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  Opinion   Columnists  04 Apr 2018  Fallout of dalit anger may hurt BJP in 2019

Fallout of dalit anger may hurt BJP in 2019

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Apr 4, 2018, 2:29 am IST
Updated : Apr 4, 2018, 2:29 am IST

The BJP stands to lose its electoral base among dalits in 2019 though it may regain it in a politically distant future.

Students stage a protest in Ranchi on Monday during “Bharat Bandh” call by dalit organisations against the alleged dilution of SC/ST Act. (Photo: PTI)
 Students stage a protest in Ranchi on Monday during “Bharat Bandh” call by dalit organisations against the alleged dilution of SC/ST Act. (Photo: PTI)

It is confusion worse confounded. It is not surprising. There are questions of law and there are political compulsions. Both go together as they should in a democracy. The March 20 ruling by Supreme Court Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit that there should be no automatic arrest of those accused under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act raises legitimate questions about the assumptions behind the ruling — the judges said that there was rampant misuse of the law — as well as the validity of the ruling in strictly legal terms. Can the Supreme Court introduce new conditions into a law passed by Parliament as the two judges have done?

They said that in case of a public official accused under the law, prior information is to be obtained by a higher authority and the higher authority is to provide written reasons for the arrest to be made. And the magistrate need to apply his mind while scrutinising the reasons given for the arrest and need not necessarily accept the official reasons made for the arrest. And in the case of an accused who is not a public servant, the senior superintendent of police should provide written reasons for the arrest to be made. This is more than legal rigmarole, which could create hurdles for the affected person to obtain justice. The judges can argue in good faith that this is just to ensure that no person is wrongfully arrested.

It does not make legal sense because given the social context, the people who commit atrocities against dalits and tribals in this country do so with impunity because the two sections of society have been traditionally at the bottom of the hierarchy of power and they are mostly poor. The Supreme Court’s ruling makes it difficult to nail the wrongdoers. The political outcry over the ruling from dalits and tribals, their representatives and their organisations and from other political parties is part of the democratic process. Opposition parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress want to use it to nail the ruling BJP government at the Centre and in several states.

There have been numerous instances of attacks on dalits by cow vigilantes who belong to extremist right-wing groups over the issue of beef since 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office. With a general election around the corner in 2019, these parties want to carry the battle into their opponent’s camp. It is interesting that the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and even the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka have been fairly quiet over this matter. The BJP on its part is bending over backwards to prove that it is a champion of dalits and the tribes, and to prove its credentials it would point to the amendment it has made to the 1989 law in 2015, adding new provisions like verbal slurs as offences punishable under the law. And like any party in government, it was not nimble on its feet in filing for a review petition. It did so only on Monday, the day that the dalit organisations had called a Bharat Bandh, and created a political storm for a day. It can be safely concluded that the Narendra Modi government and the BJP have lost the battle of perception and image.

This would not however necessarily translate into electoral advantage for the BSP and the Congress on a broad front because the ugly political fact is that the upper and middle castes of Hindus as well as the upper crust of Muslims do not have much sympathy for the cause of dalits and tribes. While the BJP presents the views of the non-dalit castes, and has even managed to include some STs in the broad caste coalition, the party wants to be seen to be championing the cause of dalits for selfish as well as altruistic reasons. The BJP is sure to fail in this as it cannot hope to have the support of the other castes along with that of dalits. The BJP’s failure would only repeat the failure of the Congress. The caste contradictions cannot be managed.

Then we have the liberal chatterati speaking up for the dalit cause. Their rant against Hindu majoritarianism and the upper castes Hindus misses the mark because the harsh reality is that the atrocities against dalits and tribals are generally committed by the dominant and militant middle castes, whether it is in Tamil Nadu or in Uttar Pradesh. Hindu communalism, while an evil, has little to do with the oppression of dalits in this day. The ritualistic tyranny of brahmins against dalits is now wielded by the middle castes in village India, combined with economic and political oppression.

The BJP stands to lose its electoral base among dalits in 2019 though it may regain it in a politically distant future. The Congress hopes to benefit from the dalit vote in the states, and there are many where Mayawati’s BSP has no presence. In UP, of course, it is the BSP and its supremo Mayawati who will benefit from the dalit anger against the Supreme Court ruling as well as against the BJP for its complicity in the violence unleashed against dalits over beef and cow protection. The BJP will pay the price for its Hindutva politics.

The pugilistic position of the dalit organisations and the parties aligned with dalits may not end up empowering the poor dalits in villages and towns across India. There is a clear need for a democratic revolution for the violence against dalits and tribals to end. The upper and middle caste Hindus, upper class Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jains are resisting the change for now, but it cannot be averted if democracy is to really thrive in this country. However reluctantly, the majority has to learn to respect the marginalised. The struggle has lasted longer than we had expected.

Tags: scheduled castes, supreme court, dalits, prime minister narendra modi