Dalit anger boils, BJP set to face a hard time

The Asian Age - - Edit - The writer is a pro­fes­sor and cur­rently di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for the Study of De­vel­op­ing So­ci­eties. The views ex­pressed are per­sonal. San­jay Kumar

The anger among dal­its against the BJP govern­ment at the Cen­tre, which is vis­i­ble from the na­tion­wide protests against the di­lu­tion of the Sched­uled Caste and Sched­ule Tribe ( Pre­ven­tion of Atroc­i­ties) Act 1989, may dam­age the BJP’s prospects in 2019. Not only are dal­its an­gry against the di­lu­tion of this law, they are also an­gry due to var­i­ous in­ci­dents of atroc­i­ties against dal­its in many parts of the coun­try and the govern­ment’s seem­ing in­abil­ity to han­dle it. Be­sides other fac­tors, a size­able chunk of sup­port from dal­its had helped the BJP get a ma­jor­ity in 2014. A shift among dal­its away from the BJP to­wards the Congress, par­tic­u­larly in states with a size­able dalit pop­u­la­tion, may dampen the elec­toral prospects of the BJP and may help in a re­vival of the Congress, though the Congress may still be far from com­ing any­where close to de­feat­ing the BJP in 2019.

Dal­its are in size­able num­bers in var­i­ous states where the BJP did very well in the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions as well as in the Assem­bly polls held af­ter the Lok Sabha elec­tions. Dal­its con­sti­tute more than 20 per cent of the to­tal vot­ers in states like Haryana ( 20 per cent), Pun­jab ( 32 per cent), Tamil Nadu ( 20 per cent), Ut­tar Pradesh ( 021 per cent) and West Ben­gal ( 24 per cent). There are other states where dal­its are in size­able num­bers, which in­clude Andhra Pradesh ( 16 per cent), Bi­har ( 16 per cent), Kar­nataka ( 17 per cent), Mad­hya Pradesh ( 16 per cent), Odisha ( 17 per cent), Ra­jasthan ( 18 per cent) and Delhi ( 17 per cent). In most of these states, the BJP did very well ei­ther on its own or in al­liance with other par­ties. In Haryana it polled 35 per cent votes, in Pun­jab it per­formed very well along with al­liance part­ner Akali Dal, in Ut­tar Pradesh its vote­share was 42 per cent, in West Ben­gal it man­aged to get 17 per cent votes, in Bi­har its vote­share was 30 per cent, in Kar­nataka 43 per cent while it was 54 per cent in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan. In Delhi its vote­share was close to 50 per cent. The party couldn’t man­age to win a large num­ber of seats in Odisha, but it polled over 20 per cent votes.

While it’s true the BJP man­aged to in­crease its vote­share not only due to dalit sup­port for the party, one must also recog­nise that the mas­sive shift in dalit sup­port for the BJP in many states gave the party the de­ci­sive edge. The dal­its de­serted the Congress, for which they have been vot­ing a long time, and backed the BJP in 2014. Find­ings from stud­ies con­ducted by the Cen­tre for the Study of De­vel­op­ing Soc­i­ties over the past several Lok Sabha and Assem­bly elec­tions in­di­cates that the 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw a de­ci­sive shift in dalit votes to­wards the BJP, a trend which con­tin­ued even in the Assem­bly polls held soon af­ter­wards. While in all the Lok Sabha polls be­tween 1996 and 2009, na­tion­ally only about 10 per cent of dal­its voted for the BJP, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions, na­tion­ally 24 per cent of dal­its backed the BJP. The dalit vote for the Congress fell from 27 per cent in 2009 to only 19 per cent in 2014. In some states, the dalit sup­port for the BJP was much more than the av­er­age na­tion­wide sup­port. Of the to­tal dal­its in the re­spec­tive states, 70 per cent in As­sam, 28 per cent in Bi­har, 32 per cent in Gu­jarat, 20 per cent in Haryana, 43 per cent in MP, 21 per cent in Ma­ha­rash­tra, 47 per cent in Ra­jasthan, 23 per cent in Ut­tar Pradesh, 33 per cent in Delhi and 38 per cent in Jhark­hand voted for the BJP. Dalit sup­port for the BJP con­tin­ued even af­ter the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, as large num­bers voted for the BJP in size­able num­bers even in the Assem­bly elec­tions held af­ter the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. With dal­its vot­ing for the BJP in such large num­bers in the re­cent past, dalit anger against the govern­ment should be a cause of con­cern for the BJP.

It is im­por­tant to note the coun­try did not see the dal­its protest only re­cently on April 2 against the di­lu­tion of the SC/ ST Pre­ven­tion of Atroc­i­ties Act, there have been var­i­ous other protest in the past few years, a clear sign of deep dis­sat­is­fac­tion of dal­its with the BJP govern­ment. The Una killing in Gu­jarat last year and the sui­cide of Ro­hit Vem­ula at the Hy­der­abad Univer­sity cam­pus had also trig­gered na­tion­wide protests. There were protests in states like Kar­nataka, Ker­ala, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Ut­tar Pradesh. There are even re­ports

Ev­ery year the na­tion cel­e­brates April 14 as Ambed­kar Jayanti, and the govern­ment does par­tic­i­pate, but this year it ap­pears to have made an ex­tra ef­fort

about the po­lice be­ing vi­o­lent against those who took part in the April 2 protests. There have been in­stances of the van­dal­i­sa­tion of Dr B. R. Ambed­kar’s statue in var­i­ous ar­eas. All these in­ci­dents have cer­tainly an­gered dal­its and the govern­ment’s in­abil­ity to con­trol such in­ci­dents have made them feel un­happy with the BJP govern­ment. This could have im­pli­ca­tions re­gard­ing dalit sup­port for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions. A dalit shift away from the BJP will ad­versely af­fect its elec­toral prospects as there is hardly any group which seems to com­pen­sate for the loss of this dalit sup­port.

No won­der alarm bells are ring­ing loud for the BJP’s lead­er­ship. Sens­ing dalit anger against the di­lu­tion of the SC/ ST Act, the govern­ment was quick to file a re­view pe­ti­tion in the Supreme Court. With barely a year for the big na­tional elec­tion, the govern­ment is try­ing hard to send out sig­nals that it is sin­cere about the dalit cause. Ev­ery year the na­tion cel­e­brates April 14 as Ambed­kar Jayanti, and the govern­ment does par­tic­i­pate, but this year it ap­pears to have made an ex­tra ef­fort. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and var­i­ous Cen­tral min­is­ters took an ac­tive part in many of the cel­e­bra­tions to pay trib­ute to Dr Ambed­kar. Also, BJP MPs vis­ited dal­it­dom­i­nated ar­eas and gar­landed Dr Ambed­kar’s stat­ues amidst other pro­grammes. But do these ef­forts in­di­cate that the rul­ing party is re­ally con­cerned about the up­lift of dal­its, or are they just ges­tures on the eve of a ma­jor gen­eral elec­tion?

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