Rohith Vemula’s death haunts BJP plan to increase social base

  • Kumar Uttam, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 20, 2016 14:46 IST
Students organisations in Nagpur take part in a candle march protest over the death of Rohit Vemula. (PTI)

A tweet by BJP leader and former union minister Sanjay Paswan warning of “wrath, revenge, revolt” unless serious note was taken of Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide, has resulted in a certain degree of unease within a party that’s trying to expand its social and electoral base in the country.

Party leaders are concerned that the nationwide outrage over the suicide as well as the decision of poet Ashok Vajpeyi to return his D Lit degree from Hyderabad University--the same institution that suspended Vemula--may seriously affect its electoral strategy.

Paswan, the former head of the BJP’s scheduled caste morcha, had 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)”. He may have been referring to the upcoming assembly polls in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, both states with sizeable scheduled caste populations, where the opposition is likely to use the present crisis for thwarting the BJP’s plans to woo Dalits.

Dalit student’s suicide: Cooped up at home, Dattatreya plots next move

Party seniors are also worried about the impact this incident 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 the polls next year. “Such controversies provide oxygen to our rivals, such as the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which compete with the BJP for scheduled caste votes in these areas. We need to counter their propaganda of making this issue spill outside the boundaries of Hyderabad University,” a BJP leader said.

Vemula, a second-year PhD student, had ended his life on January 17 after the university--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.

The controversy has also put BJP allies such as Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, which survives on Dalit support for its electoral existence, in a tight spot. In an attempt to soothe frayed tempers, Paswan has not only demanded a “high-level independent probe” into the matter but also sent his parliamentarian brother Ramchandra Paswan to Hyderabad University on a fact-finding mission.

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Meanwhile, BJP leaders in Delhi accused Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi of politicising the issue, even as the party’s online supporters made hashtags such as #vultureRahul trend on Twitter. Spokespersons of the ruling party, for their part, took turns to defend Irani and Dattatreya on the matter.

However, despite all the firefighting, the BJP - which has been trying its best to woo the SC community through specific government programmes - finds itself in a very uneasy position. In Uttar Pradesh, where the NDA won 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats, the party has launched a Dalit outreach programme aimed at drawing influential caste leaders out of the BSP’s fold. It also faces an aggressive Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab, which has a high scheduled caste population.

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