‘Currently, no party has control over Dalits … now they want self-respect and they are very touchy about this’
Ram Vilas Paswan,
Issues relating to Dalits come up before every election. Has the nature of these issues changed over time?
Dalits can’t be sidelined or ignored in Indian politics by any outfit, thanks to Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and others who took the revolutionary step to give the political right of ‘one person, one vote’. Things have changed a lot in the past 70 years. Dalits are no more worried about untouchability, which was the most prominent issue for them before and after Independence. Now Dalits want self-respect and they are very touchy about this. Young boys from Dalit communities have gone for higher studies and have got jobs in important places.
Earlier they used to struggle to become peons, clerks or school teachers. Now they want to become officers and decision makers in administration. The old generation accepted insults, but the new generation wants quick action against those who insult Dalits. They are not ready to wait. I feel now Ambedkar has more followers.
But are political parties serious about addressing real issues?
All political parties are in competition to win Dalit votes now. But they are not fighting to protect the interest of Dalits or address their main concerns such as good education, jobs, shelter and their self-dignity. Political parties are only treating the symptoms. Why is no political party talking about only one section of the society cleaning sewer lines and many of them dying as well? Is this the job of only one caste? Forget others, even Dalit leaders such as BSP chief Mayawati did not stand by Dalits.
What do you think about the popular perception that Dalits are more concerned about reservation?
If you have problem in your eye, will you debate about it or will you go for treatment? There should be no debate over reservation since we have not yet got over the social and educational inequality in our society. Reservation is not a temporary provision in the Constitution and it’s also not for 10 or 15 years. The Constitution clearly says that reservation is a right for people who are socially and educationally backward. So, till the time there will be people who are socially and educationally backward, and people are discriminated against on caste lines, no one can do away with reservation.
Why should we have debate on reservation now that everyone has got it? The Mandal Commission extended reservation to Muslims and Christians. The economically weaker sections from upper castes have also got 10% reservation.
How do you look at the political role of Dalits in the future?
Things have changed a lot. Earlier people used to vote in a group and for a candidate who belonged to their caste. This does not work in urban areas and even in rural areas voters are now trying to find a reason to vote for someone else. People are weighing the winnability of the candidate and whether he/ she is getting good votes from other castes as well. Earlier, if one Dalit was attacked, it was never an issue beyond the boun
daries of a few neighbouring villages. Now even a small incident becomes a national issue. Now no issue can die down quickly.
How do you read the political situation?
Opposition is completely divided. Now everything is getting balanced out. All these years, politicians felt Article 370 cannot be scrapped. But we saw how political outfits like BSP and other socialist parties supported the decision citing some reason or the other. So far as the role of Dalits is concerned, I strongly feel that no political party can win elections by focussing only on Dalits. We saw how support base of Mayawati and Samajwadi Party got eroded. People are now increasingly reading through what politicians are doing only for politics. I strongly feel, parties that are all-inclusive will shine.
So, is BJP the most all-inclusive party?
At present, there are two major political parties at the national level – BJP and Congress. Congress has the blot of being a party that’s trying to win Muslim votes while Dalits have almost deserted it. Currently, no party has control over Dalits. They are voting for BJP for two reasons. If you take out RSS, today BJP has a bold leadership. Was it a small gesture when PM washed the feet of Dalits engaged as safai karmacharis? Any other political leader would have thought several times about the political impact of such an act. In the next five years we are going to witness how more Muslims will vote for Narendra Modi.