New Dalit icons emerging in Uttar Pradesh as BJP tightens its reins

The saffron party is trying to strengthen its hold over backward communities and is planning statues of its icons in memorials built during the BSP regime. This has, however, drawn the ire of the blue brigade.
BJP president Amit Shah unveils the statue of Dalit king Raja Suheldev on February 24 this year.(Amit Shah’s official website)
BJP president Amit Shah unveils the statue of Dalit king Raja Suheldev on February 24 this year.(Amit Shah’s official website)
Updated on Jun 13, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Lucknow | By

Change is the only constant and politics is no exception. With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP ) taking over the reins in Uttar Pradesh, new icons of Dalit and backward castes have gained prominence.

Raja Suheldev, Rani Jhalkari Bai, and Lakhan Pasi have replaced Dr BR Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, Ramabai, Jyotiba Phule and Shahuji Maharaj – the icons appropriated by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The idols of the Samajwadi Party (SP) – Ram Manohar Lohia and Janeshwar Mishra – have also relegated to the background.

The BJP government has not only decided to install the statues of new icons at public places but will also include chapters on them in school textbooks under the new education policy.

Recently, chief minister Yogi Adityanath said, “The role of Suheldev and Jhalkari Bai has been deliberately ignored by historians who have distorted history. The BJP government will include chapters on these icons in school syllabus so that students draw inspiration from them.”

He also announced the construction of a Surya Temple at Balaar in Bahraich that was razed by Muslim invader Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud.

The announcement by backward class welfare minister Om Prakash Rajbhar that the statues of Raja Suheldev would be installed at the memorials constructed in Lucknow during the BSP rule has put the BJP at loggerheads with the blue brigade.

The BSP has decided to oppose the installation of statues at Dalit memorials.

A delegation of BSP leaders, led by national general secretary SC Mishra, met the CM on Wednesday to register protest over the installation of statues of the backward caste icons at the memorials of Dr BR Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. “Instead of encroaching on Dalit memorials, the BJP should construct separate memorials for backward class icons whom they are promoting,” he said.

Senior BSP leader Lalji Verma said, “BSP respects Raja Suheldev and Rani Jhalkari Bai but will oppose encroachment on its memorials. Even the Supreme Court has, in its order, banned construction activities at memorials.”

Talking to HT, national president of Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) Om Prakash Rajbhar said no one could overlook the contribution of Raja Suheldev or Rani Jhalkari Bai.

“They worked for the unity and welfare of the Hindus. A section of historians deliberately tried to erase their names from the annals of history. The BJP government has decided to restore their dignity and place in history,” he said.

“Backward caste icons like Suheldev and Jhalkari Bai and Muslim faces like Ashfaqullah Khan, Abdul Hameed and APJ Abdul Kalam are respected by one and all. It is up to us if we want to associate ourselves with them or Alauddin Khilji, Mahmud Ghazni, Mohammed Ghauri, Salar Masud, Babur and Aurangzeb,” said Yogi Adityanath.

Why is BJP promoting new Backward and Dalit icons?

Prof CB Gupta, a faculty at the department of medieval and modern history, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya University, Gorakhpur, said the BJP was trying to make inroads into the backward and Dalit communities.

“To win the support of deprived communities, the BJP will have to give a dignified place to their icons. Dalits and backward communities played a crucial role in the landslide victory of the BJP in the assembly election,” he pointed out.

“Along with upper caste icons like Maharana Pratap and Shivaji, the saffron brigade has been promoting its ideologues. In changing political equations where there is an upsurge in the marginalised community for share in political power, the BJP is promoting their icons to strengthen its hold over these communities,” Prof Gupta said.

He said there was no documentation of the role of Raja Suheldev, Rani Jhalkari Bai or Lakhan Pasi in historical records. “We get evidence of their heroic acts from folklores. To get the support of backward castes, the BJP will have to promote their icons,” he said.

Former head of sociology department at Lucknow University Rajesh Kumar Mishra said Indian politics revolved around charismatic personalities. “Icons are embedded as per the perception and belief of the communities. All political parties try to woo communities by highlighting the role of their icons,” he said.

“After coming to power, the BJP has slowed down on Hindutva and is working on the agenda of nationalism. It suits their politics of dividing the Dalit and backward communities which were considered to be the support base of the BSP and the SP. The new strategy of the saffron brigade has nothing to do with religion as Dalits and backward communities are being united on the agenda of nationalism,” Mishra said.

He added the BJP was increasing its influence among the communities that were not its traditional support base.

Sanjay Singh, a political observer said under the Kalyan Singh government (1997-99) new backward and Dalit icons like Raja Bijli Pasi, Uda Devi and Avanti Bai were promoted to win the support of Dalits and backwards.

“The statues of these leaders were installed at various crossings in Lucknow and other cities. It helped the BJP in making inroads into the Pasi community settled in central UP,” he said.

After its victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP started working on new icons. The picture of 11th century king Raja Suheldev was installed at the party’s newly-renovated state unit office in Lucknow.

Before the assembly elections, BJP national president Amit Shah unveiled a statue of Raja Suheldev and launched a book at a programme organised in Bahraich. Terming Suheldev a national hero, he said people who did not remember their brave ancestors could not make history.

Other marginalised communities like Musahars, Tharus and Vantongiyas are also on the priority list of the chief minister. After launching an immunisation drive at a Musahar dominated village in Kushinagar on May 25, the CM visited a Tharu village in Balrampur district on Sunday.

Earlier, he launched welfare schemes in Vantongiyas village in Maharajganj.

“The urban communities and upper castes settled in rural areas constitute the traditional support base of the BJP. Yogi Adityanath is trying to broaden the support by bringing those communities into the mainstream that were considered to be untouchable,” Singh said.


    Rajesh Kumar Singh is a special correspondent at HT Lucknow. He covers State Home Department, State Police, Central police agencies,BSP, Health Department, UP Chief Electoral Officer, Irrigation Department, Mining and, Lokayukta.

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