New Delhi: Acting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to build a bond with the Dalit community, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going all out to celebrate the upcoming birth anniversary of 15-16th century poet-mystic and anti-caste reformer Sant Ravidas, especially in poll-bound states like Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, ThePrint has learnt.
In the BJP’s national executive meeting, held on 16-17 January, the PM had urged party leaders to visit Ravidas temples and take other measures to reach out to marginalised communities.
For Ravidas Jayanti, being celebrated on 5 February this year, BJP state units have been told to organise sant samagams (religious gatherings), lead shobha yatras (pride marches), visit Ravidas temples, and meet Dalit families, BJP sources told ThePrint.
In BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, which will go to vote in November, the line-up is particularly impressive. On 5 February, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will kick-off a “Vikas Yatra” (journey for development), which will see BJP leaders going to villages across districts to inaugurate various initiatives and also apprise people of the government’s achievements. In the state’s Sagar district, a Ravidas Mahakumbh has also been organised to honour Dalit priests and religious figures.
Lal Singh Arya, national president of the BJP’s Scheduled Caste (SC) Morcha, told ThePrint that ministers and MLAs would travel to their districts during the Vikas Yatra. “They will listen to the grievances of the public and address what they can on the spot. We will also lay the foundation stones of new projects and inaugurate recently completed development works,” he said. “At the Ravidas Mahakumbh, the government will felicitate priests and sants of the community.”
In Karnataka, which is expected to go to polls in April-May, plans are afoot to launch a shobha yatra along similar lines as the MP initiative. Local leaders said that one of their mandates is to build awareness about what the state’s BJP government has done for Dalits, especially last year’s hike in the Scheduled Caste (SC) quota from 15 per cent to 17 per cent.
The proportion of Dalits to the population is sizeable in both Karnataka and MP — about 17 per cent and 16 per cent respectively, according to the 2011 census.
Notably, ahead of last year’s Punjab and UP elections, leaders from across political parties had also ramped up displays of devotion to Sant Ravidas. SCs comprise nearly 32 per cent of Punjab’s population, and about 20 per cent of UP’s, according to the last census.
PM Modi too had paid homage to Ravidas several times back then. At a rally in Pathankot he had stated that the party followed Ravidas’s ideals, he had prayed and participated in a bhajan programme at the Shri Guru Ravidas Vishram Dham Mandir in Delhi, and also visited the Ravidas temple in Varanasi’s Seer Goverdhenpur — believed to be the guru’s birthplace. Here, the PM had also laid the foundation stone for the Guru Ravidas birthplace development project.
Sant Ravidas was an important part of the reformist Bhakti movement in Hinduism, but his stature as an icon of ‘Dalit Pride’ with a mass following is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Also read: Modi’s outreach advice to BJP leaders — host Sufi nights, visit church, observe Valmiki Jayanti
Sant Ravidas as a wooing strategy
As part of its outreach towards Dalits — who comprise about 16.6 per cent of India’s population according to the 2011 census — the BJP has been making efforts to assimilate figures revered by the community, from Valmiki to Sant Kabir to Sant Ravidas, into its own messaging and image.
This was evident during the Punjab elections, as mentioned earlier, and even in Haryana in 2019, when the state’s BJP government launched a scheme for free pilgrimages to the birthplaces of Kabir, Ravidas, and Valmiki.
In the run-up to several state elections, and with the 2024 Lok Sabha polls edging closer, Modi emphasised the importance of “going beyond the Ram Temple” during his concluding address at the BJP national executive meet. Ravidas Jayanti is the first major opportunity to put the advice into action.
BJP SC Morcha national president Arya said that the party has scheduled programmes across India where leaders will visit Ravidas temples in Dalit neighbourhoods and organise public meetings where the community will be made aware of government initiatives for SCs.
“We have been asked to organise shobha yatras in Dalit bastis so that our brothers and sisters can celebrate their icon’s birthday in a big way. The state units have been also told to organise sewa (service) work, like cleaning drives and blood donation camps, in all the constituencies,” Arya added.
Birthday line-up in poll-bound states
Talking about the programme in MP, the state’s BJP SC Morcha chief Kiailash Jatav told ThePrint that in addition to initiatives to spread the good word about the party’s work for Dalits, a Ravidas Mahakumbh was being organised for “lakhs of devotees” in Sagar district.
“People of the Dalit community from every corner of the state will assemble here to felicitate their saints. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will also participate in the programme,” Jatav said.
Dinakar Babu, general secretary of the Karnataka BJP SC Morcha, acknowledged that the Ravidas Jayanti celebrations were an opportunity to build voter support.
“At every mandal unit, we will organise a shobha yatra to celebrate the day. Apart from this, we will distribute literature about work done by the state and central governments for Dalits— like the 2 per cent increase in SC reservation in Karnataka. These will be communicated also because we are facing election this year,” Babu said.
In Rajasthan, where the Congress is in power, elections are due around December. SCs comprise around 18 per cent of the population.
Rajasthan BJP SC Morcha head Kailash Meghwal told ThePrint that Ravidas Jayanti would see two-pronged programmes across the state— shobha yatras in Dalit bastis and constituency-level seminars to sensitise people “on what the central government has done for the Dalit community and followers of Ravidas.”
As for BJP-ruled Haryana, where elections are scheduled to be held next year, the state government has planned big events in three places to celebrate Ravidas Jayanti — in Yamunanagar, Gurugram, and Narwana. CM Manohar Lal Khattar is expected to attend the Narwana event, while other ministers will attend the other two.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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