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Dalits prepare for 2019 showdown with BJP

Rattled by Mayawati’s downfall, the near absence of second line of leadership and sudden spurt in atrocities against the marginalised, Dalit intellectuals have again taken up the onus of preparing their community for the next general election

analysis Updated: May 29, 2017 19:27 IST
Sunita Aron
Dalit activists feared a political vacuum if Mayawati lost her strength and the BSP’s performance in the 2017 assembly polls confirmed their apprehension.
Dalit activists feared a political vacuum if Mayawati lost her strength and the BSP’s performance in the 2017 assembly polls confirmed their apprehension.(PTI File Photo)

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was euphoric over its performance in the 2014 elections in Uttar Pradesh, Dalit activists were worrying about the decimation of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). They feared a political vacuum if Mayawati lost her strength.

Their fears were confirmed after BSP’s performance in the 2017 assembly polls, especially when they were hoping for Mayawati’s return as chief minister.

BHU professor MP Ahirwal says, “The political developments have turned the clock back in times when we were treated as untouchables and unequals. Ab daman chakra shuru ho gaya hai (the cycle of atrocities has begun). We are again being called ‘chamars’.” (a sub-caste of Dalits that is often used to demean them)

Now, the immediate concern of Dalit activists is the fragmentation of their vote in case BSP fails to resurrect before the 2019 polls. According to their assessment, BJP accrued Dalit support where BSP was weak.

The Sangh parivar had started a drive in early 1990s to encompass Dalits into the Hindutva fold. The foundation of Ram temple in Ayodhya was laid by a Dalit, followed by Dalit Bhoj at their homes, attended by senior VHP-RSS-BJP leaders. Mayawati’s meteoric rise threw a spanner in BJP’s political moves as Dalits started identifying themselves with her, a Jatav by caste.

Contrary to BJP’s jubilation over party’s penetration into the Dalit vote bank, community leaders still believe that BJP remains the second choice, next to Congress, in areas where BSP is non-existent. They say a few sub-castes like Pasi, Balmiki and Dhobhi, neglected by the BSP leadership, became BJP supporters while Jatavs have stood behind BSP as a rock.

Rattled by Mayawati’s downfall, the near absence of second line of leadership and sudden spurt in atrocities against the marginalised, has activated Dalit intellectuals who have again taken up the onus of preparing their community for the next general election.

They have published Alert 19 to reunite Dalits in UP as well as other parts of the country. The document was released in Meerut on 14 April , 2017 and will be sent for mass distribution next month.

Literature, which has always played a key role in the political mobilisation of Dalits has always been best sellers at book fairs. A rickshaw-puller Bhullar in Allahabad had once observed, “Only two communities can proclaim to have Veds. Brahmins have Brahm Ved. We have Chamar Ved.”

“Dalit politics has always emerged from the community’s social agenda and here we highlight the 19 demands, including steps needed to check the atrocities on us,” says Dr Satish Kumar, who was a part of the team of academicians and activists that worked on the document. The team was led by senior research scientist with the UGC Dr Bale Ram.

Alert 19 talks about the need to strengthen the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, arms licences and arms at subsidised rates, martial training, special police force, social security, scholarship to Dalit students irrespective of family income among others. Dr Satish Kumar says their motto is to catch them young at the age of 18 years.

“Of late, several Dalit organisations have surfaced working in various parts of the country and state. Mayawati does not want their proliferation but the deepening of fault lines tempered with caste sentiments can bring them together under the BSP umbrella at the time of elections,” says Prof Bari Narayan, author of a book on Kanshi Ram.

As Dr Satish Prakash says the youth is not satisfied with Dalit leadership. “Dalits prefer aggressive politics and Behenji with age has lost that aggression. A new leadership will soon emerge to unite Dalits to defeat the BJP.”

The BJP, which has been banking on Dalit support for 2019 polls may have to re-draw its strategy to retain Dalit support. As of now the sentiments are building against it. Saharanpur violence has again reaffirmed their belief that they are not safe under upper-caste rule.

Read more: Growing Dalit anger is bad news for the saffron brigade