Bengal Election Voters

Dalits in West Bengal have opened the eyes of all political parties to the core constituency of Dalit vote as a political determiner in the Indian electoral game. It has now descended late on the political parties across the hue, that it was Dalits in Bengal who ensured Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s entry into the Constituent Assembly, when Sardar Patel was famously quoted to have said that ‘not only the doors but also the windows of the Constituent assembly are closed for Ambedkar’. The nation should be indebted to Dalits in Bengal, led by Jogendernath Mandal, who ensured Babasaheb’s arrival to Constituent Assembly. Rest is history and we have in our hands the most celebrated rights-document, The Constitution of India.

A population of 23.51 percent Dalits in Bengal were not be neglected for too long. Surprisingly a party of dwijas, the BJP, had to bend backwards to accept the demographic dividend of the Dalits across Bengal. But it opens another can of worms for the Hindu ideologue party. Unwittingly BJP, in its own electoral stratagem, has woken up the behemoth of Dalit-caste as a voting bloc, and made the Dalits realise their immense ability to turn around electoral fortunes of any party. The last time it happened was during the 1946 Provincial elections when Muslim League and Scheduled Caste Federation under Jogendernath Mandal fought elections together to a resounding victory and formed government. Now, the Bengal experiment is likely to hit back on those state governments of BJP (and may be the Centre too) who have been ignoring Dalits on policy and welfare.

The latest example is Haryana. The BJP lead government, faced with the farmers backlash, had to hold two back-to-back programs of Dalits in the field, to counter the farmers diktat that’ no leader should be allowed to visit villages. Haryana first organised a sammelan of the Safai Karmacharies in Karnal and a few days later the government organised a program to unveil a statue of Ambedkar, three days before his birth anniversary, again in a village in Panipat,

The Bengal tête-à-tête with Dalits by BJP will be another paradigm shift for the party and has already become a bewildering revelation for the Left. It is also lesson for all the political outfits on caste-class. Left rule in Bengal denigrated and disregarded caste-based discrimination of Dalits to a crass class ambiguity. But for the dwija dominated BJP who is currently fast-paced in moving away from caste discrimination-based welfare to poverty-based welfare, the new twist is round the corner. Apart from BJP, parties like YSRCP, BJD, TMC and Congress in Punjab have started ignoring the caste factor in Dalit welfare and started looking at Dalit welfare as an anti-poverty program.

Recognition of Dalits and tribes is essential with an acknowledgement of caste discrimination they face, for bringing in equality and social justice for them. Any failure to do so, and reduce them to mere poor persons, will hit back on any political establishment. Though many parties think that Dalit and tribal welfare is merely an anti-poverty issue, it is essential to understand that social discrimination, atrocities and denial of rights are due to their social position as Dalits and Tribals. The escapade of ideas of BJP such as creamy layer among Dalits and Tribals (as if reservation is an anti-poverty program); denial of scholarships in higher education, suppressing the employment opportunities by disinvesting in PSUs are likely to be backlash points. These issues have gone deep into the political understanding of Dalits and Tribals, as an outright denial of rights that accrue to then under the Constitution for these communities.

The new found love of BJP governments with Dalits is rarely complemented with any program or policy for them. For example, during the BJP rule in Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and even in Jharkhand, the governments have not come up with any new programs or policies in favour of Dalits. With Jats dominating the farmers in the agitation, BJP’s think tanks must have thought pitting the farmers against Dalits – a clever ploy. But it needs be seen after the din of Babasaheb’s birthday on 14 April, the BJP governments in their usual inimitable style will brush Dalit issues under the carpet. The RSS-BJP combine very well knows that the central government’s push for selling the PSU’s and speaking in favour of private sector has not gone well with the Dalit outfits. Even lateral entry of high-level posts in Central government, (with a rider by government that there is no reservation policy for such recruitment) was opposed by Chandra Shekhar Azad’s Bhim Army and Azad Samaj Party (K) in Delhi along with several other Dalit and OBC outfits.

Record of BJP is dismal on the welfare front of both Dalits and Tribals. Even though it wooed Tribals into their electoral fold under Vanvasi kalyan and Ghar wapsi programs, it failed to serve the basic tribal aspirations.  BJP’s anti-reservation, pro-privatisation and dwija mindset had led to its loss in elections in tribal dominated Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In Rajasthan and MP, disenchanted with BJP, young educated tribal leaders created their own outfits like Bharatiya Tribal Party, Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti and entered electoral arena with success. Dalits are a different ball game for any political party. Dalits imbued with Ambedkarite ideology with anti-caste and anti-discrimination movements for equal rights, are not an easy constituency to placate with mere temple visits of their religious gurus. Emancipation of Dalits and Tribals have to be with a clear conscience and commitment, more than an electoral game play.

(Rehnamol Raveendran holds a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The writer teaches political science at Delhi University)


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