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

The Economic Times - - Pure Pol­i­tics -

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

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