The January 1 incident at Bhima Koregaon village in Pune district of Maharashtra and the subsequent developments in that state and elsewhere in India have once again exposed the absence of pan-India Dalit leaders.
It is true the recently elected Independent MLA from Gujarat, Jignesh Mevani, and old war-horse Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Bhim Rao Ambedkar, did take lead and succeeded in highlighting as to what actually happened on this date exactly 200 years ago. But the established Dalit leaders such as Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan and four times UP Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati were not very critical of the attacks on Dalits by the Marathas.
The problem with the Dalits is that they could not have any all-India leader after BR Ambedkar. The Republican Party of India and Dalit Panthers were largely confined to one or two states.
The only exception could be late Kanshi Ram who, though from Punjab, managed to make his outfit, the Bahujan Samaj Party, a sort of a north Indian party. It came to power for the first time in Uttar Pradesh more than two decades back.
But Ram was not keen to become the Chief Minister of UP. He left this job for his protégé Mayawati, who incidentally was from Delhi.
After Kanshi Ram’s death, the BSP became a sort of UP-based regional party and Mayawati was least interested in making it an all-India, or even a north Indian party. The BSP, which used to win some seats in Bihar, has now no say in this state. In her own state, Delhi, she did nothing to expand the base of BSP. In Kanshi Ram’s home state of Punjab, where Dalits form 32 per cent of the population, the BSP has virtually been wiped out.
So if Ram Vilas Paswan’s objective is to remain confined in Bihar politics and join hands with any party which is emerging powerful, Mayawati is not at all interested in emerging as the champion of Dalit movements all over the country.
She would issue one or two statements and that is all. She is yet to visit the affected Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra.
The problem with the old Dalit leaders is not just that they want to remain confined to their respective states. In fact they have got reduced to being leaders of their own sub-caste.
For example, there are 21.3 per cent Dalit population in UP. Two-thirds of them are Jatavs, to which Mayawati belongs. If the last year Assembly election or 2014 Lok Sabha polls are any indicators, the Bharatiya Janata Party walked away with a large section of non-Jatav voters. This was one reason for the marginalisation of Mayawati.
In Bihar, Paswan is just the leader of his own sub-caste Dussadh, who form less than four per cent of the state’s population. The numerically strongest––otherwise socially and economically weakest––Musahar sub-caste had till recently no leaders. But of late former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has emerged as a sort of leader of this sub-caste.
So if a Yadav leader of UP, for example Mulayam Singh Yadav has no say in Bihar, and Lalu Prasad has failed to make any impact on UP politics, Dalit politics too have no all-India leader.
The emergence of Mevani and Chandrashekar Azad in Saharanpur in UP has alerted the established Dalit leaders, especially Mayawati, who perhaps over-rated herself politically and refused to join hands with any like-minded party. This happened even in the recently concluded Gujarat poll in which the BSP contested only to walk away with some Dalit votes.
Mevani incidentally comes from Gujarat where Dalits are just seven per cent of the state’s population. He has succeeded in carving out his place in neighbouring Maharashtra where Dalits have a strong presence and which is the home state of the architect of the Indian Constitution, BR Ambedkar.