BJP’s Dalit outreach under threat

There is a long way to go before Uttar Pradesh can become Uttam Pradesh, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised after his party’s massive victory in the assembly elections.

The caste violence in Saharanpur and the gang rape and murder on a highway near Bulandshahr have followed the depredations of the love jehad and anti-Romeo squads and the Allahabad High Court’s intervention in favour of the Muslim meat traders when it told Yogi Adityanath’s government to issue licences to the abattoirs which it had summarily closed down.

The government’s crackdown on the slaughterhouses on the grounds that many of them were unlicensed was seen as a step specifically aimed at the Muslim community which has been traditionally associated with the Rs 15,000 crore industry.

The high court, however, said that a “check on unlawful activity should be simultaneous with facilitating the carrying of lawful activity, particularly that relating to food, food habits and vending thereof that is undisputedly connected with the right to life and livelihood”.

But even as meat is again available in Lucknow and other cities and there has been a marginal decline in the targeting of those involved in inter-faith romances, an even greater challenge has emerged for the law-enforcing authorities in the caste conflicts between Dalits and Thakurs in the Saharanpur area.

The fact that the Chief Minister himself is a Thakur hasn’t helped in restoring amity between the two communities, especially when overzealous officials told the Mushahars, another Dalit group, to wash themselves with soap and use deodorants before Yogi Adityanath visited their Mainpur Kot village in Kushinagar district.

A similar incident occurred when the Chief Minister went to the home of a martyred BSF jawan where an air-conditioner was temporarily installed and a sofa put in place during the visit.

Together with the violence in Saharanpur, these incidents have caused a further strain in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) relations with the Dalits, which suffered a major setback when a bright Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide in Hyderabad central university in January last year following skirmishes between his group, the Ambedkar Students’ Association, and the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

There was a further blow to the BJP’s outreach to the Dalits when the gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) lynched a group of Dalits for skinning a cow, their traditional occupation, in Una in Gujarat.

The fallout of these incidents has been the emergence of a new generation of Dalit leaders like the 30-year-old lawyer, Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan”, who led the so-called Bhim Army (named after the Dalit icon, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar) for protests against the Saharanpur violence in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.

Apart from anything else, his call for a Dalit-Muslim-backward caste alliance against the BJP aims at undercutting Modi’s tactic of bringing the non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav backward castes to the BJP’s fold, which yielded handsome dividends for the party in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election by leaving only the Jatavs and Yadavs with Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, respectively, thereby fracturing the Dalit and OBC vote banks of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party.

Irrespective of how politically successful will be the young idealists like “Ravan” and Jignesh Mevani, who led the Dalit protests against the Una floggings, they appear to have succeeded so far in sidelining established leaders like Mayawati, who no longer seem to be able to reach out to the youths in the community.

For the BJP, the worry will be that its hope of showcasing Uttar Pradesh as a model state, especially where law and order and the safety of women are concerned, may come a cropper. Already a minister, Suresh Khanna, has said that the state is too big to ensure “zero crime”, which can nullify the party’s charges against the previous government.

The expectation that Yogi Adityanath will live up to his reputation of being tough has been nullified up to now even as the Dalit-Thakur violence has reinforced the BJP’s image as an upper caste party.

While the Muslims initially bore the brunt of saffron aggression, it is the Dalits who now have reasons to be aggrieved. The fairly large gathering at Jantar Mantar showed how members of the community from states other than Uttar Pradesh have become agitated over the Saharanpur incidents.

The possibility, therefore, of an incipient Dalit-Muslim-backward caste combine being formed cannot be ruled out. Moreover, the fact that such an alliance will not be a quiescent one is evident from the flaunting of epithets like the Great Chamar, a previously pejorative term which has now become a badge of honour.

For the BJP, the developments in Uttar Pradesh have cast a shadow over the third anniversary celebrations of its assumption of office at the Centre. It is obvious that the party simply cannot afford to alienate yet another community, viz., the Dalits, when the Muslims may have distanced themselves even further from the party in the wake of the ghar wapsi and love jehad campaigns by the saffron brotherhood aimed at making them “return” to Hinduism and against Hindu-Muslim affairs and marriages.

 

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