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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 45, New Delhi, October 24, 2020

Double Standards in Politics | Barun Das Gupta

Saturday 24 October 2020, by Barun Das Gupta

Bye-elections for 28 Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh are going to be held on November 3. If the Congress wants to come back to power, it has to win all the 28 seats. So the challenge for the Congress is high. Tempers are naturally running high. But what the Congress veteran and former MP chief minister Kamal Nath said in an election meeting was in very bad taste. He ridiculed the BJP candidate of that constituency, a dalit woman, as being an “item”. Item is not an abusive or derogatory word. But the sense in which Nath used the word was certainly derogatory and demeaning. Even Rahul Gandhi pulled up Nath for the use of the word “item.” Naturally, the BJP has made a big issue of it and made a huge noise about the Congress insulting a dalit woman. Nath has certainly been caught on the wrong foot which is surprising for an experienced political veteran like him.

Having conceded that, what has been the BJP’s own record? Let us recall what Prime Minister Modi said in November, 2017. A newspaper report said: “Did the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, say that his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, was part of a conspiracy involving a former vice president and Pakistani diplomats to call him a ‘low-level’ messenger? Or did he say that Manmohan Singh was part of a Pakistani conspiracy, also involving a former vice president, to interfere with Indian elections? From the Prime Minister’s innuendo-laden speech in Palanpur on Sunday, it seems like he did say both things.

“This is what he said: ‘It is a serious matter... that Pakistan ... its a sensitive issue... at that time what is the reason to have such a secret meeting with the Pakistan high commissioner? And while elections are on in Gujarat, what is the reason for this type of secret meeting?’...

“The second matter, Pakistan’s former Director-General of Army, Arshad Rafiq, he says this, that to make Ahmed Patel Gujarat’s chief minister, we should do a contract. That Pakistan’s retired army chief should interfere in Gujarat’s election, that a meeting of Pakistani people should be held at Mani Shankar’s place, and the day after the meeting Gujarat is insulted... Modi is insulted... All these matters raise questions, do they not; they cause concern, do they not?”

So, the Prime Minister of India was accusing former prime minister Manmohan Singh of having conspired with Pakistan’s former Director-General of Army Arshad Rafiq and a former vice-president of India (he is not named but the allusion is undoubtedly to Hamid Ansari). For what? For making Ahmed Patel the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Ahmed Patel is an Indian citizen and is perfectly entitled to become the Chief Minister of his State. Why should the Congress have to hatch a conspiracy for that with Pakistan? Modi made this speech in the context of an election to Rajya Sabha for which Patel was a candidate and the BJP was hell-bent on defeating him. In the event, Ahmed Patel did get elected to Rajya Sabha. His only “disqualification” was that he was a Muslim.

The election came and went. After the election, nothing was heard of the “conspiracy” with Pakistan. No investigation was made into such a serious allegation. Nobody was interrogated. The whole thing was quietly and conveniently forgotten.

 Let us now examine the way dalit women have been and are being treated in BJP-ruled States? A newspaper report of October 23, 2019, had this to say:

“Crime in India 2017, the annual crime report which was published by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) after a delay of two years, shows a rise in crimes against people from scheduled caste (SC) communities across the country.

“According to the report, Uttar Pradesh topped the list of states where riots were organized against SCs, followed by Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The number of crimes commit\ted against SCs which stood at 38,613 in 2015 escalated to 40,743 in 2016 and 43,122 in 2017.

“In Tamil Nadu, incidents of atrocities against SCs was 1,736 in 2015. Although the number saw a dip in 2016 (1,291), in 2017 it rose to 1,362. In 2017, 1,273 cases of violent incidents were filed under both SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and laws under IPC. Around 1,472 dalits were victimised in those incidents.”

In Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh, sexual and physical assault on women, especially dalit women and their murder have become the new normal. Quite often, members of the ruling party or those closely associated with them are the culprits. As such, the police are helpless or hesitant to take action against them. Hathras is the latest instance. A teenaged dalit girl was gang-raped by four, physically thrashed, her tongue cut. Later she died. Her body was secretly burnt in the dead of the night while her family members were locked up by the police. The police laid a siege on the village, disallowing anyone either to leave or enter the village

 Till there was big furore about the incident in the print and electronic media, the police and the civil administration were either threatening the family to keep quiet or were sought to be silenced by a bribe of Rs. 25 lakhs. Nothing worked. Initially, the police tried their level best to save the culprits but ultimately failed in the glare of nation-wide publicity. Then the case was taken away from the UP police and handed over to the CBI.

With such a record, it is utterly insincere for the BJP and its leaders to shed rivers of tears over the verbal barb at a dalt woman by the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. His comment has been widely condemned by one and all, including the top leadership of the Congress party. The BJP should look inward and be ashamed of itself for the way dalits — men and women — are being treated in the States ruled by them. The Bhima-Kooregaon “conspiracy” case is another instance of the State and all its agencies turning against the dalits.

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