his would be the 17th Lok Sabha, but almost all Dalit leaders like Udit Raj, Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale to Sunil Baliram Gaikwad were denied tickets. The biggest question is that, who will voice the concerns of Dalits in India if their leaders are sidelined or we can translate it as “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”, the BJP messaging has proven to be a reality on the ground for the vast majority of Indians with the ‘Dalits’ being no exception. Dalits alike previously will choose an honest, corruption-free, and action-oriented government. A massive Dalit upsurge after incidents like the flogging of Dalit youths in Una, Gujarat, Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad University, or the Thakur-Dalit clashes in Saharanpur in UP have also pointed to the limits of the BJP’s Dalit love. In the 2014 polls, BJP got nearly a quarter of the total Dalit votes, something that the Congress used to get in the past. The BJP made inroads into the Dalit vote base of both Congress and BSP.
India’s Constitution, which is authored by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was a Dalit — outlaws caste discrimination, yet prejudice remains rife in everyday life. Dalits are often denied their basic rights such as attending regular schools, accessing public water supplies, and staging marriage processions. Even after death, they do not have special provision for cremations; they have to go to Hindu crematory, where dead bodies are cremated by the status. If we look into history, when Ambedkar passed away, he was denied cremation in Chandanwadi crematorium, later on, it was decided that the cremation would take place in Dadar Chowpatty, which is now known as Chaitya Bhoomi. Ambedkar was cremated there after his death on December 6, 1956. Chaitya Bhoomi is a revered place of pilgrimage for all the Ambedkarites and Buddhists in the world. After his death, many Dalit leaders emerged as guards of their community and many of them stayed out of politics and served the community; however, in the recent past, Dalit politics has changed to the slavery of mainstream political parties.
Since then, challenging the caste system and embracing their identity, Dalits have increasingly taken to the streets to demand better treatment, driven by rising education levels, greater entrepreneurship and a growing awareness of their political clout. Young Dalits are showing their power like never before, even wearing Tshirts that read “It’s a Dalit thing, you won’t understand.”
Leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad, who cofounded a Dalit group called the Bhim Army in 2015 to provide free schooling for underprivileged children, have delivered fiery speeches against PM Modi but in reality, he could not deliver much for the community.
Dalits have at times resorted to violent demonstrations to press their point. In April last, they protested a Supreme Court ruling they saw as diluting stringent antidiscrimination provisions, leaving 11 people dead. In January 2018, they clashed with Hindu nationalists in the financial capital, Mumbai, blocking roads and rail lines and attacking buses. There is unquestionably a growing assertiveness among Dalits in India that is expected to gather strength in the years to come. The impact that Dalit anger will have on the 2019 outcome will depend on how effectively the opposition coordinates — which remains a big question mark — and to what extent PM Modi can create divisions within the Dalit community. In the key state of Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi also faces the challenge of a united opposition after the Bahujan Samaj Party formed a seat-sharing arrangement with the Samajwadi Party. Both oppose a second fiveyear term for the BJP.
BJP says it still retains Dalit support after the government launched programs that directly benefit them such as preferential loans. The decision to name Ram Nath Kovind, Dalit, as the President in 2017, shows the efforts by BJP to elevate oppressed groups. However, the amount of disrespect given to Kovind is annoying. There are many circulations on social media where PM is projected larger than the President of India. In the villages of Uttar Pradesh, discrimination against Dalits is still common. Jatav faced threats from upper caste residents when he announced his intention to ride into his bride’s village in 2017. After the local administration refused to help, Jatav appealed to the district magistrate, the head of police, the Chief Minister, and the High Court. The authorities finally allowed the procession to go ahead and deployed a huge police force for protection. After a long time, Dalits are now united and organised; they are fighting to bring social and political changes. The community has come to realise its power and the value of their rights. In UP, they comprise 21 per cent of the total population which means they can turn the fortunes of any party. In UP, there are 17 reserved seats for the Scheduled Caste community and all of them were won by the BJP in the 2014 polls. Ignoring them in 2019 is a big mistake of the ruling party. In the past, Dalits have remained with the Congress and the party has greatly benefitted from their support. However, the first shift came in 1984 when Kanshi Ram formed the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and weaned Dalits away from the Congress. The shift greatly impacted the prospect of the party and it lost power in the state in 1989.
The trouble for BJP with Dalits started soon after several leaders including Anant Hegde proposed changes in the basic structure of the Constitution. The dilution of the SC/ST Act followed by violence across the country only alienated the Dalit lawmakers from the party. One such MP Anshul Verma, from Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh who resigned in March, hints at the growing discontent among the party’s sitting Dalit lawmakers over their conduct in the last five years, which has resulted in defection to other parties.
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