UP’s Dalits: Hindutva or Ambedkar?
There’s a permanent Dalit revolution in UP, but Mayawati may not be its only beneficiary
In his adopted village Jayapur in Varanasi district, PM Narendra Modi has erected a giant Ambedkar statue in the Harijan quarter. Yet the paint on the statue is peeling badly, the solar lamp that illuminates it is out of battery. Dalits of Jayapur say Ambedkar is being dishonoured and insulted.
The Dalit vote has been assiduously cultivated by BJP. In these assembly polls UP’s 21% Dalits are generally expected to stay with Mayawati although BJP hopes to gain among non-Jatav Dalits (Mayawati being a Jatav) to whom it has given 65 tickets. The Dalit leadership from Ram Vilas Paswan to Udit Raj is already with BJP. Is Dalit aspiration and desire to escape caste shackles taking the community towards Modi? Or will the Ambedkarite legacy of the fight against Hindutva keep Dalits out of the sangh parivar’s net? Has Mayawati sacrificed the movement for Dalit cultural liberation by allying with BJP in the past and is she losing the loyalty of angry young Dalits?
In villages across UP, the signs of Dalit assertion are unmistakable. In fact, the Dalit revolution is UP’s permanent revolution. Jeans clad Dalit millennials say our forefathers had brooms in their hand, we have a smart phone or a laptop. The violence on Dalits at Una, the ‘institutional murder’ of Rohith Vemula, rising Dalit atrocities and statements against reservations by RSS leaders Bhagwat and Vaidya, have made many educated Dalits acutely conscious that the Hindutva worldview has no place for them.
Dronacharya, the Hindu guru, is for many Dalits a ‘villain’ and they vociferously question BJP’s decision to name Gurugram after him. “Beyond tokenist gestures like the Bhim app, what concrete steps has Modi taken for Dalits,” they ask.
At the same time for many Dalit communities like Khatiks and Dhobis, who have got tickets from BJP, Modi is a symbol of aspiration. The ‘Hindukaran’ of Dalits is proceeding at a rapid pace in rural areas. In the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 Dalits participated in the attacks on Muslims, and in 2014 BJP got 24% of Dalit vote while BSP got 14%. A big chunk of the BSP vote shifted to BJP in 2014. Dalits are thus torn between the desire to declare their unique identity or to be accepted into the temples of Hinduism from where they were barred for centuries.
Mayawati too has always been torn between seizing immediate power for office and the long term strategy to which Kanshi Ram was committed. Her spectacular 206 seat victory in 2007 brought UP its first majority government in 17 years but made BSP into yet another political party, rather than the ‘movement’ it claimed to be.
However the forces Mayawati represents are acutely real. Observers at BSP rallies cannot miss the pumping mood of empowerment and confidence. Dalits angrily defend Ambedkar parks and having tasted political power are simply unwilling to accept secondary status. They are angry at the way Mayawati is lampooned by the ‘brahmanical media’ and argue that Mayawati’s statues are no different from leaders who click selfies and pose for Madame Tussauds. We are not a crutch for anyone is a dominant sentiment among Dalit middle class professionals who still have an inordinate sense of pride that a Dalit woman was CM. It is a matter of pride, they say that when upper castes pass by a Dalit no longer has to stand up and that his FIRs are registered.
But is Mayawati and the politics she represents more about UP’s past than its future? Is Mayawati being left behind by the social emancipation movement launched by young Dalits? Mayawati plays an old style politics of caste and community at a time when the Dalit craves a new modern vocabulary. When behenji attempts a Dalit-Muslim alliance by giving more than 100 tickets to Muslims is she attempting a social engineering that can no longer be achieved by the old style simple 1+1=2 type caste and community arithmetic?
Traditional politics is changing fast. Dalit voices on social media, notably the twitter handle @DalitRising, show the young want social justice and a modern equal opportunity agenda. Mayawati provided security but not the economic opportunities and benefits of modern education which they crave. Rural Dalits are lured by offers of sanskritisation or caste Hindu status that the sangh parivar offers them because opportunities are still so horribly lacking. Spending nights with Dalits a la Rahul or lunching with Dalits a la Amit Shah are only terribly limited tokens. The Dalit revolution is looking for emancipatory equality and a new political vocabulary that expresses their anguish at the brutally discriminatory system.
By playing traditional caste-community votebank politics Mayawati has become imitative of the same political system against which Kanshi Ram roared out his challenge. While Mayawati has been co-opted by the political system, many young Dalits are now turning towards reclaiming a Buddhist identity and many also say they are angry at the compromises Mayawati is making and at the corruption charges against her.
Thus several strands make up UP’s permanent Dalit revolution: aspiration, anger, assertion of identity, rejection of Hinduism. Dalits say the flaunting of cash at weddings or on birthdays is a means of this assertion which is why demonitisation has become for them a cruel joke. Caught between Ambedkar and Hindutva, the Dalit revolution is restlessly searching for a leader who will speak a modern egalitarian language and attempt to transform Ambedkar’s teachings into living realities. Mayawati plays old style politics, the BJP DNA is brahmanical and against reservations. Thus politics is failing this Dalit revolution which even though leaderless is growing stronger and bigger every day.