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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 29 New Delhi July 7, 2018

Exposing the Facade of Neo-liberal Politics of the BJP

Monday 9 July 2018

by Arun Srivastava

Oblivious of the changing contour and character of Dalit politics, the RSS and its front organisations continue to pursue their old strategy of insolently denigrating the Dalits. That the members of the Sangh Parivar do not nurse the sense of respect towards the Dalits is evident in their refusal to subscribe to the utterances of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Dalits are an integral part of the Hindu society and they should be respected.

Reluctance of the cadres and vigilantes to listen to the suggestion of the Prime Minister underlines the fact that he has not been sincere in his approach and this is also endorsed by the fact that the atrocities and incidents of lynching of Dalits has substantially increased during his four-year rule. It is not that the Sangh think- tanks and its intellectuals are unaware of the fact that a new kind of stirring has been taking place in the Dalits of the country and this is quite reflective and philosophical. It is something else: the RSS think-tanks have not succeeded in deciphering the change and its dimension.

This is the reason that they have not been able to evolve a concrete strategy to counter it. They still continue to adhere to the old mode of feudal politics and tactics of perpetrating torture and repression on them. Had it not been the case, the vigilantes would not have dared to beat a 30-year-old Dalit for riding a motorcycle past the home of a village sarpanch in Bhopal. Dayaram Ahirwar lodged a complaint with the police that the sarpanch, a Kurmi by caste, his brothers and one of their neighbours beat him severely on June 21. Ahirwar has alleged that the accused told him that, while passing before their homes, he should have dragged the motorcycle instead of riding it.

In yet another incident, a barber in Gujarat was beaten up for ‘cutting the hair of Dalits’. About 10 days ago, the barber, Jigar, was warned by some persons that he should not cut the hair of Dalits. But Jigar didn’t pay heed to it. The allegation is that Jigar was attacked for entertaining Dalits at his shop. Four persons belonging to the upper caste were booked for allegedly attacking the barber for “cutting the hair of Dalits†at Umrecha village of Satlasna taluka of Mehsana district.

Earlier this month, a 13-year-old Dalit boy was beaten up by five upper-caste men for “attempting to look like a Darbar (an upper caste community)†as he wore rajwadi mojari (traditional shoes) and a thick gold chain, usually worn by upper-caste men. Dalits and the downtrodden have always been humiliated and assaulted and oppressed by the feudal and upper-caste people. But during the last few years the Dalits have witnessed systematic attack on their identity.

An insight into the crimes against Dalits would reveal that the present generation of Dalits, precisely the youths, do not perceive these as caste conflicts or violence. The character of such violence has undergone a major change. They (Dalits) have come to realise that these were the basic ingredients of class conflicts. Obviously the implications of the anti-Dalit violence need serious consideration. The youths have acquired a new vision and are aware of the importance of literacy and education, the standing of communication, occupational mobility and relevance of affirmative action. A peep into the operation of Dalit organisations which have come up during last four-five years would unravel that Dalit youths are more class conscious and desire to express their identity at horizontal and vertical social and economic levels. It has now become a pan-Indian phenomenon. For the older generation of Dalits, Ambedkar was to be worshipped and revered, but the new generation has started to analyse and evaluate his writings, theories and speeches. Ambedkar’s academic contribution on Dalit liberation has created a sense of confidence and assertion in the community.

The Sangh, under devious mechanisms, tried to obliterate their identity. The 2017 elections to the UP Assembly have made it explicit that the Dalits look for a wider canvass. Use of the social media to network and communicate has proliferated; Left politics and its limitations are under scrutiny. It would not be an exagge-ration to say that they have distanced away from the traditional Communist Parties. Naxalites are the only political force that attract them. Incidentally in the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections while the Grand Alliance of the RJD-JD(U) even bulldozed the BJP, the CPI-ML managed to win three seats having Mahadalit population.

It is also significant that a paradigm shift is being witnessed in the attitude of the Dalits and agricultural labourers towards the movements relating to their own problems. During the last two years the Patna High Court exonerated the goons of the landlords involved in at least three genocides but the Dalits did not hit the streets protesting against the government and its lawyers for preparing and presenting weak cases before the court. This is a strategical shift from the old pattern of protest.

Dalits are increasingly striving to take charge of affairs in their own hands. But they are not clear of the mechanism to accomplish the task. Though caste continues to be the basic index of their assertion, the fact is that they are disillusioned of caste politics. They nurse a strong feeling that their caste leaders have simply exploited them and used them for their personal gains. Mayawati and her brand of politics are being hotly debated over the social media. Various Dalit social organisations feel that they should adopt a broader political spectrum.

In the background of Hindu consolidation, lynching of Dalits and Muslims by the vigilante, and expansion of moral policing, there is a growing realisation among Dalits that they need to politically draw closer. Mayawati has to understand this complexity and evolve a new ideological trait. The 2017 elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly have made it clear that Dalits look for a wider canvas. It is also significant that a paradigm shift is being witnessed in the attitude of the Dalits and agricultural labourers towards the movements relating to their own problems.

The slogans that resound in the Dalit movement are indicative of a major dimensional change: ‘choice of food’, ‘right to land’, ‘swabhiman’ and ‘atmabhiman’ (self-respect), ‘azadi’ (freedom) and ‘dignity’. The new Dalit politics holds the key to some of the concerns and strivings. Young Dalit leader Mewani’s main demand is that every landless Dalit be given five acres of land. His movement is pitching for an alternative model of development, based on land reforms, where productivity and wealth gains will be made by redistributing land to those who will work on it themselves—land to the tiller. The State administration’s move to start mapping land around Saroda village was a huge victory for the movement. Mewani rightly observed: “Even if we are not able to create a classless society ... we ought to aim for a society that has less disparity.†Material issues are at the heart of Dalit politics. Their new slogan is quite honest: “You keep the cow’s tail, give us our land.“

The BJP has been trying to woo the Dalits to use them for their electoral gains, but one thing is absolutely clear: whether it is the RSS or the BJP, they utterly lack the vision for uniting the Dalits and take them out of the nightmare of isolationist politics being practised by the saffronites. The Sangh resorted to all kind gimmicks but to no avail. No doubt in the 2017 elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly the Dalits were said to have rallied behind the BJP, but the fact remains that they could never imbibe the BJP or RSS ideology. They as usual remained at the periphery. What was worse, the Hindu vigilantes and upper-caste people continued with their oppression and torture even after the Dalits overwhelmingly voted for them. The Dalits’ attempt to identify with the BJP proved to be an abortive move.

Faced with the threat of growing Dalit alienation with their anger spilling out on the streets of India, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, proclaimed the party’s total devotion to the country’s greatest Dalit icon, Babasaheb B.R. Ambedkar. The BJP has not been concerned of the political empowerment of the Dalits. It is a matter of shame that Modi nursed the view that the Dalits would feel satisfied with the offer of some fringe benefits. He failed to make out that the Dalits are for assertion of their identity and share in governance. These two aspirational needs of the Dalits are contrary to the saffron policy and approach towards the Dalits. For the Sangh they are a part of Hindutva and obviously any acceptance of their demand would eventually eclipse the RSS ideology. While the BJP is willing to chant Jai Bhim, the Dalits are too cautious of chanting Jai Ram. By doing this they would be falling in the trap of the Sangh and BJP. The saffron forces will succeed in their mission to describe them as neo-Hindus.

Scared of the Dalits feeling alienated and severing their ties with the party, the BJP leadership has embarked upon an image refurbishing mission. With the Supreme Court reluctant to review its order on the SC/ST Atrocities Act, the BJP—proficient in the game of speaking lies and resorting to gimmicks—has decided to move the court to display its passionate well-meaning intentions, the concern of the party, to the Dalit community.

With the intent to dissuade Dalits from taking to agitation, three BJP-ruled States of Chhattis-garh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan—which had earlier endorsed and stood by the Supreme Court’s instructions and also directed their police establishments to implement the court order— revoked their decision on Tuesday (June 26) at the directive of their central leadership. In Madhya Pradesh seven Dalits were killed during the Bharat Bandh called by the Dalit groups on April 2. What was quite interesting was Rajasthan, the laboratory of Hindutva, where maximum atrocities on Dalits took place, pledged to support the review petition filed by the Central Government

The hardening of the Dalit attitude towards the BJP could be judged from the fact that a veteran RSS Dalit ideologue from Gujarat deserted the RSS as well as the BJP. The 64-year old Mulchand Rana was the Vice-President of Samajik Samrasata Manch of Gujarat, an RSS wing of Social Unity. After quitting the RSS, he said: “The importance of the Dalits in BJP and RSS has been dropping over the past 10 years. But in the past five years, the rift between Dalits and other communities has widened so much that it has led to an increase in cases of atrocities.†This admission of the unembellished fact simply underlines that the RSS and BJP have been least interested in empowering them and give them their due. That Modi has betrayed the Dalits has been a highly debated issue in their inner circle and groups.

The RSS has come to realise the intensity of the new Dalit assertion. But it is yet to comprehend the dynamics and dimension of the new assertion. It is scared that failure to check the new idiom of Dalit assertion would act as a serious deterrent in its horizontal and vertical expansion and growth. The Sangh leaders still hold the notion that perpetrating torture and repression was the only mechanism to keep them under control. This is the reason that the Sangh leaders have not come out with a strict warning to its rank and file to desist from such nefarious activities.

One thing is absolutely clear: the upsurge of the Dalit forces would check the spread of saffron politics. In modern India no other political ideology could vouch to check the splurge of the saffron dogma. It is only after avowal of the new Dalit identity that the long march of the RSS could be checked to a great extent. A new Dalit politics has resurrected in a major way. Dalits have reacted to denial of their rights, to atrocities on them and rejection of their economic status.

Some people are not willing to accept this new dynamic of Dalit politics and say that the character and mode of the new politics is yet to acquire a definite shape. They may be right. But they must accept that it has resuscitated in a much stronger manner. Earlier the urban Dalits in their quest to join the ranks of the neo-middle class had been maintaining some distance from the poor Dalits, but now the scenario has changed. The urban Dalits, who have joined the ranks of the neo-middle class, are also for asserting their identity and follow the teachings of Babasaheb Ambedkar. They have become aware that in the era of dominance of market forces and systematic assertion by the capitalist economy, they would have to evolve a new political action. They are striving to take charge of affairs in their own hands. Though caste continues to be the basic index of their assertion, they are not willing to get embroiled simply in caste war.

Recent years have witnessed social churning among Dalits in north India arising out of disappointment with the social justice parties and aspiration for development, which got reflected in their shift towards the BJP in the 2014 elections. This has intriguingly made them vulnerable to mobilisation by the BJP, which in the 2014 electoral campaign attempted to create a new social coalition. Unfortunately, the saffron brigade, instead of appreciating and respecting their sentiments and emotions for empower-ment, treated them as their neo-Hindu support-base, while they continued to strictly adhere to the Hindutva mode of politics. While they gave lip-service to the Dalits, they went a patronising and promoting the interest of the Hindutva vigilantes. The callous handing of the incidents of attack on Dalits that took place during 2015 and 2016 deeply hurt and angered them. The worst incidents were suicide of Rohith Vemula, the Una incident when seven Dalits were assaulted by cow vigilantes, the Saharanpur incident in 2016 when Dalits were attacked by middle and upper-caste villagers, attacks on Dalits at the Bhima-Koregaon commemoration in January 2018, and finally the present Supreme Court ruling that could dilute the SC/ST Act.

These developments witnessed the emergence of an all-India Dalit consciousness and birth of younger leaders such as Jignesh Mevani and Prakash Ambedkar who are leading mass move-ments, different from the ideas and forms of mobilisation used by the older leadership.The large and violent movement by Dalits across all the States of the Hindi heartland ruled by the BJP today, point to disillusionment, unhappiness and rising anger against the party. While the new strategies and promises of social inclusion and economic advancement enabled the BJP to emerge as a dominant force in 2014, the incidents that took place post-2014 make it explicit that the saffron brigade has lost its relevance and utility. Dalits have come to realise that merely a change in the ruling dispensation is not enough, what they need is recognition of their identity and existence.

The author, a senior journalist, can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com

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