Which political party in India really backs the Dalits today?

Written by Ram Puniyani | Published on: August 24, 2018
It was just recently that the atrocity law --enacted to protect Dalits- were first diluted by inserting the clause to allow for anticipatory bail. This was followed by  serious protests all over. The  protests, highlighted the anti dalit nature of present ruling dispensation, the BJP led NDA . Under the pressure of the protests, the government was compelled to bring in a bill to restore, to the law, its previous provisions.

 

The Lok Sabha on Monday (August 6, 2018) unanimously passed a Bill to reverse the effects of a Supreme Court order concerning certain safeguards against arrests under the SC/ST law. The amended ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018’, now rules out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against people from SC or ST communities, as it stood before the revision. Ram Vilas Paswan, part of NDA, and a Dalit, not only thanked the Prime Minster but used the occasion to also criticise the Congress. To emphasise that the Congress party is anti Dalit, he raked up the elections in which Congress had contested against Ambedkar (decades ago). That Ram Vilas Paswan’s own allegiance to Ambedkar ideology is also strongly under cloud, given that he is allying and empowering the BJP, a party that proudly carries its agenda of converting the Indian Republic into a Hindu Rashtra, is one aspect. Related to this is the fact that the Hindu Nation was anathema for Ambedkar and what he stood for, embodied in the Indian Constitution that showcases social justice, secularism and democracy.
 
Paswan has been well described as a Mausam Vaigyanik, (Scientist predicting weather). A man and a politician who, to remain in power, not just twists and turns the argument, but is prepared to make ideological compromises. His own ideology reflects a  hunger for power. His words and political stance do not matter much except on the electoral chess board. 

Electoral Battle Between Ambedkar and Congress: Paswan's depiction gives a very selective presentation of the relationship. While he does point out this fact, he omits to mention that  Ambedkar was not a member of Congress party any time. Also that it is the same Congress party in whose government he was made the Cabinet minister, earlier. Paswan needs a historical memory jog: not only was Ambedkar Minister in the first Indian Cabinet, he was also made the Chairman of Drafting Committee of Indian Constitution, in which Babsaheb played a pivotal role. To cap this it was he who was requested to draft the Hindu Code Bill, a major step to reform the family laws towards a gender just society.
 
RSS Major Opponents of Ambedkar and the Constitution: While the likes of Paswan, hankering after power today, do mouth Ambedkar's name, they deliberately omit mention of the fact that the major opposition  to the Indian Constitution as drafted by him, the major opposition to Hindu Code bill came from the stable of RSS, the parent organization of the party, in whose alliance he is today enjoying the perks of power. One can even say that Paswan's political ally, the BJP’s agenda,  of a Hindu Rashtra is polar opposite to the dream of Indian nationhood that Babasaheb Ambedkar stood for: the dream of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the dream of secular democratic India. The RSS has never hesitated in criticizing the Indian constitution, calling it Western; the BJP has never severed its umbilical cord to the Hindu nationalist RSS. Lately from within BJP itself from top down, Hindu nationalism is being propagated and practiced. Aggressively. Attacks on dalits, among other marginalised sections, go hand and hand with this hegemonic notion.
 
On the eve of the 2014 general election Narendra Modi, the Prime Ministerial candidate himself pronounced that he was born in a Hindu family; he is a nationalist, so he is a Hindu nationalist. Another minister in the Centre, Anant Kumar Hegde has stated that the BJP is there, in power, to change the Indian constitution and that a secular identity should not be used by the people. To cap it all the UP Chief Minster Adityanath Yogi stated that Secularism is the biggest lie of Independent India. 

The BJP itself is very consciously walking the tight rope, balancing phrases and actions as for as Dalits are concerned. On the one hand, the power-lust of some dalit leaders like Paswan, Udit Raj and Ramdas Athwale are used to give a pro-Dalit veneer to BJP’s actions, on the other hand likes of Hegde and Yogi are forthright about their political agenda. It is also true that for the sake of electoral equations even the BJP has to pay obeisance to Ambedkar, despite having and agenda totally opposed to his political ideology.
 
On the ground, the impact of BJP-NDA, of which likes of Paswan are members, has affected Dalits and their life situation and culture in a very serious way. While these hegemonic forces are, trough 'social engineering' trying to woo a section of Dalits through manufactured icons like Suhel Dev and Shabri Mata among others, they have unleashed policies which affect the Dalit livelihood, in a very adverse way. The merciless beating of Dalits in Una, which Paswan dismissed as a minor event, the emotive issue of Holy cow has affected the livelihood of dalits in a big way. We also remember that it is during this period that institutional murder of Rohith Vemula and the anti dalit attack at Bhima Koregaon has tormented the Dalit community no end. Even the Modi Government, did try, first, to dilute the Atrocities Act, only once they saw a serious opposition to their move, were they compelled to retreat simply for electoral calculations.
 
While the BJP pays tribute to Ambedkar on the one hand , at the same time it presents Lord Ram as the central icon of its politics. What Ambedkar has said about Lord Ram in his various writings like ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ is well known. It is a sharp and scathing indictment of what he sees as Hinduism and its icons. For the BJP, while it is important to garland Babasaheb; it is of no consequence to them to take forward the agenda of social justice.

The latest attempt to selectively present the electoral battle between Congress and Ambedkar too, is a deliberate ploy to undermine the efforts which the national movement and Mahatma Gandhi-Congress achieved to fight against untouchablity in particular. 

We have miles to go as far as Babasaheb’s dream is concerned. But one thing aspect we cannot afford to forget is what  Ambedkar pointed out: Hindu Raj will be a big tragedy for Dalits of the country. 

It is too much to expect that the likes of Paswan will realize their folly of allying with the BJP-RSS whose very agenda is inherently anti-Dalit, as they are blinded by a lust for power!