BJP caught on the back foot

Una episode may impact the performance of the party in Uttar Pradesh, where around 20 per cent of the voters are Dalits.

July 21, 2016 02:30 am | Updated September 18, 2016 02:56 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Having spent a better part of the past year and this one dealing with the political fall out of the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, the BJP was, once again, found wrong footed on the issue of Dalit rights and issues.

In the aftermath of U.P. unit vice-president Dayashankar Singh’s objectionable remarks against BSP chief Mayawati, and the incidents in Una where a Dalit family was beaten up for skinning dead cow, the BJP appeared lost on how to recover its ground in time for the Uttar Pradesh polls.

Party’s U.P. chief Keshav Prasad Maurya told The Hindu that the BJP would continue attacking Ms. Mayawati on the issue of corruption despite Wednesday’s events.

“The words used by Daya Shankar Singh were wrong, I condemn it, but Behenji [Mayawati] herself is the biggest Dalit virodhi. She is selling ticket for the Assembly,” he said. He said the party, which had been reaching out to various non-Jatav Dalit communities in U.P. would continue to do so.

His party men, especially one former head of the party’s Dalit Morcha said Mr. Singh’s remarks had exposed the “inherent” class hierarchy within the BJP. “Our party first looks at the Vanik class [traders], then the Dhanik [the landed and wealthy], the Vaidik [traditional intelligentsia] and then comes the turn of the Shramik [the labouring masses],” he said.

‘Caste a reality’

Sanjay Paswan, the former Minister in the Vajpayee government and a prominent Dalit face of the BJP, appeared a little philosophical at the turn of events. “In our country, caste is a reality, casteism a brutality, and yet in Hindusim there is much charity still,” he said. He added that the BJP could, with some correctives recover from this position before the 2017 polls in U.P. “Dalits should not make up their minds so quickly on the BJP. In my view, the OBC-centric parties are more oppressive to Dalits,” he said.

Prashant Trivedi, professor at the Giri Institute in Lucknow said Mr. Singh’s utterances reflected the fact that the BJP’s outreach to Dalit communities has always been awkward. “The BJP is trying to woo the Dalits but as a junior partner in their patronage network. Hence they place faith in programmes like Khichri Bhoj in Dalit bastis which are out of place with the new Dalit assertion of getting a rightful share in power,” he said.

The party has been in one fell swoop placed on the back foot in Uttar Pradesh, where Dalits form nearly 22% of the total vote in the State. Will the position be recoverable? Watch this space.

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