Modi on gau rakshaks: How to woo Dalits and alienate Muslims

Swati Chaturvedi
Swati ChaturvediAug 11, 2016 | 12:35

Modi on gau rakshaks: How to woo Dalits and alienate Muslims

"Controlled polarisation haath se nikal gaya," a senior BJP leader ruefully explaining Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent, rather theatrical, statements on the attack on Dalits by the so-called "gau rakshaks", told me.

Modi enjoys Special Protection Group (SPG) security; he's under no threat from any "gau rakshak". So, why say, "Target me, not Dalits"? Instead, why not use the full powers of the Indian state and come down hard on the vigilantes?


Trouble is, once the polarisation genie is out of the bottle, it's tough to control it.

Attacks on Dalits continue unabated. Two more were witnessed two days ago.

Dalits protest in Gujarat. (PTI)

This is the dilemma the BJP finds itself in after having used the holy cow much like the Ram temple issue. Modi milked what he described as the "pink revolution" for votes.

Yet now with the new coming of age of the fight for Dalit dignity, the fight for their votes is giving the BJP nightmares.

Former BJP minister and trenchant Modi critic Arun Shourie, in an exclusive interview to me, exclaims: "This is a brilliant protest by the Dalits in Una. It's historic moment. It's so Gandhian. I am glad I am witnessing it."

Shourie is referring to the Dalits decision not to handle dead cattle and instead leave the carcasses around public squares. The government has no answer to the protest as they are breaking no laws and there is no violence of any kind. Just a grim determination, as Shourie says, to "upend the historical order. And, take charge of their own destiny."


Senior BJP leaders are taken aback at the intensity of the Dalit revolt in Gujarat - something they had clearly never expected. They say that unlike Maharashtra, the Dalits in Gujarat were not remotely "militant" and accepted a role in the Hindutva fold.

The near leaderless protest as the Dalit revolution comes of age has taken all political parties by surprise.

Suresh Soni, one of the most senior RSS apparatchiks, who has just returned from a sabbatical, has been tasked by the RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat, to douse the Dalit fire and ensure that they do not "leave Hindu Samaj and convert".

The fears of division in the Hindu Samaj have ensured that the RSS has turned the screws and silenced all the voices of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other sister organisations which attacked Modi on his comments that "gau rakshaks" were "criminals".

Soni has ensured that absolute quiet is maintained and discipline not breached because of fears of mass conversions by Dalits in Gujarat, UP and Punjab to Buddhism or, the ultimate anathema to the RSS, Islam.


Intriguingly, plausible deniability, which has always been the BJP's stock in trade on controversial issues has been maintained.


Consider this.

Modi from both his two verified handles tweeted links to his Dalit speech, yet no senior BJP leader, including BJP president Amit Shah or Union home minister Rajnath Singh retweeted the speech.

It's almost an article of faith in the top echelons of government and BJP to faithfully retweet all that Modi tweets.

The BJP is trying to ensure that its core voter is not upset, yet guarantee that those voters who believed in "vikas" and gave it critical mass to ensure a simple majority, do not desert it.

Modi is aware of the anger of the base, but the BJP and Sangh believe that they have no other party to go to and will forgive the "Hindu Hriday Samrat" Modi for anything.

Significantly, while embracing the Dalit's pain as his own, Modi simply refused to show any empathy for the equally affected Muslims who were the first target of the vigilantes, starting from the murder of Akhlaq in Dadri over rumours of beef consumption.

If Modi had addressed the Muslims insecurities, it may have been an "Advani moment" for him, says a senior BJP leader referring to LK Advani's comments in Pakistan on Jinnah against which the Sangh revolted. Advani not only lost his job as the BJP president, but has never been forgiven by the RSS.

By not addressing Muslims, Modi is also hopeful of driving a wedge between the growing Dalit-Muslim unity witnessed recently in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. If the two large groups combine, the BJP hopes at the hustings will be a non-starter.

Assiduous attempts are being made to ensure that this tenuous bond is snapped. Shah is also alarmed that in UP, Muslims are joining BSP citing the "good law and order of Behenji's four tenures as CM".

The UP Dalits had voted in huge numbers for the BJP, taking its tally up to a record 72 seats in the General Elections. Mayawati had for the first time drawn a blank.

Now the Dalit sangharsh threatens the BJP's aspirations of forming a government in UP and retaining its Gujarat citadel.

Shah has a strategy planned with the induction of BSP defector Swamy Prasad Maurya in the BJP, who will do a planned series of mammoth "janhit sabhas" all over UP after August 15.

Maurya's script is clear. The BJP will do vikas for Dalits and they should empower Modi to form the government, both at the Centre and the state. Unlike on earlier occasions, Modi's OBC origins will not be a talking point as the UP Dalits and OBCs share an uneasy relationship, though the tea seller story will be milked.

Modi himself will address a huge number of rallies in UP and talk of the "pain and exploitation of his Dalit brothers by the regional parties". Baba Ramdev is also expected to canvass for the BJP in UP and talk about the sinister role of the opposition in trying to divide the Hindu Samaj.

The BJP will not project a CM face and will stake all on emotional speeches by Modi. After his return from China, Vietnam and Laos in September, Modi's schedule is centred entirely on UP and Gujarat.

Will Shah's strategy pay off? Or will the holy cow, milked by every party for political gains, finally sink its horns into and puncture the BJP?

Last updated: August 12, 2016 | 17:18
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