Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati’s enigmatic silence on suicide by dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at University of Hyderabad has puzzled political observers.
Opposition parties and dalit outfits have launched a countrywide agitation to project the Narendra Modi government as anti-dalit, but the BSP that claims to be a dalit-based party has neither hit the road nor launched a campaign on the issue yet.
At a time when the BJP is working hard to woo dalit voters in the run-up to the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly election, the Vemula episode provided an opportunity to Mayawati to mobilise her cadre to checkmate the BJP but she has made no such move.
Instead of visiting Hyderabad and rallying dalits — the BSP’s core voters — Mayawati merely issued a press note on January 20 demanding strict legal action against union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya.
Terming the suicide horrible and shameful, Mayawati said, “Owing to harassment by the union ministers and the university administration, Vemula committed suicide.” She demanded legal action against Hyderabad Central University vice chancellor Appa Rao as well.
She also sent a fact-finding team led by Rajya Sabha MP Vir Singh to Hyderabad. The team submitted its report to Mayawati, but the BSP has not made its contents public.
Dalit ideologue SR Darapuri says political compulsions have forced Mayawati to maintain a distance from the Rohith case. “Mayawati is aware that dalit votes (alone) cannot bring her to power in 2017. She does not wish to annoy the upper and backward caste voters with a rigid stand on Vemula’s suicide,” he explains.
“If the 2017 election leads to a hung assembly, the BSP will not hesitate to joins hand with the BJP. The BSP has formed governments in alliance with the BJP thrice earlier. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, a large chunk of dalit voters deserted the BSP and the party failed to win a single seat. Mayawati is reworking the social engineering formula (dalit-brahmin combination). An open stand on the Vemula suicide will upset her applecart,” Darapuri says.
But rebel BSP leader and former minister Daddu Prasad feels, “Senior BSP leaders are misguiding Mayawati on the Vemula suicide. The issue came on a platter for the BSP that was routed in the 2012 assembly and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Mayawati would have gained lost ground by launching a countrywide agitation to become the rallying point of dalit anger. Acting on the advice of senior leaders, she has preferred to ignore the issue. It will hurt the BSP in the coming election.”
Defending the party chief, a senior BSP leader says, “Mayawati has directed the party workers to raise the Rohith Vemula suicide issue and the increasing atrocities on dalits from public platforms. The BSP will also raise the issue in the budget session of the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly starting from January 29.”