‘Untouchable hooligans’ make merry with Indian polls

Gandhi Ambedkar

“The untouchable hooligans,” as Mahatma Gandhi called India’s Dalits when the then British Prime Minister, Ramsay McDonald, proposed the communal award in 1932, made common cause with “Muslim hooligans” to prevent India from slipping into a theocratic Hindu nation under the stewardship of Narendra Modi with just concluded polls.

The Dalit-Muslim unity, the worst fear of Gandhi and Prime Minister Modi, came true in the just concluded seven-phased polls when 65.79 percent of 900 million voters exercised their franchise to elect a new government in India.

Gandhi despised the unity between Muslims, Dalits and indigenous tribal people, whom India’s ruling class has been exploiting for centuries under the Hindu caste system which called their lower caste status “divinely sanctioned.”

For that matter, the ruling Britain also disliked the unity of Muslims and Dalits due to their demographic composition. During its occupation of India, Britain put Dalits and tribal people against Muslims as part of its divide et impera (divide and rule) policy and bifurcated the subcontinent on religious lines before abdicating power in 1947. The partition of the subcontinent into two domains resulted in a bloodbath.

During its two centuries-old rule of India, colonial Britain also fathered two communal outfits – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh  (RSS) and Muslim League – which advocated separate theocratic states for Hindus and Muslims respectively.

Much to the liking of caste Hindus, the ruling Britain grouped Dalits and tribal people as Hindus in India’s Census despite their independent religious rituals and cultural identity.

However, Britain proposed Dalits independent political right of the separate electorate under the communal award in August 1932 which gave them reserved seats and the right to two votes to elect upper caste people in general constituencies.

This special treatment was extended to Muslims, Europeans, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Sikhs. Gandhi, opposed the special treatment of Dalits, saying they were part of Hinduism.

Opposing McDonald’s gesture to Dalits, Gandhi then said, “The untouchable hooligans will make common cause with Muslim hooligans and kill caste Hindus.”

 Leading stalwarts like MS Golwalkar of the RSS, alma mater of Modi, swear by hatred of Muslims and the clandestine paramilitary outfits’ preferred legal code, Manusmurti (code of Manu), spews venom on Dalits.

After India achieved freedom, a secular constitution was pieced together by the founding fathers to stave off another bloodbath in which affirmation action policy found a place for the benefit of Dalits and tribal people, who make up nearly 27 percent of India’s current 1.4 billion people.

Reserving quotas in legislative bodies, government jobs and state-run educational institutions did not go well with the RSS and Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party (formerly Jan Sangh).

Based on their demographic composition, the constitution has set aside 84 reserved seats for Dalits (Scheduled Castes) and 47 seats for tribal people (Scheduled Tribes) in India’s parliament.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was reduced to 55 seats out of the total 131 reserved seats in the 2024 polls which saw social justice and reservation take center stage. In the 2019 election, 77 reserved seats went in favor of Modi’s ultranationalist party as Dalits and tribal people figured prominently as an important cog in Modi’s polarization plan against Muslims.

The BJP lost 19 Dalit seats where it had incumbent lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal, and his party lost 10 of its tribal members across Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Rajasthan and West Bengal.

The opposition Congress, which won a combined seven reserved seats in 2019, managed to hike its tally with spectacular victories in 32 constituencies in 2024. In the most populous Uttar Pradesh, the opposition Samajwadi Party managed to win eight seats.

The firebrand Dalit leader  Thol  Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panthers Party) emerged from its shadows to become a major player in southern Tamil Nadu and national politics and Chandrasekhar Azad and his Azad Samaj Party had the last laugh in the Nagina constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

In reserved seats like Barabanki (SC) and Etawah (SC) in Uttar Pradesh and Banswara (ST) and Bharatpur (SC) in Rajasthan, where Modi campaigned vigorously and made a scathing attack on India’s Muslims by calling them infiltrators and “those who have more children” his party candidates miserably failed.

Earlier Modi had ridiculed Muslims “as children-producing factories” and demonized them by referring to them as polygamous: “Ame panch, amaara panchees” (we are 5 and ours 25).

Dalits and tribal people let loose their anger on Modi at the polls and his majority in the 543-member was reduced for the first time in 10 years.  Having failed to cross the halfway mark of 272 on its own, the 73-year-old pro-Hindu party leader was scouting for allies to cobble together a coalition government. His coalition government took oath on June 9.

A majority of Indian Muslims were Dalits earlier who flocked to egalitarian Islam to escape the tyranny of the caste system of Hinduism. Dalits and tribal people who came to Christianity currently make up more than 60 percent of the Indian Church, comprising over 25 million Christians, and Muslims account for more than 15 percent of the Indian population.

Since Modi came to power in 2014, the prime minister left no stone unturned to prevent the unity between Dalits, indigenous people, and Muslims, from taking shape.

Buoyed by the success of two consecutive terms at the helm of affairs of the world’s leading economy, Modi was seeking a third term with the seven-phased polls, which concluded on June 1.

By acting as a chief priest at the consecration of Ram temple in Ayodhya in northern Uttar Pradesh on Jan. 22, Modi unveiled his plans for a Hindu Rashtra (nation) in his third term where Muslims and other minorities like Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsees, and Jains will be treated as second-class citizens and the affirmation action policy scrapped altogether.

The inauguration of Ram temple in Ayodhya was considered an emotive issue by Modi to sail through the polls. However, his candidates failed in all five Lok Sabha seats in the Ayodhya division, including the Faizabad constituency which houses the grandiose Ram temple built after destroying an ancient Muslim mosque on Dec. 6, 1992, by the RSS. In Faizabad, a Dalit candidate, Awadhesh Prasad,  put spokes into Modi’s plans.

Modi’s proposed theocratic Hindu nation in the most populous nation in the world collapsed like a house of cards as Dalits and indigenous people clipped his wings, aided by Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs.

Joseph Benny is a political commentator

Untouchable hooligans


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