Modi has no one but himself to blame for BJP's upper caste mentality
PM's problem stems from allowing the likes of Dayashankar Singh to believe that every bit of upper caste tirade would be accepted in BJP.
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Much before its campaign for the impending Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh has been formally launched, the BJP has hit a roadblock in its bid to wrest political power in the state.
"Ulta chor kotwal to daante (pot calling the kettle black)", is an old phrase but is applicable to the now-deposed former BJP state president, Dayashankar Singh.
On Friday, July 22, in a peculiar twist to the Mayawati slur row, the state police slapped an FIR against the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief after Dayashankar's family lodged a complaint against BSP leaders, including Mayawati.
Swati Singh, the still-absconding former BJP leader’s wife, ironically accused Mayawati and her party colleagues of using foul language against Dayashankar's family members.
Mayawati and her party leaders are now charged under section 120B (criminal conspiracy), 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman), 506 (intimidation), and 153A (promoting enmity between groups) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).The action against Dayashankar Singh is the first instance of any action being taken by the BJP against one of its own leaders.
The fact that the BJP leaders have allowed this to happen while failing to ensure a prompt surrender by Dayashankar speaks volumes of the actual intent of the party.
The bizarre developments demonstrate that all expressions of regret by senior BJP leaders including Arun Jaitley are merely an eyewash.
The visible schism between statement and action is not new to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
From the time Yogi Adityanath spouted venom when given charge of significant by-elections in September 2014, Modi and his aides have repeatedly only gently asked erring members to mind their words but taken no action when they crossed the proverbial Lakshman Rekha.
This has conveyed the message to the party rank and file that "hate speech" is not formally on the party’s agenda, but such offensive language will not attract disciplinary action.
The action against Dayashankar is the first instance of any action being taken, that too because of the extent of the outrage.
The primary concern for the slightly more level-headed and pragmatic leaders of the BJP and the RSS is that there is a powerful misogynist sentiment in the party coupled with a strong upper class lobby that does not believe in social equality.
Whether on the streets of Gujarat’s Una town or in the bylanes of towns in Uttar Pradesh, or even in the comments sections of websites, people still believe that Dalits do not have the right to be counted as an equal in society.
Chandra Bhan Prasad, Dalit scholar and activist, has been more than an acquaintance for several decades, and in conversations he often says that a typical upper caste person will not mind an ordinarily-attired Dalit man or woman rubbing shoulders with him.
But the moment the Dalit person dons clothes identified with the social and economic elite, the upper castes will be uncomfortable with the statement of equality that comes with that attire.
This has been the reason why Prasad has pursued actively the confederation of Dalit industrialists and entrepreneurs.
After BJP’s spectacular success in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, party leaders often argued that the sweep in Uttar Pradesh, winning 73 seats out of 80, with ally Apna Dal, suggested that Modi transcended caste.
In their euphoria they also often argued that the polls indicated the end of caste as a factor in elections.
Analysis of the results suggested that though the BJP's vote share was limited to around 31 per cent, the party improved its share among sections which had not hitherto been with it.
These sections included the rural populace, OBCs and Dalits too.
Post-Mandal, upper castes were greatly displaced from power structures of the state.
Mayawati’s victory in 2007 resulted in euphoric reactions from Dalits and this was backed by actions that elated the BSP’s core constituency.
Foremost among these were the numerous Ambedkar parks that were built in various corners of the state.
The Dalits were long excluded from public spaces, and because this initiative reversed the process of erasing Dalit public memory, the parks became eyesores for upper caste politicians and their supporters.
The BJP, like other parties, has a fair share of leaders unwilling to come to terms with the Dalits becoming their equals with even Dalit icons being celebrated.
Modi’s problem stems from not having the conviction to quash this upper caste mentality and because he allowed the likes of Dayashankar to believe that every upper caste tantrum would be accepted in the party.
Right since the polarising campaign of 2014 in Uttar Pradesh, Dalits were accorded a step-motherly treatment by the BJP, while the Muslims were targeted. There was the spectre, therefore, of complete alienation of the Dalits from the party.
The BJP has aimed to fight the upcoming Uttar Pradesh election on the basis of Hindu consolidation and the process of communal polarisation had started with incidents like Dadri being resurrected.
Not so long ago, the party made a huge hue and cry over the non-existent migration of Hindus from Kairana.
But the foul tongue of Dayashankar has ensured that caste is back.
In fact, people overreacted to the Modi wave in 2014 – caste never faded as a factor in elections but was merely kept on hold.
Modi has no one but himself to be blamed.
He has been a decisive leader only when it comes to acting against adversaries. But when it comes to issuing more than a warning to people within the BJP, he has turned out to be meek and docile.
There are still seven months to the elections in Uttar Pradesh, and unless the Modi-Amit Shah duo is able to weave its magic and take corrective action, the Uttar Pradesh campaign is as good as over.
The problem will only be heightened by the fact that it is not the slur against Mayawati alone that offends Dalit sensibilities, but since January, when Rohith Vemula committed suicide in Hyderabad, the BJP has exhibited its insensitive face.
Modi will have to utilise all his skills on the proscenium for a commanding performance in expressing regret.