BJP has been asserting supremacy over the marginalised sections of India slowly yet steadily, leaving no stone unturned. On Monday, Amit Shah the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party declared that the NDA government is forwarding the name of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as their candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. Kovind, 71, is a Dalit leader from Kanpur who has been elected twice to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh and a former BJP spokesperson, is the prime face of the BJP’s Dalit politics.
While Prime Minster Narendra Modi said that he will make an ‘excellent president’, the question is how effective are these symbolism under sentimental banners like ‘farmers son’, ‘humble background’, ‘ a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised’?
Ramnath Kovind as the key face of BJP’s caste-politics:
Kovind has had an interesting career. Lawyer turned politician, a contemporary to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, Kovind is considered the biggest Dalit face of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Kovind was also the BJP Scheduled Caste Morcha chief (1998-2002) and President of the All-India Koli Samaj. An alternative to BSP’s Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, one may even say. However, it is clear with his candidature that the BJP is indeed keen on roping in the Dalit votes.
Before the 2013 Assembly election in Chhattisgarh, the BJP flew a group of Buddhist priests around the state in an attempt to gather Dalit votes. Following this in 2016, in the 6 months long Dhamma Chetna Yatra, Buddhist monks garlanded and inaugurated close to 1,000 statues of Ambedkar and the Buddha. The BJP claimed that they met nearly forty to fifty lakh Dalits by the end of the campaign. In May 2016, at the Simhastha Kumbha Mela in Ujjain, Shah took a dip in River Shipra, alongside Dalit sadhus. PM Modi held a rally at Ambedkar’s birthplace in Mhow, with talks of it being turned into a major tourist attraction gaining ground.
In 2017, a Dalit face has been chosen by the saffron brigade for the top constitutional post over Draupadi Murmu, a tribal leader from Odisha and current Jharkhand Governor, whose name did the rounds. And after all, Kovind, a Dalit, belonging to a small non-Jatav community, traditionally, a deprived sub-segment even within the Dalits with strong ties with the Sangh Parivar and a longstanding political history, was the best cherry the saffron party could pick especially in the wake of rising Dalit atrocity in the country.
The real status of the Dalits in India:
But what is the real status of the marginalised in India in the midst of polarising politics? Quoting the Human Rights Watch, Dalits and indigenous people (known as Scheduled Tribes or adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a strong basis for protection but are not being fully implemented by local authorities. The economic, as well as the social gap, has been claiming lives, decade after decade. Roughly, 37% of Dalits are living below poverty in India. More than half (54%) of their children are undernourished. 83 per 1000 live births in Dalit community have a probability of dying before their first birthday. 45% of Dalits do not know how to read and write. Only 27% of Dalits women give institutional deliveries in India. And this is just the beginning of the problems the lower-castes face in a caste-biased state such as India.
A brief history of Dalit atrocity, including rape, murder, torture and lynching of Dalits in India:
1968 Kilvenmani massacre, Tamil Nadu
1981 Phoolan Devi, Uttar Pradesh
1985: Karamchedu massacre:
1990s: Ranvir Sena
1991-Tsundur Andhra Pradesh
1996 Bathani Tola Massacre, Bihar
1997 Laxmanpur Bathe Carnage, Bihar
1997 Ramabai killings, Mumbai
1999 Bant Singh case, Punjab
2000 Caste violence in Karnataka
2003 Muthanga Incident Kerala
2006 Khairlanji massacre Maharashtra
2006 Dalit protests in Maharashtra
2008 caste violence in Rajasthan
2011 killings of Dalits in Mirchpur, Haryana
2012 Dharmapuri violence
2013 Marakkanam violence, Tamil Nadu
2014 Javkheda Hatyakand, Maharashtra
2015 Jat-Dalit violence in Dangawas, Rajasthan
2016 Rohith Vemula Suicide in Central University of Hyderabad
2016 Saharanpur violence
While other parties are yet to announce their endorsement for the Presidential polls, the Saffron Party’s scheme to turn the minority into vote-banks is much clearer than ever now. Notably, if elected, Kovind will be the second President of India after KR Narayanan to be a member of the Dalit community. Kovind is likely to file his papers on 23 June.
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