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Is BJP losing sway over Dalits?

Thursday, April 12, 2018
By Bharatkumar Raut

All is not well for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as far as the Dalit Vote Bank support is concerned. The dissidence that is arising amidst the Dalits and Maha-Dalits all over the country seems to be alarming and the BJP has no one else but its own party leadership rather than other caste Hindu followers to blame. This ill-feeling about the BJP is surely likely to reflect in the voting pattern in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Perhaps sensing the danger, BJP chief Amit Shah toured Dalit areas, particularly in the caste-war-torn Uttar Pradesh, to take the first-hand report of the situation. Shah must be wondering how it all went sour so quickly.

The BJP in 2014 won 40 of 66 Lok Sabha seats that are reserved for backward castes. That is a spectacular strike rate of 60 per cent and the BJP now has more Dalit representatives in parliament than any other party. Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently expressed his concern at the recasting of the BJP as a "Brahmin Baniya party". Six Dalits were killed in the massive Bharat Bandh protests on April 2 against the Supreme Court's tweaking of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act; the protesters say the changes have rendered toothless a law meant to swiftly punish anyone who discriminates against Dalits. And Dalit BJP MPs are facing pressure from within the community as to why no arrests have been made for the crimes committed, particularly in the BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Amit Shah’s ‘Chanakya Niti’
As all parties square off for the big fight for the Dalit vote, which accounts for nearly 17 per cent of the population, the BJP MPs going public with complaints of the party's indifference -- there are four from Uttar Pradesh -- are those who defected to the BJP ahead of the last general election as part of Shah's much-heralded "Chanakya Niti" . These MPs are also being "nudged" to revolt by their former leaders such as BSP's Mayawati, say sources. Mayawati knows that she is fighting for her political existence and that she has to ensure the return of the huge chunk of Dalit voters that she lost to the BJP in 2014 in Uttar Pradesh. On the other hand, Shah is equally desperate to rip apart the early and fragile understanding between Mayawati and her formal rival Akhilesh Yadav after their combined effort led to the BJP losing two crucial by-elections in Phulpur and Gorakhpur in UP last month.

The five MPs are aware that in UP, if the Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav alliance holds, their re-election prospects are dim. A ghar wapsi to Mayawati's BSP seems like an attractive option. They are also likely to be concerned by how Shah allocates tickets, casting aside those whose re-election chances seem less than stalwart.

Most of the BJP's Dalit MPs feel that they were merely ornamental for the BJP and never got a share of the real power. To strengthen their argument one can look at the caste composition of the Modi-Government. The total representation of Dalits in Modi's council of ministers is a megre six of the total of 70 plus. The situation is no different in the Yogi Adityanath government in the UP.

The BJP Dalit MPs remonstrating the party publicly offers a gigantic leg up for the opposition in its proclamations that Modi's is an anti-Dalit party. Incidents such as in Una, Gujarat, where young Dalits were filmed while being thrashed for skinning dead cattle and the suicide of Dalit and PhD scholar Rohith Vemula two years ago have angered Dalits to the alleged insensitivity of the BJP to the most vulnerable sections of society. At the start of this year, the clashes that broke out after thousands of Dalits gathered at Bhima-Koregaon in Maharashtra in January have added to the simmering anger of the community. The new restrictive cattle laws which have destroyed the leather industry which mainly employed Dalits and the Muslims and the rampaging "gau rakshaks" have added potent fuel to the mix.

As long as it was Muslims such as Mohammad Akhlaq, lynched by a mob in 2015 over allegations of beef being stored at his home in 2015, the BJP could maintain a deafening silence but, now even the RSS, the guardian body of the party, has officially expressed concern to Modi and Shah that the unity of the "Hindu Samaj" is cracking and remedial measures need to be expedited. Immediate damage control has been begun.

Modi is dedicating the day to a slew of events commemorating Dalit icon B R Ambedkar and is likely to make a dramatic plea to the Dalits about the BJP being their real champion unlike other parties who use them as a "vote bank ATM". Whether these impassioned theatrics and Shah's dine-outs with Dalits will stem the rising anger is debatable. However, the BJP leaders now have no time to wait and think. A quick action to quell the situation is the call of the hour.

Karnataka which goes to the polls next month has a 19 per cent Dalit population and will perhaps be an indication of which way the Dalit voter is leaving.

Fear of upsetting upper-castes
Not that the BJP hasn’t done anything for the upliftment of the Dalits and minorities. However, among states like UP, the BJP has been in some ways guarded about highlighting its work. It is apparent that public ownership of this would upset the core upper-caste BJP base which hails Yogi Adityanath as the new "Hindu Hridaya Samrat" and mutters darkly about conspiracies hatched within the BJP to defeat him from his stronghold of Gorakhpur in the by-election in March. All of UP talks about "Thakur Raj" as Adityanath with zero administrative experience has surrounded himself with fellow upper caste officials. Now a BJP Dalit MP has written to Modi calling Adityanath "casteist". The amount of publicity that this statement has received has a potential to damage the image of the Yogi and also the party.

Considering that Adityanath is unlikely to be reined in, opposition leaders see a bonus. SP would like to have  Yogi to be chief minister  as he is considered to be the glue that will ensure that the alliance with the BSP sticks and that the Yadavs and Dalits forget traditional differences and unite against a common enemy. In the situation the demand of the hour for the BJP top leadership is to raise fire alarm for the Party Brigade and rush to extinguish fire forthwith.

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