New Delhi: At a time when BJP is aggressively wooing Dalits with an eye on the UP assembly polls, a former head of the party's Scheduled Castes Morcha has faulted its strategy, saying the organisation should go beyond "rhetoric" and the "tokenism of sitting, eating and meeting" with the community as what it wants is "parity not charity".
In an apparent criticism of party chief Amit Shah's much-publicised 'Kumbh Snan' with Dalit sadhus and sharing meal with the members of the community in UP, Sanjay Paswan, also a former union minister and currently a BJP National Executive member, called them a "myopic" exercise which "irritates" Dalits as issues like these were no longer relevant to them.
He also said the party should go beyond honouring Dalit icon B R Ambedkar and acknowledge contributions of his "progeny" like BSP founder Kanshi Ram and former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram if it wanted to increase its penetration among Dalits in politically crucial states like UP and Bihar.
"All sorts of rhetoric is going on. We will do this and that for Dalits. We will eat and bathe with them. It is no longer relevant. Issues like entering temple or eating together do not exercise the minds of people. It irritates them. It is myopic. People think Dalits will be happy with such tokenism or symbolism. it is not like that. The aspirations of the new generation of Dalits is different.
"We should go beyond 'sitting, eating, meeting' gesture. Dalits are not merely a vote bank but also thought bank. There should be talk about parity and not charity," he told PTI without naming Shah.
Pitching for the party to include Kanshi Ram in the pantheon of leaders it has adopted from outside its fold, he hailed the "integrationist approach" of BSP founder, who unlike Ambedkar, he pointed out, did not leave Hinduism while fighting for the rights of the SCs.
Paswan noted that even Sardar Patel was not "ours" and had even banned the RSS but has been now appropriated by the party.
"If you do not want to own Kanshi Ram, at least do not disown him. Make at least a passing reference to his works, his speeches," he said.
He recalled that he had put up a photograph of Kanshi Ram in the BJP office when he headed its SC Morcha but it was removed after he was replaced with another leader in the organisational reshuffle in 2014 when Shah took over.
Jagjivan Ram, Kashiram and former President K R Narayanan are held in high esteem by the disadvantaged community, he said.
Over 50 per cent of Dalits had voted for Narendra Modi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, claiming that the party lacked leaders to win them over to its side in state polls and the community remained behind BSP chief Mayawati in large numbers in UP.
BJP can counter it by projecting a Dalit leader in a big way in the state which is going to the polls early next year, the leader from Bihar said.