BJP’s doublespeak on caste

The Bharatiya Janata Party has chosen to employ rhetoric and trickery to camouflage its conflicted ideological position on caste, which has acquired a new salience because of the I.N.D.I.A alliance’s demand for a caste Census. This has created a chasm between the BJP’s attitude towards Dalits in Rajasthan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi trumpeting his concern for them.

At a recent election rally in Sidhi, Madhya Pradesh, Modi applauded his government for appointing Heeralal Samariya as the first Dalit Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). He, then, said, “Look at the Congressmen… As soon as they came to know that a Dalit is going to become a CIC, they boycotted the meeting [convened for appointing him.] They hate Dalits so much.”

Yet, days before, the BJP gave an election ticket to Girraj Singh Malinga, who is an accused in an atrocity case in Rajasthan. Until last week, Malinga was in the Congress, and was elected thrice on its ticket from Bari in Dholpur district. There is a story behind Malinga jumping ship.
In March 2022, there was a power cut in a Rajput basti, or hamlet, of Bari. Malinga, a Rajput, and his men barged into the office of Harshadhipati Valmiki, a Dalit engineer with Rajasthan’s electricity department, and allegedly beat him up so mercilessly that he suffered 22 fractures. A year later, he is still in hospital, barely 
able to walk.

Also read: `Amazing, unforgettable`: PM Modi on Ayodhya Deepotsav

Earlier this year, the Anusuchit Jati Adhikar Abhiyan, an umbrella group of Dalit organisations, organised the Samajik Nyay Yatra through 37 out of Rajasthan’s 50 districts, with the aim of pressuring political parties to adopt an agenda it considers vital to the community. The top item of the agenda was that political parties should not nominate as their candidates those accused of perpetrating atrocities on Dalits. The Congress denied the party ticket to Malinga, whom the BJP has now fielded from Bari.

Wonder who hates Dalits more!

Among the drivers of the campaign against Malinga was Bhanwar Meghwanshi, a Dalit writer and activist. His life story vividly illustrates the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s hypocritical position on caste. At the age of 13, Meghwanshi joined the RSS shakha at Bhilwara’s Sidiyas village. Five years later, in 1991, a procession was organised in Bhilwara to demand that the Babri Masjid be handed over to the Hindus. Stones were hurled on the processionists as they wended their way through a Muslim colony. The police opened fire, killing two Hindus.

The RSS-BJP then took out a procession carrying the ashes of the two deceased through villages. Since they were to come to Sidiyas, Meghwanshi had a meal cooked for them. RSS leaders, however, said the sadhus accompanying them might have objections to eating in a Dalit household, and requested Meghwanshi to have the meal packed so that they could have it at their next halt. He later discovered they had thrown away the food by the roadside. Meghwanshi left the RSS, and wrote about his experiences in I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS.

At the Sidhi rally, Modi lit into the Congress for boycotting the meeting of the selection committee summoned to choose Samariya. But the truth is that the government insisted on holding the meeting during the hours on a day it knew Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Congress representative in the selection committee, would not be present in Delhi. His absence, in hindsight, was crafted to spin the story of boycott.

Sidhi acquired notoriety in July when Pravesh Shukla, an upper caste man, urinated on Dashmat Rawat, a Kol tribal man. The culprit Pravesh allegedly had links with the BJP. With the Scheduled Tribes comprising nearly 28 per cent of Sidhi district’s population, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, facing a tough electoral battle, had himself photographed washing Rawat’s feet. But such expiation neither ensures dignity for the tribals nor changes socio-political structures.

The BJP did deny the party ticket to Kedarnath Shukla, its four-time MLA from Sidhi. In order to efface the Kol tribe’s memory of the humiliation of Rawat, Modi also attacked the Congress, in Sidhi, for opposing a “tribal daughter”—Droupadi Murmu—from becoming the President, whom the BJP had nominated.

If pitting a candidate against Murmu in the presidential election is opposition to her tribal identity, might it not be said that the BJP fielding Malinga is an endorsement of atrocities committed on Dalits? Again, Modi’s promise of subcategorising Telangana’s Scheduled Caste quota has hogged media headlines. Does the media remember that a report subcategorising the Other Backward Classes in Uttar Pradesh, submitted to the state government in 2018, has yet to be implemented?

The RSS’s counter to the demand for a caste Census is to undertake a countrywide programme on “social harmony”, a decision it took last week. This will involve RSS activists fanning out to villages to preach against caste discrimination and untouchability to build Hindu oneness, a promise the Ayodhya campaign, too, had held out, only to crush the expectations of Meghwanshi. People such as him desire substantive equality, not the tokenism of washing the feet of one who had been pissed upon, and certainly not the doublespeak on caste. They will also wait to see whether Samariya dams or facilitates the flow of information from the government before judging whether his appointment should be celebrated.

The writer is a senior journalist

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