Millennium Post

Dalit politics at centre stage

Dalit politics at centre stage
The Bharat bandh on April 2 organised by Dalit outfits had a nationwide effect, with most places reporting incidents of arson and disruption of road and rail traffic. The massive response that the strike generated from the Dalit communities across the country has made the opposition leaders recalibrate their strategy. With nearly 30 crore people belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities in the country, the Dalit votes are significant. But if the number of Dalit votes is added to the number of Other Backward Caste (OBC) votes, it has the potential to defeat a BJP candidate. Based on this logic, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said in a public meeting that in 2019 general election, Narendra Modi can be defeated from Varanasi.
In Uttar Pradesh, the two main opposition leaders Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati have understood this well. They have reached an understanding that if they join hands, they have a good chance to stage a comeback in the general election in 2019. Congress has already fought the last Assembly elections in the state in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. So, it is the SP-BSP-Congress combined that the BJP candidates will have to face in UP. In Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav marched with the Dalit protesters on April 2. And in a recent public meeting, he blamed that the Centre is hatching a conspiracy to abolish reservations for the SC/ST communities. Tejashwi is not alone in trying to discover the Dalit might and woo it as a vote bank. He has the support of the Congress and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's ‎Hindustani Awam Morcha. All these leaders are making a strong pitch for the continuation of the reservations in education and jobs. They also term BJP and NDA anti-Dalit who are out to abolish the reservation. Though BJP leaders have tried to counter the allegation, the opposition is livid with the Supreme Court ruling that has ruled against the automatic filing of FIR and arrest of the accused in case of a violence under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The Centre has already filed a review petition in the Supreme Court but the opposition parties are not satisfied with this. Reacting to this sudden clamour for the Dalit cause, the BJP has tried to allay the fear of the SC/ST communities. Deputy chief minister of Bihar Sushil Modi has reacted to Tejashwai's charges. He said that RJD is trying to divert the attention from the corruption that the party has propagated over the years. He once again said that the BJP is not planning to abolish the reservations in education and jobs. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the BJP government is, in fact, trying to strengthen the SC/ST Act and that there is no plan to abolish the SC/ST reservations. Union Food Minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan has said that it was his party who first filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against the court's order that effectively diluted the provisions of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
More than 10 people have died in the violence unleashed by the protesters during their all-India strike. The maximum damage to life and property was reported from BJP ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. This indicates that the Dalits in BJP-ruled states were more agitated towards the government. This sudden expression of anger by Dalit organisations has given new ammunition to the opposition camp. The opposition parties are already on a drive to unify themselves and put up a united fight against BJP in the next general election in 2019. Now, they have an agenda too. Atrocities against Dalits, Supreme Court order diluting the provisions of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the BJP-led NDA government may abolish reservations are the kind of talks that is taking place in the opposition camps. The spontaneous and all-India response that the strike on April 2 generated underlines the fact that the Dalit politics can longer be kept on the margins and it is going to take the centre stage. Besides a united opposition, BJP will have to counter the Dalit vote bank politics in the coming elections. From Rahul Gandhi to Tejashwai and Akhilesh Yadav, the OBC and mainstream leaders are no longer shying away from championing the Dalit cause. Rather, Dalit is politically more acceptable now than ever before.

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