Banaras Hindu University professor MP Ahirwar recently turned down a foreign assignment after a “call of “conscience” to counter the BJP’s Dalit game plan in Uttar Pradesh.
Ahirwar is one of the many Dalit intellectuals alarmed by the BJP’s attempts to woo the “vulernable community” to get its caste calculations right ahead of 2017 elections in Uttar Pradesh, where Dalits account for 21% of the state’s population.
Looking to expand its support base, the BJP is reaching out to Dalits who have traditionally kept a distance from the party. The BJP has turned to “Buddhist monks” who are on a six-month Dhamma Yatra in the state to further its poll ambitions.
There are reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may address a gathering in Lucknow on October 14 when the yatra concludes.
Spread across the state, from the literary city of Allahabad to the Dalit capital Agra, teachers, poets and activists are on a mission: to save their community from falling into what they say is the BJP’s trap.
They say BJP and its divisive ideology pose a threat to Dalit icon BR Ambedkar’s dream of the schedule castes enjoying equality and prosperity in society.
The village push
Every Sunday, Ahriwar and a group of BHU students head for villages to expose the “dangerous designs” behind the recent incidents of Dalit violence in the country.
Their last visit was to Madhopur Kot village in Varanasi, Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency. The flogging of four Dalits in Gujarat’s Una for allegedly skinning a dead cow and the abusive remarks by now-expelled BJP leader Dayashankar Singh against Mayawati dominated the discussion.
“We will soon use projectors to show them clips of such incidents,” said Ahirwar, a professor of Indian culture.
Modi’s “shoot me and not Dalits” statement has failed to cut ice. They want concrete action in the Una case.
In the past, writers and poets wielded the pen to build support for Mayawati, the approach is more hands-on this time. They are out in the field and talking directly to voters. Villages are where they are most active.
Divided over Mayawati
While they all agree on taking on the BJP not all are convinced that four-time chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati is their best bet.
Though its ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has been for years talking about an end to social inequalities, the BJP is still seen as an upper-caste party, whose hotheads encourage discrimination.
In some villages Dalit women still have to take off shoes while passing through localities inhabited by the Brahmins or the Rajputs.
Their place in a Brahminical society is the biggest challenge facing them but the BJP-RSS’s attempts to make inroads a worry too.
Brajendra Kumar Gautam, who was recently appointed the general secretary of Allahabad–based Bhartiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi, has set up committees to keep Dalits united. He is in touch with the BSP rebels and is worried that a split in votes will hurt the community’s interests.
“Mayawati created awareness but weakened the movement by embracing Brahmins. We are trying to explain to the people why she took the support of the upper castes,” Gautam said.
Booklets such as Dalit discourse, Hindutva mein Hinsa (Violence in Hindutva) and Arakshan ka sach (The truth about reservation) have been printed to create awareness.
“They have used us till now. It’s time for us to use them,” is Gautam’s counter to Mayawati’s overtures to Brahmins.
He also quotes the BSP founder and Mayawati’s mentor Kanshi Ram to explain the party’s past dalliances with the BJP. “We have to use the BJP as a ladder to move forward. There is no harm as long as we are not compromising our ideology,” Kanshi Ram had said in 1997 when the BSP joined hands with the BJP to form the government.
Intellectuals in west and east Uttar Pradesh, which have a high concentration of Dalits, are targeting the BJP over reservation.
“Once we have told them the hard realities, I doubt they will even listen to Dalit BJP MPs. Even some youngsters, who joined shakhas, are being boycotted,” Ahirwar said.
Shakhas are daily meetings organised by the RSS.
The Allahabad Dalit Welfare Association president Rambrij Gautam is strengthening the Republican Party of India to offer an alternative to Mayawati.
“We have to create an alternative system as Mayawati is losing her hold on Dalits,” Gautam said.
While the ruling Samajwadi Party and the BJP were against Dalit ideology, the BSP, too, had failed them, writer and poet Kawal Bharti said. “We may prepare our community to support the Congress if it revives,” he said.
Nitin Gupta, along with 4,000 youth, runs Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat in Meerut. They will hit the streets on the Independence Day to expose “the BJP and its designs”.
Prof Kali Charan Snehi of Lucknow University says he keeps his students “informed”. “I don’t mention Mayawati’s name directly but tell them that someone from their own community will understand their issues better.”
They have to back Mayawati as there is no alternative, says Ahriwar.