Founder and former mentor of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), late Dalit stalwart Kanshi Ram now gazes down from a wall in the BJP’s central office. And it’s not just him. Former deputy PM Babu Jagjivan Ram of the Congress and former president KR Narayanan are also in its pantheon of greats.
Sanjay Paswan, the newly appointed chief of the party’s scheduled caste morcha, has installed photographs of all three Dalit leaders in his office.
Ask him why he thought of honouring icons close to rival parties and he says candidly: “Those Kanshi Ram supporters who don’t like Mayawati and those Jagjivan Ram supporters who dislike Congress need a space, and the BJP would want to provide that. The BJP gets just about 15% of Dalit votes in the country, and there is scope for expansion.”
The BJP has had a history of appropriating figures that had no ideological linkage with it and were at times even opposed to it. From Mahatma Gandhi to Bhagat Singh to Vivekananda and BR Ambedkar, the party has tried to piggyback onto the legacies of many.
In the latest instance, the party seems to have the 21% Dalit vote in Uttar Pradesh in mind to arrest its decline in UP, which is crucial to its attempts to return to power.
Paswan adds that he is even trying to rope in members of Kanshi Ram’s family, though he refused to give details. “They are all Dalit icons, though Dr Ambedkar is the greatest among them. We need inspiration from our icons,” he says. He has good things to say about them all: Narayanan was a scholar, Jagjivan Ram never lost an election, and Kanshi Ram talked about the economic empowerment of Dalits.