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LR Balley's effort to spread Ambedkarite thoughts will always be remembered

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat 
When the news of the passing of Shri L R Balley came to me from several friends in Birmingham, I was still not prepared to believe it. The reason was my own morality issue that the things should come from the family first and second in the age of social media many time, people too have a fetish for 'break news' and hence I waited for long and tried to contact Baldev Raj Bhardwaj ji knowing fully well that he would be extremely busy at home. L R Balley breathed his last yesterday ( July 6th, 2023) at his home in Jalandhar at the age of 93. He would have turned 94 on July 20th .
L R Balley was the most sought after name in the Ambedkarite movement since the 1960s. As a leader of Republican Party of India and Samta Sainik Dal, he went all over the country to unite Ambedkarites. He had seen Baba Saheb working tirelessly for the community and hence he left his government job on December 6th, 1956 and decided to work wholeheartedly and full time for spreading Ambedkarite movement in the country. It was due to the work of Balley Saheb, the literature of Dr Ambedkar reached noon and corners of the country and created a powerful movement which might not have been successful politically but was definitely more impactful socially and culturally. However, Balley Saheb always felt that as a political movement of RPI had a huge impact in Punjab during the nationwide land rights movement as thousands of landless people got land to cultivate and for building their homes.
Unfortuantely, in the post 1990s, with the growth of BSP and BAMSECF movements, the Ambedkarite movement succeeded partly politically but it pushed people like Balley into sidelines. Balley Saheb never compromised with his ideology and always questioned the movements in the name of Bahujan. As a true Ambedkarite, he rarely used the term 'Bahujan' or 'Dalit' as most of the time he referred to himself as Ambedkarite and Buddhist. Today's Ambedkarites who claim Baba Saheb's legacy are unable to do so because they have not challenged Brahmanism by rejecting it socially and culturally and only speak the language which can be called political rhetoric. Balley Saheb was not interested in such jargons and continued his work with the community in Punjab and outside Punjab where Ambedkarites loved to listen to his powerful speeches and read his writings.
Unfortunately, today's social media Ambedkarite know little about the massive work of L R Balley in promoting and building up Ambedkarite movement in India. Therefore, L R Balley is a name which as an Ambedkarite we need to know and understand. The enormous amount of work that he did and lived as an Ambedkarite, can best be described as true Ambedkarite.
For a lay person like me when I began reading Baba Saheb Ambedkar and his life mission in the beginning of 1990s, the real introduction came through my association with Ambedkarite legends like Shri Bhagwan Das and NG Uke Saheb in Delhi as both were absolutely committed Ambedkarite and my reference point. That was the time when we were introduced to two magazines promoting Ambedkarism. One was #Bhimpatrika and the other was #DalitVoice which used to be published from Bangalore by V T Rajshekar. Both were powerful organs to spread Ambedkarism. The difference was not merely on their content and language but also on the outlook. Rajshekar was a powerful voice who had no depth of words to express but definitely fell short of the experience and understanding of Dr Ambedkar in comparison to L R Balley, Bhagwan Das, Ukey Saheb and many others. The reason was that these people were not only Ambedkarite in thoughts and action but all the three of them actually had not merely seen but worked with Baba Saheb Ambedkar. For me, it is my biggest privilege to have known them and interacted with them ( particularly with Bhagwan Das ji and Uke Saheb) on a regular basis as both of them were living in Delhi. Balley Saheb on the other hand was living in Jalandhar, a bastion of Ambedkarism. After the passing away of Bhagwan Das ji and N G Uke Saheb, Mr L R Balley was the only one who could look as an authoritative voice on Ambedkarism.
Watching Balley Saheb many times and meeting him in person, I actually felt that he had the capacity to score a century but alas life and deaths are not in our hands. His voice remained powerful and age could never deter him till the end.
Balley Sahib had started his journey through a Urdu weekly named as Ujala, started by another legendary Ambedkarite Shri K C Sulekh Saheb, who too is active in Punjab. Sulekh Saheb was General Secretary, Scheduled Caste Federation, Punjab. Balley Saheb too got involved with the Ambedkarite movement and when Baba Saheb Ambedkar passed away on December 6th, 1956, he left his government job in Delhi and decided to totally dedicate his life for Ambedkar Mission.
Balley Saheb was not an arm chair writer. His forte was his mass connect with different sections of Ambedkarites in India and abroad particularly UK and Canada. Both L R Balley and Shri Bhagwan Das were the most sought after among all in the UK and helped build the Ambedkar mission there. People in Birmingham, Bedford, Wolverhampton and London still remember these two legends L R Balley and Bhagwan Dass who visited the United Kingdom a number of times.
Balley Saheb was dedicated to Republican ideals. In a lengthy interview with me he mentioned categorically that no fight can be done on the basis of castes as it has its own contradiction and he wanted a programme based unity among people. He felt that Ambedkarite must associate with progressive anti caste groups ( he knew it was difficult but he felt that given the nature Hindutva is today dominating our discourse, the only way is to forge a unity among different groups). He also felt that despite our differences with the left, it is they who come closest to us in our fight against oppression.
It is sad that many times the new generation knows little about these legends who worked hard to bring Ambedkarism to this level. Today, among all the oppressed sections, a group called Ambedkarite is the most enlightened and powerful because of its idealism. The seed of idealism of Ambedkar mission was sown by Baba Saheb but it was carried forward by the likes of L R Balley and Bhagwan Das. At the time, when the movement was in a difficult shape and when the publishers wont agree to publish the work, it was Balley and Bhagwan Dass ji who decided to bring volumes on Baba Saheb's writings, much before Maharashtra government agreed to publish them with the first volume coming out on April 14th, 1979.
I have always mentioned that Baba Saheb's writings were immensely popularised by the first generation of Ambedkarites like Balley. While it is a matter of great satisfaction that Dr Ambedkar's life and mission has now become a source of inspiration for all and he is being researched and written about, in most prestigious universities of the world, the fact remain that the most popular and best writings on Baba Saheb's life and mission actually came through the hard work of Ambedkarites who had no big degree to flaunt.
For a person like me, who felt immense pride in my association with these legends, the only satisfactory thing was to be able to speak to them and record my conversations with them. Yes, I had no one else to record it and hence many times, I would stand behind and ask questions. It was difficult but I am happy that those conversations are now the first hand reference point for many. I have shared here two conversations that I recorded with L R Balley Saheb in Jalandhar.
Unfortunately the current lot of Ambedkarite are divided among various 'political parties' of the Dalits and Bahujans hence a large number of them feel 'offended' when Balley Saheb critiqued some of their leaders. The fact is that Balley Saheb was an active member of the Republic Party of India and opposed tooth and nail its alliance with the Congress party and later formed RPI ( Ambedkar). His first election for Lok Sabha he fought against Sardar Swarn Singh, one of the most powerful Ministers of Indira Gandhi.
Once, I asked him why the Ambedkarites have not raised the issue of land redistribution so important for building up an egalitarian society. Then he gave an example of RPI's huge nationwide Land movement in the early sixties in which thousands of workers had gone to jail. Balley Saheb and his wife and children too were arrested but at the end of it, lot of land was redistributed in Punjab.
Among all the writers on Ambedkarism, L R Balley's books are most fascinating from the perspective of the common people. His contribution to spread Ambedkarism and create an enlightened society will always be remembered. Life and time of L R Balley need to be celebrated as dedicated Ambedkarites like never die and people will always remember them for their selfless services to humanity.
A big salute and #Jaibhim to L R Balley Saheb. His presence will definitely be missed but his work will guide us in fighting our battle as well as whenever we feel any ideological confusion as Ambedkarite as he remain the most authentic among all.
---
*Human rights defender

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