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Last Updated Sunday September 24 2017 07:00 AM IST

The rise of the saffron dalit

Ravi Shanker
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Ram Nath Kovind BJP-led NDA's presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind.

The presidential race has hotted up with the opposition parties announcing a joint nominee on Thursday. Meira Kumar, daughter of former union minister and late dalit Congress leader Jagjivan Ram, gets the support of the entire opposition, including the Congress, TMC, BSP and SP. Nevertheless, the victory of the BJP nominee is certain.

There's no doubt about the fact that prime minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and co. had sprung such a surprise on the opposition that they were shocked into inaction for some time. That the BJP was so tight-lipped about their presidential candidate until Shah announced the same is a shining example of the secret passion they employ in secret maneuvers to expand their horizons further. This also means that their organization skills are better than that of the opposition and perhaps, even those of the Communists.

They are able to drag the opposition behind them.

Known for their water tight organization, the Communist party used to work like a well oiled machine in times of distress. But it seems being in operation for too long has exposed its machinery to wear and tear. Nowadays, party secrets 'leak' like the Niagra Falls. The rest of the opposition only stumbles along the way cleared by the BJP.

Read: When RSS loyalist Ram Nath Kovind said Islam, Christianity are alien to India

Opposition picks Meira Kumar as presidential candidate

Not only has the BJP stumped the opposition, it has also checkmated the Congress by nominating a dalit for the post of president. Now, this is a paralyzing word in India, like the other hallowed term, patriotism. Write this word on a placard and show it to an invading army and it comes to a standstill. So, what’s the antidote for that? Run in all directions looking for another dalit. The hot pursuit has come to an end with the nomination of Meira Kumar, former minister of the UPA and also the first woman speaker of India.

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It was exactly 20 years ago that another dalit became the president of India – K.R. Narayanan. After five years when it was time to run for a second term it was the BJP-led NDA who refused to back him. But, that’s all history now as all the parties in India vie with each other to play the dalit card without any actual benefit going to the dalits. But, this new nominee has some special credentials. He is an active member of the RSS and is anti-minority, especially Christians and Muslims. Chairing BJP’s Dalit Cell has stopped him from opening his mouth about any of the anti-dalit actions of this government so far, like the Rohit Vemula struggle. But, he has acted as a mouthpiece in BJP's attack on the minorities. He has not been heard voicing his concern on the covert 'beef ban' which affects the dalits more than any other community in India.

Before Meira Kumar’s candidature was announced, a divide was already noticeable in the dalit ranks. An intellectual like Kancha Ilaiah said that having a dalit as a president will not only be a point of pride for the dalits, it will also instill in them a sense of security. In contrast was the view of dalit activists like Jignesh Mevani who said, “If a dalit becomes president or a governor or the Supreme Court chief justice, it is not going to lead to annihilation of caste.”

Lover of rifles, books & music, Meira Kumar quit IFS to join politics

The BJP, in keeping with the methods of all parties that tend towards Fascism, is able to maintain its adept use of doublespeak in all areas. Look at how a financial misconception or inflicted misery like demonetization was used to divide the public and how tall claims were made later that the people had accepted it in the various elections. Some even propagated the view that BJP’s victories in UP and Delhi were due to Modi's note ban.

But the fact remains that the note ban did not positively affect BJP’s election results in Punjab, Goa or Manipur. In Punjab, they faced a resounding defeat. In other places, they managed to form government through horse trading.

The BJP was able to polarize the voters in UP as Hindus and Muslims effectively during this period. This was what they had been aiming for ever since the formation of Jan Sangh. As a result, the Hindu votes that normally went to the Congress went to the BJP. Meanwhile, the dalit vote consolidation was safe with the BSP and the Muslim share was split between the Congress, SP and BSP. The Hindu consolidation had nothing to do with note ban.

In Delhi, AAP government ruled an island surrounded by Haryana, Punjab and UP. The BJP had been the traditionally strong party here. The AAP was not allowed to function properly by the Center and thus, it became a non-performing government. Even the police were under the central government. Delhi people were quick to notice its ineffectiveness and pointlessness. Hence,Hindu votes consolidated and the rest split between Congress and AAP. This again had nothing to do with the note ban.

The great note ban theory took a beating when it became clear that the GDP growth had actually slumped as predicted by Man Mohan Singh. But, will it deter them? No. They are showmen. They proved their merit once again by making their announcement of a dalit candidate for president forcing the issue on the opposition who could only tag along.

Now they are saying ‘cheers’ with raised glasses of ‘gomutra,’ over masterstrokes like the covert 'beef ban' and the new-found love for dalits. If anyone gets swayed by this gimmick, they will be sorry later, as with a pliant president in position, BJP will be closer to making the constitutional amendments they have been itching to make all this while.

Already, BJP has split the opposition by getting the TDP, AIADMK, TRS etc to announce support for their candidate. The greatest hurt inflicted was the support they got from JD(U) chief and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar of JD(U). That was a death blow and an act of treachery in that Nitish Kumar didn’t even wait to see who the opposition nominee was.

Let me quote Mevani once again, as it is safer to bet on dalit activists rather than intellectuals: “There is no doubt that this is a calculated move by the BJP, keeping in mind the 2019 elections. It is an electoral gimmick and believe me, the BJP has no intention to work for the rights and empowerment for the dalit community.”

(Ravi Shanker is a poet, translator and columnist. He is the author of "Architecture of Flesh", a collection of poetry. Views are personal.)

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