A sense of unease is palpable within the BJP following the suicide by Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad and the related controversy which, it fears, could be detrimental to its outreach programme for the Scheduled Castes.
Also coming ahead of assembly election in four states, BJP leaders suspect a link between these polls and an effort to trigger the “intolerance” debate again. Incidentally, noted poet Ashok Vajpeyi had announced on Tuesday his decision to return the D. Litt. awarded to him by the university.
Scheduled Castes are crucial in poll-bound West Bengal (23.5%) and Tamil Nadu (20%) which will face election along with Assam and Kerala, where this section accounts for less than 10% of the total population.
“This intolerance debate is created every time there is an election. When Delhi went to polls, we were falsely blamed for the attack on churches. During Bihar, an award wapsi campaign started over the Dadri incident that had no relation with us. Everything turns normal once elections are over,” BJP secretary Shrikant Sharma said.
However, some leaders within the BJP sounded the warning bells.
Former Union minister and party leader Sanjay Paswan tweeted on Tuesday that “the stakeholders of power politics must take serious note of rohit vemula episode or be ready to face wrath, revenge, revolt, reactions (sic)”. Some other BJP leaders shared similar views but did not wanted to be identified for this story.
Party seniors are worried about the impact the controversy may have on the BJP’s Dalit-wooing exercise, something that holds a lot of significance in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand that go to polls next year.
The BJP competes with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress in these states and its rivals too depend largely on the Dalit votes for coming to power.
Scheduled Castes account for 31.9% of Punjab’s total population, followed by 20.7% in Uttar Pradesh and 18.8% in Uttarakhand.
Human resource development minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday tried to dismiss notions that the University of Hyderabad incident was a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue, but a BJP leader admitted that such controversies provide “oxygen” to opposition parties such as the Congress and the BSP, which got disseminated in these states.
“We need to counter their propaganda of making this issue spill outside the boundaries of the University of Hyderabad. Smriti Irani tried to do that by countering the opposition propaganda through facts,” the BJP leader said.
Rohith Vemula had ended his life on January 17 after the University of Hyderabad — allegedly prodded by Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya — initiated disciplinary action against him and a few colleagues for their involvement in student politics.