BJP’s lip service on Ambedkar Jayanti won’t soothe Dalit anger

The BJP’s elaborate plans to woo upset Dalits with a countrywide carnival of free food on Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14 have been thrown out of gear. A free feast is no substitute for justice

Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times
Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times
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Raman Swamy

The Dalit uprising on April 2 came as a bolt from the blue for the BJP and its parent RSS. They had not expected the Bharat Bandh call by Dalit organisations to escalate into the kind of high-impact protest that it did. In the aftermath, the party doesn’t quite know whether its plans to celebrate Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary with extravagant state-sponsored fanfare would go down well with the Scheduled Caste community, which is brimming over with resentment and revolutionary passion.

Sangh insiders are still in a state of shock. Doubts have arisen about whether, in the present vitiated atmosphere, it would be wise to go ahead with the Ambedkar Jayanthi festivities that had been planned on a mega-scale this year to garner Dalit support on the road to the 2019 elections. As of now, no coherent ideas have been formulated to retrieve the situation. Damage control attempts so far have been tentative and uncoordinated.

Some feeble efforts are being made by BJP to try get the Dalit agenda back on the rails. These have been in the form of stray statements blaming Opposition parties for infiltrating the Dalit movement and instigating violence. There have few takers for such propaganda, except among paid purveyors of fake news embedded in the media.

Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images
Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images
Members of Dalit community stage a protest during ‘Bharat Bandh’ call by Dalit organisations against the alleged dilution of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in New Delhi on April 2

But the downside is that such claims give unintended credit to parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress—supposedly spent forces and political discards as per BJP—as having enough clout and cunning to influence and manipulate thousands of Dalit protestors across states.

The fact that the biggest impact of the agitation was felt in BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, only dilutes the theory of outside provocation even further.

For instance, even if video footage, morphed or genuine, of a few BSP men allegedly seen in the vicinity of places where violence erupted is flashed on TV screens, it would only indicate that the BSP still has influence among Dalits. The top brass of the BJP would certainly not like to give the impression that BSP supremo Mayawati has regained her sway of the lower castes to such a degree that she could have masterminded an entire movement.

The same applies to other Opposition parties, including the Congress. The BJP has consistently claimed over the past four years that the Congress party is no longer politically relevant in the Hindi heartland. Blaming Rahul Gandhi for fanning the flames of Dalit anger would be tantamount to anointing him as the champion of the oppressed and repressed classes.

Some feeble efforts are being made by BJP to try get the Dalit agenda back on the rails. These have been in the form of stray statements blaming Opposition parties for infiltrating the Dalit movement and instigating violence. There have few takers for such propaganda, except among paid purveyors of fake news embedded in the media

The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah distress over the Dalit mutiny is, therefore, multi-layered. Not least is the growing feeling among district-level BJP politicians that RSS cadres are no longer putting their best foot forward to come to the aid of the party. That apart, the injection of a quasi-judicial dimension to the Dalit ferment has only confused and complicated matters even more.

The BJP’s media management apparatus has clearly been blind-sided by the sudden turn of events. It has been unable to respond to the rapid sequence of developments between March 20 (when the Supreme Court handed down a controversial and somewhat incomprehensible verdict on the SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act).

As one ruling party spokesperson candidly admitted ‘we can only say what we are told to say; in this episode we did not get any clear briefing’. The same explanation probably applies to the social media brigade—they were waiting for cues that never came and ended up parroting the old trolling techniques of castigating the Congress for the explosion of Dalit fury.

The ground reality is radically different. Even a cursory assessment suggests that the Bharat bandh was organised by a variety of Dalit groups, with no direct affiliation to any political party. The urban middle class elite might have been taken aback by the response it evoked—numerically, geographically and in terms of passion and ferocity. But the warning signals that serious unrest was brewing were visible much in advance.

Pent up frustration has periodically been bursting out ever since the ugly incident of flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat, the vicious crackdown on Dalits at Bhima-Koregaon, Maharashtra and the unending series of atrocities against Dalits in several states. Adding fuel to the fire was the growing realisation that the promises being made by ruling party leaders, right from the Prime Minister down, are false and humiliatingly insincere.

The inability of the BJP machinery and Sangh apparatus to cope with the crisis has left Prime Minister Modi with the onerous task of trying retrieve the situation single-handedly. He is doing it in the only way he knows, through oratory, claiming that no other government in history has done as much to honour the memory of Bhimrao Ambedkar as the BJP regime under his stewardship.This time, there have been few takers for this tall claim

Many analysts have pointed out that economic deprivation and social repression are at the root of the Dalit uprising and that political and electoral impulses, though important, are only secondary causes and motivations.

As is happening with greater frequency of late, the inability of the BJP machinery and Sangh apparatus to cope with the crisis quickly enough has left the Prime Minister with the onerous task of trying retrieve the situation single-handedly. Modi is doing it in the only way he knows how, through oratory. He has claimed that no other government in history has done as much to honour the memory of Bhimrao Ambedkar as the BJP regime under his stewardship.

This time, there have been few takers for this tall claim. Dalits are on the warpath because the youth want jobs and the elderly seek dignity. BJP’s pretence of deifying an icon does little to assuage hunger and pride. A free feast on Ambedkar Jayanthi Day is not a substitute for justice.

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