of individuals are very different. Supporting his views he said that in the year 2014, the richest one percent people in Bharat owned 49 percent of the country’s wealth. In 2016, within just two years of the Modi-BJP regime, this has increased to 58.4 percent. These official figures indicate that the rich have become richer and the poor poorer. With the privatisation of public sector units, employment opportunities are being destroyed and reservations are being attacked. Demonetisation has affected the common man the most. Farmers’ suicides, for which Vidarbha has become notorious, have increased all over the country by 42 percent in the last two years.
He also said that equality has been described by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Equality existed to some extent during the Buddha period. With the reassertion of Brahmanism, the situation started worsening. With neoliberalism today, inequality has become unbearable. The biggest challenge today is inequality and the youth will have to rise unitedly to fight it. Democracy will not die in Bharat, as the people will fight against any deviation from it.
Finally, Sitaram underlined the grave danger to secularism and national unity emanating from the rabid communalism of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar. The results of the UP elections and the installation of Yogi Adityanath as the CM are dangerous portents which require the unity and struggle of all Left, democratic and secular forces around a common programme. He expressed confidence that such a united struggle will emerge all over the country in the coming days.