Interview | Ritesh Pandey National

People still suffer caste discrimination, says first-time BSP MP

Ritesh Pandey. File

Ritesh Pandey. File  

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First-time BSP MP says the differences may have reduced but they are still there

First-time MP Ritesh Pandey from the Bahujan Samaj Party speaks about caste-based parties versus religious polarisation, the burgeoning problem of stray cattle in Uttar Pradesh and the state of the economy. Excerpts:

Against the backdrop of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP has managed to do away with caste-based binaries and consolidated the Hindu votes as one monolith. So are caste-based parties like the BSP on their way out?

I don’t think so. The BSP will never cease to be irrelevant. My party represents the aspirations of Dalits in U.P. and elsewhere in the country. It has managed to get support from across the castes. In the current shift towards religious polarisation, you could call it a shift from caste politics to another kind of politics. But I think, in all eventuality, you can’t take away the caste-based discrimination that people suffer. The differences are not going to go away, they may have reduced but they are still there. The Indian villages still suffer segregation. Yes, we have seen a little shift at least in U.P. among the most backward castes. They are floating voters who can be wooed by any party. Several parties may have done a good job in netting their support. But I believe that ultimately caste will save us from religious polarisation.

Was it a mistake to go along with the Samajwadi Party in the 2019 election?

I am not somebody that could comment on that. This is something that the party high command decides. Post-election, if the decision was called off, it has been called off looking at the party’s mission and vision for the future. From what I understand, it was judged that the alliance didn’t add much value.

The BSP has been curiously keeping its distance from the Opposition. Prior to the 2019 election, it was part of all Opposition meetings and now we see the party standing aloof.

From what I understand, the party does not want to follow, or be led by, other people. We have our own philosophy, we have our own ideology. And we necessarily don’t have to, you know, follow sort of an Opposition which the Congress seems to lead. We are led by Ambedkarite ideas and our positions are formulated on that basis. Let’s not forget that Baba Saheb Ambedkar was very much in favour of the Uniform Civil Code. And let us not forget that he would have staunchly opposed something as vicious as the Citizenship Bill which is why we opposed it tooth and nail.

Stray cattle have become a huge problem in Uttar Pradesh, more so after the BJP government led by Yogi Adityanath took over. Will this be a talking point in the next Assembly election for the BSP?

People who are most affected by this are the farmers. The cow vigilante groups have invoked fear against trading of cattle. For any economy, the most important thing is that the traders feel secure. When these animals become redundant, you’re left with nothing else but to leave them on the road. The government recognises this as a problem, and it has set up gau shalas (cow shelters). But there isn’t money or manpower to maintain them. The cows are dying there for want of food and care. It’s like a concentration camp for cows. It’s really heartbreaking.

Coming on the heels of the Hyderabad rape and murder case is the Unnao incident where a young woman was burned to death for going to the courts against the persons who raped her. Could this be a turning point for the Yogi Adityanath government?

No other government can rival the BSP’s record in maintaining law and order in the State. And it’s for the people to see the difference. Under our government, Behenji [BSP leader Mayawati] had put pressure on the police for registration of cases of crime against women and their timely investigation. And most certainly, people can see that the Adityanath government has not been up to the mark.

Do you endorse the “encounter” killing of the Hyderabad rape and murder accused?

More than anything, it’s a mindset change that is important. We can demand the death penalty, if that’s what this country really wants. But I don’t think that it’s going to change the situation drastically. My party’s view is that that kind of speedy justice should be granted. And that’s the demand of the family of Unnao victims too. On a personal level, I feel justice has to be dealt the right way. Therefore, it’s questionable whether the encounter by the Hyderabad police was justified. And I wouldn’t say whether it was right or wrong but I certainly would ask questions. Did they follow the laid-out procedures? Tomorrow, anyone can be executed by the police using any excuse without any investigation whether the person is guilty or not.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 6:21:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/people-still-suffer-caste-discrimination-says-first-time-bsp-mp/article30313666.ece

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