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Presidential election: BJP’s strategy to divide Dalits receives boost

In UP polls, the BJP had gained immensely by drawing a wedge between non-Jatavs and the dominant Jatav sub-caste aligned with the BSP.

opinion Updated: Jun 27, 2017 12:37 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Presidential election,Presidential polls,Ram Nath Kovind
NDA’s presidential candidate Ramnath Kovind and his wife with family members of Atal Bihari Vajpayee after meeting the former prime minister in New Delhi.(PTI Photo)

Has the Opposition walked into the BJP trap by fielding former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar against Ram Nath Kovind? Their presidential candidate is a Jatav and the NDA’s a non-Jatav Dalit.

In the recent assembly polls in UP, the saffron party had gained immensely by drawing a wedge between non-Jatavs and the dominant Jatav sub-caste aligned with the Bahujan Samaj Party. The other OBCs and most backward communities were similarly mobilized against the Yadavs broadly committed to the Samajwadi Party.

The nuclear (caste) families emerging from these fragmentations and cross-bonded by Hindutva bolstered the BJP’s social base. The benefits of it were obvious in the party’s landslide victory.

By the same logic, Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) breaking ranks with the Opposition — citing Kovind’s stint as Bihar Governor for its support— is just a ruse. What’s guiding Kumar is his Mahadalit politics that has paid him rich electoral dividends in the State. He can ignore Meira’s ‘daughter of the soil’ claim without political damage as the Jatavs aren’t a dominant native identity.

What gave Kovind’s candidature an extra-edge in the BJP’s scheme was the Koli community’s substantial presence in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In addition to getting the recalcitrant Shiv Sena on board, his projection as the first Uttar Pradesh-born President effectively promotes the party’s socio-electoral goals in these states that are under its rule.

Of the three, the Kolis are a good 20% in Gujarat that goes to polls by the year end. The fact that Kovind headed the Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj could give the BJP a good talking-point to woo his caste categorized as OBC in the State. To offset possible losses from the Patel rebellion, such social alliances are crucial for the party in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home province.

Also known as Koris, the Kolis are a community of weavers found in bigger concentration along the coasts in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. But pan-India, they count lesser than other non-Jatav Dalit subgroups of Pasis, Valmikis, Khatiks and Dhobis.

By virtue of their ascribed vocation, explained Dalit writer Chandrabhan Prasad, the Kolis aren’t “despised or hated” the way other Dalit sub-castes are. “Shaking hands with them isn’t a problem for higher castes,” he said.

Explaining the Shiv Sena’s stand, an insider said the party waited for nearly 72 hours for the Opposition to name their choice. But they allowed themselves to be upstaged by failing to first force a choice on the BJP.

The author tweets as @vinodsharmaview

First Published: Jun 23, 2017 07:34 IST