Politics, they say, makes strange bed-fellows. So does discontent that has brought Dalits and Muslims together.
On Saturday, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM), run by Babasaheb Ambedkar's grandson Prakash Ambedkar, will jointly address the media at the Mahasangh office in south Mumbai.
Dissatisfaction over the Malegaon blasts probe, and the Khairlanji episode has triggered off a union that could give politicians some sleepless nights — especially with the civic elections fast approaching.
While both organisations insist that the main agenda is to express their disapproval of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the statement announcing the conference says it will also address Dalit and Muslim issues. "We are thinking of going together on a lot of issues," Aslam Ghazi, spokesperson for the Jamaat said. "We want to create a common platform to help address issues faced by all minorities."
Though he admitted that the two communities have "always been exploited", Prakash Ambedkar denied that Saturday's meeting had a political angle to it. "It is to jointly express our concern that the Indo-US nuclear deal means we will be selling our liberty," he stated.
However, the Jamaat seems keen on contesting elections in the future and sending feelers to political parties that the community should not be taken for granted. "We may think of doing something together for the corporation elections," Ghazi admitted, saying details of their plans will be announced soon.
Recent events in the state have brought the ever-simmering discord among Dalits and Muslims to the fore again. In September, a mosque in the communally sensitive Malegaon was bombed. In the same month, four members of a Dalit family were murdered in Khairlanji near Nagpur. Earlier in November, the desecration of a Babasaheb Ambedkar statue in Kanpur caused latent anger within the community to erupt. The Malegaon incident put the state on tenterhooks and the Khairlanji and Kanpur incidents saw Dalits take to the streets and indulge in large-scale rioting.
The coming together of the Jamaat and the BBM, barely a month before the civic elections, is sure to set alarm bells ringing. Muslims are Congress' crucial vote bank while Dalits are significant enough to tilt balances.
Formed in 1942, the Jamaat has nearly one lakh members and a larger number of sympathizers in the state. The Mahasangh also enjoys a following in select Dalit pockets in Mumbai but is strong in other parts of Maharashtra.
In the early 1990s, Ambedkar junior tried to gather people from backward classes, including non-Dalit backward classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, under one umbrella — his party. While the Mahasangh did well in the polls through 1990s, it fizzled out in the new millennium. This could be his attempt to revive the party.