Mixed signals on quota threaten BJP’s campaign

VHP leader demands judicial commission to review reservation policy

September 22, 2015 11:08 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 04:12 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Even as Bihar with its complex caste matrix goes to the polls, the Sangh Parivar has ended up giving conflicting signals on reservation for the second day in a row.

Even as the RSS and the BJP went into damage control mode after sharp reactions following Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement that an apolitical committee review who needs quota and for how long, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad came out in support of Mr. Bhagwat on Tuesday.

“Dr. Ambedkar himself talked about a review of reservation in 10 years but since it became a matter on which politics was played, this could never be done. People began playing divisive caste politics for their own benefit,” VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain told The Hindu , demanding that the Centre set up a judicial commission to review the reservation policy.

This is likely to embarrass the BJP, which had just a day ago distanced itself from Mr. Bhagwat’s statement and said that it upheld the constitutional provisions for quotas.

The turn of events isn’t just embarrassing for the BJP in Bihar but also threatens to undo the Sangh’s aggressive Dalit outreach in recent times.

In Bihar, the BJP’s core base of upper caste numbers is just about 14 per cent. There are huge chunks of OBCs and Muslims in the State, because of which it hasn’t seen an upper caste chief minister for more than two decades now. The party has sought to woo OBCs, extremely backward castes, Dalits and Mahadalits in the State to put in place a winning combination against the Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar combine of Muslims and sections of OBCs.

At the national level too, the Sangh has tried to woo Dalits like never before. RSS-related publication Organiser recently brought out a special Ambedkar edition to mark his 124th birth anniversary. An article in this issue by RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal even said that Dr. Ambedkar had linked the origin of untouchability to Islamic invasions about 1200-1300 years ago, while the Dalit icon’s writings — edited by Vasant Moon — make it clear that he had traced this to the 4th Century AD, when beef-eating was “banned” and beef-eaters shunned as Untouchables.

This volume apart, RSS-linked think tank India Policy Foundation has brought out a booklet on RSS attempts at Dalit inclusion.

“On the question of untouchability, Gandhi found that the RSS was doing qualitatively greater work than his own Harijan Sevak Sangh,” claims the booklet, which adds that Gandhi became a “great admirer” of RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar when he saw Brahmins and Mahars living as one “Hindu family” at a 1934 RSS camp in Wardha.

The introduction by academic Rakesh Sinha says the VHP’s 1969 Udupi convention appealed for elimination of untouchability. It quotes former RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras as saying: “If untouchability is not a sin, nothing is.”

In early August, joint general secretary of the RSS V. Bhagaiah, the first OBC Sahsarkaryavah in the RSS, in an interview with Organiser spoke at length about the RSS plans to work towards ameliorating the social condition of Dalits. This included a huge survey exercise on discrimination against Dalits. Mr. Bhagaiah spoke of it as crucial to a Hindu Renaissance, adding that many Sangh affiliates such as the ABVP and the Kisan Sangh have been roped in for the purpose and some results could be shared next March at the Sangh’s All India Pratinidhi Sabha meeting.

After Mr. Bhagwat’s statement attracted sharp reactions from the RJD, the JD(U), the NDA allies and even BJP MPs on Monday, BJP president Amit Shah spoke to Mr. Krishna Gopal.

Sources say that the RSS chief was convinced that while he may have meant the words in a certain way, it would be poison in election season in Bihar. By afternoon, a clarification draft the RSS chief himself vetted was prepared.

The VHP’s statement has, however, hurt this damage-control exercise.

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