• The BJP and the Dalits

    The Citizen Editorial

    April 25, 2018

    The Bharatiya Janata Party is worried about the electoral repercussions of the Dalit alienation, but has clearly unleashed forces that —under impunity—have acquired a volition of their own.

    The body of a young 19 year old Dalit girl Pooja Sakat, was recovered from a well just yesterday but despite the immediate ‘land dispute’ cover up it became known almost immediately that she was a key witness to the Bhima Koregaon violence in which the properties of Dalits had been set ablaze by marauding mobs. She was witness to the arson and the violence and according to her family has since been under intense pressure to withdraw her statement.

    Pooja Sakat had gone missing on friday and her body was recovered in the well on sunday morning. This was close to a rehabilitation centre for the victims of the Bhima Koregaon violence. The police claim there are no injury marks, and initially insisted it is a case of suicide. Subsequently two persons have been arrested, as news of the incident spread like wildfire through Pune with the perception that the girl had been killed gaining ground.

    Sakat’s house had been gutted as well and since then she and her family had been trying to get compensation from the Maharashtra government. The violence took place on January 1 and subsequently, after considerable pressure, a right wing leader Milind Ekbote was arrested for instigating and engineering the violence.Ekbote was arrested mid March from his residence in Pune, over two and a half months after the violence. He was founder and president of Samasta Hindu Aghadi. He was granted bail in one case soon after the arrest, and has been given bail in the second case just a few days ago.

    Sakat’s brother is quoted in sections of the media as saying that she was either pushed into the well, or forced to jump in by those. Dalit activists have not hesitated to call it murder with the BJP again pushed onto the back foot despite a conscious effort to change track, and ‘reach out’ to the Dalits before the Assembly and general elections. That the gap between the two seems to have reached breaking point was evident from the response to a virtually anonymous WhatsApp message that had Dalit organisations across India coming out to support the call for a mahabandh. That this provoked violence in BJP ruled states further added to the distance between the two, with the central leadership openly worried about the growing anger in this large segment of the population.

    More worrying for the BJP is the growing resistance within the Dalits against being divided on sub sect lines within. The ‘Bihar strategy’ by BJP president Amit Shah to drive a wedge between the Jatavs and the other Dalits had succeeded to a point where UP provided the encore, but the increasing atrocities against the scheduled castes, the vandalisation of statues of BR Ambedkar, the violence against Dalits during the mahabandh and before that the Bhima Koregaon attack has created a fissure in what the BJP had started taking as a ‘for granted’ relationship. The arrest of Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar and the crackdown on the organisation in Uttar Pradesh has fed into the alienation, with the Dalits consolidating against the BJP. The pressure is being felt by the Dalit allies of the BJP with feeble efforts by Ministers like Ram Vilas Paswan to list a number of ‘grievances’ that the government responded to with a positive assurance of action.

    More upsetting for the BJP is the growing affinity between Dalits and Muslims in different parts of the country, including PM Modi’s home state Gujarat. Efforts to divide the two as in Saharanpur through an attempt to engineer violence have been stopped by Dalit efforts at different levels. For instance in Saharanpur, UP where Chandrashekhar played a key role in keeping the two communities together and has been arrested since. As well as in Gujarat where Jignesh Mevani before his election to the state Assembly, had worked hard to bring the two communities together against shared atrocities such as Una and lynchings by cow mobs in the north Indian states.

    The Muslims finding themselves on the other end of the stick have for the first time built fences with the Dalits who, although without a centralised leadership, are not prepared to face the music any longer. And have been coming out from the impoverished homes to resist state violence, and injustice. The numbers have grown steadily with the mahabandh call actually demonstrating the strange unity within the most discriminated caste of India when it comes to rights, equality, security and justice.

    The BJP by its sheer upper caste nature has placed itself in the adversarial slot, even though when it came to power it did try to reach out with RSS functionaries specially targeting sections of the Dalits for support. As in Bihar where the party wooed Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi to help divide the community. But Manjhi too has turned now, and walked out of the BJP fold. As an activist with the Bhim Army told The Citizen, “pressure from within is such now that for a Dalit to say he or she is with the BJP is becoming increasingly impossible.”

    The BJP thus is back to garlanding Ambedkar statues, even as it keeps Chandrashekhar—a potential dynamo—in jail. And works to keep the Dalits divided counting on the absence of unity between the hundreds of Dalit organisations, and a cohesive agenda and coordination without which a movement can be built temporarily perhaps, but cannot survive.


     

    First published in The Citizen.

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