When the elections to the first Lok Sabha were held in 1951-52, there was no Dalit politics. There was not much awareness about the importance of voting among the Dalits and tribals even though BR Ambedkar was alive. In fact, even Ambedkar lost that election. In the course of time awareness increased, giving rise to Dalit politics. In Maharashtra, the Republican Party of India came into existence but it had limited success.
In the 1960s, the alliance between the Dalits and Muslims won them partial success in western Uttar Pradesh. In 1993, the SP-BSP coalition tasted electoral success. Then the BSP tried to rope in non-Dalit voters, presuming that the Dalits will vote for them in any case and this combination would get maximum seats in Uttar Pradesh. The Dalit-upper caste alliance was successful in 2007 but failed in this poll. Today the bigger question is whether the Dalits can be brought into the mainstream via their own votes, and if they don’t do that can they expect pro-Dalit policies.
The political polarisation that took place under Narendra Modi not only affected Dalit politics but also influenced regional parties. It became clear that without joining a mainstream party and ensuring our share in governance we cannot bring development and prosperity for Dalits, tribals and the poor. Initially, my colleagues were surprised when I suggested joining the BJP but I convinced them. This exercise was going on from October 2013 and it is a matter of great satisfaction that the efforts of my supporters during the elections have paid off and the Dalits have given massive support to the BJP. This support should not be taken lightly because it is based on hope and confidence: The Dalits are no longer comfortable with hollow slogans of dignity and pride and want promises fulfilled. BSP chief Mayawati became a symbol of Dalit politics but could not deliver. The Dalits were disappointed that whatever facilities they were getting in the form of reservation were also slipping out of their hands. Due to the new economic order, new avenues of employment and participation are being created but Dalits and tribals are not reaping any benefit.
Both the BJP and the Congress felt that the Dalits and tribals were drifting towards Dalit and regional parties and because of this, their interest in this segment was also decreasing. This time, the BJP got a big chunk of Dalit votes because the Dalits believe that the party will deliver. The BSP got 19.6% votes in Uttar Pradesh in the general elections where the total Dalit population is 22%. Earlier in May, Mayawati said that her votebank was intact. This is not correct: She gives tickets only to those who can get personal or caste votes. So where did those votes go?
Here is the truth: This time, a big chunk of Dalit votes has gone to the BJP. By misleading the Dalits, Mayawati was trying to keep her votebank intact. The way Modi assured the Dalits and the poor that their expectations would be met means that his government will ensure them a share in governance and this will ensure more Dalit support for the BJP in the long run. The BJP is no more a party of the upper castes only: The way it supported me made a great impact on the Dalits and they now know that if they join hands with the BJP, the party will give them respect and honour.
The gap between the Dalits and upper castes is reducing and things will improve further. It is obvious that a party whose goal is a strong India will ensure that all sections get respect and a share in governance. The BJP stands to gain from giving a fair representation to the Dalits as it can widen its support base. Thus the Dalits of Varanasi are a divided lot like Hori and Dhaniya of Premchand. But most of them are only looking for relief from their daily grind, whether it is from the BSP or the Congress.
Udit Raj is a BJP MPThe views expressed by the author are personal