Will Dalits Continue to Stay with BJP or Move Back to BSP Fold?
With identity-based politics staging a comeback, the verdict is likely to assess the existence, or absence, of a pan-Indian Dalit political identity
further? Though Kanshi Ram and Mayawati consistently aimed to work with a larger social constituency – so-named Bahujan and thereafter enlarged to Sarvajan ensuring that political and administrative power devolved to Dalits in towns and villages remained the core of the BSP’s political purpose.
Because the BSP achieved little in 2012 and 2014, its performance is of greater import since the current set of polls is the first in many years preceded by selective targeting of Dalits. The party’s showing would indicate evidence, or is absence, of collective response across states and between diverse Dalit subcastes. This issue assumes importance because Dalit enthusiasm towards the BSP varies from state to state and shows no evidence in southern India. Dalit population in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka matches the national average while in Tamil Nadu, at19%, it is almost 3% higher. In north India, in contrast to its consistent presence in UP, the BSP failed to retain support in Punjab after initial promise. Dalits account for 29% of Punjab’s total population, the highest in India. Despite Kanshi Ram beginning his political journey from here, the BSP’s strength steeply declined over the years. Given the fractured nature of Dalit identity in Punjab and elsewhere, questions remain if Scheduled Castes comprise a political constituency or vote bank and correspondingly, if the BSP has a long-term future. In any case, parties find extremely difficult to pull out of a tailspin if it is not in government for several years. The BSP was voted out in UP in 2012 and in the event of a poor performance, getting back to winning ways will be tough.
Scheduled Castes are a constitutional category there is little basis for political unity among different sub-castes. The SC list is an expanding one too and when lower OBCs are added, it increases competition and animosity among sub-castes. Like others, the Sangh Parivar too recognised the need for social reform in Hindu society but for different reasons. Though never part of the RSS, VD Savarkar, whose defining text – ‘Hindutva, Who Is a Hindu’ inspired formation of RSS – led anti-untouchability movements while in internment. Balasaheb Deoras, Sarsanghchalak for crucial two decades from 1973 to 1994, argued caste barriers prevented Hindu consolidation and initiated several campaigns for social inclusion. Shilanyas for the Ram temple at Ayodhya in 1989 was symbolically conducted by a Dalit.
From the early 1990s, the BJP embarked on social engineering, a euphemism for accommodating non-dominant sub-castes among OBCs and Dalits. The strategy met with success but floundered when the party’s fortunes dipped.
The downward slide was reversed in 2014 and Narendra Modi’s raw appeal catalysed decision of these groups to conclude their aspirations could be met in the BJP bandwagon. This election will indicate if non-dominant OBC groups and most backward Dalits were transitory converts to the BJP’s Hindutva-based, pro-development discourse. If Dalit and OBC support continues, it would enable Modi to claim acceptance for his slogan — Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas — even among socially and economically deprived. Such developments would raise questions not just over BSP’s revival, but mark the moment of redefinition of Dalit politicisation. This would point to Mayawati’s inability to evolve political tactic with time.
Many incidents have been deemed adequate reasons for Dalit neo-converts to desert BJP