BJP to Janata Parivar: Ambedkar card is out again to woo the Dalit votes in Bihar

Rana Ayyub
Rana AyyubApr 19, 2015 | 15:52

BJP to Janata Parivar: Ambedkar card is out again to woo the Dalit votes in Bihar

It's a dusty April afternoon in Shankarbigha, a small village located in Jehanabad district of Bihar. I stop for my lunch at a local eating house. The village is home to agricultural workers, mostly from the backward communities of Paswans, Chamar, Dushads and Rajwar. The last time Shankarbigha appeared in public and political consciousness was when 23 villagers, including five women, seven children and a ten-month-old child were mercilessly butchered on the eve of Republic day in 1999. In January this year, days before Bihar's Maha Dalit CM Jitan Ram Manjhi failed the floor test making way for Nitish Kumar to re-enter the state as CM, the Jehanabad district court had acquitted all the 24 accused in the case. The accused, all allegedly members of the upper caste militia Ranvir Sena, responsible for most caste massacres during the 90s and early 2000s, said they felt vindicated in a case which they claim was fabricated.  


My lunch is laced with conversations with the women of the house whose jokes on the political dispensation in the state only evoke a deep sense of empathy for the villagers who have been used as mere tokens in the state's political history. Central Bihar has had a violent history of caste politics. Some of the most gruesome massacres of Dalits that blot the history of independent India took place in central Bihar in Arwal and Kansara in 1986, Golakpur (1987), Malibigha (1988), Lakhawar (1990), Sawanbigha (1992), Aiara (1994), Khadasin (1997), Lakshmanpur-Bathe (1997) and Chouram and Rampur (1998). 

Shankarbigha is not very far from Laxmanpur Bathe where the Ranvir Sena allegedly killed 58 agricultural workers belonging to backward communities in December 1997. When Lalu Yadav mocked the present NDA government recently, while announcing the formation of Janata Parivar, his memory loss of these massacres, which took place during his party's rule was not the least bit surprising. For it was his wife Rabri Devi, then CM of the state who had announced a compensation of Rs 1.4 lakhs, free ration for six months, a government job and pucca houses for the victims' kin. This was the benevolence Shankarbigha had received from the Lalu Yadav dispensation. Justice was delayed and denied right under the successive governments of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar.


The BJP, which now claims to be the new messiahs of Dalits, did not fare any better. The central leadership in charge of the state BJP chose not to antagonise the Bhumihar and Thakurs by demanding action against the alleged perpetrators of the massacre who belonged to the community. In the past two years alone, most of the massacre accused from the state have been acquitted and the Bihar governments response under Nitish Kumar has been anything but encouraging.

And for this very reason, the villagers at Shankarbigha had predicted that Manjhi would not be able to win the floor test much before political pundits in Delhi did. You think the upper class gundagardi would have allowed for a Maha Dalit CM to stay in power, they ask "Yeh in Yadav aur Nitish ka dabanngai hai madam, hamesha tha aur hamesha rahega Bihar mein..." remarks one of them. 

The real bid for the Dalit vote, which exposes the claims of all parties claiming to be the saviours of the lower caste, however, begins now as Bihar goes to polls at the end of this year. The prestige battle for Bihar began this week with BJP president Amit Shah's rally in Patna to mark the birth anniversary celebration of Babasaheb Ambedkar, with the aim of consolidating the sizeable backward community of the state. The BJP aims to hold massive rallies in the state with RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat camping in Bhagalpur right after Amit Shah's rally and plans to use the Jitan Ram Manjhi card this election to woo the Dalit voter. But not before the party decides to appropriate Ambedkar and extolling the virtues of a man whose followers have been at the mercy of upper caste sympathy in Bihar for its safety. On Wednesday, Bhagwat held a public meeting with local RSS workers and the janta at a local school at Nathnagar in Bhagalpur. "Hindu rashtrabhaav ke saath sabko lekar chalna hai," he claimed, with a view to bringing every Hindu together irrespective of caste.  


Bhagwat is not wrong. On every occasion that the RSS has needed the members of the backward class, they have made a clarion call for Hindu unity. But never has Bhagwat distanced himself from its most prolific leader Guru Gowalkers terrifying views calling for Brahmin supremacy over the lower caste.  

On January 23 this year, Amit Shah had addressed a meet of party workers in Bihar while celebrating the birth anniversary of former Bihar CM Karpoori Thakur, a socialist belonging to the extremely backward caste. The JD(U), not to be left far behind, neutralised the BJP effort by nominating Thakur's son Ramnath Thakur to the Rajya Sabha. 

The state BJP in Bihar, which will be Amit Shah's litmus test post the Delhi debacle, has refused to announce a CM candidate so that the caste balance remains undisturbed. While speaking to the audience in Patna, Amit Shah said that the land of Ambedkar followers will throw up a huge surprise by electing the BJP to power, careful not to reveal that the same Ambedkar had stated that, "The Scheduled Castes Federation will not have any alliance with any reactionary party such as the Hindu Mahasabha or the RSS."

According to news reports, the RSS plans to bring commemorative collector's editions of its mouthpieces Panchjanya and The Organiser to pay a tribute to Babasaheb Ambedkar. But none of the editions of Panchjanya will have any mention of the Ranvir Sena and its atrocities on the Dalits.

Lalu and Nitish have promised to steer Bihar free of BJP's arrogance, but have also made no mention of challenging the acquittal of the murderers of Shankarbigha. The lady of the house where I relished the lai and gud is happy for another reason. Being an election year, there will be less power cuts. When I ask her about justice for her community, she smiles, perhaps at my naivete.

Last updated: April 19, 2015 | 15:52
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