There are many aspects to Ram Vilas Paswan’s political legacy which will be commented on in the days to come by those who knew him well. One aspect, however, is particularly significant – he was among the few Dalit leaders who rose above mere caste identity to be accepted as a mainstream personality. In other words, if he is spoken of, it is as an integral part of the political process that unfolded over the past five decades and not someone just playing the caste card for votes. This is why he was not just the head of his community or Bihar – he was known and accepted in every part of the country as an ‘Indian’ leader. Even someone with political clout like Mayawati has not been able to achieve this, despite the fact that she continues to hanker after wider acceptance.
It would be difficult to define exactly how Paswan accomplished this, for it is not easy to make the transition. However, all those interested in mainstreaming ‘marginalised’ sections of society should study the process and integrate it into their value system. Quite obviously it must have to do with honesty of purpose and the ability to communicate an inclusive agenda that did not ‘reverse’ discriminate. The fact that he belonged to the generation of politicians inspired by the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan has a lot to do with it. The battle against the Emergency was not partisan, designed to benefit any particular section, but on behalf of all Indians. It is in times of crisis that people rise above personal and sectional interests. He was one of a significant section of politicians forged in that process.
This does not imply, of course, that he had abandoned his roots or forgotten the sufferings of the class and caste he had emerged from – he just knew how to promote the required agenda better, in an acceptable, convincing and largely successful manner. Unlike those who deepen sectional divides and incite hatred in the belief that the ‘revolution’ requires bloodshed, in his years of political activism and service as part of the Government, Paswan achieved much for the weaker sections of society. All this was reflected in his amiable personality. He has passed away at a very crucial period for his home state, where his party is struggling to retain its support base. Hopefully, those who inherit his mantle will take forward what he achieved to even greater heights.