“Self-appointed guardians” threatened by his government’s commitment to Dalits are creating social tensions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, exhorting them not to inflict pain on wounds caused by “thousands of years of injustice”.
Modi, whose government is accused by the opposition of unleashing social terror, cautioned against giving a political colour to social problems while asking party hotheads to choose their words carefully.
Contesting accusations that his government was anti-Dalit, Modi said he was working for the development of the community.
“All those self-appointed guardians who were trying to create tensions in the country did not like this -- that Modi is with Dalits, that Modi devotes himself to tribals… Those who see this as an obstruction to their politics are the ones creating trouble,” he said.
Economic progress alone was not the solution, he said in an interview to CNN News18 that was broadcast on Friday.
“Peace, unity and harmony is essential for society. We don’t need unity to fight poverty alone… We need to be committed to social justice,” he said.
Warning against casteism, Modi said the BJP would fight the Uttar Pradesh elections on the issue of development alone.
“The poison of casteism and communal vote bank has caused enough damage.”
India’s most populous state, which is due for polls early next year, has voted regional parties for decades and the BJP wants to change that.
The party is looking beyond its traditional support base of upper castes and is wooing Dalits who account for 21% of the state’s population.
Modi counted the government celebrating Dalit icon BR Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary and the BJP’s sizeable presence among marginalised communities with many Dalit lawmakers as key indicators of his and his party’s attitude towards Dalits.
Data showed that communal violence and atrocities against Dalits and tribals had come down under his government, Modi said.
The government has come under increased pressure after some Dalit youth were flogged in public Una in his home state of Gujarat in July.
“Thousands of years of injustice” had kept the wounds open. “The slightest of damage will cause a lot of pain,” Modi said.
“Politics on social imbalances is disservice to society, to all those who faced injustice for generations.”
It was after 30 years that in the 2014 election people junked vote-bank politics and voted for a majority government. “An entire section of our society has made a shift. It is possible that the people of UP will do a similar thing,” he said.
The PM asked party leaders to watch against reckless statements, saying they were answerable to the nation.
“…all those living in public life, whether political or social workers, even if we are representing a particular community, for the benefit of the country’s unity, for the sake of bonhomie, we must be extra vigilant.”
Making a pitch for clubbing state and national elections, Modi said leaders across the political spectrum often spoke to him about it but government couldn’t take such a decision alone. All parties would have to agree to it.