ThePrint Dalit History Month
Dalit leaders in the ruling party say the party has ignored them and does not have a senior SC leader to manage the protests in the heartland states.
New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has often bragged about having Dalit support and championing the community’s cause, especially since it received a large chunk of Scheduled Caste votes in states such as Uttar Pradesh in elections in 2014 and 2017.
But turns out the party which is in power in 22 states and the centre does not have a single Dalit leader among its national officer bearers — ignoring a clause in its own party constitution.
Amid the violent Dalit protests across the country against the Supreme Court’s ‘dilution’ of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the ruling party is now facing some internal rumblings too — a section of Dalit leaders have voiced their anger at being ignored and not being nurtured.
Many of these leaders have rubbished union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s claim that the BJP is committed towards the well-being of Dalits. Prasad, defending the government on the issue of the protests, had pointed to the fact that the BJP has the highest number of Dalit MPs. However, the discontented leaders call the reply “cosmetic” and “no proof” that the government cares for its Dalit leaders.
The timing of this discontent is significant, coming on the back of Dalit leader Mayawati’s decision to align her Bahujan Samaj Party with the Samajwadi Party for next year’s Lok Sabha elections. A combination of the two parties is being seen as a serious threat to the BJP’s chances of repeating its victory in 71 of the 80 seats (plus two seats won by its allies) in Uttar Pradesh, the most electorally crucial state.
What the party constitution states
The BJP constitution, on page 12, speaks about the make-up of its national executive. Point 2 of Article XX says — “The president shall nominate from amongst the members of the national executive not more than 13 vice-presidents, not more than nine general secretaries, one general secretary (organisation), not more than fifteen secretaries, and one treasurer. Out of the office-bearers, there will be at least 13 women and at least three (3) SC and three (3) ST”.
But currently, under party president Amit Shah, not one of the six V-Ps, eight general secretaries, four joint general secretaries and 11 secretaries is a Dalit.
One of the national secretaries – Jyoti Dhurve, MP from Betul, Madhya Pradesh — does claim to belong to a Scheduled Tribe. However, the BJP government in the state last year cancelled her ST certificate after a high-level inquiry committee found it to be fake.
Problems of negligible representation
A senior BJP leader told ThePrint: “If we do not have representation in the top echelons of the party, how will we put the Dalit community’s concerns in front of the leadership? The insensitivity towards Dalit leaders within the party is the reason why it has a dearth of tall Dalit leaders to tackle today’s crisis.”
This feeling is echoed by senior Dalit leaders of the party, as protests brew across the country in response to what some of them say is the government’s ‘lazy’ reaction to the 20 March SC order. They say if BJP had nurtured mass Dalit leaders who had worked on the ground, it would have been a lot easier to manage the protests, which have gone out of hand in BJP-ruled states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
“The dissatisfaction was brewing. No one asked us anything. The issues could not be raised because to do that, we need to representation within the organisation’s ranks. And as grassroot leaders were not consulted at the time of ticket distribution, the party’s so-called ‘Dalit leaders’ are not even recognised within the community,” said another senior Dalit leader.
In defence of govt and party culture
However, this view is not shared by all Dalit leaders of the BJP. A few have defended the government and said Dalits had been given attention.
“In 2015, the (atrocities) act was reviewed. It had only 22 types of cases under it, and the number was raised to 123 types of cases. We pioneered the cause of Dalits in the Indian polity,” said a Dalit BJP leader.
There are also those who point to the RSS tradition of eating together and identifying shakha members only by first names. Party chief Amit Shah, in fact, had ensured he would have a meal at one Dalit worker’s house on each of his campaigning trips to Uttar Pradesh.