On November 5, 2015, the last day of the voting for the fifth and final phase of the Bihar elections, the cow made a sensational entry into the electoral politics of Bihar.
An advertisement was put out by the BJP in all the national dailies, questioning Nitish Kumar's silence on the beef controversy with the tagline: "Jawab nahi, toh vote nahi". The reference was the infamous Dadri lynching in which a mob killed the 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq over the suspicion of storing beef.
In spite of the effort to milk the sentiment attached to the cow, it was Nitish who ran away with the election, leaving the BJP to lick its wounds.
Little did the BJP know that one day a dead cow and cow vigilante groups will come back to haunt it.
A look at three events in the past 72 hours is a clear indication of how the famous "Dalit Sarvajan" equation of the BJP has been undone.
On July 30, BJP president Amit Shah was all set to go to Agra to welcome the "dhamma yatra".
|The BJP is clearly on the back foot over a series of cow vigilante hooliganism.|
The local BJP unit was given the task to get around 50 thousand Dalits for this function. Dalits form one-third of the population of Agra and the programme was scheduled to be held in one of the biggest grounds of the city.
As D-day approached, the local unit of the BJP was not in a position to get more than 1,000 Dalits.
The programme was finally shifted to Saraswati Shishu Mandir school. An embarrassed BJP had to cancel Amit Shah's programme and instead of him, Uttar Pradesh BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya had to come and receive the dhamma yatra.
What was hugely embarrassing for the party was that it was not able to fill the hall of the school where this event took place. The message to the party was very clear - its Mission Dalit has been rocked and the party will have to assuage the sentiments of the hurt Dalit community on a war footing to turn around a fast losing plot.
Meanwhile, in another major embarrassment to the BJP, its MLA, Thakur Raja Singh, virtually poured water on the hopes of the party.
In a Facebook post, he wrote, "Whatever happened with the Dalits who were beaten up by the gau rakshaks was a good thing. It's because of a few dirty Dalits who eat cow meat that other Dalits get bad name." He also said that a valuable lesson was taught to the Dalits by beating them up.
This statement by Singh didn't go down well with the Dalit MPs of the party. Though not everybody was willing to speak on record, BJP MP from Delhi Udit Raj demanded expulsion of Singh from the party and said that what he (Singh) said about Una incident was wrong.
Another Dalit MP of the BJP was very clear about one thing. If the party didn't launch a counteroffensive to correct the narrative and stop people like Singh from speaking, the BJP would suffer a massive setback in the Uttar Pradesh polls in 2017.
There is a simmering discontent within the Dalit representatives within the BJP that the party leadership has not been swift or vocal about what really needs to be done. A senior BJP MP said, "The way the situation was allowed to go adrift in Gujarat and the kind of monstrous proportion it has assumed, it will require BJP to go all guns blazing to salvage the situation."
While Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel has resigned over her failure to control the Patidar and Dalit agitation, this will not be enough to control the simmering anger among the Dalit community in Gujarat.
Dalit march in Ahmedabad on Sunday (July 31) has worried the BJP no end and a section of the party strongly feels that action should be taken aggressively to assuage the feelings of the Dalits, otherwise there could be serious electoral consequences.
To contain the damage done by Rohith Vemula episode in Hyderabad, the Una Dalit flogging and the use of abusive words against BSP chief Mayawati by a BJP leader, the RSS has also jumped into the fray.
RSS cadres have been asked to celebrate raksha bandhan with Dalits in their localities. The Sangh plans to replicate this with other festivals as well.
Though officially the RSS says that these efforts are all part of their ongoing Samajik Samrasta (social harmony), its political import is very clear to everyone.
With the BJP clearly on the back foot over a series of cow vigilante hooliganism, it is now left mostly to the RSS to salvage the situation.
An attempt will be made to reach out to Dalits by saying that the RSS/BJP is the only party which doesn't treat them as purely a vote bank, but that it is also aware of the severity of the situation this time round and know that it is easier said than done.
The tragedy for the BJP is manifold. Its metaphorical saviour "cow" is dead. And to make the matter worse, it is being skinned by their potential vote bank.
The biggest challenge for the BJP now is how to strike balance between the vigilante and the Dalit communities. And that remains a difficult proposition for the BJP.