Dalits vs the cow: BJP caught in curious man-animal conflict

In the 'Dalit versus cow' controversy, which side looks stronger?

Well, it’s a no-brainer. It’s the cow. The Dalits have to fight their own battle, while the holy cow is backed by an ideology — the adherents of which dominate the power ecosystem. In the current ideological-political complex Dalits come low on the list of priorities while the cow — sadly and for little fault of its own, we can no more call it humble — stays somewhere at the top. The cow vigilantes do not operate in a vacuum; they have the tacit sanction to operate with impunity in the name of gau mata.

The Dalits, unfortunately, do not have the political or social heft to take them on.

 Dalits vs the cow: BJP caught in curious man-animal conflict

File image of a protest rally against the attacks on Dalits in Gujarat. Reuters

It’s no surprise that the usually loquacious voices in the ruling dispensation have gone silent on the attacks on Dalits by gau rakshaks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not uttered a word, neither have his senior ministers. BJP’s Dalit leader Udit Raj makes a pertinent point when he asks “When such incidents happen why does the entire society does not raise its voice? Why do only Dalit leaders speak up?"

It’s perhaps a question that should be asked to the BJP’s leadership. It’s interesting to note that some of the party’s leaders at lower levels have actually defended the actions of the cow protectors.

The silence at the top, Raj perhaps fails to understand, reflects the confusion over the approach to the Dalit community general. In the cow-Dalit conflict they don’t know where to stand. The latter cannot come superior to the animal; it’s more or less settled ideologically. But Dalits are important from the political perspective, unlike the Muslims — imagine the reaction from BJP leaders and the intellectuals backing the party if the people thrashed mercilessly at Una in Gujarat were Muslims and not Dalits — and they cannot be kicked to the margins. What they lack in political weight, they have the potential to make up through sheer numbers.

Plus, Hindu society in general won’t take atrocities on Dalits kindly.

It’s not without reason that there is a lot of respect for the latter, but a simpler rationale is that nobody knows who the vigilante crowd will target next. An ideology that survives on inventing hate objects and fighting them and is low on humane content makes everyone insecure. Politically, there’s the threat of all aggrieved communities coming together, which appears to be happening in the prime minister’s home state.

The BJP is trapped in a curious man-animal conflict, and it can hardly do anything about it. In the Bihar Assembly election, the party itself and its ideological fellow travellers sought to make cow and beef the big electoral talking point. It backfired badly. In Assam, it put effort to stay clear of the gau debate and focussed on human matters. And it won big. In Uttar Pradesh, if the design was to unleash the cow and polarise communities, it has unleashed a problem of a different kind.

It has set the Dalit community against itself — this after trying to cultivate it assiduously for long. The party has perhaps realised by now that cow is more a political liability than an asset. However, as part of an ideological brotherhood that thinks otherwise, its hands are tied.

Of course, we are no fools and we know that the party will keep mum as it has done always in case of social conflicts created and fanned by fringe elements. Actually, if you observe keenly, it’s an arrangement of mutual tolerance and acceptance at work. It is up to the party resolve its internal matters, but it must spare the rest of India the torture in the name of the cow.

In the man-animal conflict, man should not emerge inferior.

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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2016 11:47:10 IST