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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 38 New Delhi September 8, 2018

Which Party cares for Dalits Today?

Sunday 9 September 2018


by Ram Puniyani

Recently anti-Dalit atrocity laws were first diluted inserting the clause of anticipatory bail. Following this there were serious protests all over. In these protests, the anti-Dalit nature of the present ruling dispensation, the BJP-led NDA, was highlighted. Under the pressure of the protests, the government had to bring in a Bill to restore its previous provisions. The Lok Sabha on August 6, 2018 unanimously passed a Bill to reverse the effects of a Supreme Court order concerning certain safeguards against arrests under the the SC/ST law. The amended ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018’ now rules out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against people from SC or ST communities, as it stood before the revision. Ram Vilas Paswan, a part of the NDA, thanked the Prime Minster and also criticised the Congress on the occasion. To show that the Congress is anti-Dalit he raked up the elections in which the Congress had contested against Ambedkar. Ram Vilas Paswan’s own allegiance to the Ambedkar ideology is strongly under cloud, as he is allying and empowering the BJP, the party with the agenda of Hindu Rashtra, something which was an anathema for Ambedkar as he stood for social justice, secularism and democracy.

Paswan was well described as Mausam Vaigyanik (a scientist predicting the weather), who in order to remain in power always twists and turns and makes ideological compromises. His own ideology is that of hunger for power and his words in a way should not matter much except on the electoral chessboard. His projection of the electoral battle between Ambedkar and the Congress is a very selective presentation of the relationship between the Congress and Ambedkar. While he points this out, he forgets that Ambedkar was not a member of the Congress party at any time. Also that it is the same Congress party in whose government he was made a Cabinet Minister. He needs to be reminded that not only was he a Minister in the first Cabinet of India, he was also made the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, in which Babsaheb played a pivotal role. To cap this, it was he who was requested to draft the Hindu Code Bill, a major step to reform the family laws towards a gender-just society.

While the likes of Paswan, hankering after power, do mouth the name of Ambedkar, they deliberately forget that the major opponents of the Constitution drafted by him, the major opposition to the Hindu Code Bill came from the stable of the RSS, the parent organisation of the party, in whose alliance he is enjoying the perks of power. One can say that his ally, the BJP’s agenda of a Hindu Rashtra is a pole opposite to the dream of Babasaheb, the dream of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the dream of a secular democratic India. The RSS never hesitated in criticising the Indian Constitution, calling it Western; the BJP never severed its umbilical cord with the Hindu nationalist RSS. Lately from within the BJP itself, from top down, Hindu nationalism is being propagated and practised.

On the eve of the 2014 general elections Narendra Modi, the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, himself pronounced that he was born in a Hindu family; he is a nationalist, so he is a Hindu nationalist. Another Minister at the Centre, Anant Kumar Hegde, stated that the BJP is there to change the Indian Constitution and that the secular identity should not be used by the people. To cap it all, the UP Chief Minster, Yogi Adityanath, stated that secularism is the biggest lie of independent India. The BJP itself is very consciously walking the tight rope, balancing the phrases and actions as far as Dalits are concerned. On the one hand the power-lust of some Dalit leaders like Paswan, Udit Raj and Ramdas Athwaley are used to give a pro-Dalit veneer to the BJP’s actions; on the other hand the likes of Hegde and Yogi are forthright about their political agenda. It is also true that for the sake of electoral equations even the BJP has to pay obeisance to Ambedkar, despite having an agenda totally opposed to his political ideology.

At the ground level the impact of the BJP-NDA, of which the likes of Paswan are members, has affected Dalits in a very serious way. While by social engineering they are also trying to woo a section of Dalits through manufactured icons like Suhel Dev and Shabri Mata among others, they have unleashed policies which affect the Dalits in a very adverse way. The merciless beating of Dalits in Una, which Paswan dismissed as a minor event, the emotive issue of the Holy cow has affected the livelihood of the Dalits in a big way. We also remember that it is during this period that the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula and the anti-Dalit attack at Bhima Koregaon tormented the Dalit community no end. Even the Modi Government on its own did dilute the Anti-Dalit Atrocity Act, but once they saw a serious opposition to their move they were forced to retreat because of electoral calculations.

While the BJP pays tribute to Ambedkar on the one side, at the same time it presents Lord Ram as the central icon of its politics. What Ambedkar has said about Lord Ram in his various writings like Riddles of Hinduism is well known to us. For the BJP, what is important is to garland Babasaheb; it is of no consequence to them to take up the issues of social justice in any serious way. The attempt to selectively present the electoral battle of the Congress and Ambedkar is a deliberate ploy to undermine the efforts which the national movement and Mahatma Gandhi-Congress did to fight against untouchablity in particular. We have miles to go as far as Babasaheb’s dream is concerned, but one thing which Ambedkar pointed out was that a Hindu Raj will be a big tragedy for the Dalits of the country. It is too much to expect that the likes of Paswan will realise their folly of allying with the BJP-RSS whose very agenda is inherently anti-Dalit, as they are blinded by their lust for power!

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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