by Atul Cowshish
The Bharatiya Janata Party always seemed to believe that it did not require the Muslim minority vote and it did not have to bank on Dalit support because its solid Hindu vote bank was sufficient to keep it in power. But now burning with a desire to be the sole ruler in a ‘Congress-free’ India, the BJP is trying to reach out to the Dalits and is making efforts albeit token to woo the Muslims. The latest exercise in that direction came in the cabinet reshuffle when of the 19 new members inducted five were drawn from the Dalit community and a prominent Muslim face given to changing allegiance. It is still not clear that these steps will help the BJP realise its dream of becoming the dominant pan-India party—a party that represents all segments of the society.
The strides made by the BJP to create a new constituency of Dalit voters appear to be crumbling while the Muslims cannot warm up to a party whose leaders—ministers included–speak ill of them so openly. After facing a storm over the death of a Dalit student in Hyderabad for a year, the BJP efforts to woo the Dalits appear to be failing. The blame must go to the top leadership of the party, which in effect means the Narendraa Modi-Amit Shah duo.
This duo talks of attracting the Dalits and Muslims towards the party fold but acts as deaf-mute when various party functionaries, including some senior leaders, indulge in or encourage violence against Dalits and Muslims under one pretext or the other. None of the BJP functionaries who used foul language against Dalits and Muslims had to pay for their indiscretions or egregious acts. Suddenly there was an exception.
The vice president of BJP in UP, Dayashankar Singh, was summarily thrown out within hours of making a hideous remark against the BSP supremo, Mayawati. That was a rare occasion when the BJP leadership took prompt action against a senior leader of its party for making abusive, vulgar and totally unacceptable remarks. Such action was not in evidence earlier. And it doesn’t seem to have set a precedent.
That is why it can be seen as a case of too little too late. Whatever happens to Dayashankar Singh is not going to alter the image of the BJP in the minds of ordinary Dalits. Mayawati may have spoken boastfully and with no moderation but she is not totally wide of the mark when she says that her followers see her as a ‘goddess’. Her followers might have tried to outdo Dayashankar Singh in using foul language against his family and be criticized for it but it does not alter the picture for the BJP. If anything, it angers the upper caste Thakurs who find the BJP unable to defend their ‘honour’.
Many who have worked with Mayawati have deserted her, accusing her of greed for wealth and ‘selling’ party nomination at the time of the polls. The point is that till the Modi wave of 2014 swept everything off, Mayawati’s following did not shrink by any significant margin despite widespread allegations about her fondness for wealth, including diamonds, jewellery and monuments for self. The BJP has failed to make a dent in Mayawati’s following, if the Dalit response to the insult on her heaped by Dayashankar Singh is anything to go by.
In the last one year, the BJP has shown excessive zest for carrying out various aspects of its Hindutva agenda some of which have resulted in violence against the Dalits and Muslims. The ‘development plank’ of the BJP and its slogan of ‘sabka vikas’ (inclusive growth) appear to be one of the many ‘Jumlas’ it uses to entice voters. One of the movements that the BJP has pursued with vigour is about cow protection. Under its cover, Muslims have been targeted for alleged slaughtering the cow. It is now clear that it also targets the Dalits.
The Dalits in Gujarat are up in arms against the BJP after the cow vigilantes, part of the Hindutva brigade, beat up mercilessly some Dalits for skinning dead cows. The Dalits were not doing anything criminal but the Hindutva elements will not accept that. The cow vigilantes appear to enjoy state protection, if the victims are to be believed.
A video showing a so-called cow protection group mercilessly beating four Dalits for four hours went viral on the social media. The police did not help the victims, prompting questions about the role of the Gujarat police which had been accused of partisanship during the 2002 riots in which 2000 Muslims were killed.
In Maharashtra, the Dalits are on the boil, following demolition of the Ambedkar Bhavan in Mumbai. Media reports said that the old building is to be replaced by a 17-storey high rise to be constructed by a realtor close to the ruling party in Maharashtra. It is strange that the chief minister of the state, who reportedly performed the ‘Bhoomi puja’, did not think that pulling down a building commemorating Ambedkar would be politically unwise.
Vigilante groups are active in many parts of Maharashtra—and many other parts of India where their targets are either Muslims or Dalits, or both. These days it is common to hear that cattle traders are being treated as ‘soft targets’ by the Hindutva vigilante groups with the police looking the other way. The BJP has shown no interest in disciplining these groups.
It would appear that these days anyone espousing the cause supported by the BJP can raise a vigilant group and go on a rampage without any fear of the law. This is, at least, the public perception. The BJP has been desperate to own Dalit and other icons from other parties and dramatises its new-found love for Ambedkar but all that will not be sufficient to make the BJP look like a party of ALL Indians.