Lucknow: Empowerment is alright. It addresses the age-old issue of social discrimination and brings Dalits on the same platform as other castes, at least politically. But what next? The Dalit movement is grappling with the question now.
With the primary goal more or less achieved, has the movement reached the dead end? Many Dalit experts believe so. Under Mayawati, it has gradually transformed itself into a political movement from a social one. It has shifted to a new orbit with which the original supporters of Kanshiram find difficult to connect to. They are not comfortable with the BSP embracing the sarvajan plank aggressively at the cost of Dalit interests.
"Not many of her Dalit supporters are with Mayawati now. The Yatavs (Chamars) have cornered most of the benefits for the Dalits. This has alienated other second rung groups such as Pasi, Dhobi, Khatik and Balmiki from the BSP. They are shifting either to the Congress or the BJP. Even among Yatavs, a section is looking beyond Mayawati,’’ says Uttkarsh Sinha, senior journalist and political analyst.
The younger generation of Dalits, better educated and with more exposure to the world than the preceding generation, finds BSP’s politics stifling. The memories of caste oppression are not strong in it neither does it find social discrimination as rampant as earlier, thanks to the decades old Dalit movement. The empowerment aspect taken care of, the youth want to move on make their free decisions. Their primary requirement now is jobs, opportunities and a better life.
The BSP under Mayawati has been spectacular in its lack of fresh ideas. Her progress from bahujan to sarvajan is a political necessity and her agenda is guided by personal motives. Otherwise she has added nothing to the social-political template prepared by her mentor Kanshiram, say political observers. The party’s agenda fails to meet the aspirations of the Dalit youth. They are bound to break free sooner rather than latter.
"Kanshiram had a think-tank to brainstorm complex issues. He himself was a master at social engineering. Mayawati has such no brain pool to guide her. Worse, she keeps herself aloof from the party’s senior leaders. A group of bureaucrats of the upper caste decide everything for her. This has not gone down well with her supporters on the ground. They feel cheated," Sinha says.
She has launched several welfare schemes for Dalits and other weaker sections of society. But the actual beneficiaries have been the more powerful groups within castes, who have siphoned off a huge amount of funds. There have been reports of several cases of corruption in the recruitment of sweepers and other recruitment drives too. The real power – and money — has shifted to a miniscule section among the Dalits. They are the Brahmins among Dalits enjoying the success of empowerment to the full.
Those left behind are turning restless. Political parties such as the Congress and the BJP have been quick to take note of it. It is no surprise that the Congress is targeting the ati-Dalits. Mayawati, blatantly partial to own Yatav community, has given no particular reason for these groups to be happy. This election, it is possible that her loyal vote bank will be under severe stress. The sense of alienation is very strong.
Her desperation to get onto the sarvajan platform is being noticed by the Dalit groups too. In 2007, she had aggressively courted the Brahmins. To curry favour with the Most Backward Classes, she had recommended to the Centre to include 16 MBC castes in the list of Schedule Castes. She has also recommended the case for reservation for the poor among the upper castes. Seen from a larger perspective these are not bad moves per se.
But Dalit watchers view this as survival tactic from the BSP chief than anything else. She had the grand ambition to become prime minister in 2009 – an aspiration fuelled by her coterie of yes men. From 2007 to 2009 she was busy making her popular platform wider, ignoring her core support group in the process. The result was, a large chunk of it, including from the Yatav caste, voted for the Congress.
She has made amends. But many Dalits are not convinced. She might face their fury this time.