Biggest bane of dalit politics is its leaders
UP Governor Ram Naik can produce a treatise on the 'R' in the middle of B R Ambedkar's name. He has been feeling very agitated over the way Ambedkar's name was being written in Hindi-spoken states, such as Uttar Pradesh. According to him, the R between B and Ambedkar represents Ramji and not Rao. He argues that Marathis write their father's name as their middle name and the original name of the father of our Constitution was Bhimrao and not Bhim, which would make the R in the middle stand for Ramji. Naik, who is also Ram, has got Yogi Adityanath's UP government to issue an administrative order to the effect that in future B R Ambedkar's name in all official records of the state would be written as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and not B R Ambedkar. He had written to Yogi about the mistake and the Chief Minister has obliged.
The symbolism in the decision is loud and clear. This is a trump card against the consolidation of SP- BSP unity ahead of the 2019 elections. And it is perfectly timed with the Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations coming on April 14. Mayawati, who claims the exclusive wholesale dealership of all Dalit votes, has seen through the BJP game, as do all the analysts and intellectuals. "There is politics being played on Baba Ambedkar Ji's name. BJP only wants votes of Dalits and does drama in the name of Ambedkar," Mayawati said in almost a reflex reaction. But neither she nor the analysts have explained how an additional R in Ambedkar's name will add to the welfare of Dalits in India.
It is time Dalits stopped measuring the welfare of their community in terms of the number of Ambedkar statues, which is what the governments want them to do. A new Ambedkar statue or the defacing of an existing one can do nothing to the welfare of the backward classes of this country. It is a myth conveniently cultivated by the political leaders and ruling establishments to continue their exploitation of these unfortunate people. Their cause has all along been served through symbolism and their leaders have been behaving like pawnbrokers.
The 'official' media has gone gaga over BJP president Amit Shah's speeches on the Jayanti of Maharishi Valmiki, another icon credited to the account of Dalits, in which he takes great pains to explain his party's love for Dalits and backward classes. But one such interaction went terribly wrong the other day when Shah was addressing a Dalit meeting in Mysuru as some of the local leaders protested Union Minister Ananth Kumar Hegde's comments comparing Dalits to 'stray dogs'. The minister was forced to apologise in Parliament for the remark. Shah tried to distance himself from such views, but the camaraderie was clearly missing.
The ground situation is quite different from what Amit Shah and company would like to project. The fact is that Dalits, along with Muslims and other backward classes, have borne the brunt of the saffron brigade's cow vigilante activism, an aspect that has attracted global attention and tainted the BJP's image. Atrocities against Dalits have increased ever since the BJP government came to power, although the record of non-BJP ruled states is equally bad.
According to various reports, atrocities against Dalits have increased in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. The ruling parties have sought to defend the increase as an indication that more cases are now being reported as Dalits are now increasingly aware about their rights. Politicians can twist any tale to make even a problem appear as an achievement!
The people to blame most for the continued exploitation of Dalits are their own leaders. In fact, this has been the main problem with the county's Dalit politics, as practiced by their leaders, who use symbolism as a means to establish clout in power politics. They use their leadership as a bargaining point with other parties. Their strategy has worked and they continue to treat their constituency as their fiefdom, in the process keeping the Dalit societies as backward as ever. It is time that a new leadership emerged from within the Dalit communities which will fight for the upliftment of their members. There are signs of a new generation of young leaders emerging, a development that is already rattling the Lalus, Behnjis and the Paswans, and above all the ruling establishments.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)