Caste Division, Dalit Sensitivity Tricky Hurdles for BJP
Success and failure of Dalits will determine the chances of BJP regaining their trust and remaining part on the electoral combination
Rohit Vemula’s suicide were seen as part of the evolving narrative since governmentwasformedinMay2014. Fromtheoutset,aggressiveHindutva pursued by conservative Savarkarites and belligerent sections within BJP failed to ensure that their anti-minorityism was not simultaneously seen as expression of Upper Caste hegemony.
As a result, Dalits insecurity rose consistently through 2014 and 2015. Repeated calls for revisiting the reservations policy — right from the highest echelons — has not helped despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reaffirmation that the policy is not up for review.
MountinganxietyamongDalitshas come into sharper focus from JanuaryafterVemula’ssuicideandis being addressed by the government with well-publicised gambles. Their success or failure will determine the chancesof BJPregainingthetrustof Dalits and remaining part of its successful electoral combination.
The manner in which sections of government tackled the fallout of the Vemula tragedy has alienated large sections within Dalits. In the normal course, drawing Dalits into the Parivar’s fold was the task of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and non-BJP affiliates. The BJP merely followed up initiatives. But the incident in Hyderabad was triggered by rivalry in students’ politics and pulled the party — and later the government — into the lead role and inside an arena where navigation was already problematic. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad displayed undue belligerence after “their government” was formed and its leaders involved “elders” within BJP when the matter should have been tackled within the framework of students’ politics. The ministry too in its enthusiasm stepped in when it should have ideallystayedaway.Claimsof BJPleaders, including the HRD minister, that Vemula was not Dalit was particularly damaging.
Manyinthecommunityfeltthatthe BJP, not content with colluding to take a young life away, was now aiming to snatch the Dalit identity of the deceased scholar. If indignity while growing up was not enough, posthumous humiliation being heaped on a victim of caste discrimination.
Thisassumptioncanbequestioned, but it became the dominant perception among significant sections of this community.
Theconversionof Vemula’smother andbrothertoBuddhismaddedtothe widening schism between BJP and the SCs and is symbolic of the failure of the BJP’s Dalit policy. To overcome this setback, Modi at his well-publicised public meeting in Mhow declared that he owed his position to Dr BR Ambedkar. It was accompanied by a much wider “discovery of reveals, the primary struggle of the community has been for dignity and not to simply combat poverty.
Earning social respect is equally, if not more, important than ending hunger. Food is of little value if it cannot be eaten on the same table with Upper Castes. The RSS has championed social reform in Hindu society since its inception, but those who adhere to the caste system, risk the Parivar’sgrowthamongDalits.Caste division and Dalit sensitivity remain treacherous hurdles for the BJP.
While the BJP’s struggle to retain SCs in its fold is unlikely to end in success very soon, it is on relatively surer ground among non-Dalit students. The plank of ultranationalism, fabricated by the Sangh Parivar in the aftermath of events in JNU, has met with success among student groups and Hindu youth.
This is evident from the fact that the agitation did not spread to other campuses and the radical groups failed to secure support beyond what already existed.
Clearly, crackdown on radical groupshasnotgeneratednationwide resentmentagainstgovernment.Toa great extent, the Parivar has prevailed with its definition of patriotism and has forced a debate within its ideological paradigm.