‘Cur­rently, no party has con­trol over Dal­its … now they want self-respect and they are very touchy about this’

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation -

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.

cur­rent

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