Dalit politics and Indian state

Dalit politics and Indian state

A case of Dalit discourse and the Bahujan Samaj Party

The struggle for power and the distribution of power and resources constitute the major domain of politics. The relationship between caste and politics in Indian society has been subject to intensive study for many years.  Many sociologists and experts including Rajni Kothari and Anil Bhatt have highlighted the various aspects.  In much of the Asia and parts of the Africa, caste is the basis of discrimination against and exclusion of distinct groups.  Over 250 million people worldwide (160 million in India) suffer from this form of discrimination. Among them, Dalits are the worst examples of caste discrimination in India. The word “Dalit” literally translating to “oppressed: or “Broken” is used to refer to people who are known as “untouchables.” Those belonging to caste outside the fourfold Hindu Varna system which has their origin in the Aryan Society of ancient India. It was first used by Jyoti Rao Phule in the 19th century, in the context of the oppression faced by “untouchables.” To whom M.K Gandhi named “Harijans” means “Children of God.” The caste system in India originated about 2500 hundred years ago. This caste system became fixed and hereditary with the emergence of Hinduism and its beliefs of pollution and rebirth. The nature of Indian politics has been shaped by social, economic, religious and geographical conditions. These conditions have given a distinct shape to Indian politics among them caste plays an important role and has influenced every political process from top to bottom and has imparted a distinct character to Indian politics. The decade of 1930 saw the Dalit movements growing acceptance of Dr. B.R Ambedkar as their leader. The social thought of Ambedkar revolves around the idea of understanding the dynamics of a caste system in India and waging a crusade against the curse of untouchability.  From 1920 onwards M.K. Gandhi integrated the issue of abolition of untouchability into the national movement, and major campaigns and struggles were organized. Taking his initiatives in addressing the grievances of the untouchables, Ambedkar organized the Mahad Satyagraha in 1927 for emphasizing the rights of untouchables to use the wells and tanks like others. He tried to change the educational landscape for the untouchables by establishing some colleges. Annihilation of caste is one of the foremost monographs published by him aimed at explaining the exploitative nature of caste and calling for its annihilation to secure a social order based on equal status and dignity for all.

 With the independence from British in 1947, initiatives in the area of removing caste injustice and inequality were to be attempted by constitutional provisions under article 17, 330, 332, 15(2)(4) and 29 which curbed the violence against Dalits to whom constitution gave the name “scheduled caste.” In 1955 parliament passed the untouchability (offense) act for the same purpose.  More than 67 years after independence, India is still very much afflicted by the cancer of caste system, to which Dr. Sonkar calls an apartheid style state. He says that “we are still Dalits, still broken, still suppressed.” Still, discrimination continues because of mindset has still not changed and the prevention of atrocities act not implemented strictly. There is a lack of strong will on the part of state institutions to examine the crimes and book the culprits by giving heavy punishment. On 26th January 1950, Govind Ballabh Pant, became the first Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, 11 out of 21 U.P Chief Ministers belong to Indian National Congress.  Among these V.P Singh, Charan Singh, Suchata Kirplani, Rajnath Singh, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are prominent chief ministers of state.

The state of U.P, economically, educationally and socially one of the most backward states in India, is also politically one of the most important.  This is not only because this state accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats, but also because the long process of democratization has inculcated a sense of empowerment among the people.  The backward castes started detecting this empowerment as early as in the mid-1970’s, a feeling which in a way, fully bloomed fully in the 1980’s when  Bahujan Samaj Party was founded by Dalit leader Kanshi Ram in 1984. The party was inspired by the philosophy of Dr. B.R Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution. Kanshi Ram’s efforts to mobilize Dalits and other minorities led to his involvement in Politics. In 1984 He founded the party and led it until, He was succeeded by Kumari Mayawati, in 2003. Although Kanshi Ram was responsible for building the support base for the party, Mayawati shaped and nurtured it into a dominant force in U.P as well as national level. The Core support group of Bahujan Samaj Party consists primarily of Dalits. The Party espouses no specific ideology, other than its opposition to and outspoken criticism of inequalities of Caste System and its central tenets is focused on respecting and upholding the Constitutional Rights of the lower members of Indian society. Further, Party’s Constitution very clearly states that ” The chief aim and objective of the party shall be to work as revolutionary social and economic movement of change with a view to realizing, in practical terms, the Supreme principles of universal justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity enunciated in the Constitution of India. Such a social change is wholly in the overall interest of the country and all sections of society too. Thus keeping in view all these facts, it would be injudicious and fallacious to hold that Bahujan Samaj Party works for the welfare of the particular group or section. Yes, this party does give priority to those sections, which have been ignored and scorned all along by the Manuwadi Governments in all spheres of life, such a set of people in India is known as Bahujan Samaj. Also, Bahujan Samaj Party has also contributed positively to all the issues about the welfare of the Country.

In a formative stage, the Slogan of Bahujan Samaj Party was “Baba (Ambedkar) Tera Kaam Adhura, Kanshiram karange Poora”. (Kanshi Ram will complete the work started by Ambedkar). After launching the party, Kanshi Ram Coined the Slogan “BSP Ki Kya Pehchaan, Neela Janda Hathi Nishaan.” Here the elephant symbolized the Dalit population and Blue Flag the Blue Sky under which all are equal. So the ideology of Bahujan Samaj Party is Dalit Socialism, Secularism, and Social Engineering of Bahujan Samaj. In 1993 Bahujan Samaj Party formed a coalition with Samajwadi party in U.P but withdrew support in 1995. But after 1995 the Bahujan Samaj Party think tank realized that Dalit vote bank alone would not be sufficient to move forward, hence targeting backwards and Muslim minorities and it coined the Slogan ” Brahmin, Thakur, Bania Chhor, Baaki Sub Hai DS4″ (Minorities, Dalits and Socially backward classes to come under one umbrella against upper Castes). And finally in 2007 UP assembly saw Bahujan Samaj Party emerge single majority party since 1991 and Kumari Mayawati became Chief Minister of State.

As compared to other Democratic Countries India has a multi-party system with a predominance of small regional parties. As on 12 March 2014 total registered political parties with election commission of India 1616, among these six are national, and forty-seven are state parties. Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janta Party, Communist Party of India, Communist Party Marxist, Nationalist Congress Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are six national parties of India. Among them, Bahujan Samaj Party plays a significant role in state as well as National level. Since independence in 1947 India has implemented an affirmative policy of reservation, which has given further impetus to the role of caste in politics. Politically Dalits have not been able to break into mainstream debates and discussion despite the system of reservation that works at both national as well as state levels. In the last two decades, the rise of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has for the first time given Dalits a vehicle for bringing Dalit issues into the wider political Arena. “It was only with the elections of a lower cast Chief Minister that these Dalits communities were able to see a link between power and decisions that directly benefited them.” (Ram Dutt Tripathi BBC report 2010). So by ideology, the Bahujan Samaj Party want to sound the death-Knell of the “Manuwadi Social System”. Based on Varna and striving hard honestly for the establishment of an egalitarian and humanistic social system”. In which everyone enjoys justice, equality as enshrined in the preamble of the constitution. The political leadership in many political parties emerges and services in politics by the support of certain caste groups. Which have influenced every political process and have become important basis for political support and voting in elections, “Aarakshan Se Liya SP/DM Vote Se Lenge CM/PM” the rise of Bahujan Samaj Party power is linked with the above-quoted text which means “By reservation we have taken SP and DM, and by vote we will take CM and PM. Same we witnessed on 11 May 2007 when Bahujan Samaj Party emerged as a single majority party since 1991 in Utter Pradesh, and Mayawati became the chief Minister of the state. Bahujan Samaj Party paid rich dividends and increased party’s vote share from 23.9% in 2002 with 98 seats to 30.37% in 2007 bringing it to power with absolute majority. However, in 2012 State election, the Bahujan Samaj Party won only 80 out of 403 assembly seats and vote share come down to 25.91 %. The Bahujan Samaj Party has also been a force in National Politics. It has a small but influential member of members in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. In 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, when Bahujan Samaj Party emerged as 4th largest party, with 21 members in Lok Sabha. Which shows the high mobility of caste groups especially Dalits after 1984. Which sometimes is also called Mundialization of Indian politics that have declined one party Dominance that is Indian National Congress in India.

The upcoming state assembly election again in Utter Pradesh will be substantial because the rise of Modi and defeat of Bahujan Samaj Party in general elections of 2014 have created ups and downs in UP politics. As Mayawati is ready to fight against the state parties like Samajwadi Party but at the same time, she has to recognize the power of communal parties like BJP and RSS. If Mayawati will follow the footsteps of secular and development path, then it would be difficult for the communal parties such as BJP to divide the vote. But at the same time, we should not forget that caste politics in the last three decades have been marked by a desire for power rather than a substantial agenda for social reforms. Parties like BSP and BJD, which come to power by mobilizing lower castes, have failed to offer much in the way of good governance or long-term social transformation.

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