By Badri Narayan
Ram Prasad Singh, a Jatav youth of Saharanpur and an advocate in the district court, voted for the BJP in the 2014 Parliamentary elections. He was always a BSP supporter but he changed his preference this time because he sincerely believed that under Narendra Modi’s leadership, the BJP government would work for the growth and development of Uttar Pradesh and the entire nation, and that there would be many job opportunities for youth like him. He is a disappointed man now. He feels the BJP government has failed to fulfill his aspirations. He is determined to cast his vote in favour of the BSP in the coming 2017 UP Assembly elections.
His other complaint is that it was due to the BJP and the ABVP politics that an able Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula, of Hyderabad Central University committed suicide. Rohith, a PhD scholar, was found hanging in a university hostel room. He was among the five research scholars who were suspended by Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in August last year and also one of the accused in the case of assault on a student leader.
Ram Prasad Singh feels the BJP is actually an anti-Dalit party. It does not seem to be in favour of Dalits and is not working for their benefit. This is one of the many reasons why he would vote for the BSP.
Varanasi is considered to be the capital of eastern Uttar Pradesh and the political turmoil in eastern Uttar Pradesh is very well visible here. OP Bharti, a Dalit assistant professor of BHU, had cast his vote in favour of Narendra Modi in the 2014 Parliamentary elections because he also felt that Modi would work for the uplift of the Dalits. He did not have any faith in the BJP but he had full confidence in Modi. But he too is disheartened by the Vemula incident.
He feels now that the BJP can never become a supporter of Dalits.
Both these interviews are representative in nature. While doing field work in various parts of Uttar Pradesh, we documented many such interviews and got to experience the increasing aggression of educated rural and urban Dalit youths towards the BJP. This, despite the fact that the BJP has taken many initiatives to associate itself with the Dalits. The BJP and RSS have initiated intensive nationwide programmes and campaign activities such as arranging community meals (Samrasta Bhoj), opening schools in Dalit settlements, and organising sensitisation campaigns for upper castes.
The Sangh Parivar has also propagated the concept of Ramrajya in which the upper and lower castes come together in social life as well as in democratic politics. To mobilise each Dalit caste individually, the BJP has also adopted a new strategy of communalisation and saffronisation of public spaces by evoking its unique caste identity. The party is constantly trying to appropriate the BR Ambedkar legacy. The prime minister recently inaugurated a world-class memorial in the Indu Mills Compound in Mumbai and also inaugurated the Ambedkar memorial at the partially restored London house. Prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the BJP president took part in caste rallies and meetings of various Dalit communities.
Modi will be making a visit to the Ravidas temple at Sheergoverdhan in Varanasi, the birth place of Saint Ravidas, in the coming days. This temple has been constructed by Dera Saccha Bal Khand Jalandhar of Punjab and a golden dome has been constructed inside the temple. On the occasion of Ravidas Jayanti, which is usually celebrated in February every year, people of the Ravidasia community, particularly from Punjab, arrive in large numbers to pay their homage to saint Ravidas. The people of the Ramdasia Sikh community from Punjab living abroad, who are chamar by caste, also visit the temple on this occasion. The political motive of Modi’s visit is to associate the Dalits of Punjab with the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh, but the horrific Vemula incident has put a big question mark on all their efforts.
Dalits who were gradually inclining towards the BJP have started distancing themselves from the party. The repercussion of this will be felt in the 2017 Assembly elections. As of now, Mayawati is not making much effort to associate the Dalits with her party, but those who had joined hands with the BJP have no alternative but to vote in Mayawati’s favour, because they are strongly in need of a leader who can fight for their rights.
We recorded the increasing aggression of the Dalits towards the BJP in various regions of Uttar Pradesh. Ramkali, a Dalit woman of a village nearby Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, said the suicide of an educated Dalit student is a matter of immeasurable grief for them.
He lost his life just because of the BJP’s politics, she said.