Ram Dhan: The Dalit MP Who Won Lalganj's Heart Five Times But Couldn't Claim the CM Seat

On the death anniversary of Ram Dhan, a veteran Dalit leader from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, The Mooknayak revisits the life and political career of a man who came close to becoming the first Dalit Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh but was tactfully stymied.
Ram Dhan: The Dalit MP Who Won Lalganj's Heart Five Times But Couldn't Claim the CM Seat

Lucknow- In the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh, Ram Dhan emerged as a formidable force, representing the aspirations and struggles of the marginalized communities.

Despite his undeniable popularity and consecutive victories in the Lalganj constituency, Ram Dhan's journey to the coveted position of Chief Minister remained elusive.

Let's delve into the compelling narrative of a leader who captured the affection of his constituents but encountered barriers on his path to higher office.

The emergence of the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984 was a watershed era in Indian politics. Kanshiram set the course for reviving the politics of the Downtrodden.

He believed that the Bahujans, i.e., the SC/ST/OBC, need their self-identity, and the party governed by the upper castes only shortchanges the Dalits.

The political career of Ram Dhan can be pointed out as an example of how Kanshiram was right in his assertion and how non-Dalits, irrespective of political affiliation, have betrayed popular Dalit leaders.

Ram Dhan- Early Life and Political Journey

Babu Jagjivan Ram, a powerful minister in the Congress government, was the tallest Dalit leader after the death of Ambedkar. Another leader from the depressed class who made his mark in politics was Ram Dhan.

Ram Dhan was born to a family of the Chamar community of the Scheduled caste in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh on 1st July 1921. Despite belonging to a poor family, Ram Dhan attended Banaras Hindu University and attained a law degree after completing his M.A.

The law graduate jumped into the Indian freedom movement after coming in contact with veteran socialist leaders like Jaiprakash Narayan and Acharya Narayan Dev. He was detained under the Defence of India Rules for 2 years for taking part in the Quit India Movement.

Post-Independence, Ram Dhan had his stint as a journalist with Hindi Newspapers like Aaj, Sansar, Swatantra Bharat, and Amrit Bazaar Patrika.

An Indira Loyalist Who Rebelled Against Emergency

Initially, part of the Socialist movement, he joined the Congress party in 1960. He represented the Lalganj Constituency of Azamgarh on a Congress ticket. Lalganj, in Azamgarh, happens to be one of the most important constituencies of Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Ram Dhan represented the Lok Sabha constituency five times. The freedom fighter was an Indira loyalist. He threw the cudgels behind the then Congress leader and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when the right-wing faction of the party, which included Kamraj, SK Patil, Nijalingappa, and Atulya Ghosh, and several others, drove a split in the party opposing the economic policies of Indira Gandhi when she nationalized 14 private banks.

However, during the Emergency, the loyal leader fell foul of Indira Gandhi after he joined forces with rebels like Chandrashekhar, the former prime minister, Krishan Kant, the former Vice-President, and Mohan Dharia, former union minister, to oppose the emergency.

Consequently, he was slapped with the draconian MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) and detained for 20 months. Subsequently, the former journalist joined the anti-Congress forces and won the Lalganj Parliamentary seat on a Janata Party ticket in 1977, in the elections held after the emergency.

The Dalit Leader Hindered from Attaining Chief Ministership

Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit intellectual, calls Ram Dhan the “mirror” of the Dalit Society as he reflected the social contradictions of the “Cow Belt.” Prasad also belongs to Azamgarh, the native place of Ram Dhan. Prasad says that when the Janata Party government came to power in 1977, seven Congress governments were dismissed on the ground that they have lost the legitimacy to rule.

“While in six states the Chief Ministers were sent from Delhi, in the case of Uttar Pradesh, when the name of Ram Dhan was proposed, the group led by Charan Singh suggested that there should be voting for choosing the CM.

In the voting, the “Bahujan” lobby defeated him as Charan Singh proposed the name of Ram Naresh Yadav,” says Prasad. Prasad points out that this was the second occasion when Dalits felt sidelined in the Janata Party government as earlier Babu Jagjivan Ram was denied the opportunity of becoming the Prime Minister of the country.

Ram Dhan had resigned from the post of general secretary in protest. However, during his short stint in the Janata Party government, he got the opportunity to be a part of Indian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly and served as the Chairman of the committee on the welfare of scheduled castes and tribes of Parliament.

Ram soon got disenchanted with anti-Congressism and went back to Congress in 1980. However, despite being a popular leader and winning from the Lalganj constituency four times, he was not made the Union Minister; he had to suffice with membership of the Railway Convention committee of the parliament.

He again rebelled against the Congress party in 1989, this time and resigned along with V.P Singh. The fact that he won from the Lalganj constituency for the fifth time despite switching to the Janata Party speaks volumes about his popularity.

“He was a very kind man, he helped many people in my village get jobs to eke out a living. He was quite accessible. I remember dining with him after a public meeting; he was a very popular leader; people used to vote in his name, irrespective of the party he joined,” remembers Sukhi Lal, a 58-year-old man, who first met the leader when he was barely 15 in 1981.

Recognition and Legacy

However, V.P. Singh, who became Prime Minister in 1990 as the head of the Janata Dal coalition, chose Ram Vilas Paswan, another Dalit leader from Bihar, instead of Ram Dhan as the Cabinet Minister.

“Singh knew about Ramdhanji’s assertiveness and began promoting the perpetual yes man – Ram Vilas Paswan,” points out Chandrabhan Prasad as the reason for the sidelining of the veteran leader.

In the last decade of his career, he was made the chairman of the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe; he occupied the post till 1995.

He breathed his last on 23rd May 2001.

Chandrabhan Prasad ranks the relatively unknown leader ahead of Kanshiram and Mayawati when it comes to Dalit politicians of North India. The only leader that surpasses him in northern India, he believes, is “Babu Jagjeevan Ram.” “He founded the “Dalit Shiksha Andolan,” a movement which aimed at the upliftment of the downtrodden community.

He was a very simple man; he didn’t make any property despite being in politics for decades,” says Chandrabhan Prasad.

On his death anniversary, the Mooknayak remembers Ram Dhan as the leader who epitomized simplicity and honesty.

As the Lalganj constituency gears up for polls on May 25th in the sixth phase of the general elections, there's a shared aspiration for the next representative to emulate Ram Dhan's popularity and simplicity.

Ram Dhan: The Dalit MP Who Won Lalganj's Heart Five Times But Couldn't Claim the CM Seat
Divergent Realities: Dalit Groom Faces Violent Attack in MP, Rajput Community Honors Dalit Bride in Rajasthan
Ram Dhan: The Dalit MP Who Won Lalganj's Heart Five Times But Couldn't Claim the CM Seat
Lok Sabha Elections 2024: To What Extent Will BJP Face the Impact of Rajput Community Dissent in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh?

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless