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|Founder and National president of the Bahujan Samaj Party|
14 April 1984 – 18 September 2003
|Member of the Indian Parliament|
|Preceded by||Kamal Chaudhry|
|Succeeded by||Kamal Chaudhry|
|Member of the Indian Parliament|
|Preceded by||Ram Singh Shakya|
|Succeeded by||Ram Singh Shakya|
|Born||15 March 1934|
Rupnagar district, Punjab Province, British India
|Died||9 October 2006 (aged 72)|
|Political party||Bahujan Samaj Party|
Kanshi Ram (15 March 1934 – 9 October 2006), also known as Bahujan Nayak or Saheb, was an Indian politician and social reformer who worked for the upliftment and political mobilisation of the Bahujans, the untouchable groups at the bottom of the caste system in India. Towards this end, Kanshi Ram founded Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4), the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees' Federation (BAMCEF) in 1971 and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984. He ceded leadership of the BSP to his protégé Mayawati who has served four terms as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Kanshi Ram was born on 15 March 1934 in Ropar district, Punjab, British India. Some sources say his birthplace was the village of Pirthipur Bunga and others that it was Khawaspur village. Although his family were Ramdasia Sikhs, an untouchable sect, in Punjab at that time there was relatively little stigma attached to being an untouchable.
Kanshi Ram joined the offices of the Explosive Research and Development Laboratory in Pune under the government's scheme of positive discrimination. It was at this time that he first experienced caste discrimination and in 1964 he became an activist. Those who admire him claim that he was spurred to this after reading B. R. Ambedkar's book Annihilation of Caste and witnessing what he perceived to be discrimination against a Dalit employee who wished to observe a holiday celebrating Ambedkar's birth.
Ram initially supported the Republican Party of India (RPI) but became disillusioned with its co-operation with the Indian National Congress. In 1971, he founded the All India SC, ST, OBC and Minority Employees Association and in 1978 this became BAMCEF, an organisation that aimed to persuade educated members of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backwards Classes and Minorities to support Ambedkarite principles. BAMCEF was neither a political nor a religious body and it also had no aims to agitate for its purpose. Suryakant Waghmore says it appealed to "the class among the Dalits that was comparatively well-off, mostly based in urban areas and small towns working as government servants and partially alienated from their untouchable identities".
Later, in 1981, Ram formed another social organisation known as Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DSSSS, or DS4). He started his attempt of consolidating the Dalit vote and in 1984 he founded the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). He fought his first election in 1984 from Janjgir-Champa seat in Chhattisgarh. The BSP found success in Uttar Pradesh, initially struggled to bridge the divide between Dalits and Other Backward Classes but later under leadership of Mayawati bridged this gap.
In 1982 he wrote his book The Chamcha Age, in which he used the term chamcha (stooge) to describe Dalit leaders such as Jagjivan Ram and Ram Vilas Paswan. He argued that Dalits should work politically for their own ends rather than compromise by working with other parties.
After forming BSP Ram said the party would fight first election to lose, next to get noticed and the third election to win. In 1988 he contested Allahabad seat up against a future Prime Minister V. P. Singh and performed impressively but lost polling close to 70,000 votes.
He unsuccessfully contested from East Delhi (Lok Sabha constituency) in 1989 and came at fourth position. Then he represented the 11th Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur, Kanshiram was also elected as member of Lok Sabha from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh. In 2001 he publicly announced Mayawati as his successor.
In 2002, Kanshiram announced his intention to convert to Buddhism on 14 October 2006, the 50th anniversary of Ambedkar's conversion. He intended for 20,000,000 of his supporters to convert at the same time. Part of the significance of this plan was that Ram's followers include not only untouchables, but persons from a variety of castes, who could significantly broaden Buddhism's support. However, he died on 9 October 2006.
Mayawati his successor said "Saheb Kanshi Ram and I had decided that we will convert and adopt Buddhism when we will get "absolute majority" at the Centre. We wanted to do this because we can make a difference to the religion by taking along with us millions of people. If we convert without power then only we two will be converting. But when you have power you can really create a stir".
Ram was a diabetic. He suffered a heart attack in 1994, an arterial clot in his brain in 1995, and a paralytic stroke in 2003. He died in New Delhi on 9 October 2006 of a severe heart attack at the age of 72. He had been virtually bed-ridden for more than two years. According to his wishes, his funeral rites were performed according to Buddhist tradition, with Mayawati lighting the pyre. His ashes were placed in an urn and kept at Prerna Sthal, where many people paid their respects.
In his condolence message, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Ram as "one of the greatest social reformers of our time .. his political ideas and movements had a significant impact on our political evolution ... He had a larger understanding of social change and was able to unite various underprivileged sections of our society and provide a political platform where their voices would be heard." Under Ram's leadership, the BSP won 14 parliamentary seats in the 1999 federal elections.